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Letters to the Editor

Friday May 16, 2003


Editors, Daily Planet: 

While I share Dr. Schiffenbauer’s dismay with the results of the April 15 New York Times /CBS News poll, I do not share the belief that this (and other polls by the reputable agencies that he lists) was constructed and conducted in a manner designed to shape public opinion. 

First, of course, it might be useful to question the assumption that publication of polling results has any detectable lasting impact on public opinion whatsoever. 

Second, it is worth noting the predictive utility of well-conducted polling. Although readers may be familiar with the relative accuracy of voter preference predictions, there are many other areas where this technique has proven to be quite accurate. These include such diverse topics as drinking behavior by college students and charitable giving by individuals. Polling is useful because, from a properly drawn sample, using reliable and valid indicators, it is possible to obtain an accurate description of a large population from a relatively few observations. 

Dr. Schiffenbauer is mistaken when he asserts “each of the 898 people polled was ... a proxy for ... 240,000 U.S. residents.” Careful reading of the sample design, available by contacting the polling organization, will reveal there was never any representation that the sample was representative of all U.S. residents. 

Dr. Schiffenbauer may be correct, however, when he implies that journalists pick and choose elements of a survey to support a particular point or to make an article more interesting. These are journalistic and editorial decisions, of course, and not polling decisions at all. 

I agree that it is always wise to consume mass media products with great care and am grateful that Dr. Schiffenbauer has attempted to show others how this might be done in the analysis of public opinion based on polling. But I do believe his readers would benefit if he was a bit more rigorous in his own writing for the Daily Planet. 

David Nasatir 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

Mayor Bates has withdrawn from a friendship visit to Cuba citing recent acts of repression by Fidel Castro’s government. Repression in Cuba impressed me on my two weeks there with a Mexican cultural group in 1993. At the airport at the end of the stay, I could not wait for the airplane to get me off that island.   

With that said, I wish our mayor would go. To stay here he wastes a chance to push forward peaceful reforms. In a 1993 Cuban/Mexican dialog many reforms were discussed, and I subsequently learned that many were implemented, such as informal farmers markets.   

On my 1993 trip the one large positive memory was the eagerness of Cubans for ideas for peaceful change. For instance, the possibility of a movement for “affirmative action” to redress the tendency of light-skinned Cubans to hold all the good jobs was discussed. 

Mayor Bates should go. He should politely tell his hosts he is concerned with repression. And he should act the friendly guy that I hear he is. Thus he can further continue peaceful reform. The likely alternative is the fall of Fidel and Havana turned into a Baghdad. Who wants that? 

       Ted Vincent 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I was thrilled when I saw the headline in the Portland newspaper declaring that The New York Times had admitted one of its reporters was guilty of professional ethics violations. Finally, I thought, Judith Miller is being called to task. Imagine my disappointment when I found out that the culprit was a staff reporter who simply faked interviews. 

The Times has made lots of noise about the hapless Jayson Blair, but I think it is time to look at the real miscreants. Ms. Miller has opened a new page on journalistic complicity with government in her Pentagon-led stories. First, of course, there was the “leaked” story from the White House that claimed that some aluminum tubes had been sent to Iraq and these could be part of a nuclear program. When this failed to pan out, she was the one who filed a report, published on the front page, that claimed to be the evidence given by an Iraqi scientist.  

Ms. Miller admitted openly that she allowed the Pentagon to vet the story. And the whole piece was fed to her by the military and based on one source. Ms. Miller did not even interview the scientist, instead being satisfied with a staged performance where she watched him from a few hundred yards as he pointed to a spot in the sand where weapons had supposedly been stored in the past. 

With the incredible work of Judith Miller, The New York Times has abandoned any independence of the fourth estate. The paper has become a shameless mouthpiece and official government organ for the U.S. government as it launches new and preposterous imperial missions. 

Rick Ayers 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Imagine if the Saudis had built several large bases in our country, manned by thousands of soldiers who were armed with everything from rifles to nuclear-tipped missiles. And imagine if the Saudi forces were supporting an illegitimate American government. Hmm. Would we be a bit resentful? 

In 1776, we declared our independence from the English King George the Third. We attacked and killed his British Redcoat troops at every opportunity. We fired at them from behind trees and rocks (tactics considered extremely unfair at the time). We dressed up as Indians and in darkness boarded British ships in Boston harbor and vandalized their tea shipments. We destroyed the homes and crops of Tories (supporters of British colonial rule in America); we even stole their horses and cattle.  

The English have been imperialists and colonists since 1620, about 380 years to date. We Americans have been imperialists and colonists since 1898, only 105 years to date.  

We began our modern colonialism and imperialism by winning the Spanish-American war in 1898. As spoils, we seized Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippine Islands. The residents of these islands were not consulted in this matter. The residents of the Philippines in particular did not wish to be ruled by Americans. We slaughtered thousands of them and didn’t leave until 1946.  

In the early 1920s, after the collapse of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, the British, the French, the Dutch and the Americans divided up Iraq’s oil reserves, with each country getting about one-fourth of the Iraqi oil reserves. The Iraqis and the Kurds fought valiantly against the superior military technology of the British and finally lost. In 1925, the British dropped poison gas from airplanes on the town of Sulamnaiya in Kurdish Iraq. This was the first use of a “weapon of mass destruction” in Iraq.  

American imperialism and colonialism in the 21st century? Do Bush and Company think that they can get away with this ancient crime? Yankee come home.  

James K. Sayre 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Today, Monday morning, May 12, I walked my dog down Seventh Street and found bright green posters yelling, “Save Our Buses,” or something like that. They appear to have been posted by neighbors, wanting to prevent the cancellation of full-size 52 AC Transit buses up Cedar Street. They say their opposition is a “small group of anti-bus people.” 

I doubt it’s either small or anti-bus; I grew up on Cedar Street, and watched while neighboring streets one by one bollarded and diverted traffic off their streets onto our unlucky “conduit” — then watched as our parents and neighbors petitioned City Council and AC Transit to limit diesel trucks and full-size buses so that the “small group” of taxpayers who live the length of Cedar Street and beyond could walk to the BART station without gagging. 

The “small inefficient vans” were an ideal solution to address both transportation and residential needs.  

Who is behind these posters, and where do they get their information? How many people ride the buses, and how do they feel? If the vans are not efficient, why should we expect large buses to be? Is it a scheduling issue? 

Thanks for any light you can shed on this situation. 

Jenny Cole 




Editors, Daily Planet:  

Chancellor Robert Berdahl’s edict regarding SARS is rather like forbidding people who use wheelchairs from coming to campus to stop the spread of neurological conditions and spinal infirmities.  

After this, the world is entitled to a low opinion indeed of the state of science at the University of California. 

Carol Denney