Thursday, December 23, 2004


One of today's most obvious misleading number games is grade inflation. Teachers have accommodated student desires for higher grades to the point that the median GPA of graduating seniors has risen about a full grade point since 1965, when it was about 2.2. At some elite schools, almost everyone gets As and Bs today, and who is valedictorian has become how many 4.0 students will share that title.

High schools have gone even further, making it possible to get better than a 4.0. Many make advanced placement or community college courses worth an extra grade point. These and other policies (e.g., statewide comparisons crafted to show that, as in Lake Woebegon, all children are above normal) have, however, thrown away much of the useful information grades once contained.

Price inflation is another form of ego-building by manipulating comparison numbers. If I want to brag that I make more than my father ever did, the effects of inflation can overwhelm every other difference and make it so. On the other hand, older Americans use it to prove how much better things used to be ("I remember when bread was a nickel ...").

Competitive inflation also occurs in other dimensions. We regularly cheat on the new in "new and improved." Books and new car models come out well before the year starts (you can already buy used 2005 cars). Magazines arrive with dates two weeks into the future.

Statistics and percentages are subject to the same abuse. "Giving it 100 percent" was once going all out, but that has been replaced with giving it 150 percent, 200 percent and even 1 thousand percent. I'm 1 million percent sure there is something wrong with this inflated hyperbole. Similarly, statistics are routinely manipulated to make insignificant changes look significant. Instead of saying some drug increases the probability of some cancer from 0.00001 to 0.00002, reports scream that it doubles your risk.

We cheat on clothing sizes. Adults want to feel thinner, so what was a given size dress years ago is now a smaller size. Parents, however, want their children to be "ahead of the curve," so some companies cut infant sizes smaller, so everybody can have children that are ahead of their peers.

Everywhere you turn, people "cheat" to make today's results look better than yesterday's. This is particularly true in competitive sports, where we often judge quality by numbers (e.g., baseball statistics). We have changed rules to favor the offense in sports, so that more points get scored. We have tuned track surfaces with steel springs to make sprinters faster and have designed more flexible poles so pole- vaulters go higher.

It is time we were honest with ourselves about our innumeracy. While we understand that better mathematics skills are important and that we would like to handle numbers more deftly, most of us are unwilling to put in the time and effort to do so. And in many cases we simply do not want to "do it right," because that would force us to trade in some of the self-delusions we want to keep for the reality we are often desperate to deny.

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The arrogant food know-alls are always picking on McDonalds. Why? Not because of what McDonalds sells. It sells only a slight variation on a normal Western diet of meat, bread, greens and potatoes. If meat, bread, greens and potatoes are bad for us we are all in big trouble. But our lifespans are in fact among the world's highest. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has tons more dietary "sins" (animals fats etc) than you find in the average McDonalds meal. If health were really what was at issue, it would make more sense to campaign against roast dinners. So McDonalds is targeted only because it is popular. The motivations of the campaigners are the same as the Puritans of old -- who opposed bear-baiting not because it hurt the bear but because it gave pleasure to the spectatiors. There are plenty of people-haters and would-be dictators around still

The Pizza Hut is shuttered, its neon sign collecting dust on the floor. But knocking down the Golden Arches has proved far more difficult for Toby Cosgrove, the new head of the Cleveland Clinic. A heart surgeon who has cleaned out a career's worth of clogged arteries, Cosgrove didn't think Big Macs, supersize fries and inch-thick, six-cheese pizzas belonged in the lobby of a hospital renowned for its cardiac care. So he decreed the fast-food joints had to go. Pizza Hut went quietly. But McDonald's, halfway through a 20-year lease, has refused to shut down a franchise that serves 12,000 doctors, nurses, janitors, secretaries, patients and visitors each week. "Our menu is something we're all proud of," said Marty Ranft, a McDonald's vice president. "We've got a great relationship with the Cleveland Clinic. We are not interested in closing" the restaurant.

In the struggle against obesity, Americans are losing. And among the favorite targets for blame are fast-food chains such as McDonald's. Studies show that consuming large portions of high-fat, salty, sugar-laden foods has helped create a nation in which 64 percent of people are overweight or obese. They often land here at the Cleveland Clinic seeking treatment for diabetes, strokes, heart failure and crippling joint pain. "We have to set an example with the food we serve our patients and employees," said Cosgrove, a trim 63-year-old. "In a way, McDonald's was symbolic as much as anything else. It is not associated with heart-healthy food; neither is Pizza Hut."

