Message from FAI and Research America – Food allergy action required!


From: Food Allergy Initiative <info@faiusa.org>
To: Me <me@my.email.address>
Sent: Tuesday, July 19, 2011 12:30 PM
Subject: Message from FAI & Research America

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Finding a cure for life-threatening food allergies. July 19, 2011
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Write Your Congressman Today!
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Fight for the Future of Medical Research!
Dear Friend,FAI has joined forces with Research!America, the nation’s largest nonprofit advocacy alliance committed to making health research a higher national priority. We’re fighting for strong, continuing support for life-saving research at the NIH.
Please join us today by writing your elected officials. You’ll find two letters on our site. The first allows you to voice your support for food allergy research, and the second, provided by Research America, allows you to voice your opposition to budget cuts at NIH.
A strong government-private partnership is the key to finding a cure for food allergies. We’ve worked too hard and come too far to fail now. As the world’s largest source of private funding for food allergy research, FAI urges you to write your elected officials today. Millons of Americans–including 12 million food allergy sufferers–are counting on us.
Sincerely,
Mary Jane Marchisotto
Executive Director, FAI
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Our Mission

FAI supports research to find a cure for life-threatening food allergies; clinical activities to improve diagnosis and treatment; public policy to increase federal funding for research and create safer environments for those afflicted; and educational programs to make the hospitality industry, schools, day care centers, and camps safer.

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AskCensus | A response on the ACS from the US Census Bureau:


So, out of all the people that I asked about the American Community Survey, none are so relevant as the U.S. Census Bureau itself.  After all, they’re the ones who put it out.  While PA State Rep. John Maher’s response is insightful and amusing, and the Spencarian’s Benjamin Kirby offers a different perspective… only the Census Bureau can comment officially.  It took me slightly longer than their professed 2-day response time to get back to me, but I’m sure they have better things to do than respond to some goofy idiot with pseudonym and an email account.  Also to be fair, they did kind of address my concerns on the FAQ.  I was just a little more long-winded about it.

Well, without further adieu, here’s what they had to say…

– ☞⌨☜ –

from: AskCensus <askcensus@custhelp.com>
reply-to: AskCensus <askcensus@custhelp.com>
to: recrat.demopublican@gmail.com
date: Thu, Oct 28, 2010
subject: The American Community Survey? [Incident: 000000-000000]

Recently you requested personal assistance from our on-line support center. Below is a summary of your request and our response.

If this issue is not resolved to your satisfaction, you may reopen it within the next 0 days.

Thank you for allowing us to be of service to you.

To access your question from our support site, click here.

Subject
The American Community Survey?
Discussion Thread
Response (ACSO – SLH) 10/28/2010 16:21
Thank you for using the US Census Bureau’s Question & Answer Center.  

We appreciate your feedback regarding the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. You make many valid points and in a world free of people too busy to respond we could easily get by with one mailing. As it is, our research has shown better response results from multiple mailings and reminder cards and for this program using multiple mailings to get someone to respond to the paper questionnaire is cheaper than obtaining the information by phone or personal visit.

As for the Internet response option we are in the development and testing phase for this application. The Director of the Census Bureau, Dr. Groves, supports this project not only for the ACS but also for the 2020 Census.

As for reducing the time burden on the American public, the director is dedicating resources to researching adminstrative/alternative sources for the information collected on the ACS and Census forms.

If you need more information or have further questions about the ACS, please call our Customer Services Center on 1 (800) 923-8282.

Question Reference #000000-000000
Escalation Level: 16 hours from created
Category Level 1: American Community Survey
Date Created: 10/20/2010 10:49
Last Updated: 10/28/2010 16:21
Status: Solved PII (Admin)
Cc:

[—000:000000:00000—]

– ☞⌨☜ –

Well, that was certainly bland, but at least they are looking to technological advances in the future.  I still see this statement as crazy: “…for this program using multiple mailings to get someone to respond to the paper questionnaire is cheaper than obtaining the information by phone or personal visit.”  I’d love to see that on paper.  (Or better yet, in an email.)

