Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Problem with Public Schools

Most people agree that public schools are a bundle of problems. Even public school proponents agree and use those problems to support their own agendas.

Aside from the on-going complaints about poor academic performance, grade inflation, and low expectations, there is also serious concern over such in-school issues as:

  • violence
  • physical and emotional bullying
  • cheating and lying
  • wide-spread immorality
  • drugs and alcohol
  • worldview conflicts

Of course, these problems are really symptoms of something deeper, but what is it? The unions claim it's a lack of funding. Schools often claim it's a lack of parental involvement. Parents feel unrepresented and sidelined. Social reformers blame poverty. Others point to poor teacher training, not enough (or too much) testing, lack of accountability, even societal factors such as television and music.

We might find these claims more credible if it weren't for the fact that so many private schools and home schools seem to avoid the problems of public schools, and they do it with less funding, often low incomes, less teacher training, and little to no accountability to the state.

What's the Difference?

This is important, because it will lead us to the real cause of our public school problems.

The difference is that public schools are controlled by the government and subject to all the ills of government bureaucracy and power. Private and home schools are run, in varying ways, by parents.

Private schools are dependent upon the satisfaction of parents in order to remain in business. They do not control the children in their care. Instead, families retain their authority and hire the schools for certain aspects of raising their children.

Government schools never sought the permission of parents to educate children. Instead, they used force to secure their audience. As is only natural, the arrogance of the state and its contempt for parents has grown with the years. So also has its power over society.

Parents give up their rights when their children cross the threshold of the public school door. This was recently made crystal clear by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

When a few parents in Palmdale, California learned that their children�s school had permitted researchers to interview first, third and fifth grade students about such things as sexual urges and fantasies, they became outraged and took the matter to court.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard the case and concluded that when parents place their children in a public school, they forfeit any right to determine what or how their children are taught. The school may teach anything it wishes in any way it wishes. It may allow researchers, special interests, social activists, and anyone else it chooses access to students. The court's decision confirmed earlier court opinions.

Our society has become a slave to the state by virtue of government-controlled schools. Children suffer, parents feel helpless, and scores of good educators feel trapped in a system that never should have existed in the first place.

As long as schools remain in the stranglehold of state control, there is no type of reform or good-hearted group that can fix our education crisis.


Internet schoolgirl is latest victim of bathroom poison suicide cult

More than 120 people fled their homes yesterday when a 14-year-old Japanese schoolgirl took her own life by mixing a deadly cocktail of household products and creating clouds of highly toxic gas.

Her death, just a few days into the new school year, was the latest tragedy in what some in Japan see as an epidemic of copycat suicides among the young and internet-obsessed.

The girl’s death brought to 70 the number of young people in Japan who have brewed the fatal concoction and killed themselves with hydrogen sulphide gas this year.

Police fear that worse is to come: one of the products used to generate the gas has sold out in many stores in the past few weeks.

Despite Japan’s extremely high suicide rate, the worst among developed countries, the use of hydrogen sulphide as a means of suicide has been virtually unknown. Its sudden popularity has baffled experts, although many believe that it represents a significant attitude change because of the danger the method poses to innocent people.

The poisonous gas, which lingers in the room where it is produced, remains potent long after the suicide. In some cases the person finding the body has been taken seriously ill; a mother who discovered her son breathing the gas also died from the fumes.

Ryoji Matoba, a specialist in forensic medicine and suicides, said: “I suppose each generation has its popular method of suicide. I fear very much that people will copy what they have seen on the news. The people who do this believe, wrongly, that they will die still looking all right, but this gas turns the body brown and green.”

Despite efforts by the authorities to crack down hard on Japan’s many suicide websites, the victims were all led through their final moments of life with the aid of step-by-step guides readily available online in Japanese. The sites explain which cleaning products and bath additives to buy, how to mix them, and how quickly the resulting toxic gas will take effect.

Yesterday, after police evacuated every resident from the five-storey apartment block in the southern town of Konan where the girl was found, they discovered the macabre calling card that attested to the role of the websites.

Pinned outside the bathroom where the girl died was a poster that has begun to appear with grim regularity across the country: “Do not open! Poison gas being generated on the other side of this door!” The poster, always in the same vocabulary and typeface, is available for download on the most visited suicide sites – an apparent effort by the website creators to make the process easier.

Japan has been an unhappy leader of so-called internet suicides. Four years ago a spate of suicide pacts began that had been forged online between strangers who would arrange to meet and end their lives together.

Plague of death

— World Health Organization figures show that Japan has the second-highest suicide rate in the Group of Eight nations, beaten only by Russia

— At least 30,000 people have killed themselves in Japan every year since 1998

— The 1998 peak in suicides coincided with a nationwide economic slump

— Last year the Japanese Cabinet approved measures to cut suicides by tackling unemployment, promoting counselling and filtering suicide websites

The Times of London and Fox News Contributed to this report.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Weekly Weird News

Lawyers and Sharks
Lawyer confidentiality rules kept one man improperly on death row for 10 years and a probably innocent man in prison for 26, according to news that surfaced in January (in Virginia) and March (in Illinois). Daryl Atkins (sentenced to death in 1997) was the victim of probable prosecutorial misconduct, according to his co-defendant's lawyer, Leslie Smith, who said he witnessed the misconduct but could not report it because a lesser sentence for Atkins would have exposed his own client to greater punishment. In Illinois, Alton Logan was convicted of a murder during a 1982 robbery. However, shortly afterward, Andrew Wilson admitted to his lawyers that he was the murderer, but bar association rules prohibited them from revealing that. When Wilson died in 2007, the lawyers went public, and Logan's case has been re-opened. [New York Times, 1-19-08] [CBS News, 3-6-08]

The Aristocrats!

