something else

So apparently, this Gap ad was perceived to be racist*–despite efforts to explain the pose:

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Yet, as far as I can tell, this earlier version was not perceived in a similar way:

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But putting that debate aside, I’d like to point out one small(ish) detail that’s getting missed:

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Either Cherokee/Target or Gap has some ‘splainin to do. Who wants to go first?

* And since perception (not truth) is all that really matters these days, it must in fact be racist.

jabs with bad analogies

For the past couple of weeks I’ve seen more and more people (or groups) taking pot-shots at Christians, trying to make it look silly or inept. It might be because we’re a few days away from Christmas and that’s what normally happens. But it appears as though, because there is not a huge show-stopping crapumentary on the Discovery Channel or H2 or whatever about Jesus, the attempts have been reduced to quick jabs–or sucker punches, if we’re honest–given for a cheap thrill or an easy laugh.

Earlier this month, Conan O’Brien gave this little quip (about 5:28 in):

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A few days later, I saw these images floating around, the first slightly more subtle than the second:

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(Whether people stole it from Conan and rejigged it or Conan got it from these images is not really my concern. Frankly, I don’t care).

There are two initial problems with these kinds of claims. First, they are not fair to the discourse that needs to happen concerning the refugee crisis. In fact, these types of claims not only politicize the crisis, which is insulting those who truly need refugee, but also reveal that at least one side of the debate is happily wearing its “ideological blinders”.* The other side might be, but they are not as expressive or honest about it.

Second, these sorts of political jabs are uncalled for, primarily because they operate on a faulty premise and a crap analogy. For those who have done their homework, it will be obvious that the image of Mary and Joseph frantically looking for housing in Bethlehem only to be turned away repeatedly until some gruff inn-keeper’s wife Gibbs-slaps him and make him offer the barn; that is nothing but sensationalized tradition. The historical and textual evidence about the birth narrative does not support such view.

Moreover, there is nothing to suggest that Mary and Joseph situation was anything comparable to the refugee crisis. Mary and Joseph were not trying to flee their home country and find safe harbor in another. They were simply traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the purposes of taxation. If we wanted to say anything (admittedly in dramatic terms), we could say they were being “hunted down” in the same way that the IRS wants our money each April. But they were not under threat for their lives because of the ethnicity, nationality, religious beliefs, etc. To say otherwise betrays a lack of understanding about the data and an inability to make an appropriate analogy.

The refugee crisis is admittedly an awful situation, one that has created a rather heated debate with varying and often conflicting responses. It is a situation that needs to be taken seriously and it is one that deserves conscientious and respectful discussion and action. It is one where all sides of the debate need to come together and shut up and listen openly and fairly. And it is a situation that most certainly deserves more respect than being used as one side of a crappy analogy for the purposes of taking cheap-shots at Christians. Such one-lines are good for a laugh and caricaturing a group of people, but they do nothing for moving the discussion forward. It’s school-yard antics. It’s weak. It’s empty. And it’s hypocritical.

* Taken from “West Wing”.

ignorance is bliss

Two days ago, on the Facebook, I linked this always pleasant bit of information: we dodge extinction because a huge asteroid will sail right past us on Halloween. (And by “right past us” I mean, c. 300k miles). What gave me a slight chuckle was the article’s admission that this asteroid was just discovered, as in: “Oh crap, there it is; and it’s coming fast.” No time to rustle up some guys from an oil rig, train them in space flight, launch them into space, blah, blah, blah. Nope. This cosmic beanbag is almost here. It also gave me a chuckle because the story reminded me of something I read from Bill Bryson, who always gives me a chuckle.

After supplying a useful analogy for the sheer number of asteroids and the Earth’s interaction with them, Bryson writes:

As Steven Ostro of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory has put it, “Suppose that there was a button you could push and you could light up all the Earth-crossing asteroids larger than about ten metres, there would be over a hundred million of these objects in the sky.” In short, you would see not a couple of thousand distant twinkling stars, but millions upon millions upon millions of nearer, randomly moving objects–“all of which are capable of colliding with the Earth and all of which are moving on slightly different courses through the sky at different rates. It would be deeply unnerving.” Well, be unnerved, because it is there. We just can’t see it.”

–Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003), 171

A few pages later, Bryson unfolds the really good news:

I asked [Ray Anderson and Brian Witzke] how much warning we would receive if a similar hunk of rock [i.e. the one that caused the Chicxulub crater] were coming towards us today. “Oh, probably none,” said Anderson breezily. “It wouldn’t be visible to the naked eye until it warmed up and that wouldn’t happen until it hit the atmosphere, which would be about one second before it hit the Earth. You’re talking about something moving many tens of times faster than the fastest bullet. Unless it had been seen by someone with a telescope, and that’s by no means a certainty, it would take us completely by surprise.”

