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Tuesday Math Rant

March 11, 2014

There are one hundred parking spaces at your grocery store. Twenty-four of them are empty.

Question: What fraction of the parking spaces are filled?
Answer: 76/100

Easy, right?  Let’s keep with these figures for some more rudimentary math.

76 > 50
24 < 50
76 > 24
76/100 + 24/100 = 100/100
76/100 – 50/100 = 26/100
50/100 + 50/100 = 100/100
And so on…

Adam 100 coffees

Seventy-six percent is hard to confuse with fifty percent. (Graph by A.N.T.)

Now, imagine this. You have a morning meeting that you just cannot bear the thought of without a caffeine boost. In fact, given the nature of the meeting, the desired outcomes and the type of people who you work with, none of the people attending want anything to do with this meeting without a cup of joe. The caffeinated kind. The office needs one hundred cups of delicious freshly poured hot coffee to pull this off. You are in charge and dutifully arrange for the very best coffee in the neighborhood. It’s all right there for everyone to grab before the meeting starts. One problem, however. Twenty-four of the cups are filled with decaffeinated coffee. This just won’t cut it with your caffeine-addicted, overworked and stressed workmates. The start to this important meeting will now be compromised by the unmet biological and psychological requirements of twenty-four people.

When it was all over, seventy-six raved about their coffee and were delighted that you were so considerate. They were so pleased that they agreed with every one of your recommendations and only stopped you to praise the brilliance of your part of the agenda. On the other hand, the twenty-four stuck with the decaffeinated coffee wondered why you were so thoughtless and clueless about such elementary matters. They pouted and sputtered through the entire meeting and didn’t listen carefully to anything anyone said.

With that dreadful imaginary event behind us, let’s read this recent statement from Time Magazine.

“If you want to make some new friends and just as many enemies, here’s a helpful shortcut: take a position on raising the federal minimum wage. The question of how much workers at the bottom should be paid is fast becoming one of the most divisive issues in Washington. Liberals say a wage hike is the most immediate and fair tool we have to address growing inequality; conservatives argue that such a move would destroy jobs, throwing America’s wobbly recovery off its axis for good. Get ready to hear a lot more about it between now and the November midterms as Democrats and Republicans fight over the merits of an increase, which 76% of Americans favor, according to Gallup.”
Time Magazine

Let’s take them up on it. Let’s say you want to make fifty new friends and fifty new enemies. (“If you want to make some new friends and just as many enemies…”)  Applying the math that our grade school teachers taught us, we can see that there would be a significant challenge to this pursuit no matter where you stand on the minimum wage issue, since seventy-six percent of Americans favor a passage of a new law.  


Half of these guys were my childhood heroes. Just as many were part of a miracle in New York.

Just what happened here? Have they let their “journalistic balance” obliterate any chance to write a cogent article? Do they simply have no regard for people who want to be better informed? Maybe the editor was off duty or it’s just biased reporting very thinly veiled. Take your choice, it violates any sense of responsibility and perhaps worse. What’s remarkable is how they contradicted themselves so quickly; only two sentences stand between their opening claim and reference to the poll data that makes it impossible. Did they think we wouldn’t notice? Who knows? Perhaps this happens when you write your reports with a view of the world from Washington D.C.


We’re constantly assaulted with messages, hidden agendas and boatloads of nonsense. Listen carefully and think for yourself.

Unfortunately, this practice of stretching to make both sides of an issue equal is all too common in American journalism. Take NPR as Exhibit A. Neutered by the hand that feeds it, their news programs are some of the worst offenders. I gave up on them many years ago. I don’t care for the manipulative musical interludes in between their little stories or for that matter, the stories themselves, since they usually lack information and are instead just puff pieces that are chock-full of false questions, misleading information and man on the street interviews. Whenever I do tune in, I can barely make it through one story and rarely do I get from one commercial (on non-commercial radio) to the next. Listen to this tale about fracking, for example. Here you have no real news. Just a choice between the point of view of a third-generation New York dairy farmer, who lives a “rewarding but hard life” and needs the extra income that will result when the state allows fracking on his land and Mark Ruffalo, one of the “many artists and celebrities” who represent the “organized and intense” opposition to fracking and “will never be convinced that fracking can be done safely.” Morning commutes in the Bay Area are a daily battle and listening to this type of trash could make them even worse.