Mayor Art Madrid of La Mesa, Calif., apologized in February for an incident the week before when police found him, along with a female city employee, passed out about 10:30 p.m. Madrid was lying on the sidewalk near an SUV; the woman was in the driver's seat with her legs sticking out the open door; and vomit littered the area. [San Diego Union Tribune, 2-27-08]

A patient reporting for an appointment with dentist Norman Rubin in Smithtown, N.Y., in March told the New York Post that Rubin was in the otherwise-empty office, passed out, drooling, with a gas mask on his face. (Rubin later told the Post, in defense, that it was, after all, his lunch hour.) [New York Post, 3-20-08]

The Continuing Crisis

Dirk Opalka (whose fox scored 96 of 100 possible points) won best in show at the World Taxidermy Championships in February in Salzburg, Austria, beating over 100 competitors in the art of stretching animal skin over fake bodies so the critters look better than they ever looked alive. The attention to detail was astonishing, according to a dispatch in Der Spiegel, on such features as a stag's nostrils, a hyena's lips, a hamster's whiskers, the neck length of a female peregrine falcon (precisely 5.5 cm), and the proper rosiness of a bat's anus. [Der Spiegel, 2-29-08]

In March, the Tokyo High Court reversed the conviction of pinup model Serena Kozakura, who had been found guilty of kicking a hole in the door of her former boyfriend's apartment so she could break in and scream at him. Kozakura had appealed, claiming that the man had made the hole himself, and as evidence, explained that she could never have squeezed through it, anyway, because her breasts are too big. That argument apparently won the day, creating enough "reasonable doubt" to overturn the verdict. [Agence France-Presse, 3-4-08]

Two German air force sergeants were suspended in December after being caught in a side venture selling sausages based on an old family recipe requiring human blood. Their first batches were made with their own, but as they began mass-producing, they had allegedly asked their colleagues because, according to instructions from one of the men's grandmothers, all blood must be "fresh." "Do not use too many breadcrumbs," she had written, "but if the blood starts to curdle, stir in a teaspoon of wine vinegar." [Daily Telegraph (London), 3-3-08]

Court documents revealed in March that federal judge Eduardo Robreno had fined New York mortgage banker Aaron Wider and his lawyer $29,000 for using variations of the "F word" 73 times (thus, about $367 per usage) during a contentious deposition he gave in a lawsuit brought by GMAC Bank. [The Legal Intelligencer (Philadelphia), 3-5-08]

Several psychotherapists told The New York Times in February that treatments are being developed for people who are excessively worried about their own carbon emissions being responsible for "global warming." More than 120 therapists are now listed as specialists in the field on, and schools such as Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore., have created courses on counseling such patients. [New York Times, 2-16-08]

Family Values

Sheila and Paul Garcia of Northfleet, England, acknowledged to London's Daily Mail in February that they invited their 16-year-old daughter's boyfriend to come live with her in her bedroom, despite the fact that he is 36 and divorced, with one child. The parents said they weren't thrilled with the situation, but that it was preferable to the daughter's running away with the man. [Daily Mail (London), 2-27-08]

Cutting-Edge Parenting: Sheriff's deputies in the Orlando area were on the lookout in March for two women who, according to surveillance video from the Magical Car Wash, had pulled into a stall and deposited coins but then proceeded only to scold and then pressure-wash a small child. [ (Bright House cable), 3-6-08]

Aron Pritchard, 27, was convicted of child endangerment in March in Hutchinson, Kan., after a jury declined to accept his explanation for his girlfriend's kids, age 2 and 3, being burned in a hot clothes dryer. Pritchard said he was just trying to show them they could have fun without necessarily spending money. [KWCH-TV (Wichita), 3-10-08]

Least Competent Criminals

Not Ready for Prime Time: Two boys, 12 and 14, were quickly arrested in Port St. Lucie, Fla., in March when they tried to rob a woman who was working at a counter behind protective glass in an office, by picking up the convenience phone and threatening her, implying that they had a gun. The woman was in no danger because of the protective glass, but besides that, the place they had chosen for the hit was a regional office of the Port St. Lucie police department. [Port St. Lucie News, 3-13-08]

Donald Baker, 51, was re-arrested in March in Peterborough, Ontario, when he called the police department to request a wake-up call for his court appearance the next morning; amazed at his audacity, police ran a records check and found an additional arrest warrant on him. [Peterborough This Week, 3-17-08]


I cited a police report last May on my old 360 blog that an unidentified man in Guelph, Ontario, had committed at least three incidents of approaching women and asking to be kicked in the groin. After seven such incidents, Jarrett Loft, 28, pleaded guilty in March 2008 to one count and was sentenced to 60 days in jail. Loft offered no explanation for his behavior, other than that he was "curious." One victim, saying that she feared what Loft might do if she refused, repeatedly kicked him between the legs, after which he thanked her and rode off on his bicycle. [Guelph Mercury, 3-29-08]

Good Friday in the Philippines town of San Pedro Cutud has meant, for over 20 years, that two dozen men will line up to be nailed to a wooden cross for a few minutes each to mark their penitence for sins of the previous year (although this year, the government issued an advisory recommending getting tetanus shots and using only sterile nails). Ruben Enaje, 47, was first in line once again (the 22nd time in 23 years that he has been crucified) and, once again, screamed in agony for five minutes at the 6-inch nails driven into both palms and both feet while he lay on the cross. Before the crucifixions, dozens of other men punished themselves by whipping their backs bloody, using bamboo rods. [Agence France-Presse, 3-21-08, 3-19-08]

Undignified Deaths

A 76-year-old Baptist minister was found dead in Clarksville, Tenn., in March after he had tried to pull a goat back into a fenced-in area of his property; apparently, the goat had resisted the slip knot, and somehow the animal's jumping had wound the rope around the minister's feet and neck, and he had begun to turn blue by the time his wife found him. [Leaf Chronicle (Clarksville), 3-19-08]

The day before that, an 82-year-old man in Lake Hallie, Wis., was killed when he apparently slipped while using a plumber's auger on his septic tank and fell in, head first, eventually drowning. [WCCO-TV (Minneapolis)-AP, 3-18-08]


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

News & Weird Goings-on....


Now it is possible to see a movie of an electron. The movie shows how an electron rides on a light wave after just having been pulled away from an atom. This is the first time an electron has ever been filmed, and the results are presented in the latest issue of Physical Review Letters.

As important as the electron is, and this is the first time it's appeared on film? Something wrong about that. How is it that an electron is just getting on the screen and Pauley Show has already made all those movies?

Meanwhile, the story of Mavis Price:

The 60-year-old grandmother seems to have a freakishly high level of static electricity coursing through her body.

She estimates she has destroyed 15 kettles in the last few years. Housework has also become a problem, with 20 irons and ten vacuum cleaners biting the dust after falling foul of her apparently supercharged touch.

And her friends and family are often left with their hair standing on end after touching her.

Mrs Price says her bizarre condition also means she cannot keep a computer in her house because they go berserk at the brush of her hand.

I hope this woman is never allowed to wear corduroy pants. She could blow up half of England.

And let's keep this statically charged grandmother out of Arizona, which is close to becoming the "Persian Gulf of Solar Energy" according to CNN.