 

 

 

 

 

The Spencarian’s Benjamin Kirby | Thoughts on the ACS…


So, you ready my letter to anyone who would listen about the American Community Survey, right?  Hopefully you’ve also read the amusing reply from PA State Rep. John Maher.  Now we have the thoughts of political blogger, Benjamin Kirby of The Spencerian.  Through the magic of Google I happened upon his blog, saw that he liked answering political questions, and (of course) asked my question(s).  I got an excellent reply…

from: Benjamin Kirby <bkirby816@yahoo.com>
to: Recrat Demopublican <recrat.demopublican@gmail.com>
date: Thu, Oct 21, 2010
subject: Re: A POLITICAL QUESTION: The American Community Survey?

Hey, great letter, Recrat!  Really good.

I’ll try to answer it on the blog — you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t re-post the whole thing.  I’ll try to do your general concept justice, though.

Just as a quick answer, let me say that I think you’ll see huge changes in things like the ACS as well as the ten-year census over the next five to ten years.  We have Facebook, Twitter, and who knows what else in the future.  There is almost no reason to cut down a forest to do the ACS.

That said, I know some people who rely on the data the ACS provides, and it.  Is.  Critical.  It’s really important stuff, and it’s so important that people fill it out, that they’ll do whatever it takes to get their attention.  There’s the old marketing adage: tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you’ve told them.  And the only way the government can do that efficiently right now is through snail mail and paper.  Sounds weird, I know — but it’s true.

We’ll explore this more in the post in the next few days.

Thanks so much.

BJK

…and it was followed-up by a blog post:

Q & A: Answering a Question with a Question

I won’t re-post the whole thing here, but I would urge you to check out his blog, and post your comments there or here.

An excerpt…

First of all, let’s be totally fair to Recrat: he asked a great question.  The only problem with it was that it was in the neighborhood of, oh, around 1,250 words.  The highlights he asked about involved wasted resources in producing the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey in the area of money, time, energy, and paper.

Ha ha.  Sorry for being wordy, but…

Hello Pot...  ...Meet Kettle.

I guess it’s in all of us blog people. 

ACS Response from John A. Maher (PA House of Representatives)


I sent my letter about the American Community Survey to several politicians… from the mayor of my little town, to the mayor of Pittsburgh, to Pennsylvania representatives & senators, our US representatives & senators, and even the President Himself.

Only one politician has replied so far, and it’s been about 2 weeks since my missive first went out.  I figured it’s time to share, although I may keep trying.  Maybe this warrants some more snail mail.  Our first response comes from Pennsylvania State Representative John Maher:

– ★★★ –

from: John Maher <jmaher@pahousegop.com>
to: recrat.demopublican@gmail.com
date: Fri, Oct 22, 2010
subject: ACS
mailed-by: pahousegop.com

Congratulations on creating the most notable email nomme de plume that I have seen in some time!

I have a special appreciation for your experience, having been selected myself for the extended census exercise in 2000 AND 1990.  (While that is certainly not a statistical impossibility, it did cause me to ponder the veracity of the sampling method.)

Across the decade ahead, trillions of dollars of taxpayer money will be “driven out” to states, school districts, local governments and others feeding from the trough of the taxpayer using formulae anchored to the census results.  Getting the data right to begin with strikes me as a desirable goal.  Could the Census folks be more efficient?  I thought so before and am emphatic now.  Those selected for the expanded survey should be provided an access code and directed to a web site to complete the process.  Not only will forests of paper be saved, but tallying the results will require no human processing either.  Those without access to computers would dial a toll-free number, tap in the access code, and the pound of paper could be delivered.

I recall attaching a note to that effect with my response to the 2000 survey but the federal government is generally uninterested in the thoughts of a state legislator.

A larger complaint for me arises from seeing how census and other data is not used thoughtfully to measure or address concerns in a scientific, unbiased manner, but rather exploited selectively as raw ingredients to contrive formulae that accomplish what those with such power wish to accomplish.  When government behaves that way (which seems to be frequent), why bother collecting the data at all?

Thanks for taking time to send along such a thoughtful note.

