Eulogy with comedy

August 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

Stumbled on a video today of the memorial service for the three New Zealand soldiers killed in Afghanistan recently. The words – and delivery – of one of the speakers blew me away.

Major Craig Wilson was the commanding officer of all five Kiwi soldiers killed in Afghanistan just this month. A gut wrenching toll for a small nation fighting someone else’s war. Wilson, his right arm in a sling, himself shot in the shoulder in a fatal attack, found words with which to decorate the three killed in action.

He does an amazing job. I can only hope to imagine what kind of leadership talent it takes to introduce comedy into eulogy, to instinctively balance grief, sincerity and personality, to control the timing when the situation is out of control, but he utterly nails it.

Watch this video between 1:00 and 3:20. I’ve typed out some of his words below, so I could admire them again.

On Private Richard Harris:

…Richard was one of the young ‘purebreds’, as we call them…he was an excellent machine gunner. Just how dedicated he was to fulfilling this role was demonstrated by his actions when the forward patrol base at Do Abi was attacked at night. He sprang to his post without pausing to get fully dressed and there he was, pouring fire back at the enemy with his beloved machine gun, dressed in his body armour, his helmet…and his undies…

On Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker:

…Jacinda, you were like the mother hen. Apparently, during the same Do Abi contact, she woke everyone up and spent about the next five minutes after the initial rounds yelling at all the boys to make sure they put their pants on – obviously Richard didn’t get that message…

On Corporal Luke Tamatea:

…While the rest of us were photographed dragging our tired carcasses over the Southern Alps, Tama somehow managed to ‘model’ his way across, looking like Derek Zoolander. Apparently, mate, you stayed true to form when the Do Abi contact happened. Apparently, unlike Richard, you started fully dressed and then slowly managed to strip off your kit throughout the contact so you could flex those muscles…

His words were beautiful, stirring and confidently funny. I’m in awe of public speakers like this.

How to win fiends and influence people

August 18, 2012 § 1 Comment

Yesterday I was handed a free copy of the Daily Telegraph.
They’re giving them away!

I have read one article and it’s an example of poor statistical reporting. There is a LOT of this in newspapers. I’m picky about the communication of data because I have done a fair bit of it in my line of work.

The article, which takes up less space overall than the accompanying naked torso of James Magnussen, is Facebook no friend of Games athletes. It’s a sloppy piece of reporting and here’s why.

The whole premise of the article is that our athletes’ reliance on social media is at least partly to blame for Australia’s poor performance at the Olympics. Putting aside the issue of whether that (the poor performance) is even true, let’s look at the evidence.

The argument is based on a survey conducted by a third party. There’s no information about sample size or demographics.

The article states up front that ‘A study has revealed that Australians believe social media has become a significant distraction for our top athletes.’ It says that the survey found that this was one of ‘the top issues’. But it doesn’t provide any data on that. At all. There is a quote from an athlete and from her coach and a statement from the survey firm and that is it. We aren’t given any survey data about social media and Olympic performance.

Here’s what we are told though: ‘Just one in six Australians believed elite sport was underfunded’.

Next, the journalist tells us that ‘In contrast, nearly two in five thought throwing extra cash at athletes was not the answer…’

In both statements the writer has chosen to report the exception, not the rule. That’s fine, if that’s the story. But both also express the minority view in connection with a negative statement. The reader has to work really hard to understand what is going on, and be good at fractions.

It’s really saying: ‘Most people thought elite sport was overfunded. In contrast, most people thought extra funding is the answer.’ What?

Note that none of this confusing barrage of data has anything to do with the title or point of the article, which is that SOCIAL MEDIA STOLE OUR MEDAL TALLY! RARRR! Daily Telegraph readers will see the headline and the (irrelevant) data and go away convinced that ‘Facebook is the newest threat to our Olympic success.’ Fiendishly clever.

The article fails another test by using too many different ways of representing the numbers. In just 370 words, we are thrown fractions, percentages and gut feelings. We are told about ‘one in six’, ‘two in five’, ’11 per cent’, ’60 per cent’ and even ‘6.15 out of 10’. We are told that one thing is ‘significant’ and another is a ‘top issue’ without ever finding out what the numbers are. The data that we are given tells a different story to the message we get, which in turn has nothing to do with the headline.

In conclusion, I’m giving this article zero stars. You can be 100 per cent sure of that.

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