–Bryson, 179

The next three pages are fairly detailed educated guesses as to what would happen next. It ain’t pretty. Happy weekend, everybody.

gotta love it…

when the murmurings of a few are projected so that they seem to be the chorus of the majority. In this end-of-the-year reflection “study”, the writer goes on and on about American perceptions concerning various topics.  The upshot being: Americans are not entirely pleased with 2013.  Here are the results (if you didn’t click on the link):

  • “Most Americans won’t remember 2013 fondly…”
  • “Most Americans are happy to see 2013 go…”
  • “More than two-thirds view the year as one that was bad for the world…”
  • “More than four in ten say it was a bad year for their family…”
  • “60% of Americans…”
  • “77% of adults under 30…”
  • “a third of senior citizens…”
  • “The public sees the world…”
    • “At the end of 2012, 69% said it had been a bad year…”
  • “There are almost no issues where a majority of Americans have seen improvement…”
    • “Only a quarter say healthcare coverage is better…”
    • “more than half say it has gotten worse…”
  • “When it comes to how 2013 impacted American families…”
    • “A majority does admit that last year was a good one…”
    • “although fewer than one in ten would say it was a very good year…”
  • “how Americans rate their family’s financial situation…”
    • “33% say they are worse off…”
    • “16% say their family is better off…”

One might read this and think (so hopes the writer of the article) that the pulse of all American has been checked and this is conclusive evidence of where we’re at.

However, there is one big, fat, nasty, smelly problem: the figures/percentages given in the “study”-report only reflect the views of the 1000 people surveyed. Proof? Right here. And notice, if you did read the article, that information is nowhere disclosed in the main article, except for a tiny link at the end (i.e. you have to look for the link then go elsewhere to get the details), thus allowing the writer to present the findings in sweeping, categorical terms and therefore give the illusion of factual comprehensiveness or, heaven help us, “objectivity”.

I’m sorry, but a survey of 1000 Americans is nowhere close to serving as a accurate barometer for the thoughts, sentiments, feelings, opinions, etc of all 317,328,103 Americans.* At best, a survey of 1000 people is an accurate (more or less) barometer for the thoughts, sentiments, feelings, opinions, etc of 1000 people. To assume or to suggest otherwise is both speculation and imposition.

If you are a writer and use surveys to make various claims or observations, you owe it to your readers to be upfront and honest about the data. In other words, don’t claim to be speaking for the masses when in reality you’re only speaking for a comparatively small handful. I would recommend 1) making the data (i.e. the figures/number surveyed) initial and more obvious, and not relegate it to a tiny link at the bottom of the page, and 2) changing the wording so as to reflect the facts (i.e. “66% of those survey” or “66% of 1000 Americans”).

If you are a reader of such surveys and honestly believe that the findings are representative of the whole of American people: you’ve been duped. (Go here and here for why I both distrust and loathe surveys).

* According to the estimated figures found here.

more statistical loathing

I have grown to dislike and even distrust the use of statistics, particularly in the form of percentages. (See here and here for examples of why this is so). Admittedly, some uses are rather comical. For instance, just the other day there was an advert on TV for mascara (Maxfactor, I think it was) and the voice-over made grand statements about women’s views on the product. Based on the VO’s claims, one would think that he was speaking for the whole of womankind. Hardly. At the bottom of the screen appeared the percentage of women supporting the claims made and number surveyed. The figures? 74% of 70 women!¹ No typo. Seven, zero. My first (cynical) thought was: “So, you [Maxfactor] basically got your own PR department to offer some opinions.”

As benign or even banal as this instance might be, it adheres to or relies on (and possibly even perpetuates) a rather malignant rhetorical ploy: shape opinion on the basis of persuasively strong claims supported by high percentages.² For example: “The majority of people (78%) believe _[insert hot-button issue here]_ should be permitted” or “…feel that _____ is unfair.” The underlying assumption appears to be: with language such as “majority” or “most people” and percentages exceeding 50%, we can make the issue appear to be prevailing and widespread, and if we can get people to believe the language and percentages, then we can shape public opinion in a particular direction. To remain in my cynicism, this usually means: the “majority” we’re documenting is the cultural norm, so you might want to get on board rather than fight against the “majority” view.

However, because I am that annoying person who asks, when confronted with percentages: ” ‘x’% of how many surveyed?”, and because the survey pool is hardly ever deep and wide enough or representative of the whole, I will neither be persuaded by the claims made (because they do not represent the whole they claim to) nor accept the data to be empirical evidence of public views/opinions (because it’s not). Moreover, I will not pretend that, say, 1500 people surveyed constitute a “majority” view and that I must accept their view, which is really a “minority” one (based on comparative figures), simply because they’re touted as the majority in a particular survey. In fact, I don’t have to accept anything simply because a few say so–and do so rather loudly (i.e. delusionally pretending to be the many).³ I accept things because they are worthy of acceptance, but that requires an entirely different (and more substantial) kind of conversation.

¹ I’m not sure if they’re doing this in the States (or anywhere else), but here in the UK it is now common practice in adverts to show both the percentage and the number of people surveyed.
² It is, therefore, no wonder that the survey-data is either tucked away at the end of the article or on a completely different site.
³ Current issues in American politics illustrate what happens when a few are allowed to shape the many, and do so on the assumption that the few are portrayed as more powerful than the many.

take a lesson

Tiger Woods is apparently in hot water for something he said and did (or did not say or do). See here for the story. Here’s the part of the story that bugged me:

However, one of the marshals in the group, Gary Anderson, said that Woods did nothing of the sort: “He didn’t ask us nothing, and we didn’t say nothing. We’re told not to talk to the players,” he told Sports Illustrated.

So… according to your double double-negative, Mr marshal Gary Anderson, Tiger did ask you something and you did say something in return. And that would mean you broke the “rule” about not talking to the players. Right now your defense is looking pretty crappy. Take a lesson from the one who gets his CV randomly read out and state things clearly:

Nothing was said to us and we certainly said nothing to him.