Saturday, July 15, 2006

Don't bogart that air of false precision

Today's discussion topic is "street value," and the part that's going to be on the final is "file it with the horoscope." Let's look at some real-life examples of why copyeds need to wave the warning flag whenever this bogus construct gets anywhere near publication.

Residents in the North Springs subdivision are adamant that the person involved in planting an estimated $7 million worth of marijuana plants next to their Northeast Richland community is not one of them.

“I want it stressed that this is not North Springs property,” said Indignant Richwoman, a North Springs resident and former North Springs Property Owners Association president.

(To which the reporter's response appears to have been: "Yes, ma'am!" But let's keep our eyes on that tempting "$7 million" in the lede.)

The Richland County Sheriff’s Department is looking for individuals responsible for growing the 3,500 marijuana plants discovered Wednesday night on private property between the North Springs, Candlewood, Rainsborough and Fisher’s Wood subdivisions.

The plants, estimated by the Richland County Sheriff’s Department to have a street value of $2,000 each, were found in a densely wooded area behind the North Springs tennis courts. The plants range in height from 12 inches to more than 4 feet, according to Lt. Chris Cowan, spokesman for the Richland County Sheriff’s Department.

Thanks for saving us the long division there. A pot plant's "street value" is $2,000. Even if the poor scraggly thing, fighting for its share of sunlight in this "densely wooded area," is somewhat short of knee-high.

Now we're going to extrapolate a bit. There's a restaurant over in St. Louis that sells a thing it calls the "Whole Missouri Tomato Appetizer" (henceforth WoMoTo) for $7 -- well, last time we were there was three years ago, so let's call it $8 for inflation. The said WoMoTo comprises a tomato and some basil and oil.

A quick check of the HEADSUP-L North Forty finds some pretty heavy between-subjects variation among the tomato plants, but the spunkiest has about a dozen berries, blossoms or blossom precursors. Tomatoes like hot weather, and it's supposed to be in the mid-90s for the next few days, so let's round that up to 15. Times 12 (all the ones in the backyard and the pear varieties on the front veranda) is 180 Missouri tomatoes, times $8 is $1,440 -- in other words, the "street value" of the HEADSUP-L tomato crop on WoMoTo terms is nearly $1,500!* But let's continue:

A North Springs resident walking his dog reportedly called the authorities after finding the plants, said Watchful Security, North Springs neighborhood watch security chairman.

I bet he didn't say the guy "reportedly called" the authorities. I bet he said the guy "called" the authorities. But double attribution is a later topic.

The marijuana find comes in the same week as two smaller drug busts in Lexington County.
Three men were arrested at a West Columbia motel room Wednesday after they were found with 32 pounds, about $35,000 worth, of marijuana, police said.


Three other men and a woman were arrested Thursday after 25 pounds of marijuana were seized at a Gilbert home, according to police reports. The street value for 25 pounds of marijuana is about $27,500.

The marijuana’s street value can vary from county to county, based on the street sale price, said Maj. John Allard, spokesman for the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department.

Allard said the street value for marijuana in Lexington County is $1,100 per pound and $1,000 per plant.

Well, thanks for clearing all that up. But you Econ 5 survivors might be wondering at this point: Why would any rational consumer buy marijuana in Richland County? And why would any rational entrepreneur sell it in Lexington? Or whether the whole thing is sort of like eyeballing a field of wheat seedlings and multiplying by the shelf price of the individual Wheatie.

Alternatively, you could wonder why newspapers keep running gee-whiz numbers based on multiplying one guess by another. Made-up stats are like zeroes. The product of any number and a made-up number is another made-up number.

Thoughts, comments and reflections, you ex-cops-beat reporters?

* Do not get any ideas out there. This is a significant part of the HEADSUP-L retirement plan, and we will defend it accordingly.

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