End of rant.


Here are some polls on the minimum wage:

From → America

  1. dkalish permalink

    Bruce – link is broken.


  2. Mick permalink

    End of Rant for now…. Got you on all of that. I thought that maybe you got the 100 cups of coffee for a meeting. Yes the music interludes are bad on NPR and you have to sort out the stories but I can not stand the endless commercials for Pro Biotics and testosterone replacement on the AM short story news. The call in talk shows are not good either. Nice coffee-pie chart.


  3. Wow, a lot here. First, good catch on the Time Article. Having spent 20-plus years in a metro newsroom, we know the spin, and should also remind you that we are ALL bad in math. A common question shouted across the newsroom was “what do you divide by what to get a percentage again?” Sadly, no one ever knew. Still, no excuse for Time, which if all we read is correct (and we know that’s suspect) should be able afford one of those top-notch copy editors who can read and count.

    We do still tune into NPR, but understand how the news is washed no matter where you get it. Sadly, money talks. We are all too aware of being part of coverups (one needs a paycheck and health insurance) to protect a developer, friend of the publisher, etc. That may be why we find blogging so freeing.

    well, that’s it, many thanks, LMA

    p.s. sorry, we thought those were suitcases not coffee cups until the above blogger mentioned it. yes, they are clever. 🙂


  4. Ha Ha, LMA – funny image from your newsrooms. Yes, one would think Time Magazine could get something so simple it right before they posted.


  5. Hmmm … I prefer NPR over any news on the television or radio. Do you get most of your news from print media?


  6. Hi Laurie – we are fortunate to have Pacifica radio out here, so I can find some good discussions and reporting on my commutes – I like “Letters from Washington” and “Democracy Now.” I do read. I even receive three paper magazines still. They are the best with morning coffee.


  7. Hmm. I’m reminded Bruce that you pay your money and make your choice, right, as they used to say at houses of prostitution. Not that I would know, of course. But whatever happened to that good old fashion straight forward honesty. Math and statistics, as we know, can be made to say whatever we want them to say. For example, 97.4% of the media will skip the truth for a good story. I just made that up, but hell, it may be true. I do have the solution to the coffee, however. Just put the decaf in caf cups and everyone will believe they have had their morning jolt and 97.4% of the people will sing your praises. Whoops, I just used that figure. –Curt


  8. I enjoy listening to the news, but I get increasingly frustrated by news reporters injecting their own thoughts and beliefs into their reports. I really just want the facts; commentaries and discussions are for other venues. I enjoy listening to them as well, but increasingly the lines between reporting the news and sharing opinions are becoming blurred.


  9. I enjoyed every single word of your ‘rant’ here. BTW, should your blog be named “Rant On,” Not “Ram On?” Just curious. But how I love intelligent rants! The only thing missing was your own choices – do you believe we should raise the minimum wage? Do you believe bad journalists (and I figured out that’s 84.3% of the paid journalists out there – there are many good journalists, but they can’t get jobs because they only report the facts, ma’am) – anyway, do you believe they should be tried in a court of law? Sometimes I do: #1, for stretching the truth so much it’s a lie; and #2, for being so inane their listeners have become bland robotic believers.
    As far as what I listen to when I’m driving to work? My own singing – cheers me up and wakes me up even more than caffeine.


  10. Thank you for the rant! It’s a pleasure to hear someone go off on things like media spin and the failure of people to apply basic math. Everybody needs to use their noggins more often.


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