How To Lie With Statistics

A self taken shot of the Ambassador bridge on ...

Ambassador bridge on the Canadian/American border. Taken from the Canadian side of the border (Windsor) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  I am beginning to sound like a broken record–but again I present to you my weekly newspaper column hot off the computer. If you are wondering, the Windsor I am talking about is in Ontario, Canada, right across the border from Detroit, Michigan. I live in a small town about 30 miles away or since I am Canadian, 50 kilometers away.  Toronto as most people now know, is under siege by Mayor Tom Ford, who refuses to give up the ghost.       

So who said: Laughter is the best medicine? Seems we do not know. One answer from Google was: “It is an old proverb”. Well, I could have told you that. So I continued my in-depth research and Ed from Yahoo Answers said: “The first one to coin this expression is unknown, but Harry Ward Beecher said “Mirth is God’s best medicine,” so the quote was probably “spun off that.” And you have to admit that some of the things God is given credit for creating are pretty funny (noses, ears that stick out {by the way thank you God for blessing me with just one ear that sticks out}, kangaroos, and mayors of big cities who refuse to take a hint.) My research ended there as there were over 200,000 answers and most of them were psychological in nature—and who wants to go there?

            Anyway, this whole laughter thing is just a prelude to my book review of the book “Stats Canada”, which sounds pretty dry at first glance—but wait—the subtitle says it all: “Satire on a National Scale”—so this is apparently not a dry document put out by the Feds, unless of course they are now hiring people with a sense of humour who are into counting the number of times the average Canadian says they are sorry. It is over 45,000 times a day in case you are interested. The real authors are a team of three and their names are Andrew Bondy, Ron Bostelaar, and Julie Davidovich. Bondy hales from Windsor and got a degree from my alma mater (U of Windsor – who says this institution of higher learning does not put out great humourists—Andy and I went there). Bostelaar admits to being from two towns in Ontario “that are not Toronto” and received the “lowest grades of his university career in statistics (hence this book); and Davidovich is proudly from Toronto but for some reason moved to Los Angeles as she “gravitates to smoggy atmospheres with dense, soupy air” because she “owns zero pairs of snow boots and would like to keep it that way.”

            So just being introduced to the authors paves the way for jocularity and hilarity and already we have not gotten as far as chapter one. (Yes, I wanted to use a word other than gotten, but it just seemed to fit.) The Introduction (which, just in case you were wondering is also not the first chapter) includes such interesting statistics as the fact that 30% of grade five students are not aware that New Brunswick is in Canada, which seemed to prove to the authors that the province is little more than a footnote; the statisticians only ordered pizza on Tuesdays; and only 15% of their findings came from Wikipedia. They also included this sentence: “Si vous êtes en mesure de lire ceci, s’il vous plait fermer le livre. Pas de Franchies authorises” which translated is anti-French so I will not translate as part of my last name is French, though I did not do the subject proud in high school (one teacher told me he would pass me if I promised not to take French in grade 13—I promised and then got pretty darn good marks in grade 13 once I dropped biology.)

            Anyway, back to the subject at hand—making fun of Canada and all things Canadian.  I am only allowing this book to do so because it is by two Canadians and an expatriate (who I believe only left because her calves were too big for boots). If anyone else makes fun of my home and native land, all bets and gloves are off.

            This being the last week of November, I felt that we all needed a few laughs, so this is my contribution to some pre-Christmas mirth and merriment. What follows are a few of the illustrious authors’ findings based on stats provided to remove you from eighteen dollars of your hard-earned money:

1. 79% of Canadians just mouth the words during the French part of the national anthem.

2. Some of the top Canadian pastimes include: cooking bacon; eating bacon; practicing loon calls; reading old copies of HELLO! Canada at the salon; not complaining; holding doors open; tobogganing (drunk); tobogganing (sober); waiting for tea to steep; being polite and courteous; counting Canadian Tire money; filling up the beer fridge; opening the cottage; picking fights with other parents in the stands during house league hockey games.

3. Canada’s highest rated TV show is “The Weather”.

4. Four out of five Canadians spend 7 hours a day commenting on the weather.

5. Toronto experiences an average of 28 smug alert days annually (Rob Ford has single-handedly brought that statistic down by at least 20.)

Topographic and bathymetric map of the Great Lakes

Map of the Great Lakes (Photo credit: NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory)

And last but not least:

6. 3 out of the 5 great lakes are just okay lakes.

*How To Lie With Statistics is the only book I remember reading at university and it was from a first year introductory psychology course. And I was there for six years! Explains a lot, I know.

Published in: on November 25, 2013 at 1:39 pm  Comments (43)  
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Hello September

English: Picture of Dillon Hall, part of the U...

English: Picture of Dillon Hall, part of the University Of Windsor, ON Campus. Category:Images of Windsor (Photo credit: Wikipedia) I TOOK MANY OF MY ENGLISH COURSES IN THIS BUILDING–IT IS ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL, AND OLD!