But Cosgrove's crusade has been met with resistance from not just McDonald's executives, who say they are being singled out for a problem that goes beyond the occasional Happy Meal, but also from staff and visitors who resent what they consider to be a paternalistic attitude from bosses who can afford pricier, more healthful food. "What they have in the cafeteria is not a lot better, and it's certainly not affordable," said Donna Wilkison, a post-operative nurse waiting in line for her McDonald's salad with chicken. The cafeteria salad bar, priced at $4.64 a pound, "gets very expensive. They need to bring in something else that's more affordable."

On its sprawling urban campus, the clinic has a Subway sandwich shop, Au Bon Pain and Starbucks. Adjacent to the McDonald's is a cafeteria that features a large salad bar, a grill, a deli and hot entrees. The choices range include fresh fruit and homemade mashed potatoes. At Subway, salads begin at $3.99 and subs are about $5. McDonald's salads cost $4.10.

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Trumped-up excuses to avoid exposure of indoctrination sessions

Two parents who objected to a Massachusetts high school's homosexual-awareness day were expelled from the campus after a mother began videotaping a session. Brian Camenker, an activist who has a son at Newton North High School in Newtonville, Mass., and Kim Cariani, mother of two students, said four police officers and the school principal warned they would be charged with trespassing if they didn't leave the campus Wednesday. A distraught Cariani told the Boston Herald she believes the school's "To BGLAD: Transgender, Bisexual, Gay and Lesbian Awareness Day" has no place in the curriculum. "It's against my religion," she said. "It's morally wrong and forced in a child's face." Camenker said the event, with assemblies and workshops such as "Out at the Old Ballgame'' and "Color Me Queer," was intended to make students feel good about homosexuality, bisexuality and transgenderism. "This is so incredibly objectionable," he said, according to Concerned Women for America. "The parents are so outraged that this is being pushed on their kids that they don't know what to do. To use children's minds this way without even letting the parents know is horrible."

As WorldNetDaily reported, Camenker's Article 8 Alliance is a pro-family Massachusetts group seeking to unseat the four Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court justices for the Nov. 18, 2003, decision that led to legalization of same-sex "marriage."

The school did not send home a note to parents about the event, a Newton North spokeswoman acknowleged to CWA's Culture & Family Institute. But she said the event is listed on the school's website and in calendars at the beginning of the year, and some e-mails were sent out. While the event was not mandatory, she said, "Classes are scheduled to attend various workshops, but if students are uncomfortable or their parents are uncomfortable, the students can instead go to the library."

Camenker and Cariani, who kept her two children home that day, were in the audience when adults on a panel discussed being homosexual. The video recording began when one man told students he was attracted to his sister's husband. The principal demanded Cariani turn over the videotape or leave, Camenker told the Herald. District policy prohibits taping or photographing students without parental permission. "They took the two of us and pulled us out and gave us one minute to leave and if we came back on the property we would be arrested for trespassing," Camenker said. A local newspaper columnist, Tom Mountain of the Newton Tab, also was barred from the assembly "for the safety and security of the children."

Camenker told CWA he sent a copy of the event schedule to the school superintendent and all eight school board members prior to the event, advising them that parents would be at school that day monitoring activities. At a "gay day" two years ago, Camenker said, a 20-year-old male wearing a dress spoke to students, telling them he was taking female hormones but hadn't yet had his penis cut off ....

Camenker's Article 8 Alliance supports a Parents Rights Bill in the new Massachusetts Legislature that would change attendance rules to make sex-related programs and courses "opt-in" instead of "opt-out" and would include all school programs and activities.

Massachusetts taxpayers pay about $1.5 million annually for a Gay and Lesbian Youth Commission that aggressively promotes homosexuality in public schools and helps schools create "Gay/Straight Alliances," student clubs that press for acceptance of homosexuality. The school's website notice about "To BGLAD" includes the long-discredited "fact" that one in 10 students is homosexual, CWA says. Most researchers place the population at only about 1 percent.

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