Thursday, January 07, 2010

Lost in Random

Fans of "Lost" have lost their minds because the White House set the State of the Union speech for the same night as the premiere of Season 6 of the odd series. They have started a campaign to either get the Obama administration to change the date -- again -- for the speech, or get ABC to refuse to show the speech. After all, the other networks will be showing it, so why not instead broadcast a show that has absolutely no impact on anyone's life. Such fervent fandom brings to mind the uproar caused by the "Heidi" game of 1968.

It is not clear if the above information is something that should outrage the Political Science instructor in La Professora, or if it is merely confirmation of the belief that Americans are dangerously apathetic towards politics. The US Census Bureau reports that there are 225.5 million Americans who are eligible to vote -- 11.7 million between the ages of 18 and 20 -- yet only 64.9 percent of those bother to register to do so. Worse is the fact that 58.2 percent actually did vote in 2008. That means 94.3 million people who are eligible to vote don't bother registering and voting. Of the 18- through 20-year olds, in 2008 only 41% bothered to cast their ballot; meaning nearly 2 out of 3 college-aged citizens did not vote in an election that was supposed to energize the young in this country.

Suddenly, I needed to know just how inane are American preferences. Not only does a large number of the population choose not to exercise its most basic political right and participate in the electoral process, but a quick 'Google' of "Americans would rather" showed that Americans are a sorry lot.

When it comes to TV, the average -- no indication of which measure of central tendency this is -- American watches 15 hours of TV per week. One survey found that 80% of Americans can't live without their DVR. Another study showed that 26% would prefer to spend their evenings in front of the great glowing box. Hardly surprising given that American families spend $660 per year on TV, stereo, and gaming devices. That's just television; there's a plethora of other subjects that make one question the rationality of the American people.

Continuing on the theme of electronic devices. A survey done for Best Buy found that while 60% of those surveyed would choose to give up alcohol for (only) a week rather than to give up their cell phone, 15% would endure having their teeth drilled if it meant keeping their cellphone. A more surprising study found that 46 percent of woman and 30 percent of men would give up sex for two weeks in exchange for keeping during that same time period their access to the Internet. TV fares worse than sex; 61% of women said they'd give up their TV for two weeks for just one week's worth of Internet access.

Yet iPods fare much better; a study done found that 60% of Americans would refuse to give up their magic little Apples even if they knew that it was damaging the environment. That same study showed that only 6 percent would be willing to give up their car, and 7 percent would dump their computer. Cell phones, however, are more quickly abandoned: 21 percent of Americans would forgo the fun of being on an electronic leash if they knew that the device was harming the environment.

Furthermore, the survey found, given the choice between convenience, comfort, or protecting the environment, convenience and comfort were almost tied -- 38 and 36 percent respectively -- while only 26 percent of those questioned would choose protecting the environment. Which, one supposes, is better than none at all. Sadly, a look at the cost / benefit analysis done by Americans shows that their utility bill would have to increase by $129 per month -- $1,500 per year -- before they would motivated to put in the effort to make their homes energy efficient. Which seems odd, given that 45% of those asked would rather pay bills than scrub clean their shower.

One study found that Americans throw out 40 percent of all the food produced in this country. Granted, some of that waste is at the manufacturing stage and the point of sale, but the majority of the waste is from people throwing out that left over Chinese take out they never got around to eating. What that means is, while 6.7 million people are "food insecure" -- a fancy way of saying 'hungry' -- $48.3 billion worth of food is taken to the dump each year. Wasted food wastes other resources as well; 25% of the country's fresh water consumption and 4% of oil consumption is squandered along with that food.

The people of this country spent more money on bottled water in one year than they did on iPods and movie tickets. I have already ranted on the stupidity of bottled water, so it should come as no surprise that the fact that $15 billion was spent in one year by Americans on something that is basically free continues to boggle the mind.

With all the hoopla about health care reform and H1N1 in the news the last few months, one would be forgiven for thinking that the American people are concerned with their health. Sadly, this does not seem to be the case. One quarter of all Americans do not engage in any form of exercise; this matters as some $76 billion in 2000 is was spent on health care for the inactive. Far more scarier is the 51% of people who said they would get on a plane even if they knew they were sick with the flu.

Then there's the weight of Americans. Given their choice, Americans would rather live someplace where there are more McDonald's than there are Starbucks. It is clear that Americans love their fast food. Even in state such as California, the proportion of overweight people is staggering: 42% of women and 63% of men are fat. Nationwide, 31 percent of all adults are morbidly obese. Given the choice between losing 75 pounds or losing their job, well over half of the population chose shedding the weight. Even more chose being thin and poor over being a fat Croesus. However, when given the dilemma of having the perfect body or the perfect mind, only 5 to 7 percent (women and men, respectively) would choose to shed 20 IQ points along with their unwanted weight -- yet another 11 to 17 percent said they would certainly consider it. Additionally, 60% said that they'd rather reduce the likelihood by twenty percent of having their identity stolen than lose twenty pounds.

The country is not without its hypocrisy, however. When surveyed on volunteerism, 93% said that it is important to promote volunteer activities. Yet less that half donate any of their time to charitable organizations. In fact, 51 percent said they would rather spend their time watching television or visiting their in-laws than volunteer; all the while saying that the greatest barrier to volunteering is the lack of time.

It is not just the citizens who are lazy. Politicians are truly representing the constituents. When a news organization asked members of Congress if they were planning on reading the text of the health care reform bill before voting, many of them said they were not. It is no wonder then that 45% of voters believe that a group of people randomly chosen from a phone book would do a better job at running the country than the elected officials.

Let us face the fact that Americans do fit, in the most general sense, the stereotype of fat, lazy, and uninformed. No wonder the "Lost" fanboys have their panties in a twist over having their prized season premiere -- the sixth one, nonetheless -- bumped for something like the president laying out his plan for governing the country in coming year. Politics, after all, requires too much thought. If Americans really thought about what is being done in Washington, they'd know better than to think that 24% of the national budget is allocated to NASA -- the correct answer, by the way, is that a mere 0.58% is spent on NASA projects. And far fewer than the current 58% would believe that 'aggressive interrogation techniques' are necessary for gaining information from Umar Abdulmutallab, the "underwear bomber".

Sad as all this is, 90% of Americans would rather live here than anywhere else in the world. That's the highest for any of the 24 countries studied. I have to wonder if the other 10% are the "Lost" fans who would rather live elsewhere if it meant they got their precious show on the day promised.

No comments: