Sunday, October 09, 2005

When Your Story's A Lemon . . .

San Antonio Proudly Lines Up Behind the Military Recruiter
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CAPTION: Just because you're saving the world doesn't mean you have to like it

This front page article from the New York Times has forced me to use the quote function on my blog template. For that alone I should be mad. The article's argument is this:
This city has its critics of the war in Iraq and its angry mothers who try to shame recruiters into going home. More than anything, though, it has a powerful patriotism and a deep respect for the military life.

At a time when the divide is widening between the cities and regions that send their children to war and those that do not, San Antonio remains a ready source of what the military needs most: people.

Those silly angry mothers and their lack of patriotism. So as I read this I thought "Gee, I know there have been problems with recruitment; maybe San Antonio is bucking the trend."
This metropolis - the home of the Alamo and the site of an Army presence since 1845 - is a top recruiting market for every branch of the military.

Sentence three helps defend the thesis. Sure, the guys at the Alamo lost horribly, and the building is more famous today for being peed on by Ozzy and housing Pee Wee's bike. And 1845 was a long time ago, even though our military's had a presence in other cities far longer with mixed results (New York [9/11], Washington [burned], New Orleans [The Saints' playoff record]). But this article will show that San Antonio symbolizes something different, right?
Nationwide, every one of the Army's 41 recruiting battalions failed to meet its recruiting goal in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, falling 7,000 soldiers short of the goal needed to refill the ranks, according to Army figures. Not since 1979 has the Army missed its annual quota by so many recruits. And yet San Antonio's recruiters, covering the city of 1.2 million people as well as the area stretching north to Austin and south to the Mexican border, ranked first among battalions by signing up 2,118 people for active duty [. . .]

Nationwide, that's pretty depressing. Good thing the people of S.A. are going above and beyond their quota . . .
[. . .] 86 percent of its goal. Only Oklahoma City, which followed with 78 percent, and St. Louis, with 72 percent, came close, according to the Army figures.

ARGH. So the entire article proudly states that San Antonio has failed to meet its recruitment quota, just like every other area in the country. If it were a spelling test it'd be different: 86 percent would put you on the merit roll and you might get a sticker. But when meeting a recruitment goal you have to get 100 percent because it's the least you should do. Say you took that spelling test, knowing the passing grade was a 65, and you scored a 56. Do the math; that's what happened here. Now consider that everyone else failed the test. On Conference Day, your teacher cheerily passes around your sorry test grade to each parent and says "You know, Antonio's a successful student. Your child should be more like him." Who should be smacked with a ruler first: you, for failing the test; the rest of the class, for also failing the test; or the teacher, who has lost all concepts of reality and ignores the serious problems coming to a head in that classroom?

The Times isn't teaching us anything here. Instead of reminding its readers of a dire military situation--which they've probably reported on before--it's couched in a front-page fluff piece that de-educates while using the voices of a few to drown out hard statistics. Here are some anecdotal quotes from the article:
"People always say, 'How can you be doing so good when we're at war? . . . Here the war boosts morale." --Sgt. First Class Jaime Gaitan

"We're strong like that," said Jonathan Garcia, 16

To Gaitan's credit, his battalion exceeded it's quota for August. And it was the only one. To Garcia's credit, he's 16 and not old enough to fight, vote, or speak for those who can do either.
On a recent Friday night at a Lutheran church in one of the city's wealthier neighborhoods, several mothers and a father gathered. . . . They are united in support of the men and women in uniform, even though they do not all agree on the merits of the war. Political talk is banned at their meetings.

War isn't political? Then what are they talking about? Why are they being interviewed in the first place? The article doesn't even say if those parents have children in the military or not. Judging by the amount of text discussing high recruitment in poor neighborhoods, and the need qualify that we're now hearing from a completely different group of "wealthy" people, the answer may well be a "Pffft."

Let's also examine a lack of numbers in the main text:
Census figures also show that there are more veterans here than in other American cities of San Antonio's size, including Dallas and San Diego.

How much more? Is there a major difference? How many other cities: Dallas, San Diego, and 2, 3, 20 more places?
San Antonio's schools are filled with men and women who served in uniform for 20 years or more. . . [Seventy] percent of the 280-member faculty [of Judson High School] served in the military, have family members who served, or also work in jobs connected to local bases.

Define "filled." Are they administrators, teachers, janitors? It's hard to believe that administrators and teachers have time to work for local bases in addition to full-time jobs at school. Seventy percent active participation in national defense sounds sketchy. Who doesn't have a least one family member in the military, anyway?
[C]omfort with the military is clearly evident. Since October last year, at least 25 former Judson students have enlisted in the Army, according to recruiting officials, making it one of the military's most productive schools.

How many students go to Judson High School? How big is a graduating class? How many different graduating classes does the sample come from? What if each graduating class has 300 students, and classes '01 to '05 are included in the sample, meaning that 1.67 percent of each graduating class has just enlisted? How can we tell if that's productive? And if we know that "at least" 25 students have enlisted but an exact count isn't known, how is the evidence "clearly evident?"

Oh, wait. The student body of Judson is later stated as having over 3500 students. It's a high school, so that means four different grades with an average graduating class of around 875. If we take classes '01 to '05, that's 4375 people. Divide by "at least" 25, and that's one student out of 175. Zero point five seven percent. My own graduating class had 130 people and more than one entered the military; where's our medal? Perhaps all the enlistees came from the class of 2005 (2.86 percent); that's decent, but shameful next to that 70 percent faculty comment the author trots out. Then again, maybe students from the 1990s also signed up. In any case it's not worthy of the Page One of the Times.

This post is too long and I quit. It's a Sunday morning and I'll already done math and used an overabundance of block quotes. But for just a minute, think about the article's title--"San Antonio Proudly Lines Up Behind the Military Recruiter"--and try telling me it's not utter bullshit.

1 comment:

Joe said...

Didn't RTFA the whole post, but WTF? WGAS (Who gives a sh*t?)