Tuesday, September 4, 2012

One Reason the Media Loves It When You Suck At Math

Graph of Elliptic Integrals - why? why not?

           As a musician, I can’t say that I have much call to use calculus in my daily activities. I would wager to say that most people who don’t work as physicists, engineers, or mathematicians do not find themselves using advanced level mathematics as much as their math teachers tried to make them believe they would. Sorry, math teachers, your subject just isn’t as useful as you scared us into believing. That being said, I am CONVINCED that the media and government are targeting the masses lacking an understanding of basic calculus. It’s no surprise that the government prefers a stunted constituency. Stupid people are easier to control. The media shares the same preference.
            My theory centers about this election period buzzword “cut.” No word seems to incense people more than this one. People become as crazed as rabid possum babies when they think someone is going to cut funding to something they support (or fund something they don’t support). It’s almost gotten to the point where what’s being cut doesn’t even have to be mentioned, just say the word and people lose their minds. What I find to be blood-boiling, is that the campaigns and media rarely (more like never) specify whether what’s being cut is the actual dollar amount going to a fund or the rate of change of the amount going into a fund (and yes, they do that on purpose). And here comes my dapper friend Mr. Calculus walking down the sidewalk.
            You don’t need to be a math wizard to understand what we’re about to discuss. While the mathematics can be complicated (I recall being close to vomiting after my calc. 2 final of first semester, freshman year of college: which, by the way, was mostly devoid of actual numbers), the concept is surprisingly simple. Calculus allows you to measure how quickly something changes. So, say you are cooking a yam (that seems to be the arbitrary math textbook vegetable of choice) in an oven and want to know what the temperature of the yam will be after 20 minutes of being in the oven at 350 degrees – calculus will allow you to calculate that temperature. Now what does this have to do with politics?
            Government budgets have monetary allotments planned out for multiple years at a time. Like many multi-year salary contracts, funds for certain programs are often planned out with set increases by percentage. So, rather than saying Suzie will make $3000 in year one, $3500 in year two, and $3700 in year three, the contract might say Suzie will make $3000 in year one, her salary will increase by 16.7% in year two, and her salary will increase by 5.7% in year three. Believe it or not, the media (and others) will often take these numbers and think it is okay to tell you that Suzie’s boss is cutting Suzie’s salary. Are you confused? You should be. Suzie is making more money every year.
            The RATE at which Suzie’s salary is increasing is “CUT” from 16.7% to 5.7%. That looks like a big difference right? 5.7% is indeed not as big of a raise as 16.7%, but it’s still a raise. This is my biggest beef with political campaigns (ALL PARTIES) and the media when they give you numbers and talk to you about “cuts.” They all use rates of change and actual cuts to funding INTERCHANGEABLY. And they are not interchangeable. They are apples and porcupines.
            The media and the campaigns manipulate the words and the numbers so that you believe what they want you to believe. They think you are lemmings. They’ve been doing it for longer than I’ve been alive. Let’s look at how this could work with some real numbers and a little bit of word twisting. I’ll give you some numbers – facts straight from government pages. We’ll look at some percentages. And we’ll look at some words from the ever so popular Huffington Post.
            The National Endowment for the Arts is a hot button for many of us. It’s funding has gone up and down and up again since its introduction in 1966. Its highest funding point was a whopping $175,954,680 during the first Bush (George Herbert Walker) administration in the 90’s. That’s also when the funding started its great decline. When President Obama took office at the start of 2008 the fund was at $144,706,800. In the next year, it increased by 7.1%. Now, in 2009 the fund was at $155,000,000. It increased by 8.06% in the next year to $167,500,000. Then President Obama enacted a cut to this fund of 7.6% taking it down to $154,690,000. The next year it took another cut of 5.6%. Quick analysis: fund increased and rate of growth increased when President Obama took office, then during his presidency the fund took two actual cuts. 
            According to the Huffington Post, Obama’s February budget includes a 5.5% increase to NEA funding bringing it back up to $154 million. The same article then goes to say “While this wouldn't fully mitigate the cuts to the NEA enacted under Obama last year, it reverses the trend of a declining NEA budget since its peak at $175 million in 1992, under George Bush Sr."
           Here’s a bit of a twist of the facts. This sentence would imply that the NEA funding has been declining since George Bush Sr. and Obama has just now turned it around with his small 5.5% increase. The fact is that NEA budget has increased every year since 2000, up until 2011, that is, when President Obama cut the budget by 7.6%. I don’t think I would call 11 years of increases a trend of declining, but that’s not the real media selective truth. Here’s what was COMPLETELY left out.  On December 27, 2007 the most hated G. W. Bush did something truly amazing and signed an appropriations bill giving the NEA it’s largest increase in funding in TWENTY-EIGHT years: $20.1 million. That is a 16.2% increase over $124,561,844. Now using the media’s favorite tactic of switching apples and porcupines…we could say President Obama CUT funding to the NEA, not just in 2011, but right when he took office, by cutting from 16.2% to 7.1% in 2009! But that’s not true is it? Notice how leaving out the words “rate of change” turns the statement into a bit of a falsehood? The NEA still received more money in 2009 than in 2008! Don’t be a lemming! Demand rates of change! Calculus for the masses!

All NEA numbers taken directly from the NEA appropriations history at http://www.arts.gov/about/Budget/AppropriationsHistory.html

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