Archive for October, 2010

Anti-Smoking Advocates are Buttheads

Posted in opinion, pop culture with tags , , , , , on October 25, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

Lately there seems to be an increase in anti-smoking advertising on Iowa television channels. In South Dakota, there is a huge campaign to institute a smoking ban similar to the ones already in place in Minnesota and Iowa.

I have no problem with these ads or these campaigns. What I have a problem with is the manner in which they’re getting their message out.

The Truth Campaign generally has some excellent advertising. Sometimes they’re funny, sometimes they’re serious, but they get their message across in a tasteful way. Truth is behind the latest clever campaign, the Shards O’ Glass company.

However, in Iowa, there is a campaign called Just Eliminate Lies (JEL) that eschews tasteful and reasonable in their advertising. The commercial that bothers me every time I see it has a man who is supposed to be a Big Tobacco executive. One commercial has the exec saying that he wants to make billions off of people trying to look cool. In another commercial, the exec dismisses the ill effects of chewing tobacco by saying, “So what if it causes mouth cancer and you have to have part of your jaw surgically removed? Are you a man? Or are you a coward?”

This commercial bothers me, only because it demonizes tobacco executives. It seems to be a common trend in these anti-smoking campaigns. Rather than trying to inform the people about the ill effects, and offering some sort of reasonable way to quit, they resort to scare tactics and portraying smokers and anyone associated with them as evil, disgusting, or otherwise terrible people.

In all honesty, I’m wondering why these groups even exist. By the time I was in ninth grade, I knew so much about the ill effects of tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs that I could have made anti-smoking commericals myself. But if these tactics were so effective, why do people still smoke? Why are there still smokers in the world if everyone knows it’s so bad for you?

Surprise, surprise, it’s personal preference.

I have many friends who get reminded by other people that smoking is bad for their health. And all they can say back is, “I know,” and take another drag.

People who smoke are going to smoke. Short of getting rid of every pack of cigarettes in the world, no amount of campaigning is going to get everyone to stop smoking. Even though, in ninth grade, I knew all about how bad smoking was for my health, it still didn’t stop me from buying a pack and trying them out when I turned 18.

Singling out and demonizing smokers is an in effective way to make a point. If you truly cared about the well-being and health of people who smoke, you wouldn’t attack them and ridicule them, destroying their sense of self and making them feel worse.

Make your point, just eliminate any sort of hostility and animosity toward smokers that are so obvious in these advertisings.

Clementi Not a Victim of Hate Crime

Posted in opinion with tags , , , , on October 4, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

Before I begin this article, let me make a few things clear: I agree that the death of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi is tragic. His privacy should have been respected, and the world lost someone who could have contributed something spectacular.

That being said, if Dharun Ravi is charged with anything other than a privacy crime, and if Molly Wei is charged with anything period, the justice system has over-reacted.

Yes, Ravi screwed up big time. He set up a webcam and filmed his roommate having sex with another guy and posted it on the Internet. It was a stupid idea to share someone’s intimate moments in the bedroom with the world. It’s inappropriate no matter who is in the bedroom, and no matter what they are doing.

Dharun Ravi violated his roommate’s privacy. But he did not commit murder.

This situation is barely an issue of bullying, as much of the media would have you believe. Other than a few Facebook status updates, there is no conclusive proof of bullying. It was a prank, meant to embarass a roommate. It just worked too well.

Legally, collecting and transmitting sexual material without consent is a third-degree crime with a maximum prison sentence of five years. That’s all Ravi deserves. In everything I’ve been reading about this case, there was no call for Clementi to kill himself.

In the case of Molly Wei, her only involvement was being mentioned by Ravi in a Facebook status. I believe in “guilt by association,” but that is absolutely ridiculous.

Too many people want this to be a national thing. Too many people want Clementi to be an example of “cyberbullying” and hate crimes. But the only crime that occurred was someone took a tape of two men sharing an intimate moment and putting it on the Internet.