PHOENIX, Arizona (AP) -- A Spanish company is planning to take 3 square miles of desert southwest of Phoenix and turn them into one of the largest solar power plants in the world.

Abengoa Solar, which has plants in Spain, northern Africa and other parts of the U.S., could begin construction as early as next year on the 280-megawatt plant in Gila Bend -- a small, dusty town 50 miles southeast of Phoenix.

The company said Thursday it could be producing solar energy by 2011.

Abengoa would build, own and operate the $1 billion plant, named the Solana Generating Station.

The "Persian Gulf of Solar Energy" right here in the United States. Good thing that President Bush is leaving office or we might have ended up invading ourselves.

Speaking of Phoenix:

A 600-page guide may lend credibility to UFO believers.

The Fire Officer's Guide To Disaster Control can apparently be found in firehouses across the United States.

It covers everything from fire and flood response to aviation disasters.

Chapter 13 of the book has an unusual twist. Titled "Enemy Attack And UFO Potential", it outlines what could happen in the event of a UFO crash.

The authors of the book, retired firefighters William M. Kramer and Charles W. Bahme write in part:

It would be remiss to not give some part to the role fire departments might play in the even of the unexpected arrival of UFO's in their communities...In a less optimistic scenario, you may have engine trouble upon approaching the scene, and radio contact could be lost with your dispatcher. If at night, your headlights could go out, the city could be blacked out, and your portable generators may malfunction when you attempt to use them for fans and portable lights

For the sake of the first responders, I hope that Chapter 14 of this manuel is "How not to get vaporized by their alien death rays."

As far as I'm concerned the weirdest news story of the week is the reports that the Secret Service waived their protection of Barack Obama in Dallas. Did you hear this update?

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 (UPI) -- The U.S. Secret Service Friday denied reports that security measures at a recent Barack Obama rally in Texas were relaxed or deviated from established plans.

Secret Service spokesman Eric Zahren said there was no order from the Secret Service to stop screening people going to the Obama rally Wednesday at Dallas' Reunion Arena. He said that the event's security plans didn't involve having each participant pass through a magnetometer, as may be the case at other events.

The Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram reported that some police at the event expressed concern about people not passing through metal detectors.

"Any allegations to the fact that we had suspended screening or deviated from the original security plan would be entirely inaccurate," Zahren said.

How familiar is that sounding? The Secret Service denies telling the Dallas Police to stand down? I'm glad they say that it didn't happen but . . .

No wonder some folks are worried that if he were elected, Barack Obama would never live to see a second term.

Questions remain about the deadly poison, ricin, found in that Las Vegas extended stay hotel room but we now know more about the guy who was living in that room. Channel 8 in Vegas is doing some great reporting on this, as is the Journal-Review.

The Review-Journal states that he is Roger Von Bergendorff, a man who had been admitted to the hospital on Feb. 14 with breathing problems consistent with exposure to ricin. Von Bergendorff is now in critical condition and police sources say he has slipped into a coma.

Police say they had been to the man's room on February 26 after apartment management called them to remove some firearms. The managers were going forward with eviction proceedings when they found guns and an anarchist-type textbook

I swear this already was an episode of CSI: Las Vegas. In the TV episode I saw of the anarchist who dies of his own poison, it wasn’t terrorism the guy was after but in the end, but money. Kind of D.B. Cooper like story except, of course, it wasn’t.

There is nothing at all quite like the D.B. Cooper story, the man we were talking about in my first post here on Blogspot.

BISHOPVILLE, SC (WIS) - After a nasty surprise Thursday morning for one Bishopville resident, she's wondering if the "Lizard Man" is back.

Dixie Rawson of Bishopville sent WIS News 10 an e-mail about a big surprise she got at her home Thursday morning. "The whole front half of our van is chewed up. There are bite marks right through the front grill. Both sides of the van above the wheel wells were bitten and the metal is bent like a piece of paper."

It reminded Dixie of the local legend of the "Lizard Man" that stretches back for decades. Now some are wondering if the Lizard Man is back.

Meanwhile, overseas....

Romanian cops have closed a vandalism investigation that left local houses in ruins by concluding ghosts were to blame.

Families living in Lilieci reported windows broken, bicycles flying through the air, objects moving on tables and candles blown out when there is no wind.

When they complained they were being hounded by evil spirits to police they were laughed at.

But after officers saw the evidence with their own eyes they filed a report saying that ghosts were to blame.

A police spokesman said: "There were bottles and things flying around. I did not know what to dodge first. We can find nothing to suggest it was anything other than what the people claim."

Always nice to have photos to back up your claims when you can. Sometimes, some people have proof before they even know they have a claim to make.

From the Sun:

A STUDENT was left shocked when she checked her tourist snaps of the London skyline - and spotted what looks like a flying saucer.

University Of Exeter academic Karolina-Slavka Mueller was in London for the weekend, when she took some shots with her camera phone of the sights.

But when she looked back at the January 19 night time pictures of Tower Bridge and the London Eye, she was shocked to see an apparent UFO.

And experts claim it is the real thing.

Karolina said in an email: "What's very strange about this is the fact that we didn't actually see this object in the sky while I was taking the photos.

"I only discovered it once I loaded the photos onto my computer as I didn't even look at the photos until then."

A bleeding fisherman swam 12 hours through shark-infested waters to raise the alarm after his trawler overturned off Australia.

Michael Williams left two colleagues clinging to debris in the ocean as he embarked on his epic journey.

One fellow crewman was rescued after spending 30 hours at sea while the skipper is still missing.

Meanwhile, Down Under . . .

Interesting profile of a New Zealand Water Diviner on The link is on the website at but it’s pretty amazing. Using just his own supernatural ability, he found a water source for a town in trouble. And on top of that, he was so confident in his water divination technique that after he put his finger on the map and said “here.” he put up his own money to help fund the well drilling. Now, he gets a royalty for the water the town is getting out of it.

Maybe the Governor of Georgia should hire that guy. As Herman Wang with the Free-Press in Nooga wrote last week, the Georgia water wars are beginning to boil, a video story I ran back in March here.

Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen said today he has no plans to discuss Georgia’s proposed land grab — or border correction, depending on who’s talking.

“I think it’s a silly issue that’s more of a publicity stunt,” said Gov. Bredesen, “my position is pretty clear. We’re certainly not going to move our borders to share our water.”

Gov. Perdue has been supportive of efforts by the Georgia General Assembly to have the state line redrawn to the 35th parallel, where it was intended before an 1818 survey placed it in its current location 1.1 miles south.

“He has been telling people to look at (maps on) Google Earth to find the 35th parallel to see where the line should be,” spokesman Bert Brantley said. “He might encourage Governor Bredesen to do that, as well.

The Georgia House and Senate separate resolutions that would create a commission with Tennessee and North Carolina officials to resurvey and redraw the border at the 35th parallel. Water-thirsty Georgia, hit hard by a drought this past year, has long had its eye on Tennessee River water, tantalizingly out of reach across the state line.

Moving the border would cede to Georgia a portion of the Tennessee River at Nickajack Lake in Marion County, while also putting in Georgia parts of Chattanooga and East Ridge in Hamilton County and a portion of Bradley County.

“Everybody’s in agreement that (the border) was marked wrong back years ago,” Mr. Brantley said. “The real question is, is there something to be done that could make sense?”

Yeah, maybe, but as a former long-time resident of both Tennessee and Georgia, take my word for it. When it comes to give up some of its sovereignty to Georgia is one thing on which Tennessee won’t be volunteers.


The Buzz

So we worry about lethal injection being inhumane for a murderer, but don’t consider the murderer’s victim(s) and how inhumanely they died. Personally, I think the crime should be re-enacted upon the perpetrator.

Use less water or we run out, use more water or we will charge you for using less. Are these people crazy?!!

No, your BMW does not give you the right to drive an inch off my bumper going through Macon, especially when I’m already going 12mph over the speed limit. Do it again and I’ll turn it into a trailer hitch ornament!

The price of gas is too much when it costs more to go to work than you get paid.

Does anyone else feel like they are being robbed each time we fill up our tanks, no matter what we drive? There is no way the cost of producing the oil is going up this fast.

Do those women from that ranch in Texas remind anyone else of those creepy Stepford Wives?

All the NAACP sees is black and white - they ignore facts and they call us racists for saying it.

Perfume or cologne should be worn in a way that you smell pleasant to someone close to you. Not so you leave noxious clouds in elevators.

Third graders arrested in plot to kill teacher? Maybe a good old fashioned paddling by the principal would fit the crime. Worked for me.

I know a bus driver in Bibb County who's been one long enough to know that some of your children are not the future we were all hoping for.

Dear Georgia Legislators: If you are so certain that your consituents, the sheeple of Georgia, are “too conservative” to vote in favor of Sunday package sales, why not put it on the ballot? Besides, how does MY buying alcohol on Sundays interfere with YOU keeping Sunday holy?

I think there are a lot of adults today who could use a swift kick in the rear rather than more government assistance.

I thought a village was only supposed to have one idiot. How did Macon manage to find so many…and put them into office?


Wal-Mart's poor customer service may threaten its future

The new quarterly results from The University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) have been released. Among the brokerages, Fidelity is tops, followed by Schwab, TD Ameritrade and E*TRADE. When it comes to online retail, Amazon is tops, followed closely by In banking, Wachovia remains on top, while CitiGroup and Wells-Fargo come in at the bottom of the heap. The department/discounter store field was dominated by Nordstrom. Wal-Mart came in last! In the specialty retail category, Barnes & Noble was No. 1, Costco was No. 2 and in last place came Circuit City. The supermarket category was dominated by Publix, while Wal-Mart came in dead last. One clear trend emerges: Wal-Mart faces a real challenge when it comes to customer satisfaction.

Wal-Mart is ranked as the worst retailer and worst grocer when it comes to customer satisfaction, according to the latest ACSI survey. The irony is that people still shop there in huge numbers despite all the complaints. But that may not always be the case.
I know a lot of people hate Walmart for their dirty business strategies.

Before Wal-Mart was the largest retailer in the world, that title was held by Sears and then by Kmart. Both Sears and Kmart are today owned by Sears Holdings, which has now reported that its profits are down by nearly 50%. Sears Holdings' sales are declining rapidly, while cash on hand has dropped from $4 billion a year ago to $1.5 billion now. The marketplace spoke and this is the result.

The Wal-Mart haters have to realize that the marketplace will speak again if Wal-Mart doesn't improve its customer experience. Look at any industry. In the car field, GM used to own this country. Today, they're struggling to survive because they had a tin ear to the customer. The message is clear: If somebody doesn't take care of you, you must use your feet and take care of yourself by taking your business elsewhere.

Other Customer No-Service Companies include Wendy's, Lowe's, Home Depot, Old Navy, Adobe Systems, McDonalds, Sears, Belk (which aquired Parisian {God help us}), and Target.


Saturday, April 19, 2008

Weird News

It's The Least They Can Do

China's societal self-improvement in preparation for the 2008 Olympics continues. The Beijing Tourism Bureau ordered hotels to re-translate English signs, hoping to avoid such notorious past gaffes as "Racist Park," which is now "Park of Ethnic Minorities," and a cafe's attempt to salute Western visitors with "Welcome, big nose friends." And the Beijing Olympics Committee has been training hostesses for months to stand in military-like precision, straight enough to hold a sheet of paper between their knees, and to smile continuously, showing "six to eight teeth" (even if placing a chopstick in the mouth sideways is necessary for practice). There are height and weight requirements for the hostesses, and each must have an upper- to lower-body ratio of no more than 11-to-13, to eliminate, according to local newspapers, "big bottoms." [Daily Telegraph (London), 3-20-08] [Daily Telegraph (London), 1-11-08]

Too Much Time on Their Hands

It struck Leo Hill, 81, of Lakewood, Colo., that he was being shorted sheets of toilet paper (in the 12-pack, whose rolls allegedly yielded fewer sheets than similar rolls in the 4-pack), and he earnestly counted 60 rolls, sheet by sheet, concluding that the shortage amounted to enough paper to service one sit-down session per roll. He took his complaint to the Denver Post (and even to the Better Business Bureau), but the reporter, trying to replicate Leo's work, found no shortage, in Leo's brand or eight others. [Denver Post, 1-26-08]

Jonathan Lee Riches is believed to be the most prolific lawsuit-filer ever to operate from behind bars. His "docket" now includes more than 1,000 cases in just over two years (with eight more years to go on a federal sentence for fraud), including claims totaling several trillion dollars from "injuries" inflicted on him by such people as President Bush, Martha Stewart, Steve Jobs, Britney Spears, Tiger Woods (luggage theft), Barry Bonds (illegal moonshine production), and football player Michael Vick ($63 billion for allegedly stealing Riches' pit bulls and selling them on eBay so that Vick could in turn buy missiles from Iran). [Guardian (London), 3-2-08; Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 8-17-07]


Prison reformer James McDonough revealed in February the extent of the mess he inherited when taking over the Florida Department of Corrections in 2006 (40 officials charged with crimes, 90 fired, 280 demoted) and said much of the problem centered on inter-department softball. Even though former officials had admitted to contract kickbacks and frequent taxpayer-funded "orgies," McDonough said, "I cannot explain how big an obsession softball had become. People were promoted on the spot after a softball game ... to high positions in the department because they were able to hit a softball out of the park ... The connection between softball and the parties and the corruption and the beatings (of prisoners) was greatly intertwined." [CNN, 2-11-08]

Making artistic, themed scrapbooks is a $2.6 billion industry in the U.S. (nearly one-fifth as large as the adult-video industry) and has a "Hall of Fame" as protective of its morals as baseball's, which has shunned gamblers and steroid-users. According to a January Wall Street Journal report, one "superstar" scrapbooker, Kristina Contes, was recently kicked out of the hall for violating etiquette by displaying another's photo inside her scrapbook in a competition. Contes said the oversight was inadvertent but that she is now shunned within the community for her grave offense and called "labelwhore." [Los Angeles Times, 1-12-08]

Orlando "public artist" Brian Feldman celebrated Feb. 29 (Leap Day) by devoting himself to "leaping," according to a report on WOFL-TV. For the entire 24 hours, beginning at midnight, Feldman leaped off a 12-foot-high platform every three minutes and 56 seconds (a total of 366 times). Said Feldman, "I thought it would be a good idea to get people to think how they spend their day." [WOFL-TV (Orlando), 2-29-08]

Unclear on the Concept

German artist Markus Kison created a full-body burqa, the robe that devout Muslim women wear for modesty, but equipped to send a digital signal of the wearer's face to anyone nearby via Bluetooth. According to a February report in Der Spiegel, Kison reasoned that, since nothing in the Quran specifically forbids it, women can use it to determine their own personal levels of modesty. [Der Spiegel, 2-25-08]

First, Arkansas Tech University canceled outright its production of the Stephen Sondheim play "Assassins" (containing some violence) because of "recent tragic events" on campuses, but then relented because of the hard work that the students had already put in. In February, the production was staged in full, one time, to an audience solely of participants' families, who presumably could handle the violence. However, even that showing took place without the play's prescribed guns, even though they were only wooden props. (The "guns" were later discarded but only after being sawed in half.) [The Courier (Russellville, Ark.), 2-21-08]

Accidents Will Happen

Police officer Thomas Wilson pleaded guilty to having 8,742 images of child pornography on his computer, but the judge acknowledged that Wilson might have acquired them "somewhat accidentally" (Brisbane, Australia; March). [Brisbane Times, 3-13-08]

Ernest Simmons was convicted of attempted murder of two sheriff's deputies despite his defense that he only "accidentally" shot at them (11 times, using two guns) (Orlando, January). [WFTV (Orlando), 1-31-08]

Accused purse-snatcher Derrick Dale, 21, said that the purse fell on his foot and (according to the arrest report) "the next thing he knew, (it) was in his hands" (Destin, Fla., January). [Northwest Florida Daily News, 1-18-08]

Least Competent Criminals

This Getaway Plan Works Better in July: James Jett, 33, was arrested in Blount County, Tenn., in February after attempting to evade police by jumping into the Little River and submerging all but his face. However, the high temperature that day was only 36 degrees (F), and by the time he was discovered, he was suffering from hypothermia. [Daily Times (Maryville, Tenn.), 2-28-08]

Recurring Themes

A building contractor was caught by a security guard simulating sex with a canister vacuum cleaner (and claiming that he was merely vacuuming his underpants, which he said was a "common practice" in his native Poland) (London; March). [DailyTelegraph (London), 3-4-08]

People continue to purposely maim themselves in various schemes. Daniel Kuch allegedly had a friend shoot him in the shoulder so he could get time off work (and was arrested for telling police that it was a drive-by) (Pasco, Wash., February). [Chicago Sun-Times-AP, 3-1-08]

And Elizabeth Hingston, 24, let her boyfriend break her leg by jumping on it so that the pair could claim insurance proceeds worth the equivalent of $200,000 (Plymouth, England, November). [Daily Mail (London), 11-20-07]

And Zachary Booso, 19, shot himself in the cheek, shoulder and thigh so that he could brag to his friends and ex-girlfriend that he is involved with gangs (Brownsburg, Ind., March). [WRTV (Indianapolis), 3-27-08]

Undignified Deaths

A 39-year-old man who had been cited 32 times for driving without a seat belt (and who finally rigged a fake belt in his car to create the illusion that he was belted in) was killed in a low-impact car crash that would not have been fatal to a belted driver (Okata, New Zealand; coroner's inquest, February). [Fairfax News (, 2-23-08]

And a 74-year-old man died of hypothermia after sneaking out of a nursing home at 4:30 a.m. to smoke (Winnipeg, Manitoba; January). [Halifax Daily News, 1-13-08]


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Users petition to keep Windows XP

SEATTLE, Washington (AP) - Microsoft Corp.'s operating systems run most personal computers around the globe and are a cash cow for the world's largest software maker. But you'd never confuse a Windows user with the passionate fans of Mac OS X or even the free Linux operating system.

Unless it's someone running Windows XP, a version Microsoft wants to retire.

Fans of the six-year-old operating system set to be pulled off store shelves in June have papered the Internet with blog posts, cartoons and petitions recently. They trumpet its superiority to Windows Vista, Microsoft's latest PC operating system, whose consumer launch last January was greeted with lukewarm reviews.

No matter how hard Microsoft works to persuade people to embrace Vista, some just can't be wowed. They complain about Vista's hefty hardware requirements, its less-than-peppy performance, occasional incompatibility with other programs and devices and frequent, irritating security pop-up windows.

For them, the impending disappearance of XP computers from retailers, and the phased withdrawal of technical support in coming years, is causing a minor panic.

Take, for instance, Galen Gruman. A longtime technology journalist, Gruman is more accustomed to writing about trends than starting them.

But after talking to Windows users for months, he realized his distaste for Vista and strong attachment to XP were widespread.

"It sort of hit us that, wait a minute, XP will be gone as of June 30. What are we going to do?" he said. "If no one does something, it's going to be gone."

So Gruman started a Save XP Web petition, gathering since January more than 100,000 signatures and thousands of comments, mostly from die-hard XP users who want Microsoft to keep selling it until the next version of Windows is released, currently targeted for 2010.

On the petition site's comments section, some users proclaimed they will downgrade from Vista to XP - an option available in the past to businesses, but now open for the first time to consumers who buy Vista Ultimate or Business editions -- if they need to buy a new computer after XP goes off the market.

Others used the comments section to rail against the very idea that Microsoft has the power to enforce the phase-out from a stable, decent product to one that many consider worse, while profiting from the move. Many threatened to leave Windows for Apple or Linux machines.

Microsoft already extended the XP deadline once, but it shows no signs it will do so again. The company has declined to meet with Gruman to consider the petition. Microsoft is aware of the petition, it said in a statement to The Associated Press, and "will continue to be guided by feedback we hear from partners and customers about what makes sense based on their needs."

Gruman said he'd keep pressing for a meeting.

"They really believe if they just close their eyes, people will have no choice," he said.

In fact, most people who get a new computer will end up with Vista. In 2008, 94 percent of new Windows machines for consumers worldwide will run Vista, forecasts industry research group IDC. For businesses, about 75 percent of new PCs will have Vista. (That figure takes into account companies that choose to downgrade to XP.)

Although Microsoft may not budge on selling new copies of XP, it may have to extend support for it.

Al Gillen, an IDC analyst, estimated that at the end of 2008 nearly 60 percent of consumer PCs and almost 70 percent of business PCs worldwide will still run XP. Microsoft plans to end full support - including warranty claims and free help with problems - in April 2009. The company will continue providing a more limited level of service until April 2014.

Gillen said efforts like Gruman's grass-roots petition may not influence the software maker, but business customers' demands should carry more clout.

"You really can't make 69 percent of your installed base unhappy with you," he said.

Some companies - such as Wells Manufacturing Co. in Woodstock, Illinois - are crossing their fingers that he's right. The company, which melts scrap steel and casts iron bars, has 200 PCs that run Windows 2000 or XP. (Windows 2000 is no longer sold on PCs. Mainstream support has ended, but limited support is available through the middle of 2010.)

Wells usually replaces 50 of its PCs every 18 months. In the most recent round of purchases, Chief Information Officer Lou Peterhans said, the company stuck with XP because several of its applications don't run well on Vista.

"There is no strong reason to go to Vista, other than eventually losing support for XP," he said. Peterhans added that the company isn't planning to bring in Vista computers for 18 months to two years. If Microsoft keeps to its current timetable, its next operating system, code-named Windows 7, will be on the market by then.


Sources: Fox News & AP
Important Link: InfoWorld Save XP petition

Monday, April 14, 2008

Statistics: Problems, Questions and Observations

    An essay on Things to Consider about Statistics

  • Who did the study?
  • What are the statistics measuring?
  • Who was asked?
  • How were they asked?
  • Compared with what?
Stats are a form of evidence. Statistics are a favorite evidence of many writers and speakers and even scientists. They provide actual numbers in support of ideas and conclusions. If you can show that 75% of high schools seniors cannot find Washington State on a map of North America, then it is strong evidence for your contention that high school seniors are not being taught the geography of the United States. Such evidence is not only difficult to refute, it's often accepted as the final word in what's true or not true.

Statistics are a prime source of proof that what you say is true. Statistics are based on studies: a search for possible connections between disparate facts that nonetheless have a connection. If you remember your math classes, you will recall the concept of sets and subsets. Statistics are, in large measure, concerned with that concept. They are basically telling you the proportion a subset represents in a set. To clarify this idea, look at political polls. Candidate A receives 46% approval, Candidate B receives 43% approval. Thus, the subset "responses favoring Candidate A" is 46% of the whole set, "People asked about Candidates A and B."

Another example, from real life. William Chadwick, with his assistant William Farr, during the great cholera plague in London in 1831, drew together factors on who was getting the disease and where they were getting it in London. They were looking for some common factor that would lead to what was the source of the disease. Their statistics led them to the conclusion that the polluted waters of the Thames River was the source, and there was a particular pump that supplied the water to certain neigh borhoods that was a prime source of infection. With these data they were able to make recommendations which did much to reduce the incidence of cholera in London.

Statistics also use samples to obtain results, rather than doing actual "head counts". Neilson ratings on how many of what kind of people watch a particular TV program is not determined by the Neilson company asking all 300 million people in the Uni ted States what they are watching every few minutes. What they use is a sample of the population (called the Neilson families) that, demographically, represent the 300 million people. Neilson selects these families very carefully since each one represen ts the viewing habits and desires of some 60,000 people. Nonetheless the statistics generated by the Neilson measurements are used to make programming decisions and set advertising rates and budgets, things that represent billions of dollars. Thus the se lection of the sample, whether Neilson's or incidence of AIDS in the US population, is of paramount importance in the validity of the statistics thus generated.

The above is, of course, a simplistic view of an extremely complicated discipline. It is, nonetheless, the essence of statistics.

Statistics are invaluable as evidence in support of conclusions. If you can either find or generate statistics that show the truth of your conclusions, there are few that would refute your ideas.

There are, of course, problems with using statistics as evidence. Let me remind you of a famous saying: "There are three ways to not tell the truth: lies, damned lies, and statistics." What you must do is ask yourself some questions: who did the study that came up with the statistics, what exactly are the statistics measuring, who was asked, how were they asked, and compared with what? If one believes in the truth of statistics (and there are many such), then how does one explain that the same Presidential candidate can be 20 points ahead and 5 points behind his opponent in the polls at the same time? After all, both polls are "statistics". What you must be examine, if you wish to use statistics as evidence, are the above questions.

Who Did the Study?

Let's examine first "who did the study." We live in a world of statistics: you can find numbers in support of just about any idea. The problem arises when you find statistics that support every way of viewing an idea. You can find statistics that show cigarettes are killers and that they have no effect on anyone's health. You can find statistics that say you should cut down on the consumption of dairy products and that dairy products are good for you. You can find statistics that prove that so ft drinks will give you cancer and that they have no effect on anything but your thirst (or even that they make you thirstier). Every one of these sets of statistics is absolutely true.

The phrase "numbers don't lie" is true; what you need to examine is who is publishing the numbers, and what are they trying to prove with them. Are the statistics provided by the American Cancer Society or the American Tobacco Institute? Are they provided by the American Medical Association or the American Dairy Association? Are they provided by the Cancer Institute or the United States Food and Drug Administration? (Did the latter give you pause? It should. Both are reputable. Yet both have differing opinions based on statistics.)

Every point of view uses statistics to support their ideas. It's your job to examine all statistics supporting all points of view, to arrive at your own conclusions based on all of them. If you can't arrive at a conclusion, do your own study. An easier course, naturally, is to find out what all possible sides have to say and what other evidence they have in support of their statistics.

Once you have determined whether or not there is prejudice involved in the statistics (please recall that subjectivity is unavoidable), then it is time to move on to the next question: what are the statistics measuring?

What are the Statistics Measuring?

When asking yourself, "what are the statistics measuring," bear in mind the old saw about measuring apples and oranges. Most people will say that you can't compare apples and oranges. This is both true and false. It depends on WHAT YOU ARE MEASURI NG. Color? No. Texture? No. Overall appearance? No. Acidity? Yes. Sugar content? Yes. Vitamin, mineral, carbohydrate, or fat content? Yes.

As you can see, it is possible to compare apples and oranges, if you know what you are measuring. Your job, in using statistics as evidence, is to determine what exactly is being measured, and not simply spout numbers that seem to apply to your topic. If your topic is "Nutritional Value of Oranges," statistics proving that apples are nothing like oranges may be measuring the wrong things.

Who was Asked?

Once you've determined what the statistics are measuring, you next need to find out how the research was done. Many studies, the results of which are disseminated using statistics, are done by asking people their opinions or what they do or think or feel or . . .. Such studies include political, sociological, consumer behavior, media audience, and other areas which are based on individual people's ideas, opinions and/or attitudes.

Such areas are often referred to as "soft sciences", as opposed to "hard sciences" that do research designed to minimize as much as possible the human factor in the evidence and conclusions. The "human factor" is, naturally, impossible to eliminate totally as long as humans are involved, but the studies, to be "scientific," must be repeatable and predictive in nature. That is, once a study has been done, equivalent results must appear when the study is done again by other researchers who have no connection with the original researchers, and the results should allow researchers to say what will happen next.

Let us say that scientific statistics show meteors fall during a specific period (say, August) at an average rate (say, 60 per hour). This study is repeated several years during August and the rate stays the same. Thus the study is repeatable. From those statistics it is possible to predict that in future years the average rate of shooting stars in August will continue to be 60 per hour. In this case, "who is being asked" are the impersonal forces of nature.

It is the soft sciences that most often, intentionally or unintentionally, misuse or misapply statistics. The studies are often not repeatable and usually not predictive. The reason for this is that people and what they say or do are the bases of t he statistics. It seems axiomatic that people will perversely refuse to say or do the same thing twice running, or let anyone predict what they will do. In fact, many people consider themselves insulted when called predictable, and anything from the weather to the time of day to who's asking the question can change what they will say or do about something.

What does this mean to you as you examine the statistics you plan on using as evidence? First, try to determine whether the statistics are hard or soft science based. The simplest way to do this is simply find out if people or nature is being studied. If nature it's hard science, if people it's soft.

Second, if the statistics are hard science, check to see what results other researchers who have repeated the study obtained. If the second study has results that vary widely from the first, find a third and/or fourth and use the results that are consistent overall.

Of course, hard science statistics often require that you examine who was asked. Check the sample: if the statistics say that 30% of the US population has AIDS, what was the sample? The entire population of the US? The population of New York or San Francisco? The population of Otumwa, Iowa? Or a selection of towns and cities, rural, urban and suburban, in all parts of the country? Statistics on the incidence of rape in the US vary wildly depending on whether the study asks law enforcement or rape counseling centers (one set is based on the number of reported rapes, the other on the number of women needing counseling whether or not they reported the rape to law enforcement). Both examples above appear to be hard science, since they are based on "hard" facts, but nonetheless must be examined for who was asked.

Soft science statistics are even more slippery than hard science statistics. First, there are few hard, repeatable, non-subjective facts on which to base the statistics. If you wish to show how people react to violence, how do you define violence? And how do the people in your study define violence (a victim of a mugging may define violence as getting within five feet of him, while a mugger may define it as anything that happens that causes him physical damage (what he does to others is simply high spirits)).

Also bear in mind that any study that uses human subjects is almost impossible to conduct under laboratory conditions, in which all factors that could effect the outcome of the experiment are controlled, including the variable under study. For a truly statistically valid study showing the effects of television violence on children, the children would have to isolated from all other factors that could have an influence. These other factors would include contact with other human beings, with other expressions of violence (people, reading, radio, movies, newspapers, video games, etc.). This would obviously work to the social and developmental detriment of the children.

As a matter of fact, a recent controversy arouse over using medical data collected by the Nazis in the concentration camps. These data were collected with absolutely no regard for the fact that the test subjects were human beings; they were treated much worse than any laboratory animal in the world today. Ethical and moral considerations aside, the data are viewed as valuable. However, there are people who believe that the ethical and moral considerations are paramount, and that the data, no matter how valuable, should be destroyed because of the way they were gathered. In addition to the fact that any study involving humans must take into account human and humane considerations, you should never underestimate the perversity of a human being.

In the same vein, a truism in advertising is that fifty percent of advertising works; the problem is no one can figure out which fifty percent. The reason is that no one can really figure out what will influence people to buy products.

To try to understand "soft" statistics, let's take a look at advertising research and consumer behavior, both of which are subsets of socio- and psychological research. In particular, we'll look at some basic axioms of consumer research that apply to any soft statistics.

First is the realization that all people are different. No two people, not even identical twins, are exactly the same background and upbringing, have had the same conversations in the same words, have read the same books or magazines or newspapers at exactly the same time, or done anything the same as anyone else. This fact is precisely the opposite of what is necessary to statistics -- that there are similarities that give significance to the variables.

There are, of course, some factors that many people have in common with other people, and upon them statistics depend. These factors can include the society in which they live, their social class, whether they are urban, suburban or rural; their relationships -- most people have had a mother and father, perhaps siblings, friends of the same or opposite sex; and their interests: sports, television, reading science fiction or mysteries or romances. Of course, not everybody fits into all categories. Again, all people are different, but they do have some things in common.

What the above means is that no statistic has any application to an individual, but can have an application to the group. However, the statistics are determined on the basis of studying individuals in the group, not studying the group. Now recall the problems with individuals. First, individuals change, not only from year to year but from moment to moment.

Second, individuals are inconsistent. What they like today they may hate the next. You may love spaghetti, but eat it five days in a row, and you may find the thought of eating it again nauseating.

Third, individuals often don't know what they want, and even if they do, they don't know or can't tell you why.

Then there are a few problems involved in surveying individuals to gather the information to formulate the statistics. First, people often can't remember information about themselves and thus the background can be incomplete. If you don't believe this, recall exactly when you got your last tetanus booster shot, or the grade you got in freshman English in high school.

Second, there is a prestige bias. Answers a person gives involve the person personally -- his or her pride, self-esteem and self-image are involved. Thus people will often give an answer that will heighten their image. According to TV viewing diaries, nobody watches professional women's wrestling, but Masterpiece Theatre has a 50 rating. In some classes a few years ago I ran a survey that, as a part of the background, asked "How many hours do you watch television during an average week." The average answer was seven hours per week (please recall that the national average is seven hours per day). Granted, college students do not usually have a great deal of time to devote to watching TV, but the classes in which I gave this survey were advertising and mass media criticism, both of which require watching television. What's more, for people who avowed little interest in television, these same students had a near encyclopedic knowledge of details about programs and/or commercials that were discussed, in many cases rivaling my own (I watch television an average of eight hours per day). It was clear that the responses on the survey bore little relationship to reality. Nonetheless, I was not surprised at the responses. Television watching traditionally has a prestige problem, and prestige bias clearly influenced how people answered the question.

Third, people lie. That may seem a bit blunt, but there is no reason to sugarcoat. People not only stretch the truth, fib or misspeak themselves. They lie. Ask them a question and, just for the hell of it they may lie. They may lie because they find the truth uncomfortable or embarrassing, or because they simply want to screw up your results. With lying a virtual social necessity (do you really tell your best friend that his or her breath could knock a buzzard off a honey wagon?), the fact the people lie when responding to studies should come as no surprise.

Finally, many studies not only try to find out what people do, but why they do it. Here the problem lies in respondents' inability to articulate or explain their true feelings and motivations. Many people do things because it "feels" like the thing to do, but they cannot explain what that feeling is or how it arose. They will do the best they can, but since so many such feelings are subconscious and/or based on a priori assumptions, they have never been examined and put into words.

How Were They Asked?

It is not only the respondents but the questioners that contribute their own prejudice to the gathering of facts.

Two things that are used in surveys and statistical studies are questions and answers. First, let's examine the questions.

Researchers generally have an idea what their research is looking for. They thus formulate questions that will illuminate their research, either pro or con. Prejudice can creep in when a researcher unconsciously words questions in such a way that the answers support his or her contention or opinion. Various questions of this type are leading questions, loaded questions, and double-barreled questions.

Leading questions are those that tell the respondent how to answer. Attorneys sometimes use them. For example, "Is it not true that on the night of the 27th you were drunk?" Such a question leads the respondent to say yes. Asking instead, "Were you drunk on the night of the 27th?" does not tell the witness how to respond.

Loaded questions are those that, no matter how they are answered, the respondent loses. "Are you still beating your wife?" and "Are you still cheating on your income tax?" are examples. A loaded question appears to ask for a yes or no answer, yet the actual answer may be neither yes nor no.

Double-barreled questions are those that ask for more than one piece of information in the same question. For example, "Do you go up or downtown in the afternoon?" is double-barreled.

Another point to be considered is how the questions were worded. It is easy, and often subconscious, for the questioner to word the questions in such a way as to lead to respondent to reply in a certain way. For example, a survey on whaling could ask, "Should the only three countries in the world that do so, continue to slaughter to extinction the helpless, harmless intelligent giants of the deep?" I surmise that few people would respond with a yes.

It is the answers that sometimes cause difficulty for a researcher. The problems lie not only in how the respondents answer, but in how the researcher responds to the answer. Sometimes the response is not what the researcher wants or needs and/or contradicts expectations. He or she must then account for the anomaly. He or she may revamp the original concept or theory, revamp the study, or even ignore the data. The researcher may fall prey to selective perception (seeing only what you want to see) or cognitive dissonance (rationalizing away anything that doesn't fit into your preconceptions). In addition, how the researcher interprets the words in the questions may be at odds with how the respondents interpreted the words. For example, in a recent survey on the incident of rape on college campuses, the questions used words such as unwelcome sexual advance; the researcher interpreted unwelcome sexual advance as rape, while the respondents could well have been referring to a drunk at a bar making a pass, something that most people would accept as disgusting, but not rape.

The order of the questions can also be a problem. Often, the questions can lead a respondent to answer in a certain way because he or she has answered all the previous questions in the same way. In sales, it's a common technique, that can lead a respondent through a series of yes answers, from "it's a nice day," to "sign here."

Thus "How were they asked?" requires an examination of the original study in order to see if the researcher may have made an error in questioning and in understanding the answers.

Compared with What?

Finally, you need to examine statistics to determine what are the comparisons being drawn and are they relevant and valid. For example, say your topic is gun control. You could find statistics on murder rates with handguns per capita in New York City, London and Tokyo. Such statistics would show much higher rates in New York than the other two cities. It would therefore appear that gun control is a good idea since guns are controlled in London and Tokyo. However, such statistics must be suspect, not because they are wrong (more people are indeed murdered with handguns in New York City than in London or Tokyo), but because they don't tell the whole story.

For instance, New York has an extremely stringent weapons control law (the Sullivan Act). Since this is the case, what happens to the argument that control laws work? There must be something else influencing the murder rate.

What about the culture? The United States is unlike any other country on Earth. Its society has a tradition of independence and self-sufficiency, where if you have a problem it is normal for you to take care of it yourself, even if you can't. It is also a country that used to be called "the melting-pot" but is now known as the "mosaic", with New York City a patchwork of often conflicting cultures, languages, customs and attitudes. Add in the traditions of the old West and "gunslinging" becomes an apparently viable option to solve problems. Japan, on the other hand, is an extremely homogenous and traditional culture, with little in the way of overt class or cultural conflict. England is also very traditional with far less cultural conflict (any country that feels no necessity to arm their police does not have a tradition of individual use of force to solve problems). However, now as England is becoming more culturally and ethnically diverse, there is a rising incidence of violence and use of guns.

From the above it is clear that any statistics on murder rates says nothing about the efficacy of gun control laws, but rather about the cultural and/or societal factors that make such laws ineffective. If you wish statistics to serve as evidence for a gun control law, find something else.

For the above reasons you must search for other evidence to support whatever statistics you use as support, if only to show that the statistics actually apply.

Do not, however, take all the problems outlined above as a condemnation of statistics as evidence. Statistics are excellent evidence, and often the easiest and most concise way to express evidence and I gather stats on am hourly, daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis in my nuke position. I merely wish you to be aware you must examine them for relevance, validity and authority or they can do you more harm than good in proving your point.