This is my weekly column for the newspaper–in it I reveal a secret I have mostly kept to myself for years, but in sharing it I hope it makes teachers and principals realize how important they are, for many reasons. My high school, KDHS (Kingsville District High School) is in the town of Kingsville, on Lake Erie in Ontario for those of you unfamiliar with the terrain, and the University of Windsor is in Windsor, Ontario, a border city with Detroit, Michigan right across the river:

An Ode to the Teachers Who Cared

            The beginning of the school year seems to be the perfect time to write an open letter to all the teachers who made a difference in my life—the good teachers, the generous ones, the ones who did not judge, those who encouraged, and those who cared. And there were many of them. So without further ado:

Dear Teachers Who Cared; Who Loved Their Subject; Who Made Me Care:

            As another school year starts, I cannot help but remember the teachers I had who were encouraging; even if in their encouragement they were not always complimentary. Sometimes when a teacher expects more from you than you are giving, you pull up your socks and try to meet their expectations. When it is your work that is looked at critically and not you as a person, then you learn to grow. And you learn how to correct your mistakes.

            My academic career was not always a smooth one.  Something I have not revealed before is the reason. Plain and simple I was bullied when I was in grade nine. It is hard to admit because I never like to admit I was a victim. I fought back successfully, but not before it affected me and my grades (temporarily). Being bullied makes you question why you are the one “centred out” for “special” treatment— treatment that was unwanted and more than a little unpleasant. Now what is this confession doing in the middle of a letter to teachers who cared? Well, I had some teachers who cared. And a principal who cared.  And with their help and that of my parents, the bullying stopped. So, any teachers reading this today should know that you can make all the difference in the world to the kids you teach.

            Now back to my ode: I had a teacher in grades nine and ten who loved history, and her love of history was palpable—and even though I went through some tough times in grade nine—I loved her subject, looked forward to her class, and my grades showed it. Even my math teacher in grades nine and ten got me through math with her love of the subject and the fact that she explained everything so thoroughly, that even someone of my pedigree was able to grasp the concepts.

            In grade 13, KDHS was the first high school in the area to offer political science, and it was taught by a teacher who had been teaching history forever—and to be honest, he was probably getting a little tired of it. But when he was given a chance to teach something new, something for which he had a real affinity—it was like giving him a new lease on life. It was perhaps one of the best courses I have ever taken. The predecessor to that course was “world politics” taught by of all things, the music teacher. He had great passion for the subject (though it may not have been his first love) and a real rapport with his students. Today, because of those two teachers, I faithfully watch Evan Solomon on Power and Politics while eating my supper. (And needless to say, have covered municipal politics for our lovely town for years).

Ambassador Bridge, between Windsor Ontario and...

Ambassador Bridge, between Windsor Ontario and Detroit Michigan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

   At university I enrolled in Communication Studies and English, a double major chosen first because of my love of English, and second because I was made aware of a program I did not know existed. I give credit for this choice to my grade 13 Creative Writing English teacher. He had a series of people who attended university come in and talk to us, and one student talked ardently about the Communication Studies course, a fairly new program offered at the University of Windsor. That was when I made my decision to go to Windsor and take the course—which involved television, film, radio, and journalism courses. My point here is that this teacher cared—he took the time to provide us with knowledge we would not have had otherwise and helped some of us make decisions about our post-secondary education.

            I took two English courses in grade 13—and the other one led me to my love of Shakespeare—I took all and sundry Shakespearean courses at university too. This teacher was famous for letting his students put on Shakespearean plays, (with appropriate sets and costumes) and we had a riot while learning the Bard’s rich and at times opaque language.

            Well, I am running out of room for this week’s column—it is obvious I have a lot of teachers to thank. So as this new school year begins—Teachers: take heart, you do make a world of difference. And Students: take advantage of what your teachers have to offer.

Echoes of Bliss

English: Frontispiece of the 1922 edition of R...

1922 edition of Rootabaga Stories by Carl Sandburg. Illustration by Maud and Miska Petersham. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“A poem is an echo,
asking a shadow to dance.”
Carl Sandburg

A lovely way to define poetry, but what does it mean? Pretty words undefined by our  experiences are just pretty words.

For a long time I did not appreciate poetry—possibly due to a Canadian literature course I took at university that seemed to hone in on Canadian poetry that defined our great nation as a cold, forbidding, and sterile place—which was the exact opposite of my experience. Mind you, I live in an area (southwestern Ontario) where we brag about being the “southernmost” part of Canada, so we possibly experience much more moderate weather conditions than many of our northerly brothers and sisters.

I have found that there is certain poetry that “speaks” to me, and it is generally poetry that talks of everyday things in a way that makes me look differently at the world. Each of us sees the world with a unique vision, and these visions can expand our experience.

I now collect poetry, but the poetry I collect speaks of everyday things. It is not dark and dank and angst ridden. There is a poetry contest in Canada that asks us to write poems and enter them to win a good amount of money and publication. I have read some of the poetry that has won this contest in past years and it is generally not “happy” poetry about daffodils, or hanging out the wash, or planting tomatoes. It generally has a depth I cannot plumb. I guess I like poetry that is expressed simply with beautiful language.

In an attempt to write something I think would be considered for the contest—I went to my dark place and came up with the following:

Not Safe

The shadows are cast

Shutters open to reveal a life broken

Exposed.