In fact, it upsets me a little bit when people compare Clementi’s situation to that of Matthew Shepherd, a young man from Laramie, Wyoming, who, in 1998, was taken by two men, beaten, robbed, and left for dead on the side of the road.

Shepherd’s situation is tragic and blatant. Clementi’s situation is exploitative and tragic, but ultimately boiled down to a personal decision.

I’m blaming Tyler Clementi’s suicide on Tyler Clementi, because he chose to jump off that bridge. The circumstances leading up to that decision is the fault of Dharum Ravi, because he illegally filmed Clementi and his partner and posted it on the Internet. Molly Wei was just unfortunately wrapped up into the whole situation purely by being mentioned by Ravi.

The whole situation is a privacy issue. Not a gay rights issue, not a cyberbullying issue, not a hate crime issue. Someone’s privacy was violated, and they made the unfortunate decision to kill themselves rather than better themselves.

I usually have a lot of sympathy for those involved in tragedy, and this is no doubt a tragedy. However, the major players in this tragedy are only 18. They’re still stupid kids. They had been in school for a month. Real world consequences for their stupid actions are falling down around them, and it’s up to them to grow up and deal with it.

Ravi’s punishment will be five years in prison for his privacy crime, and the ever-lasting guilt of knowing his actions lead to someone’s suicide. Nothing more, nothing less. Anyone who tries to make it something more is guilty of their own form of journalistic bullying.

The Problem with Polling

Posted in current events, opinion with tags , , , on October 1, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

In watching Real Time with Bill Maher last week, I’m realizing that polling of public opinion is inherently flawed.

In a discussion of the first enforcement of Obama’s health care reform this week–not allowing insurance companies to drop coverage for children with pre-existing conditions–one of the members of the panel, Andrew Breitbart, editor of The Drudge Report, threw out a poll number in making one of his points: “Obamacare was shoved down [everyone’s] throats… 70% of Americans were against Obamacare.”

This follows a string of other poll numbers that makes me wondering to whom they are asking these questions. I’ve yet to get a phone call or an email asking my opinion on anything. And, though I realize it is a logical fallacy to say what I’m about to, the majority of people I know were in favor of “Obamacare.” When a poll comes out that says that 20% of Americans still believe that Obama is a Muslim, despite all of the evidence otherwise, I wonder how the numbers would have turned out if different people, maybe people with some common sense who take a few moments out of the day to think for themselves.

But the biggest problem I see with the poll numbers is that so many people use the numbers as undeniable truth. When Breitbart threw the statistic that 70% of Americans were against health care reform, it was as if he had personally gone out and asked all 300 million or so people in the United States, and had done the necessary calculations do determine that, yes, it was exactly 70% of Americans that were against “Obamacare.”

Never mind that this sort of polling only does a random sampling of Americans. And never mind that public opinion of something can change as more information is gathered and processed. And never mind that, even within the random sampling, there is always a margin of error. The “70%” that Breitbart is talking about could really be 72%, which would be in his favor, or possibly 68%, which would be in the favor of everyone that can’t afford health coverage that now can under this reform.

70% is 70%, always and forever, the Gospel according to Pew.

It’s truly upsetting to me that people can spew out poll numbers without really knowing the context. Anyone who has ever taken a class that covered the basics of how to avoid bias know that there are several ways to state percentages: the majority or the minority. Each perspective puts people in a different mindset: “70% of Americans are against Obamacare” makes it seem like a bad thing, whereas “30% of Americans support health care reform” makes it seem like something positive that needs more support.

Even the percentage is completely wrong. In every study that I’ve ever seen or read about, there is never a clear cut “do you or don’t you” approach to responding to polls. There is always a spectrum, a scale of one to five, or one to ten, of how much you agree or disagree with a statement. Which means, how does that 70% break down? Are 50% strongly against, and the other 20% simply against? Could 10% be strongly against, 15% against, and 25% slightly against? Does the 70% include anyone who didn’t have an opinion either way?

Bottom line is, all polls have context. If you don’t know the context of the poll numbers, or even if you don’t consider the source, you are unwittingly spreading false information.