Sunday, May 27, 2012

Single most important variable

As those of you who read my little blog know (thanks by the way), I tend to notice little things and then pan them out to a universal scale and start prattling about big, heady universal truth shit. I also lean a bit toward the cynical side.

This can get tiring for both of us.

I want to talk about something else. . .

A few minutes ago I saw a picture of my youngest daughter when she was about 4 years old (she's now 12). This is it.

Last time I was coming home from the jungle I was in the domestic terminal at LAX and this little girl and her mom sat down across from me. Right as they got settled and put down their snacks, the mom jumped up,

"I left my purse at the counter! Wait here!"

So the little girl did.

As mom dashed off, the kid grabbed one of those cups with fruit and yogurt and a little built-in container of granola out of the snack bag. She was waiting for her mom to get back, but she wasn't waiting to get started on the yogurt.

She was probably a year older than that kid in the picture up there and the cup was kind of big in her hand. She wielded it with far more determination than dexterity and it took every ounce of restraint not to offer to open it for her. 

I know that I am a man. 

An adult. 

A stranger. 

. . . so I just sat there.

She managed to get the top lid off - the one that's like a drink lid. Then came the big challenge. The recessed granola packet, with it's impossibly thin plastic lip, compression fitted into the yogurt cup like it was installed by a plumber. She went right to it; trying desperately to get a working grip on that little edge and struggling mightily.

I looked toward the snack bar area where mom had dashed off to find her purse. I was hoping she would make it in time.

It was killing me. Mom was nowhere in sight.

Eventually she got a little fingernail under that granola lid while holding the entire yogurt composition sideways. I saw 5 seconds into the future. That moment when she overcame the friction that held the granola cup in place and it popped free, ejecting granola all over her shirt and the floor . . .

"Careful!" I said, in my most convincing Mr. Rogers. 

I couldn't help myself. 

"It'll pop out all at once and spill all over."

She looked at me and nodded,

"Oh yeah."

There was this twenty-something Asian Emo girl sitting adjacent to us listening to her ipod. I don't know if she heard the actual exchange, but she saw me talking to the little girl and she shot me a dirty look to let me know I was being observed.

Adult male, traveling alone . . . naturally, I'm a predator.

Shortly thereafter, the little girl managed to get the granola cup free from the rest of the yogurt. It did indeed pop out at the last second, but it was more of a controlled event. A few nuggets of granola were lost, but nothing major. As soon as it was free she smiled at me,

"I almost spilled it!"

"You did really well!" I replied.

Another dirty look from Ms. Emo. Whatever bitch. What are you listening to? Some "punk rock" song about teenage love? Ever heard of the Minutemen? Black Flag? . . . Fuck you.

She poured the granola into the yogurt and fruit, then observed the thin layer of yogurt that clung to the bottom of the cup. I could see her mentally wrestle with the question of whether or not it would be okay to lick the underside of the granola cup right there in the middle of the concourse. 

She wanted to.

Ultimately however, after a quick pan around she opted against it and placed the yogurt smeared cup on a napkin.

"Sometimes I forget to put it on a napkin" she admitted.

"Yeah, me too."

Then mom re-appreared in a flustered jumble. She had found her purse, thank God, but now she had to rifle through it to make sure no one stole anything. She was focused.

"Mommy can I have my orange juice?"

The mom did not slow down or look up.


"But I'm thirsty."

"Well, then you shouldn't have gotten that yogurt. The orange juice is for when you get thirsty on the plane."

My input was no longer in any way appropriate. Even the most benevolent degree of surrogate parenting from a stranger is completely wrong when the actual parent is present. I wanted to say,

"Hey lady, no one would have stolen items from your purse and then left it on the counter, they would've just snatched it. You left your purse and it was still there when you went back, chalk it up as a win. And by the way, there will be plenty of orange juice on that plane. She's thirsty now, so how about a little orange juice, huh?"

Not only would it have been inappropriate, but I didn't quite feel justified.

Her tone of voice, her posture, her disconnection and her focus on something ultimately insignificant when compared to the little gem sitting there with a lap full of well earned yogurt, was all too familiar.

You see that picture up there?

I was not there that day. It was taken at the Japanese garden at the arboretum and I don't need a 360 degree panoramic shot to know that I was not there.

