11/25/2007

Oakland: City of Idiots

This is part one of what will likely be an ongoing series plumbing the depths of the stupidity of Oakland's municipal apparatus. That is, they hire idiots to work for the city.

Exhibit 1. The Closed Street



This photo was taken on Friday, Nov. 16, facing west on Thomas L. Berkley Way in downtown Oakland. You can see that the street closure sign has already been in place a week longer than it should have been. As of Nov. 25, the sign was still there. Keep in mind that the stretch of street this sign refers to is not called 20th Street; it is called Thomas L. Berkley Way. The street name was changed a few years back.

Presumably, someone ordered a temporary street closure sign, and the sign actually printed was a permanent sign, using the same material as that "No stopping" sign that is immediately below it on the lamp post. The closure sign was installed as if it was a permanent sign -- that is, ten feet from the ground. So if a passing city street crew spotted it, they would not be able to remove it without a ladder.

The final piece of stupidity is not easily discerned from this photo. The reason the street was closed was to dedicate the new "Uptown Transit Center" that is advertised on the banner. This so-called "transit center" consists of a grand total of four bus benches with overhead shelters. There are no bus bays, no monthly pass-dispensing machines, no printed brochures featuring bus schedules, no transfers between different transit agencies. There is a BART station nearby, but this station has been there since 1972 (according to Wikipedia and my own observation of its architecture and wear and tear) so I don't think the current Oakland administration can claim any credit for it.

To be fair, this stupidity is at least partly due to AC Transit and not the city of Oakland. However, this distinction does not disprove the point; stupid is still stupid.

Exhibit 2a. The Parking Ticket



I got a parking ticket in my employer's parking lot because I forgot to hang my permit from my mirror. Whether this makes me stupid, or my employer stupid, or both, is up to you. The fact that I got a ticket for this, and not for parking four hours in a two-hour zone the previous month, is evidence of a different sort.

Exhibit 2b. The Parking Ticket Online Payment System



As you can see, I entered the correct number into the online ticket payment system, and was promptly informed that no such ticket exists. So I paid by check, which costs the city more in labor costs, and deprives them of revenue by not getting my money into their coffers more quickly. It also cost me 41 cents for a stamp.

Stay tuned for future installments of Oakland: City of Idiots.

11/14/2007

Multiple Marriages and Life Expectancy; or, Why Averages Are Bullshit

More of the usual excitement from the U.S. Census Bureau, as reported by the New York Times on Sept. 20:

One factor that also affects the marriage trends is that people are living longer. As a result, the median age at which women in a first marriage were widowed rose from 57.8 in 1996 to 60.3 in 2004. Among men, the median age increased from 59.6 to 61.3.


This seems to lead to some interesting conclusions. After all, life expectancy in the United States, according to the CDC, is 80.4 years for women and 75.2 years for men.

The quote above, about people being widowed, refers to people in their first marriage. The conclusion seems to be that among people who marry once and never divorce, one member of the couple is likely to die 15 to 20 years earlier than the average.

It's important to keep in mind the cohort we're looking at here: people who, at age 60, are still on their first marriage. Right away, that cuts the nationwide population in half. Among men ages 50-59, just barely over 50 percent are still on their first marriage. For women in the same age group, it's 44.4 percent. (All my data is from the U.S. Census Bureau, unless otherwise noted.)

Additionally, keep in mind that we are making several assumptions. The first is that husband and wife are roughly the same age. There are obviously many exceptions to this, but overall, the median age at first marriage is 24.2 years for men and 21.9 years for women. Therefore, if a woman in her first marriage is widowed at 60, based on this assumption, her husband died at 62.

The second assumption is that you will be widowed. This is not always true for people who divorce, but it is true for the cohort we're considering -- people who marry once and never divorce. At least one of the two spouses will die before the other.

Looking closer at these numbers, assuming all our assumptions and statistical fallacies are correct, you could get depressed for American women. As we noted, the average U.S. woman lives five years longer than the average man. But in a first marriage, the gap between "average age of being widowed" for men and women is just one year.

So, not only does the typical woman who dies during her first marriage die at 59 years old -- assuming the age difference of 2.3 years -- she also loses her statistical likelihood of outliving her husband.

All of this sounds like a big joke that being married leads you to an early grave. But that's not true. Research has long shown that being married increases your life expectancy. Here is just one study out of many that concludes being married means longer life.

For people considering not marrying, the study offers this little factoid: "Among the not married categories, having never been married was the strongest predictor of premature mortality."

So, never getting married decreases your life expectancy. Staying in a first marriage means at least one spouse will die around 60.

It makes one wonder if marrying a second time, or having your spouse die, increases your life expectancy. So, then, what does the data show for the average age someone in a second marriage is widowed?

Guess what: it's the same.

In a second marriage, according to the same data, the age at which a typical man is widowed is 61.7 years, up from 61.3. For women, the number actually went down, to 57.9 years. But that's bad news for men, not for women, because when a wife is widowed, the husband is the one who dies.

