The 2 Great TV Contests of our Time (or at least the weekend)

Today was a day of watching heated contents with slim margins. Of the two, I’m vaguely familiar with one, and completely clueless but strong opinionated about the other. Let’s start with the one I’m more familiar with.

The NCAA tournaments for basketball are going on right now. Indeed, if you aren’t swept up in March Madness, you’re probably pretty normal. There’s a lot of hubbub about the tournament with many drawing up brackets and participating in big pools, but I haven’t met anyone so familiar with all of the match-ups to have put together a completely well-reasoned and researched bracket. Once past the top 30 teams or so, who really knows how Cornell or UNT did this season and what they’ll look like matched up a Kentucky? I can’t even imagine having followed all of the 64 teams up until now, which is likely why I haven’t participated enough to even get brackets put together.

That of course doesn’t keep fans from being entertained by watching the games. I didn’t know a one of the players I saw play yesterday, but by the end of each game, I was pulling for someone to win. You kind of have to have stakes in the game for watching to be any fun. In the end, you just kind of do some satisficing to figure out which team winning benefits you more and start screaming at the TV.

Perhaps one of the best parts of the tournament, though, is the underdog story. The charm of Northern Iowa beating Kansas (the #1 ranked team in the nation) was the fact that no one was paying attention. You can look at all the statistics and listen to all of the analysts, and no one is going to call that upset. But as they say, “That’s why they play the games.” At some point, all that discussion has to ground out in something happening. Besides, there’s just nothing like watching the lead change twice in the last 10 seconds to be capped off by a buzzer beater.

And on that note, I want to move on to the other great television spectacle: the House and health care. Now don’t run off in fear of this blog turning political: I’m too ignorant to offer anything substantial. I want to talk about its portrayal and why I was so entertained.

My mom, my sister, and I turned on the TV just before dinner to watch MSNBC when I got wind that the health care bill was going to the floor for debate. Frankly, I find a lot of the coverage not particularly interesting, but I came back in the middle of Nancy Pelosi’s speech to what was going on.

When they started counting votes, I was gripped. I mean, I knew nothing about the process,s the deals, the formalities, the motions, but the guy on MSNBC told me that exciting things would happen when that number got to 216, and I kept looking back at the NV column to guess how far away the House was from doing or not doing something. I certainly didn’t stand up and scream when they hit the magic number, but I could believe that someone on the planet did (likely a nerd wearing pajama pants, no less), and that’s a big deal.

I honestly didn’t wake up a happier person today because of the health care bill (though according to some, maybe I should have). For me, it was just a series of 3 15-minute contests where both sides were trying to have a higher total count on their side after months of work. And sure, the commentator can talk all he wants, but I can’t become an expert after watching for an hour or two. There’s just too much going on to understand, and I’m not nearly dedicated enough to follow all of the details and numbers for this to be a momentous occasion for me. I’m just as happy as anyone else to have watched a good show.

my idea:

Here’s an idea I had about a week ago while lying in bed, severely jet-lagged. I’m pretty sure that this is at least better than the “shower idea”.

Today, everyone is going crazy about Obama’s healthcare proposal. If you haven’t heard about it, I recommend that you not go to any town hall meetings. Anyways, I noticed there are a lot of statistics being thrown out there from both sides, including anything from the length of Canadian transplant waitlists to the estimated cost of insuring everyone, from the total number of uninsured Americans to the how much of a liar Obama is. Statistics are great to use because they sound official and concrete. Unfortunately, statistics can be misleading, or even downright lies. At best, quoted statistics are used with some bias.

What I propose is a website where one could get references and context for statistics. For example, let’s say that a commercial says “40% of all Americans will fake washing their hands if they think someone is watching” (I just made that up). Questioning this, they can go to and search for it. They can find the statistic (40%) and see who said this (commercial on public health), and what the apparent source is (Kevin Leung’s butt). Additionally, there would be a meter for the left and right bias of the speaker (neutral) and the original source (very left). Also, there would be a meter for the reliability of the quote, from the truth to maybe misleading, to a downright lie (in this case, a lie). I guess, then, that the stat, quoter, and quotee would all be judged on 2 axes, being political bias and reliability. Below that, they could see other statistics for comparison (70% of people will fake washing their hands if no one is watching) and comments from various users.

