Friday, May 11, 2007

He strides to the podium

Johnny Rocketseed strides to the podium, pauses for a dramatic effect—perhaps a moment too long; the judge shifts uncomfortably in his chair, waiting—before lifting his eyes to meet the judge's. He begins:

JR May it please the court.

J [under his breath] Well, we'll see, won't we?

JR I have come today to offer conclusive proof that our troops support the war effort in Iraq, unequivocally. I offer in evidence Exhibit A the Appeal for Courage, signed by more than 2,900 active-duty service personnel. Is there any objection?

J That's my question, Mr. Rocketseed, but since you and I are the only ones here, it looks like you'll get off scot free in the objection department. You may proceed; tell me what the Appeal for Courage is about.

JR Your Honor, as I said it has more than 2,900 signatures of service personnel who support the war in Iraq.

J Are they all in Iraq?

JR Ah, I don't know that, you Honor.

J Ok, if there's not in Iraq, have they been to Iraq?

JR Don't know that either, you Honor. But let me say that it seems like we've sent practically everybody in the active services, reserves, and National Guard to Iraq at one time or another, so I'll bet lots of them have been there. No question about that!

J [sighs] All right. Move on.

JR Thank you, your Honor. I now move the court for judgment that our troops support the war effort in Iraq, unequivocally.

J Before I can rule on that, I have a few questions for you. Is this, er, petition of yours a statistically relevant and accurate sample of active duty service personnel?

JR Ah, no. But nobody made anybody sign the petition!

J So the people who signed it were self-selected supporters of the war?

JR Well right.

J Was there a place on the petition to express a contrary view?

JR I don't think so.

J Was there any independent audit or verification of the signatures to prevent duplicates or forged signings?

JR I really don't know Judge.

J Ok. How many service persons have served in the Iraq theater?

JR Well, I think there are maybe 160 to 170 thousand there now.

J So let's just make up a number for argument's sake. Let's say that double that number there now have served at one time or another. So let's call that 350,000 total. And remember, this is just a subset of the whole active duty military, right?

JR I guess.

J What percentage of 350,000 is 2900?

JR I'll need a minute. Do you have a pencil, your Honor?

J I'll save you the trouble: it's under one percent.

JR Really? Gosh, that can't be right!

J It is. And what's really kind of serendipitous is that I have a copy of the Military Times poll conducted at the end of last year. Here, let me read a little bit of it to you:

For the first time, more troops disapprove of the president's handling of the war than approve of it. Barely one-third of service members approve of the way the president is handling the war, according to the 2006 Military Times Poll.

JR I'll be a monkey's uncle!

J [under his breath] The first part anyway. [continuing] You do know about public opinion polling, don't you, Mr. Rocketseed? And why the Appeal for Courage is one thing, and the Military Times poll is another?

JR I have some idea.

J I tell you what, Mr. Rocketseed. You contact the American Association for Public Interest Research. They can help you out. In fact, you might want talk to Rob Daves, he's the president of the association. I understand he has a little time on his hands now.

JR Okay, I will. But are you going to rule in my favor?

J I'm afraid not. You proved the opposite of what you set out to prove, Mr. Rocketseet. Case dismissed.

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