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November 16, 1999

The amount of trash and unsightly litter being dumped alongside some of our city streets is nearing epic proportions. It is, in a word, disgusting. Discarded soft drink cans, beer cans, water bottles, liquor bottles, quick food containers (including remnants of a greasy repast), and other non-biodegradable items are making our town resemble a very large landfill. Those who so freely deposit the messes at others' curbsides surely would not do that in their own front yards -- or maybe they would.

What causes people to behave in such an uncivilized way, like barnyard animals? Occasionally I see walkers making laudable efforts to pick up some of the debris, but they can't begin to keep up with the problem. Would this be a good way to spend a few hours for those asked to do community service? Would some local clubs take on a cleanup project? Would a swell of resentment by the rest of us persuade the trash-depositors to use receptacles and dumpsters, as they should be doing? It is a problem that needs to be addressed. Check the trash along some of our main thoroughfares -- the west end of Wakefield comes quickly to mind, since I travel that route a lot. That's just one glaring example of what's happening. Visitors to our town often use these littered streets. What must they think of us?

You are noticing these days that the newscasts by celebrated political pontificators and syndicated columnists are more and more making use of "the latest poll findings" in their assessment of the hopefuls for President and other high offices. The campaigns actually have not even officially begun (parties have not yet chosen their candidates), but various elements of the media are busily scrutinizing the would-be nominees and reporting to us their personal estimates of each one's chances. To support their view, they trot out figures to show "what the latest public opinion polls" indicate.

You can take all of that with a grain of salt. Some of us still remember the disastrous Literary Digest magazine polls in 1935, showing Republican Alf Landon easily defeating President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The only thing is, FDR won by an enormous landslide and the Literary Digest vanished from the scene. Or the 1947 campaign when the heavily favored Thomas E. Dewey, also a Republican, lost to Harry S. Truman despite a famous Chicago Tribune headline reading "DEWEY BEATS TRUMAN" published (a bit prematurely) the night of the election, before all the votes had been counted.

Well, the pundits and the pollsters have to make a living and they survive by asking segments of the populace how they feel about certain issues. In, summarizing their findings, and to cover themselves in the end, they allow a plus or minus margin of error. Don't bet the family jewels on conclusions drawn by the polltakers. The demographics of their surveys could not possibly produce an accurate view of the outcome of anything. I had the pleasure of working with one highly respected national opinion survey group in a presidential election several years ago, and I learned first-hand how meaningless are their findings. Since then, the survey organization has radically redesigned its methodology but it is no secret that they are really no better now at guessing how you and I will vote. Don't be misled by what you hear and see in "the polls." Make up your own mind.