Of course, like any knowledge-based service, this depends on there being good, informed people who could give their opinions on the subject. All of the data would be user-driven, and I guess we could probably use the same 2 axes for each of the users. Thus, reliable, fairly moderate people would have more weight in evaluating new statistics. This, of course, leads to a bad chicken-egg problem between users and stats, but this is just an idea.

So, my disclaimer: I know nothing of this area. I don’t know if this has been done before. I don’t know anything about statistics or politics. I don’t know how well political forums online work, or if everyone out there just becomes a troll. Just an idea. Opinions?

E is for Emergency

When the nurse carted Jimmy back out from whatever examining room, I was anxious to know what the next move was. He had taken a bad tumble on the basketball court, and something was wrong with his knee, but we really didn’t know. Having offered to go along with him and one of our resident advisors, we made the 2 minute drive to Vaden Health Center, where they would hopefully have answers for us.

“You’re going to have to take him to the ER at the Stanford Hospital. We would do the x-rays here, but we have two people booked, and it’ll probably be faster there.” We thanked her as we carted off to the Stanford Hospital on the other side of campus.

When we pulled up to the ER, I was momentarily confused. Had we arrived at a hotel? Is that why there’s a valet service here? Nice uniforms, a booth, and a sign with “$8.00 for valet parking.” I’m actually somewhat surprised that it’s legal, though I’m sure that there are far bigger scams around. Even so, I couldn’t even look the valets in the eye as I walked past. Maybe it’s not their fault, but I know I would feel bad as a driver if I cut off a guy with a totaled car, even if I was only listening to shotgun.

The nurse at Vaden had told us to get the triage nurse when we arrived at the ER. I knew a little something about how the triage works. Enough to mis-understand and incorrectly program an implementation of it twice. But essentially, it’s a line with attention paid to level of need. It’s a priority queue. It also, apparently, happens to be somewhat slow at times.

To get to the triage nurse, however, involved getting through a metal detector (that wasn’t popular with the one-legged Jimmy) and the unfortunate, but necessary, forms. At first, it didn’t seem like it would be so bad. I, at that point, believed that not being able to walk would be high-ish on the triage scale. There was a man playing guitar softly for some peaceful ambiance. They had a copy of the San Francisco Chronicle, with the crossword still clean. And I could see a very full-looking rack of magazines.

First, the music went. I guess it works regular hours, because he moved quickly when it was 5:00. The Chronicle wasn’t interesting, and I stalled on the crossword. I learned that the magazine stand was filled with the discount, back-issue selection of magazines, from what looked like medical journals to the “Smithsonian.” I’m pretty sure the best pick there was a copy of a “Magic Treehouse” book I had probably read 10 years ago.

The wait continued and they had not yet called for “James.” The TV replaced the guitar player, but to satisfy the kids, it was tuned to Nickelodeon. Which apparently shows two hours of “Spongebob Squarepants” in the late afternoon on Mondays. The only thing in that show there was less of than content was humor. I’ve caught onto the dual-layered humor in cartoons that I missed before, but neither level was entertaining. Not quality TV.

The downward path of the ER continued. I thought I was saved when Spongebob was done, but I instead got to watch Jamie Lynn Spears’ show on “The Nick.” That was worse. Granted, the sitcom is supposed to be a show about nothing. Even so, usually it has unity of theme, and even if it wasn’t brilliant, there was some meaningful end to it, whether a moral, or a satire of society, or whatever. About all I can say for that is that Jamie managed to show off the same level of talent associated with the rest of her family.

Well, about 3 1/2 hours after we got into the hospital, Jimmy was finally called, and not so soon afterwards, we were out of there. Thankfully, there was no fracture, only a very bad sprain requiring crutches. I don’t know how thankful any of us were then, however.

But I learned my lesson. At 4:00 AM, I finally slogged through an IHum paper that I had procrastinated on for two weeks and was intending to do that afternoon. And I don’t know if I managed to seem fully conscious during my Chinese oral the next afternoon. I can’t say this is how I wanted to learn my lesson, but I think I did. Next week is never less busy than this week. You never know what ant hill might lie four steps ahead of you.

I’ll jus try to stay ready, because there is no guarantee that the next TV show has to be better than this one.

Part 6 of my story. I promise it’s near an end. Hold out for the ending, please.