Margin of error

From an article in the NYT about the Pentagon report on repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell:

About 115,000 of the 400,000 active duty and reserve troops who received copies of the survey responded to it, according to the report. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 1 percentage point.

Ah, fun with statistics. Something doesn’t add up here. 115K of 400K might seem like a great sample size, about plus or minus .25, actually… but that margin of error would only be good if the survey had only been sent to those 115K of the 400K and not the other 275K. As is, the response rate is only 28%, which sounds typical of a mail survey with little or no followup.

In other words, this survey could have a half-ton of sample bias, particularly non-response bias. I wonder if they called randomly into the pool of nonrespondents to check for this. The report is not public (yet) – anyone seen more data on this?


I ate no less than three Thanksgiving dinners over the last week. Yummy. And, as an added bonus, Mississippi State beat that school up north. So most everything is right in the world.

I worked pretty heavily on my book revision this morning and got through an entire chapter, doing the kind of citation-crazy work that I did during my dissertation. It felt good, like a bout of strong exercise. I haven’t really felt ‘scholarly’ in awhile, and I think the feeling carried over into my two classes today, when I did something I rarely do – talk for almost the entire period.

If you haven’t even wandered onto Vridar’s site from the links to the left, you should. I don’t know where he gets the time to write up all his NT analysis, but I’ve caught myself while writing more than once, wishing that I could cite him from some peer-reviewed pub.  He does better textual criticism than the majority of the peer-reviewed secondary stuff that I sift through, and I end up having to cite something else less perceptive.  His ongoing epistemological duel with James McGrath is even interesting, though I’d keep your distance unless you’re into the online scholarly version of blood sport. I suppose I mention this because the links on the left are very out of date and reflect more what I was reading a year and a half ago than what I read now, but I still check that blog regularly. It’s time, perhaps, to clean house?

Oh, yes. WikiLeaks. That H and I are finishing off the audio version of the Millennium Trilogy , with one of its protagonists being a corruption-fighting journalist, is probably contributing to my glee. I find it really interesting that there is so little interesting in the cables. It is not surprising to me that so many diplomatic decisions are made based on little or no evidence, and rather on first impressions and fleeting, incomplete observations – the diplomats work with little more information that I have about, say, North Korea -  or that no one trusts anyone else, with the possible exception of Britain and the U.S. I don’t see much fodder for a real scandal, yet, though a clever and ambitious reader that needs little sleep may find one in the next two weeks; most of it is only going to be useful for historians present and future.

Thanksgiving approaches

My last few posts have been a bit random as well as broadly spaced, so perhaps I should reset the stage.

Thanksgiving is almost upon us. My four classes are starting to wind down, finally. My first graduate student defended her thesis. I’m made good progress editing my book in the last two days and I’m on course to get it out again well before Xmas.

Sunny, Boykin spaniel #2, continues to grow and continues to find delicate electronic equipment to chew on. My cell phone is covered in puncture marks, each set slightly larger than the first. I think her jaw is strong enough at this point to destroy it utterly if she ever gets ahold of it again. The other day she shredded H’s Bluetooth headset, turning it into a sad little plastic husk.

H and I bought a new car, a Santa Fe, to replace my Olds. This was a big deal for us, buying a car together for the first time, though as H has pointed out, combining our phone plans felt more serious than getting married, so we may just be a little screwy up there.

It’s not the rumbling Challenger R/T that I wanted, but eventually I realized that such a fantastic vehicle would only solve two pressing problems: 1) my need for speed and 2) reliability, whereas the Santa Fe would solve at least five:  1) my need for speed (we got the 276-hp V6), 2) reliability, 3) a vehicle that could accommodate our two dogs and luggage for long trips, and well as possible future infants, 4) something to carry furniture and other large items such as lumber and my drum kit, 5) a reasonable bug-out vehicle in the event of Gulf Coast hurricanes, constitutional revolution, or zombie apocalypse. And it would be a lot cheaper… win-win.

We’ve been in Houston for almost a year and a half now. I’m feeling pensive as 2010 nears to a close. It has been a pretty successful year, both professionally and privately, so I think we have a lot to be thankful for. Last year at this time H and I were still stumbling around a bit, trying to absorb getting a Ph.D., getting married, teaching a four-course load (eight between us!), moving to a new, large city, and moving into a house for the first time, all inside of a year.

We are still far from being masters of this peculiar almost-middle-class conundrum.


I don’t like to comment on moral matters too much, especially in this blog. So let’s put aside for the moment that I continue to think Michael Vick  is a deplorable human being regardless of how many touchdowns he throws. My opinion is irrelevant, of course. The amount of touchdowns, though, that he throws is NOT irrelevant; each one shifts a section of public opinion toward ‘forgiveness’, or whatever you prefer to call it, because each one is a highly public act and is charged with all sorts of positive meanings. How can a touchdown be bad? How can a superior athletic performance be bad? The implicit connection between virtue and athletic prowess is one of the most ironclad American (and not just American, mind you) values in existence. Even knowing about it and thinking about it doesn’t diminish its power that much. Even now, the world waits with bated breath for Tiger Woods to redeem himself with a major.

This failure to diminish worries me. One of the central assumptions of rhetorical study is that awareness of rhetoric constitutes a defense to it; that is to say, if we are aware that rhetoric is being employed, it will not affect us as strongly as it will affect someone who is not aware a series of strategies and tactics are acting upon them. And yet even as I am more aware of the pull, the  pull is just as strong. I can feel a little tug on the value of redemption and the redeeming characteristics of the sublime in sports. It is a persistent little tug, that one.

My working explanation for this centers on narrative. I like stories that end in a certain way. Vick’s story has several appropriate endings for me, usually involving a cold, dank cell. Woods’ story also has several preferred endings, most of which involve him winning 30 majors. This is probably directly linked to my view of Woods’ sexual shenanigans as sexual shenanigans rather than moral outrages,  and Vick’s dog-torturing as an heinous and unforgivable crime  rather than the cost of doing business. My values demand certain narrative outcomes and if those values are strong enough, they can cut through any rhetoric. When they are malleable or uncertain, rhetoric can get a foot in the door.

So this is a crossroads of values: in regards to Vick, my intolerance for any cruelty toward dogs, which I consider a morally superior form of life to humanity (I should write an essay one day on that) agrees with my minor hostility toward the cultist behavior of sports fandom. In regards to Woods, however, my disinterest in the  sexual escapades of public figures somehow overshadows that minor hostility and negates it. This may be because I never saw Woods as a role model – I think I’ve said before that I was convinced for several years that he was some kind of experimental  golf-playing robot that had escaped a secret government facility and gone on to win the Masters. I don’t admire the guy… but at the same time I have to admit I’d like for him to win, and this feeling – this emotion – is remarkably similar to my desire to see Vick in jail for life. Strange.