John

John A. Maher
Member, House of Representatives
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

– ★★★ –

I like this guy.  His words aren’t calculated, his opinions aren’t guarded, and he has an obvious disdain for the large bureaucracy of the federal government.  (…perhaps a little animosity there too, or is that just me?) I have to agree with his last paragraph there, it seems like that backwards science all the conspiracy theorists spout about.  Just how is this data being put to use?  Shouldn’t the government already know how many people are living here and how much I made last year by looking at my Taxes?

I wrote back, and haven’t had a second reply, so I’ll leave you with my last communication:

– ★★★ –

from: <recrat.demopublican@gmail.com>
to: John Maher <jmaher@pahousegop.com>
date: Mon, Oct 25, 2010
subject: Re: ACS
mailed-by: gmail.com

Thank you for your swift & thoughtful reply, Congressman Maher!  I’m also gald you enjoyed my nomme de plume, ha ha.  I almost feel a fear for speaking my mind… something I was raised to believe should never be a problem in the great country in which we live.

I can understand your frustration with the federal government as a state legislator.  The states were originally given the majority of power.. and it seems to have shifted over the last century.

I agree completely with your assessment that we ought to be given an access code to complete the survey via internet or toll free phone number.  I’ve been e-filing my taxes since I was able, and before that I remember doing them by phone along with a simple questionnaire/help sheet on news print… that had to be over a decade ago now.  The waste associated with this whole thing is just mind-boggling.

While I understand the need for the federal government to collect data for programs they deem necessary, why not let local governments address the problems in their area, then ask the federal government for support to create their own solutions?

I really do appreciate your reply, and I will pass your name on to other voters as someone who cares about the people that they represent, and is up to the times with electronic communication.  You may be interested to also know that yours is the first reply I received out of the dozen or so politicians, government agencies, and political pundits that I’ve contacted via webforms or email… and so far the only politician to reply!

Keep up the good work, and as a citizen, I thank you for your service & commitment to the people!

-Recrat Demopublican

– ★★★ –

The American Community Survey – A letter to anyone who will listen/read/answer…


I did blog about the 2010 Census and the American Community Survey before, but I felt that my blog wasn’t enough.  I decided to try and reach out to the government, some politicians, some political pundits, and even one political blogger to express my concerns.  I’ve been sitting on this a while waiting for some more concrete replies, but there haven’t been that many.  We’ll get to the replies in later posts, but first I (with Editing help from Dave of course) present to you the letter:

– ☆ · ⌘ • ✍ • ⌘ · ☆ –

Dear [Gub’ment Employee],

Thank you for taking the time to make yourself accessible via email and/or the web, and available to address my concerns.  I realize that as a steward of the people and a government employee, your time is quite valuable. The point of my missive is speaking out against what I view as the waist of resources, money, and even time, so I will try to get right to the point.

Recently, I was notified via mail that I was a picked “at random” as a participant in the American Community Survey.  Then, a week or so later, I received the survey itself.  If it follows the same pattern as the 2010 Census, I will get two more notifications, and someone will show up at the door to ask me the questions even though it has been filled out and sent in.  Barring any other concern about the 2010 Census and focusing on the ACS, this is what I (along with 3 million other Americans) received:

  • Pre-notice Letter
  • Introductory Letter
  • ACS Questionnaire
  • ACS Instruction Guide
  • Frequently Asked Questions Brochure
  • Follow-up Letter
  • Reminder Card
  • Outgoing Envelope
  • Return Envelope

For my purposes I’d like to ignore (for the most part) the arguable statistical value of questions like when the building in which I reside was built, what time I leave for work in the morning, and how many people are in my car with me when I go to work.  I do enjoy the extensive reasons for asking each question available at http://www.census.gov/acs/www/ – but *.pdf is a “clunky” way to present them.  I would like to say that your reason for asking about the year my residence was built, “Age of housing is used to forecast future energy consumption” is flawed.  If my building was built in 1920, but recently retro-fitted with new windows, insulation, and a new energy-star furnace and/or central air, it might be better off energy-consumption-wise than a house built in the late 60’s with all original water-heaters, furnaces, etc.  (On a humorous note – remember the infamous man who had a baby a few years back?  Question 24 instructs you to only answer if you’re female and have given birth. He would now be a man and would have given birth. This could not be recorded as instructed.  Perhaps they ought to look at amending that in the follow-up survey 10 years from now?)