In the old home videos that I found last month where both of my little treasures giggled and mugged and made little jokes - I was not in most of them. Not holding the camera and not in the background.

I was at work or I was asleep or I just wasn't there because of some other distraction. I probably relished the opportunity to do something else - something forgettable.

So I couldn't judge that lady. I knew where she was in that moment. She was at the airport, traveling with a kid, managing their belongings, narrowly avoiding the loss of her purse, double and triple checking everything.

I got it. I understood.

But from where I sat it made my heart ache. That little sliver of pride I felt for that random little girl, just because she overcame the precision engineering of a yogurt cup, made me contemplate all of the little accomplishments that I missed or didn't notice because my head was not in it.

Now I see that little kid in the picture up there. Her jeans are kind of short because kids grow out of things. They grow while you're not looking. They grow while you're not thinking.

I see that kid in the picture and I just melt.

I know the blog is called "The Calm Voice of Rage" and I think that represents me about as well as any 5 word phrase can, but if there's anything in the world that effortlessly vanquishes my most envenomated bouts of cynicism - it's children.

Loving our children is the most important thing any of us will ever do.

I hate how cliche it sounds, but honestly, if we succeed at everything else and fail to love our children, we accomplish absolutely nothing. If we fail at every endeavor, excepting the one to release kind, decent, thoughtful people who know they're loved into the world, we can die fulfilled.

In the battle of good over evil it is the single most important variable.

I can't go back and recapture every moment of yogurt victory and I can't rewrite every mistake I made as a young dad. All I can do is forge ahead, embrace the fantastic young women in my life and try not to be distracted by my metaphorical purse. 

It is my admittedly trite and sanctimonious recommendation that all parents, old and new,  do the same.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Emancipate yourself Mr. Larry

Pape and I headed out again this morning. Now that he knows I'm not going to judge him for being a betel nut chewer, he's a lot more relaxed about bringing it up.

God knows I've had plenty of partners who needed to go to McDonalds or Hardees for coffee and a biscuit every morning, so taking a nice drive through the highlands for some betel nut (or 'buai' as the natives call it) doesn't bother me at all.

Yesterday we stopped at a village hut along the road to acquire some betel nut and wound up having a public health extravaganza as a quick pulse oximetry demonstration for a curious little kid turned into a grand community event. I really enjoyed the experience, but I was worried that if we showed up there again this morning, people might start to get the wrong idea about who I was and what they could expect from me. As such, I asked Pape to go just a little further down the road this time. He completely understood.

One of many women selling betel nut and various other
little items along the highland roads.
He found a spot where a meri (woman) had pitched her umbrella and laid some betel nut out on a piece of cloth to sell. On the other side of the dirt road from where she sat, a crowd of men and boys gathered around a row of dart boards on bamboo poles and did what you do in the presence of a dart board. They threw darts.

I watched the guys play darts while Pape chewed his buai and chatted. Then I saw a familiar face.

Yesterday, before I kicked off the pulse oximeter block party, a teenage boy came up and introduced himself. I gave him my name and asked for his.

"I am Mr. Laripoulakalanipulikena . . . ."

(This is not exactly what he said. I could not understand what he said, nor can I remember anything but the first two syllables. So I responded as best I could.)

"Nice to meet you Mr. Larry!"

We shook hands in the traditional Papua New Guinea way, which is very light and only with the fingers. No gripping, no shaking, no assertive eye contact - just an understated physical acknowledgement.

His introduction was interesting in that he used the title of 'Mister'. I've met plenty of locals from Port Moresby to Lae and few of them have given so much as a surname, let alone a prefix, but this kid was 'Mr. Larry' . . . okay dude, whatever.

After a few minutes of talking to him and taking in his unbelievably soft spoken countenance ( I mean the kid was barely audible, he was so gentle) I started to figure out why he presented himself that way.

Mr. Larry wanted to explain to me why the children were congregating around my periphery.

"They are curious about you because you have stopped. Mostly the white men drive by fast, make dust."

He wanted to tell me about the elections and the projects in the area. He wanted to know exactly where I was from, but he qualified his question by assuring me,

"I have my own world map."

As if I wouldn't answer if I thought he was too ignorant to understand global geography.

