Monday, October 13, 2014

Stating the obvious in a single newspaper headline

Charlottesville's Daily Progress wins the prize for stating the obvious in its banner headline on Sunday, October 12.

There, above the fold, was this shattering piece of news:


That's right:  "Not all churches open to same-sex marriage."

Next week we'll learn that "Not all halal butchers sell pork" and "Not all Unitarian-Universalists believe in god."

To be fair, the web version of the newspaper's article has a better, more explanatory headline -- but most readers of the Sunday Daily Progress read what's tossed on their lawns in the pre-dawn hours.




Thursday, September 11, 2014

Does Georgetown University Have the World's Smallest Athletic Facility?

As an alumnus of Georgetown University, today I received an email alert that tomorrow there will be a live webcast of the groundbreaking ceremony for a new athletic structure on campus.

According to the email,

This exciting milestone marks a historic moment in Georgetown’s tradition of athletic excellence.

The new four-story, 144-square-foot facility is named for legendary Hoyas men’s basketball coach John R. Thompson Jr., and is supported through the generous philanthropy of Georgetown’s alumni, friends and donors.
Imagine that! A four-story building that has only 144 square feet of space. Twelve feet by twelve feet, spread out over four floors. A handful of study carrels for grad students are bigger than that.

Is this a dollhouse or a miniature gymnasium?

Just in case a corrected email goes out that says the John R. Thompson, Jr., Intercollegiate Athletic Center is not intended for dwarf bowling tournaments, I have attached a screenshot below:


Hoya Saxa!




Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Fuzzy memories of elections past

An odd letter made its way into the Charlottesville Daily Progress today.

The letter, submitted by Albemarle County resident Hubert Hawkins, makes an argument about retaining Virginia's tradition of open primary elections, in which any voter, regardless of party affiliation, can participate in either the Democratic or Republican party's primaries for nominating candidates for the general election. (Virginia voters do not register by political party, so "party affiliation" is determined by the voter's own individual preference and observations of primary voting patterns and recorded financial contributions to candidates and party committees.)

Mr. Hawkins tries to undergird his point by reminiscing about the only time he crossed party lines to vote in a Republican primary:

Years ago when Oliver North opposed John Warner in the Republican primary, I was a Democrat who never sought to meddle in Republican elections. But I knew that my senator was going to be a Republican, no matter who won the party’s primary, because my party had no competitive candidate. So I voted in the Republican primary, fearful of what outcome might ensue from the victory of such a controversial character as North.

I have never regretted my vote, and I have always been grateful that Virginia law allows all voters to participate realistically in the future of the state and nation without restrictions on what party they may have belonged to.
The problem with that example? Oliver North never challenged John Warner for the Republican Party of Virginia's nomination for the U.S. Senate, in a primary or through any other method.

John Warner, Larry Sabato, and Mark Warner at UVA, June 2014
John Warner ran unopposed for the GOP nomination in 1990, and he had no Democratic opponent in the November election. Nancy Spannaus, a devotee of political cult leader Lyndon LaRouche, was the only other candidate on the ballot that year. Warner beat Spannaus by sweeping every county and city and earning 80.9 percent of the vote.  The absence of a Democratic general election candidate that year may be what Mr. Hawkins is trying to recall in his letter to the editor.

In 1994, Oliver North sought the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate and winning it in a convention against former Reagan administration official James C. Miller III. There was no primary election that year, and John Warner was not on the ballot. North went on to lose the general election to incumbent Democrat Chuck Robb in a three-way race that also included independent J. Marshall Coleman. That election was the subject of a popular documentary film, A Perfect Candidate.

In 1996, Jim Miller challenged John Warner for the nomination in a primary election but Warner won and went on to face Democrat Mark Warner in the general election.

After serving one term as Virginia''s governor, Mark Warner eventually won John Warner's U.S. Senate seat in 2008, after John Warner decided to retire.  The two of them remain on friendly terms (as seen in this video from earlier this year) and, in fact, John Warner has endorsed Mark Warner's re-election bid this year.

Regardless of what one thinks about the merits of Mr. Hawkins' argument about open primaries, it's important that the person making that argument have his facts straight. For that matter, it is the responsibility of the newspaper's editors to ensure that such factual errors do not make their way into print.







Monday, July 28, 2014

Washington Post reporter gets several historical facts wrong

An article in the print edition of the Washington Post on Sunday, July 27 (p. C5), includes three glaring errors that would have resulted in a failing grade on an elementary school history test, yet only one of them has been subsequently corrected on the newspaper's web site.

The article, written by Ileana Najarro with a print-edition headline "Wolf is making his last push for holiday," explains how retiring U.S. Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA10) is advancing legislation that would make Washington's Birthday a federal holiday celebrated on the actual date of his birth, February 22, rather than floating each year on the third Monday in February.

One of Najarro's errors relates to how the holiday came to be celebrated on a date other than February 22:
President Rutherford B. Hayes established Washington’s birthday in 1879 as a holiday for the District’s federal workers, Wolf said. The holiday was extended to all federal workers six years later, but it wasn’t until 1971 that it was moved to the third Monday of February as part of President Gerald Ford’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act.
Gerald Ford did not become President until August 1974. The law was passed when Lyndon Johnson was President. Johnson signed it on June 28, 1968, and it took effect January 1, 1971, when Richard Nixon was President. Ford did sign a bill in 1975 that amended the Uniform Monday Holiday Act to restore Veterans' Day commemorations to November 11, regardless of its day of the week.

A second error, also not corrected, misplaces the origins of George Washington:
Sitting in his office, [Wolf] spoke of his geographical connection to the first president: Both were originally from Philadelphia, and both have held office in Winchester.
It used to be said that "every schoolboy knows" some fact about U.S. history. One such fact is that George Washington came from Virginia. He was born in the Northern Neck, in Westmoreland County near Fredericksburg. In later years, Washington made his home at Mount Vernon, just down the Potomac River from the city that bears his name. As a military officer, Washington did maintain an office in Winchester during the 1750s in a building that still stands near Cork and Braddock Streets.

Washington also served his country in Philadelphia, presiding over the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and moving there from New York as President before the capital was established in its present location.

The sole error that was corrected reads, in the print edition, like this:
Although the holiday is still recognized as Washington's Birthday, it's come to be known as Presidents' Day, with several states honoring all presidents at once. Wolf said he abhors this "hijacking" because Washington's birthday is honored equally with that of President Richard M. Nixon, who was impeached.
Andrew Johnson was impeached. Bill Clinton was impeached. Richard Nixon resigned before articles of impeachment could be brought before the House of Representatives for a vote.  If any newspaper's editors should know this, it would be those of The Washington Post.

The Post's correction of this error appears at the top of the page on its web site:
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that President Nixon was impeached. He resigned before he could be impeached. This version has been corrected.
The "corrected" paragraph says that Nixon "resigned in disgrace."

So... Where were the copy editors?  How did sloppiness like this make it through the Metro section's editorial process?  Will the other errors also merit corrections in print or on the Post's web site?

Note:  The web headline for Najarro's article is: "Rep. Frank Wolf’s final acts include restoring Washington’s Birthday."

(Cross-posted from Where Are the Copy Editors?)




Thursday, July 24, 2014

Adventures in the Land of the Mathematically Challenged

A letter to the editor in today's Daily Progress tries to draw attention to the problem of expensive housing in the Charlottesville area.

The letter writers, however, display a sad sort of incompetence when it comes to their grasp of everyday mathematics.


They explain that

according to the U.S. Census, the median value of owner-occupied housing in Charlottesville from 2008-2012 was $286,400. With the median household income in Charlottesville at $44,535, a mortgage on the median home value is likely more than half of your monthly net income.
That may all be accurate but the howler follows in the next paragraph:
Homes under the median value are rare, and are often no more than 800 square feet and/or in complete disrepair.
The second part of that sentence may or may not be true, but the first part is demonstrably false.

It is not possible that homes "under the median value are rare," since, by definition, 50 percent of all homes are under the median value. (The other 50 percent are, by definition, above the median value.)

Perhaps the writers were trying to say that homes available for purchase that are also below the median value are rare, but that is not what they said.

Would this kind of innumeracy (mathematical illiteracy) be solved by adopting the Common Core, or made worse by it? Or would this demonstration of innumeracy be solved more simply by having a good copy editor?