Five at 8 – 11/18/09: America’s greatest math teacher


1) Every high school (or junior high school) math teacher in America should be using New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s fateful decision to go for a first down late in Monday night’s game against the Colts and deep in their own territory as a way to teach statistical probability. If you don’t know by now that it didn’t work, then keep reading this item for the math.

The math experts at Advanced NFL Stats are using formulas like this:

(0.60 * 1) + (0.40 * (1-0.53)) = 0.79 WP

And this:

(0.56 * 1.9) + ((1-0.56) * -1.8) = 0.3 EP

To come up with this conclusion: “Statistically, the better decision would be to go for it.” Remember, this is football, a sport not exactly known for its fancy book learning.

Math teachers: If you still need help with the curriculum, here’s more. Or you can hand it off to the philosophy teacher and go with the Boston Globe columnist Eric Wilbur’s post, which basically says there are lies, damn lies, and statistics.

Either way, teach, you missed a great chance to engage the kids this week if you didn’t pay attention.

2) A good place to ride out a recession: CEO of a non-profit. CBS reports salaries increased an average of 6 percent last year. It also exposes the bottom of the barrel. The Committee for Missing Kids, for example, spends only 14 percent of its budget on kids.

3) Should drunk driving be a felony if you have a kid in the car? New York is heading in that direction. Clearly the idea is to get people not to drive drunk but what makes the kid sitting next to you more important than the kid sitting next to the oncoming car that a drunk might hit?

Should drunk driving be a felony?(polls)

More from the Bottoms Up file: Students placed in coed housing by their college are nearly three times as likely to binge drink as those in same-sex dorms. Porn use was also higher among the coed dorm kids, the study says.

4) What’s up, Greenfield? The Star Tribune has been paying hyperlocal attention to the small Minnesota city, which is the early leader in the most dysfunctional city in Minnesota competition (if you’ve got a nominee, post it below). The city lost its insurance coverage when the Minnesota League of Cities raised its rates, mostly because of actions of the city council and mayor. Raucous meetings called for the mayor to resign. Last night, she did, according to the Strib. That should solve the problem, right? Let’s go see:

Almost immediately the bickering resumed as council members and then audience members tried to speak at once. “Shut up,” one audience member said. “You shut up,” another replied. “Here we go …” muttered a third.

5) The mammography debate. We have only a few hours to intelligently discuss this week’s advisory by a government panel to change to 50 the age at which women should start having a regular mammogram. Republicans today are holding a news conference to claim it will lead to rationing (it’s not like someone didn’t tell you this would happen). Once it becomes a political football, Republicans will line up with age 40, Democrats will line up with age 50; and a careful medical analysis of this week’s news will be lost to the way most weighty issues are considered these days — which side is my political party on?

But there was no getting around the link to the rationing issue. Linda Leslie Martin, a cancer survivor from Mendota Heights, writes in an MPR commentary today:

I’ve been a proponent of President Obama’s plan for health care reform. Suddenly I’m worried about what I used to consider ridiculous scare tactics concerning government decisions on who lives and dies. Now I’m not so sure they’re ridiculous.

When I was first diagnosed with cancer, my daughter was 4 years old. If these new guidelines had been in place in the late 1990s, would I have lived to see her senior year in high school?

Her comments mirror those in every letter to the New York Times.

Well, here’s the thing: Someone at some point in the past decided that 40 was the age women should have periodic mammograms. Was that rationing, too (That’s not a rhetorical question)? The question to ask is whether there’s sound medical science behind these decisions.

Go search “mammogram” on Google news. “Outraged,” “worried,” “upset,” “rips,” and “wary” are some of the words in the headline. Didn’t anyone ask, “hey, who’s on this panel making the recommendation?” Why, yes. But apparently just one — Public TV:

PBS’ NewsHour talked to Dr. Diana Petitti, a professor of biomedical informatics at Arizona State University. She’s vice chair of the panel:

And I think part of it is because of the subtlety of the language of the task force. The task force recommended against routine screening of women starting in their 40s. What they recommended in favor of was a discussion of a woman with her physician about what age to start screening.

The recommendation has been widely misinterpreted as saying women shouldn’t be screened ever in their 40s. And that, in fact, is not what the recommendation was about.

Which brings us to…


A new government study has recommended that most women not get mammograms until they reach age 50. It also suggests that women stop doing breast self-exams. What do you think of the new guidelines discouraging mammograms for women under 50?


Midmorning (9-11a.m.) – First hour: Couples struggling with infertility today have more options to find donors, thanks to the Internet. And the growth of social networking is helping many donor offspring find the truth about their genetic origins. Midmorning discusses what happens when participants in reproductive technology lose their anonymity via the Internet.

Second hour: Reinhold Niebuhr was one of the most influential, and controversial, theologians and political theorists of the 20th Century. President Obama has called him his favorite philosopher. Two scholars discuss the essence of Niebuhr’s philosophy and the book “Moral Man and Immoral Society.”

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: A listener call-in program to answer questions about the latest research on screening for breast and prostate cancer.

Second hour: Former Sen. Norm Coleman’s speech at Harvard. Coleman, it would appear, is the 800-pound gorilla in the race to succeed Tim Pawlenty as governor.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: Political Junkie Ken Rudin talks about the buzz surrounding Sarah Palin and the week in political news.

Second: More mammograms. Medical experts answer questions about the new guidelines.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – After years of delay the Shubert project in Minneapolis gets an official groundbreaking for a new regional dance center. MPR’s Euan Kerr will have the story.

MPR’s Dan Olson takes a look at how Target Field/Transit Hub are changing the previously blighted section of downtown Minneapolis.

Former MPR reporter Martin Kaste conducts his own math class this afternoon. He’ll reveal how the stimulus jobs reports are calculated.

It’s November, you May graduates. You know what that means? Your first student loan repayment is due. Claudio Sanchez reports many former students don’t have the cash.

And Robert Siegel talks to the curator of a new exhibit on … parking garages.

Can a parking garage be public art?


MPR’s Euan Kerr did a story yesterday about linguist Arika Okrent, whose new book book explores some of the 500 she found which were developed over the last millennium. The story found its way to Vancouver, from where reader Brian Kaneen writes:

Pardon me, but there is a world of difference between an a priori language invented such as Klingon, and an a posteriori constructed one such as Esperanto! Klingon was indeed invented ‘from scratch’, but the wordstock of the non-ethnic inter-language Esperanto was taken from existing ethnic languages, largely on the principle of ‘maximum internationality’. And their purposes were entirely different too: Klingon was largely just for entertainment and aimed at a specific interest group, while a modern rationale for the common second language Esperanto can be found in the seven points of the Prague Manifesto.