In other words: shit. I thought I had a nice theory going that second marriage is the key to life expectancy, because a first marriage means you die at 60. But apparently second marriage means you die at 60 as well. Who knows what those average 75-to-80-year-olds are doing to expand their life expectancies.

I'm sure the real answer lies somewhere in the difference between the arithmetic mean and the median, which I have used interchangeably to mean "average" throughout this post, as though they were two different brands of the same product, Tropicana and Minute Maid, or Chevron and Shell. They're not. Additionally, "life expectancy" is not a great tool to compare to anything in the real world. It's just a prediction based on an amalgamation of a bunch of other statistics, not an average drawn from empirical observations. A better tool would be "average age at death," but I wasn't able to find that and break it down into comparable cohorts.

What I really need to build a conclusion here is a vast mine of data that includes year of birth, age at death, and marital status at time of death. Then we could extrapolate whether staying married makes you die young. I'm sure that data exists, but it doesn't exist before my eyes right now.

If anyone wants to dig through the data that I did locate and find a smarter conclusion, the sources are here:

http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/dvs/MortFinal2004_Worktable309.pdf

http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus06.pdf#027

Meanwhile, I do have a theory that beats the odds. Don't get married until you're 62. That way, you've outlived the average age of widowhood-during-first-marriage, and you're still below the life expectancy, so you can reap the life-prolonging benefit of marriage. Who wouldn't want to prolong their life indefinitely?



Right.

11/08/2007

It's Easy Being Like Me



What do Shakira and the Transformers have in common?

Why, me, of course.

This blog post begins in 2002, when I had finally grown bored with the soporific monotony known as mainstream radio. I would tool around L.A., adjusting the dial on my '85 Volvo's stock radio, trying to pick up signals that sounded like they played music worth listening to. This is how I discovered my beloved KXLU, the Loyola Marymount college radio station, which is the only true college radio station in L.A. It is also how I discovered Shakira.

In Los Angeles, 97.5 FM used to be Super Estrella (it's now 107.1). This station billed itself as "numero uno en éxitos," which apparently loses a little something in translation. Anyway, on several occasions, I found myself landing on this station, pleased to find some pop music that didn't overwhelm me with its idiotic lyrics, even if that was only because I couldn't understand them. Shakira's music was clearly superior among this crowd. That station flogged "Suerte" to death in 2002. Most of you probably know this song as "Wherever, Whenever," which is the English-language version. According to some 14-year-old with undiagnosed Asperger's who is also an editor at Wikipedia, it was the biggest worldwide single in 2002.

Also that same year, the good people at Hasbro decided they were going to develop some of their toy franchises into live-action (i.e., CGI) movies. They wanted to move on G.I. Joe first, but apparently the fact that real people were being killed in a real war involving real terrorist organizations (Afghanistan, hello) put a damper on that suggestion. Fortunately, Hasbro also owned a line of toys about talking alien robot cars, and it didn't seem likely those were going to start actually killing people, so a Transformers movie seemed safer.

Back to the original question. What is the connection between these two disparate things, between Shakira and Optimus Prime? I already told you it's me. But what does that mean? Perhaps Homer Simpson can elaborate. Quoting from episode 1F12, "Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy":

Lisa: It's awful being a kid. No one listens to you.
Grampa: It's awful being old. No one listens to you.
Homer: I'm a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me -- no matter how dumb my suggestions are!



Hey, I'm a white American male age 18 to 49 as well! But I don't want Nuts and Gum, together at last. I want hot Latina babes who sing in English with a funny accent, and I want neo-nostalgic, CGI-overdrive movies about the proto-toys I grew up with!

Hence, I was doing more work than I needed to back in 2002, listening to Shakira on the Spanish-language radio station. The Powers That Be had already informed the occasionally Arabic-singing Colombian that if she wanted to make it really big, if she wanted to "cross over," she had to sing in English. So she learned the language herself, writing new songs like "Wherever, Whenever." That way, white American guys like me wouldn't have to go to some scary, foreign-language radio station to hear her hit songs, nor would we be troubled by the language barrier between us -- just driven wild with desire by her exotic accent. In fact, the Spanish version of that song that I liked so much wasn't even the original; the English one was.

Furthermore, because I am a white American male, I didn't have to start an online petition to get a Transformers movie, the same way those female fans of Veronica Mars and Gilmore Girls did in their unsuccessful attempts to save those doomed programs. All I had to do was sit back on my spoiled white male ass and wait for Steven Speilberg and Michael Bay to inaugurate the movie franchise of my inner 10-year-old's dreams. Just for kicks, they decided to toss in some overripe but fully clothed sex appeal, too.


Male gaze? What's that?

In short, it's never been easier to be a white male American consumer. Multinational corporations spend billions of dollars trying to discern exactly what I want, and then figuring out how to get it to me most efficiently. Not sure why they keep coming up with crap like Adam Sandler movies, though. Maybe there is a glitch in the algorithm.