But, I did not intend my letter to argue the survey content. I would like to stick to what I believe is a more pressing and relevant issue, waste.  Here is what I feel was wasted in the ACS mailings.

Paper: I am not a crazy environmental activist, and I even question the actual savings when related to energy consumption on recycling, but even I am appalled at the waste of paper here.  That is three letters, a reminder card, the survey itself, a glossy FAQ brochure, and a 16-page “how to answer questions in this survey” booklet, plus the survey itself, and envelopes for all of the outgoing and return mailings except for the card times three million.  The letters alone are 9 million wasted pieces of 8½” x 11″ paper.  Think about that number.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen 9 million of anything.  The survey itself couldn’t have stated its purpose on the opening page without the need of a cover letter?  Did we really need the 16-page guide on filling out the survey?  Including the support phone number wasn’t enough?  I am not even factoring in the ink and envelope glue here.  It is 2010; I would think that most people have access to the internet or a telephone, even if it is someone else’s phone or the internet at a local library (which is still free in most communities, right?).  Why not send out a post-card or registered letter instructing people to take the survey via the web or by phone?  It can’t be much different from what has already been set up as a “support” to the paper survey.

Energy: How much energy was consumed in creating and transporting all of these mailings?  Eliminating the “you’re going to get a survey” and the “you should have gotten a survey” letters alone would have saved so much effort and, I am assuming, electricity unless you have a warehouse full of employees cranking out these surveys on Ben Franklin’s old printing presses.  Even the energy that went into the creation of this thing can be factored in.  How much gasoline and jet fuel was consumed in mailing these surveys?  So, under energy, we are wasting human energy/effort, electricity, and fossil fuels (unless every piece of mail was delivered by electric car from plants that do not use coal for electricity production).

Time: This concern is connected with the human effort element. How many people spent time on this?  How many man hours were spent compiling the questions, deliberating on how to word them, which ones to use and in what order, writing explanations on why they’re being asked, layouts for those designed, extra pamphlets proposed, decided upon, and designed, websites built, toll free help-lines set up, etc?  Then we have all of the labor; the actual creation of the paper, the printing, and the distribution?  How many people will be sent out to ask follow-up questions?  I’ll give you that my time wasn’t wasted in filling out the survey, and I’m arguably wasting more of my own time writing this letter… but what about my time wasted reading the “you’re going to get a survey” and the upcoming “you should have received a survey” letters?

Money: Certainly all of the people involved in this have been paid for their contributions; direct government employees are also receiving what I hear are excellent benefit packages.  If contracted work was used, I’m sure they were paid prevailing wages for jobs done for the government.  I’m sure the paper, ink, and distribution were not free.  I know the government does not pay for mail sent via the postal service, but how does that work?  Does it all actually go for free, or does the post office bill it out to the different government agencies per usage?  And, if you believe the old adage that time is money, then see the preceding paragraph again.  Shouldn’t taxpayers be able to vote on whether we’d like money to go into projects like this survey, or the more pressing social-programs that your survey professes to bolster once all of the information is gathered?  What about something as simple as food for the hungry, medical care for those who can’t afford it, or subsidizing housing for the homeless?  If money is going to infrastructure, why not ask the government employees about the road conditions that they encounter on the way to work on federal, state, and local levels?

While I do take a certain pride in being selected for performing a civic duty, I cannot help but wonder about the deployment of something like this on such a massive scale.  I understand that one may feel that the collection of this data is imperative, but perhaps the process through which it has been undertaken can be reviewed.  Perhaps the next time this survey is taken, eliminating so much paper will be a more viable option with new technologies appearing almost daily.

Thank you again for your time, I really do appreciate that you have made yourself available to read my concerns.

Sincerely,
-Recrat Demopublican
recrat.demopublican@gmail.com

– ☆ · ⌘ • ✍ • ⌘ · ☆ –

I have no idea why I chose to use a pseudonym when the intent was to post it here anyway… but I did.  I’d like to hear your thoughts before I post replies form others.