Mr. Larry was engaging me as his equal. The children were transfixed by my wedding ring and non-melanesian physical attributes. To them I was an escaped zoo animal. The adults of the village were still pretty much hiding behind the bushes at that point, probably weighing the options, but Mr. Larry walked right up like we were at a cocktail party. He was 'Mr. Larry' because he was a man about the world, just like me. He wasn't going to be dumbstruck by me, he was going to be my ambassador. He was going to help me relate to these simple village folk who weren't nearly as sophisticated as big shots like he and I.

When I put the pulse ox probe on the little kid's finger and the mob gathered in response, Mr. Larry stayed off to the side, managing the crowd for me. He was just as intrigued by the pulse oximeter as everyone else, but he was guarded in expressing his fascination. He held his finger out eventually, but he was coy about it, and when it was time to go, he was the one who announced it to the crowd.

"Okay okay, dokta must go now. He is very busy. Maybe anotha time he test you!"

Of course he shot me a knowing glance as if to say, "I gotcha buddy."

A sentiment that I returned with a smile and a nod of gratitude.

So I was happy to see him again this morning as I sat and watched the dart league action. Gone was yesterday's paint on either side of his eye. His face was clean. There was no betel nut in his mouth. He wore an old soccer jersey.

After acknowledging one another he focused his attention in the same direction as mine. The darts.

Village men pass the time by engaging in the popular
pastime of 'throwing arrows' . . . otherwise known as darts. Notice
how that little boy enjoys the visual effect of the dart striking
the board from outside his field of vision. Also note what a really
 bad place it is to stand when sharp objects are in flight.

"These guys have no job so they are throwing arrows. Morning, night . . . always." he said with a bit of disgust.

I didn't know how to respond. Agreement would be insulting, so would disagreement.

I'd been passing village after village of bamboo huts. There were pigs, huge gardens full of sweet potato mounds, banana trees, cassava, sago, chickens, goats . . . I saw no sign of famine or homelessness.

I just smiled and kept watching.

"The babies too. Many having no shoes."

I grew up in the burbs. I used to run around my neighborhood all summer with no shoes and all it did was toughen my feet to the point that shoes were useless. I know for a fact that these little kids around here have feet like truck tires. Shoes would do nothing for them but create a breeding ground for fungus.

I let that one go too.

"Dokta, are you also dentist?"

"No, I don't do teeth. Why do you have one that's hurting you?"

"No, no pain but . . . I need to have my teeth refreshed. Too much smoke, too much buai . . . not clean like you."

Yesterday Mr. Larry had a full betel nut mouth going on. When they chew the betel nut, they mix it with lime and some other plant that stains their saliva dark red. Today his teeth weren't red, but they definitely weren't what you or I would call "clean".

"Do you have a brush or floss?" I asked.

"No I don't have. I must go to Lae for a dentist but it is two days by road and 200 kina."

By this time, Pape had gotten back in the truck and we were ready to head out.

"I have an extra brush and some floss. I'll carry it with me and if you see me again I'll give it to you."

He nodded and kicked at the gravel,

"Okay thank you dokta."

I shook Mr. Larry's hand, Pape started the truck and we were off.

As we drove along I thought a lot about Mr. Larry and the concept of freedom.

We toss that word around like a hacky sack, but what does it mean? How does it inform the sadness I felt when I thought about Mr. Larry?

Sure it was sad that he had no toothbrush and yearned for better oral hygiene, but that wasn't the point.

If a teenage girl says, "I'm watching my weight because I'm concerned about the negative health affects of obesity and I don't want to become a type II diabetic."

You think, "Good for her!"

But if she says, "I'm watching my weight because I want to be a size zero and be totally hot and move to Hollywood and marry a rich guy and have my own reality TV show."

You think, "Holy shit, that's awful! You poor, pathetic little victim."

Mr. Larry wanted his teeth to be clean, but it wasn't because he recognized the value of good oral hygiene, it was because he was ashamed of himself.

He was ashamed of the shoeless babies and the men who played darts instead of having jobs. He was ashamed of the way the children in his village reacted to me and perhaps even more so by the adults. From the moment we met he sought to distinguish himself from them and to let me know that he was better . . . more like me.

By contrast, I look around this place and I see a self-sufficient population. I see toddlers and elderly people climbing steep roads while carrying all kinds of stuff on their backs. These are people who would be in a nursing home in the states and here they're carrying burlap sacks of potatoes up a mountain.