Just outside the door a welcome mat beckons

But it lies

No one is welcome here

Pain, hurt, and agony

Make their home here.

A red couch long abandoned

Its pillows ripped and frayed and soiled

Pillows strewn on the floor

Pretty fringed cast offs

Carpet muddied and matted……………..

Then I stopped writing the poem. It is not me. As angst ridden as the next person, I could not sustain this attitude long enough to write 500 – 600 words. I kind of depressed myself. It is apparent to me that my dark side is not dark enough, or sustainable.

Daffodil & Summer-snowflake

Daffodil & Summer-snowflake (Photo credit: ericdege)

Granted, I may live in a world of denial at times, but I like pretty words and pretty worlds, and what I so painfully came up with in my lame attempt to be considered for a prize is not authentically me. So I will write about trees with lacy limbs, snowflakes melting on tongues, and baby chuckles—and leave the dark side to those who can do it justice.

If as Sandburg says: “A poem is an echo, asking a shadow to dance” then mine is a dance of hope whose shadows are shallow.

Bliss is realizing what is authentic, and what is not. What do you think?

My Little Town – Paul Simon Revisited

MV Jiimaan leaves port at Kingsville for Pelee...

MV Jiimaan leaves port at Kingsville for Pelee Island. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This was published in a newspaper called The Daytripper that is distributed in southwestern Ontario. Written in answer to the question: ‘What makes your town worth a daytrip”, it will give you a little glimpse into my hometown. When I was younger, I sang along with Paul Simon and agreed with his despair in living in a small town. I no longer have angst about small town living—having married a hometown boy and raised my sons here. I have lived in the town “proper” for the last 32 years. Without further ado:

~ An Appealing Town ~

“You may no longer hear the strains of “The Mettawas Waltz” from the former Mettawas Hotel that once made Kingsville famous, but the town is one of the most picturesque in the area.  Despite the fact that whiskey magnate and owner of the Mettawas, Hiram Walker, pulled up stakes from the town long ago, it has grown and flourished.  And it is no wonder:  located on the shores of Lake Erie, it is a quaint, yet modern mini metropolis that has not lost its small town feel.

Coat of arms of the town of Kingsville, Ontario.

Coat of arms  Town of Kingsville, Ontario. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A town is more than its location. While we vie for the title of southernmost town in Ontario with some of our neighbours, it is in our community spirit that we excel. I know this because I attend and cover the Town Council meetings for the local newspaper. The people of Kingsville love their town and want it to grow, while at the same time not risk losing its appealing charm. In fact, our logo a few years back dubbed us the Port of Appeal.

Council meetings in our happily amalgamated town can be quite lively, especially if it concerns something the residents are passionate about.  Preservation of our historic homes and buildings has taken a front seat since people started to become aware that some of our heritage buildings were being razed without proper notice. One very shining example of a community project is our Train Station, restored to its former glory, and currently open to the public in its reincarnation as a restaurant.  We have a state-of-the-art library in the town core (one of three within the municipal town limits), located in a refurbished building that was sitting empty. Its former home, a Carnegie building, is being considered for new life as a possible Arts and Visitors Centre, instead of being a target for the wrecking ball. (Since this was written, the Carnegie has been beautifully refurbished and is not only an Arts and Visitors Centre but also our Tourist Information Centre.)

We have it all—small shops, restaurants galore, specialty stores, as well as big markets and large retailers. They all fit neatly into the puzzle that is our town.  While the town proper is a hub of activity, our municipality of Kingsville boasts fertile farmland, a fishing industry, and manufacturing. Amalgamation gave Kingsville a big bonus–the villages of Cottam and Ruthven, which each have their own unique attractions.

I have lived in this area all of my life, except for a sojourn in the big city of Windsor for post-secondary education (for seven short years). For the first twenty years of my life I was a “country girl” and grew up in a close knit community (with amalgamation, my old community is now part of the municipality of Kingsville) where school and church were the centres of social activities, and a trip to town was always something to look forward to. For the last —-ahem, number of years I have lived in an older area of the town proper. Having resided in both the rural and urban areas of Kingsville, I have come to the conclusion that it is the people of the municipality that makes this area special. I think it must be something in the water. And it is not just the fish.

Kingsville has beautiful Lakeside Park with rolling hills just right for winter tobogganing, stately trees to picnic under, and a Pavilion that hosts all kinds of activities year round. It is most notably home to the Jack Miner Bird Sanctuary, and just a few minutes away are the historical John R. Park Homestead, and a gem that is truly a well-kept secret that must be revealed: the Canadian Transportation Museum and Village. With wineries galore, (at least 13 and growing within 20 miles) Kingsville is a destination truly worthy of any daytrip!”

So, if you are ever in my area, drop by my “little town”—it is only about 30 miles from the Windsor/Detroit border. We do not care what anyone else says—we are the southernmost point in Canada. As Christmas approaches, the town is lit up with snowflakes on our main streets, and we have the Fantasy of Lights in Lakeside Park.

Are you a big city dweller, small town girl or boy, or do you enjoy country life? What does your town do for Christmas?