 

Subway bows to cheese tessellation pressure!


Looks like the infamous Left-Handed Toons comic about cheese placement on Subway sandwiches has finally paid off.  No longer will you have to suffer soul-crushing disappointment at the hands of so-called “sandwich artists”!  Well, at least in Australia.

I saw a tweet from Digg that captured my attention this morning, which lead to a link that I couldn’t follow… so I had to Google “Subway Finally Agrees to Tessellate Cheese” and it paid off.

This came from Gawker:

Gawker | Subway Finally Agrees to Tessellate Cheese

This came from The Consumerist:

The Consumerist | Subway to Start Tessellating Cheese

This is the word from Left Handed Toons:

Left-Handed Toons Blog | Cheesy Victory

(Click each photo to check out the source articles…)

Hopefully this wave of geometrical correctness makes its way to the shores of the states soon, and maybe they’ll figure out a way to not use one knife for every sandwich and even a way to stop flinging little creamy bits of death all over the place!  I may have to start bugging my old contacts there once again.

Your tax dollars at work


…or lack thereof.  Yesterday, we got this in the mail:

2010 Census Warning Letter

Really?  I mean, really? I can’t imagine one person out there who thinks this is at all necessary.  Your government actually spent time writing a letter, translating one line into several languages, printing, assembling, and mailing this thing out to every residence?

The one line at the end must be the important line, because it’s the only one they translated… yet, it wasn’t important enough to be in the actual body of the letter.  Are we to ignore the thole main part of the letter?  How did they pick the languages in which to translate the line?  What are they?  Please excuse my public education.  I recognize the English of course, Spanish, what I think is Chinese, then most likely Japanese or Korean, under that… I have no idea, then the Cryillic letters… is that Russian?  Why no French, Italian, German, or at this point Navajo?  Did they just throw darts at a map?

What if I’m politically opposed to the social programs that you need this census data for?  Is this my warning to fill the census out incorrectly?  Doesn’t the government already know everything about me when I do my taxes?  What exactly is my fair share, and who determines that?  I’m sure it’s nothing even close to “if I pay more taxes I get more out of government assistance”… which would seem fair to me.

On the other end of the political scale, even if this paper is made from recycled material, the plastic window in the envelope couldn’t have been environmentally friendly… and this is still a giant waste of paper, ink, envelope glue, and the gas that went into the trucks/planes/cars that delivered these things.  I really hope the tree-hugging hippies pick up on this and rail against it.  If the government expects us to be more responsible with our resources, they ought to lead by example.  Even a fictional villain from the Captain Planet cartoon would find this wasteful.

Oddly, it didn’t even mention the not-so-humorous “Snapshot of America” campaign that’s been shoved down our throats via TV, radio, print, and the ‘net.  I could almost see if it was some expansion of that, or more of an explanation.  This basically translates to “please fill out the census when you get it”… and if you need help, we have a website you can go to.  They couldn’t have done that in the useless ad campaign?

Who paid for this?  We did.  You, me, and everyone else that pays taxes.  Wouldn’t the money used for this mailing have been better used in the schools, health care facilities, highways, and programs that the census letter speaks of?  Or, it could have gone to disaster relief, homeless shelters, cancer research, or better yet, you could have all gotten a few more tax dollars back in your refund.  Before you laugh…  It wouldn’t just be the cost of the paper, ink, envelope, & stamp.  Think of all the people who where paid to write, print, fold, stuff, stamp, & transport these things and how many hours they spent doing it… and imagine what they get paid an hour.  Even with automated machines to do most of the work, someone had to monitor the progress and set the ball rolling.

Was this a ploy to keep the post office running for another few months before it shuts down?  The one sentence that stands out to me is “Without a complete, accurate census, your community may not receive its fair share.”  This reads like a threat in a stereotypical “pay for protection” plot line on your favorite crime drama or Simpsons episode.  I imagine someone sounding like Joe Pesci saying “I would ‘ate for sometin’ bad to ‘appen to your community were you to ignore this important mailing coming your way.”

Yes, I just wasted more of your time.  Sorry about that.  Maybe I need a government job…