I see lean, sinewed young men like Mr. Larry stacking bamboo poles and mending grass roofs, while young women herd pigs through a gully with two kids in tow and one on their shoulder; each just as chubby as a baby should be.

In fact, the only vestige of illness or poverty I see, comes in the form of the discarded packaging and wrappers from outside products that litter the roads. Some marketed items that managed to infiltrate this society and infect the mind of Mr. Larry with the idea that he is not as good if he cannot make the money to buy them.

I see freedom everywhere. Not the freedom of being able to choose from among 5 or 6 cars in my price range, but freedom from the sense that I need to have one of those 5 or 6 cars in the first place.

Not the freedom of knowing that Banana Republic will definitely have jeans that look good on me, but the freedom to stand butt ass naked in a river with 50 of my closest friends and not feel weird or uncomfortable or "judged" or anything other than cool relief from the summer heat.

We don't understand 'free'. We think freedom has something to do with lack of physical confinement or reasonable access to a vapid selection of products, or the capacity to adhere to some societal standard that existed before we were born. This is not freedom at all. This is the most insidious and effective form of slavery - the kind that does not require shackles because the slave thinks he's reaching his own conclusions organically. Like ants in an ant farm, studiously tunneling away at what we think is a world of our own design, oblivious to the fact that the parameters we've been dropped into are so narrow that they're practically two dimensional. The ants at least have an excuse. They're stupid and their slavery is corporeal. Ours is what Bob Marley referred to when he said,

"Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our mind."

Somewhere along the line Mr. Larry picked up some english language skills. Perhaps it was in the Seventh Day Adventist missionary school down the road, or maybe he had access to TV, but either way he picked it up. With it, he apparently picked up the idea that his way was wrong and my way was right. The latest convert to the church of the free market reached his epiphany right on schedule.

Already he's learned to be dissatisfied with who he is, where he is and what he is. Already he's accepted the idea that the only cure for his affliction is cash.

" . . . I must go to Lae for a dentist but it is two days by road and 200 kina."

Better get a job Mr. Larry. No time for tending pigs and growing kau kau. Instead you must give your time and energy to a company. Help them do whatever it is they do and they'll give you cash in exchange. Use that cash to go to town and buy the things you now think you need.

Forget the old ways. Produce and consume. Produce and consume . . . Welcome to freedom!

If his english were just a little better, or if my pidgin were a lot better, I would tell him all of that. I would tell him not to be fooled by my clean teeth and my gold ring and my medical gadgets that shine red lights on your fingers and miraculously tell you what your heart is doing. Don't be too impressed by the map I draw in the dirt that shows how far I've come. It just means that I am far from my family.

I usually fly economy for Pete's sake . . . you wanna talk about slavery?

I would tell him to be proud of the babies with the teflon feet. Be proud of the old ladies who carry firewood up mountains. Play darts with the other guys, why not? Chew your fucking betel nut and do it without shame.

Smile with a face full of paint and big ol' red teeth brother. Be Mr. Larry in full volume! Know in that moment that I am the one who is in awe of you and not the other way around. I'm the one that needs to figure out how to loose my own chains, because for all of my big words, I am just as comfortable in my cage as anyone else. I'm invested. I have to pursue true freedom cautiously lest I be turned into free market cannon fodder, but you can turn back Mr. Larry. It's not too late for you to cut and run.

The odds are against him, but I am hoping he does exactly that.

. . . I'll still give him the toothbrush though.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

How to not misunderstand a South African 101

I really like South Africans. I've had the pleasure of working with lots of them and I can't think of one that I haven't liked. 

That said, I have noticed one departure between American english and South African english that I find fascinating. It's the way they use "must".

Essentially, South Africans use the word "must" in situations when other anglophones would use "should" and if you're not accustomed, it can sound like they're being pushy or severe. For example: A South African might say, 

"You must call me when you're in town." 

The emphasis is on the word "call", not "must". 

This just means, "You should call me when you're in town." and not "You had better call me when you're in town or else!" Which is how it sounds to an American.

Likewise they might say, 

"Must I use the hot water setting when washing white clothing?" 

To an American, this phrasing suggests that the speaker is resistant or hesitant to use hot water and is asking if they really have to. In reality, all they're asking is, "Should I use hot water when washing white clothing?"

I find it interesting because both words "should" and "must" are kind of wrong in these instances according to the dictionary.

Oxford defines the word 'must' this way:  1. to be obliged to; should (expressing necessity)

Oxford similarly defines 'should' as: 1. used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticizing someone’s actions.

It therefore seems as if we're both wrong. Both words imply obligation as opposed to option. Both words command the listener, rather than offering a suggestion, which stands out to my American ear when I hear a South African using "must", yet does not occur to me at all when I hear an American using "should". 

Isn't language weird?

So I offer this quick lesson to all non South African english speakers to file away in your subconscious. If a Saffer says,

"We're having a braai on Sunday, you must pop by."

You are not being ordered to do anything, you're being invited to a barbecue.

By 'barbecue' I refer to the verb that most non South African english speakers use to describe cooking meat over a fire, as opposed to the southern American noun form of 'barbecue' which refers to pit cooked pork only. Southerners get pissed when you confuse the terminology.

By 'pissed' I mean angry. Not 'drunk', which is what most non-American english speakers think of when they hear 'pissed'.


No wonder NATO is so screwed up.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

What's wrong with the Paramedic profession?

I guess it's a testament to Facebook's ingenious targeted advertising, but I am bombarded by ads from various online schools offering to help me 'earn my RN in just a few months'.  I'm sure I'm not the only one in my circle of friends who receives this kind of thing in their ad strip.

I don't typically pay it much attention, but a while back I was in the company of a British Paramedic and was showing him some pictures on my Facebook when he remarked about the ads in question. "Why would a Paramedic become a Nurse?" he asked. A fair question.

For the answer, one needn't look much further than the ads themselves. 'Increase your salary by 15% in as little as 12 months' is one of the recurring sales pitches. 

I explained to him that a newly minted RN, straight out of nursing school stands to earn 30-50% more than a newly minted Paramedic, and that the Paramedic will start to plateau after 15 years while the RN continues to creep up gently. This is a generalization, but it's true on a macro level.

What I have discovered throughout my experience of working all over the world, with Paramedics from Singapore, the UK, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, is that this is almost exclusively an American phenomenon. In fact, in multiple cases, including the case of my current co-worker Terrence (Australian) I am seeing people who used to be Nurses and are NOW Paramedics - a transition practically unheard of in the U.S., and for good reason . . . pay.

But why is the American paradigm so starkly out of step with the rest of the world? What is the factor that makes a newly minted RN more valuable than a newly minted Paramedic?

Before I tackle this question I want to be clear on something. I have zero disrespect for the nursing profession.

None at all.

I have many friends, some of whom will undoubtedly read these words who are Nurses. Some that I've worked with in critical care transport, some I know through spending too much time in emergency rooms and some are friends from my childhood who I learned years later (thanks to Facebook) went on to become Nurses.

I give this long-winded qualification because when I've been proximate to this discussion in the past, I've heard a few explanations from Nurses that are incorrect. I want to address the incorrect-ness without appearing bitter or flippant.

To the question "Why do Nurses make more?" I've heard:

"It's because we're licensed."

 . . . It's not because of licensure.

"It's because we're 'educated' as opposed to 'trained'." 

. . . This is a fallacy, but even if it were true, it wouldn't explain anything about pay. At the end of the day, the amount anyone gets paid comes down to a basic question of supply and demand. This is true of everyone from the janitorial staff to the CEO.

The CEO is not paid more because he/she has a PhD or MD or whatever . . . pay is not a reward for hard work or intelligence. The CEO is paid well because there aren’t many people who possess the qualifications and experience necessary to do that job effectively (low supply).

The janitorial staff is paid poorly because the necessary qualifications to do that job effectively do not exist. Therefore the vacancies are easier to fill; therefore there is no need to pay more (high supply). If you go to or or any of those sites and type in "Nurse", stand back and watch the mountain of vacancies come rolling in. Type in "Paramedic" and you needn't stand back. Your search results will likely be far fewer and will be laden with lots of RN vacancies, but whose description includes the word "Paramedic" somewhere in the text. Filter those out and you may have a few dozen jobs nationally.

Simply put, the demand for Nurses is just a whole lot higher. Why is that?

It all comes down to billing.

If you're a hospital or smaller medical center and you want to be able to bill medicare/medicaid (and hence the rest of the health insurance industry) you have to be accredited. The Joint Commission (JCAHO) pays close attention to Nurse-Patient ratios and can close a hospital's doors if they don't have the requisite number of duly qualified Nurses.

Consider also, the multitude of different specialties that the newly minted RN can gravitate towards and become an expert in. Then consider all the career paths for Nurses who want to get out of the clinical setting; informatics, case management, public health, on and on . . . So not only do you need nurses, you need specialized nurses in many areas.

Has anyone ever heard of JCAHO threatening to close a hospital because there weren't enough Paramedics? Of course not. JCAHO would scarcely notice such a thing. So if the bulk of the medical industry cannot utilize a Paramedic in a patient care capacity, while still maintaining the type of staffing necessary to be accredited - demand will be low. If there is no career ladder, and no clear avenue into some "specialized" form of Paramedicine, the Paramedic just stays put and hopes to hang in long enough to get promoted into a position that won't destroy their back, knees and sanity. Sounds promising and rewarding, right?

In any given locality there are usually a scant handful of employers looking for Paramedics. Back home I can think of three agencies in a 100-mile radius; three potential places to ply your trade in a population center of about 300,000 people.

In North Carolina, the Office of EMS says a Paramedic can only work for a legally chartered EMS service under an approved medical director. Doctor’s offices, clinics, urgent care facilities and the like couldn't hire a Paramedic - even if by some miracle, the idea occurred to them in the first place. The law limits our options by relegating us to one task - emergency response; which according to medicare, is of no value at all unless we transport. What good could we possibly do in a living room, right? What problems could a bunch of ambulance drivers solve all by themselves? How could such services possibly be billable?

And that's the box we find ourselves in, literally and figuratively. It is the confinement of role and the resulting lack of demand that constrains pay. There is no other explanation.

Once you leave the domestic setting and enter the international arena as I have, you enter a whole new scale of demand. When you look at all of the governments, NGOs, mining companies, seismic exploration companies, shipping lines and the like, you have a pool of employers who have long been aware of the value of the Paramedic skill set and are happy to pay a whole lot more for it than your local ambulance company or fire department.

Right now, in Queensland and Western Australia, Paramedics are commanding $700 to $1300 per day in the mining sector, depending on additional qualifications and experience. I'm not kidding.

For these employers, a Nursing credential is a nice adornment, but it is seldom if ever requested, let alone required. Since you are outside the confines of your home jurisdiction, the legal significance of licensure is null. The employer's insurance carrier is interested in the verifiable skill set of the provider only. The legitimately credentialed and experienced Paramedic, with augmented training in primary / occupational health and advanced trauma modalities has that skill set. 

But I did not start writing this to bang the drum of remote duty paramedicine, and I did not start writing this to throw down the gauntlet of spite before the throngs of Nurses out there (whom I love . . . honest!)

I started writing this note because these little Facebook ads are indicative of a tremendous problem that appears to be unique to the American healthcare system. The problem is this:

We have - in the Paramedic, a wealth of capability and skill that translates into a public health jackpot. A medical bargain of the century! And yet, because of the narrow, antiquated thinking of the agencies responsible for accreditation and compensation - we have been deemed utterly worthless, unless of course we drive someone to a hospital, where the real professionals are located . . . 

It is this confinement of our role that suppresses our compensation and it's our tepid compensation that makes us want to jump ship and become Nurses!!!!

If you're an American Paramedic and you're reading this, ask yourself: Have you ever considered the jump to nursing? Do you know anyone who has made the jump? Did any of them do it for any reason other than:

a.) Pay


b.) "I'm getting too old for this shit" . .?

Did any of them do it because they felt they were legitimately improving themselves personally? We all know the answer. So what does that tell us?

It tells us that the international community is light years ahead of the United States of America when it comes to valuing and utilizing the public health resource that is the Paramedic. I contend that the country with the most expensive and least comprehensive health care system in the civilized world has no excuse for undervaluing or underutilizing ANY health resource.

It is criminal for us to fail so completely, on a national scale, to get every last drop of value we can get out of every resource at our disposal, and that is a contention that should be shared by everyone from the CEO to the janitor

Thursday, May 10, 2012

What is this crap with Biden and Obama?

Just finished reading this article on yahoo.

Biden Apologizes to Obama Over Shotgun Comments on Gay Marriage

What exactly is the issue here?

The first thing that came to my mind when Biden made the statement was that it bore a striking similarity to Dick Cheney's remarks from back in 2004. For any who don't know, Dick Cheney's daughter Mary is a lesbian.

As you can read here in this composition from, Dick Cheney is clear that he holds a view that differs from that of President Bush, but he wraps up his position with the qualifier,

“My own preference is as I’ve stated, but the president makes policy for the administration.” Source: Todd Dvorak, Associated Press Writer in SF Chronicle , Aug 24, 2004

Compare that to Biden's qualifier,

“Look, I am vice president of the United States of America. The president sets the policy,’’ Biden said. “I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying [one] another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And, quite frankly, I don’t see much of a distinction beyond that.’’ Source: Callum Borchers, Boston Globe, May 8, 2012

So when it comes to a vice president and president disagreeing on a matter of policy, this policy in particular, we should be on really familiar and really non-newsworthy territory. Both vice presidents said the same thing. They said, "Here's how I feel, but I'm not the president so it's not going to be expressed in policy" which is not an Earth-shattering statement.

Why was this considered a contentious Biden gaffe?

Why did this get any attention at all?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

I'm not sayin' . . . I'm just sayin' (A possible explanation for why NC voted the way it did)

Yeah . . . there were some unhappy Facebook peeps this morning. Actually it started last night as the returns started coming in. So many friends were totally down in the dumps, especially the gay ones.

We heteros are weeping over the voluntary disregard of the American way, but our gay friends are taking a personal shot to the gut as well. I feel for them.

Anyway, as I scrolled through this morning I came upon a graphic that actually asked me to harken back to my undergraduate education and start thinking about empirical political theory instead of normative.

This is it:

Well sheesh . . . I have local knowledge, maybe I can help answer this question?!

I could just hazard some guesses and try to push it off like I'm a legitimate social scientist or something, but I thought maybe I should commit the time to the actual data. I mean, anyone can see that the Triangle went "Against", which suggests that maybe population density is a meaningful variable. But then you look over to the left at Watauga and Buncombe. Those aren't population centers. It's also not visible on this graphic, but Dare county - way out in the outer banks also voted "Against", so clearly it had nothing to do with density or topography.

So I took a little peek at the 2008 U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey and focused on education. When I reviewed "Percentage of adults between 24 - 64 years of age with a 2 or 4 year college degree" I noticed something veeerrrrrrrrrrryyyyyyyy interesting! but it was just a clue.

I needed specific county voting data in order to really see what I thought I saw, so I popped over to the North Carolina Board of Elections and spent a good 2 hours going county by county and tabulating the vote percentages from last night.

What did I discover?

First let me say that I did not do a thorough polimetric review of a vast dataset. If somebody wants me to pay me to do hardcore political science I will be far more thorough, but I think the little chunk of data that I charted says a little something. What does it say? I'm not going to comment on it. I'm going to show you the data table that I compiled here:

Education Data Source Election Data Source
County % of adults w/ 2 or 4 year degree % For % Against Majority Vote U.S. Census Bureau, 2008 American Community Survey North Carolina Board of Elections
Orange 63.4 21.06 78.94 Against
Wake 57.3 43.25 56.75 Against
Durham 51.4 30.24 69.76 Against
Mecklenburg 50.6 45.82 54.18 Against
New Hanover 48.1 50.23 49.77 For
Watauga 45.2 49.18 50.82 Against
Buncombe 41.9 48.51 51.49 Against
Chatham 41.4 46.13 53.87 Against
Forsyth 41.4 52.59 47.41 For
Guilford 41.2 50.03 49.97 For
Pitt 41.2 50.46 49.54 For
Moore 38.6 68.26 31.74 For
Dare 38.5 49.03 50.97 Against
Henderson 38.5 67.71 32.29 For
Union 36.6 76.52 23.48 For
Jackson 36.3 58.74 41.26 For
Cabarrus 36.1 69.99 30.01 For
Transylvania 35.2 62.02 37.98 For
Carteret 34.6 65.83 34.17 For
Cumberland 33.8 69.53 30.47 For
Haywood 32.9 72.22 27.78 For
Davie 32.7 72.79 27.21 For
Iredell 32.7 73.43 26.57 For
Craven 32.3 64.42 35.58 For
Macon 31.3 75.51 24.49 For
Alamance 30.2 64.04 35.96 For
Johnston 30 73.77 26.23 For
Nash 29.9 76.54 23.46 For
Catawba 29.4 74.22 25.78 For
Beaufort 29.3 77.57 22.43 For
Brunswick 28.8 64.63 35.37 For
Onslow 28.8 72.74 27.26 For
Gaston 28.7 76.68 23.32 For
Pasquotank 28.7 64.78 35.22 For
Harnett 28.2 58.48 41.52 For
Madison 28 70.43 29.57 For
Cherokee 27.6 78.16 21.84 For
Lee 27.6 70.35 29.65 For
Wilson 27.5 70.31 29.69 For
Stanly 27.4 80.52 19.48 For
Rutherford 27.1 81.08 18.92 For
Wayne 26.8 75.65 24.35 For
Davidson 26.7 74.58 25.42 For
McDowell 26.4 82.85 17.15 For
Pender 26.3 68.18 31.82 For
Burke 26.1 77.44 22.56 For
Granville 26 67.47 32.53 For
Lincoln 26 77.37 22.63 For
Hoke 25.9 65.07 34.93 For
Rowan 25.9 74.32 25.68 For
Hertford 25.5 70.11 29.89 For
Scotland 25.3 73.31 26.69 For
Currituck 25 67.8 32.2 For
Person 25 72.42 27.58 For
Cleveland 24.8 80.16 19.84 For
Surry 24.5 78.36 21.64 For
Columbus 24.4 85.06 14.94 For
Franklin 24.3 66.14 33.86 For
Martin 23.9 71 29 For
Lenoir 23.6 71.68 28.32 For
Richmond 23.6 77.39 22.61 For
Montgomery 22.7 76.52 23.48 For
Yadkin 22.7 82.45 17.55 For
Ashe 22.6 77.16 22.84 For
Caldwell 22.3 80.58 19.42 For
Alexander 22.2 85.99 14.01 For
Northampton 22.2 63.36 36.64 For
Bladen 21.8 83.27 16.73 For
Halifax 21.8 67.76 32.24 For
Wilkes 21.8 82.97 17.03 For
Rockingham 21.4 75.43 24.57 For
Randolph 21.1 80.49 19.51 For
Sampson 20 82.11 17.89 For
Robeson 19.4 86.23 13.77 For
Vance 19.4 73.02 26.98 For
Caswell 19 69.41 30.59 For
Duplin 19 78.16 21.84 For
Edgecombe 18.8 70.33 29.67 For
Stokes 18.2 77.75 22.25 For
Greene 18 72.41 27.59 For
Anson 15 69.58 30.42 For

Okay so that's that. It's data. Not too exciting to look at. Here's the graphic, which is a little more compelling:

Once again . . . I'm not interpreting this data at all, I'm just throwing it against the wall like a spit wad and letting you, the patron, the observer, the savvy consumer of information extract whatever you want from it.

I'm not suggesting there is any overarching truth the be learned, but if I were to toss out a crazy hypothesis, I might suggest that there's an inverse relationship between "education" and support of Amendment One.

That blue line above represents the education levels of each NC county included in the 2008 study in descending order. The jagged red line shows how each of those counties voted last night. As you can see, the red line trends higher (stronger support for Amendment 1) as the blue line trends lower (less education).

I tried to do this as a scatter plot with median lines but I couldn't get it to work so it's just a quick line chart.

The sharpest spike in support of the amendment seemed to occur right after the top 10 most educated counties in the state. Actually it was the top 11 because Pitt and Guilford counties are tied for #10 with 41.2% of adults having at least a 2 year degree.

I thought it would be interesting to average the 10 most educated counties in North Carolina and compare them to the 10 least educated counties in North Carolina and see how their voting patterns match up.

% of adults
w/ 2 - 4 year
% For % Against Majority
Top 10 Most Educated Counties in NC 48.19 43.704 56.296 Against
Top 10 Least Educated Counties in NC 18.79 75.949 24.051 For

Well, well, well . . .

Looks like the 10 most educated counties in the state opposed the amendment 56% to 44%.

Also looks like the 10 least educated counties in the state were quite fond of the amendment. Quite fond indeed.

What does all of this mean?

I don't know man, probably nothing . . .

Probably absolutely nothing.