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Scientific analysis
Michael Taeckens' "Fries With That?" article [May 8] typified a common problem with today's media that really irks me. This is the lack of basic technical acumen that would more properly inform the use of statistics and logical analysis.

In his review of Fast Food Nation, Mr. Taeckens notes that "Anywhere from 1 percent (in the winter) to 50 percent (in the summer) of the cattle carry E. coli in their guts. One cow with E. coli can contaminate 32,000 pounds of ground beef ... "

If we take these statements at face value, then during the summer it would seem that all beef would be contaminated unless the average cow is over 16,000 pounds, which it clearly isn't. Even if we understand "can contaminate" to mean "may in a few cases contaminate," this would still lead to a huge amount of contaminated beef, given that one cow affects so much processed meat.

Given these alarming statistics, why aren't hamburger eaters dropping like flies from E. coli poisoning? The answer is one that appears nowhere in Mr. Taeckens article. All you have to do is to cook the meat long enough to kill the bacteria! The truth is that anyone who eats meat is probably eating E. coli quite frequently without any negative effects because the E. coli is dead.

I encourage Mr. Taeckens to apply a little more thoughtful analysis to his writing so as to present the facts in a more balanced manner to his readers.
--SAM DICKERMAN, CAMBRIDGE, MASS.

Write on
As a music editor and listings writer at Flagpole Magazine, the free weekly alternative paper in Athens, Ga., I can completely understand and empathize with what music editor Angie Carlson touches on in the lead-off bit in her May 22 "Scene & Heard" column. For little college towns with big music scenes like Athens and Chapel Hill/Raleigh/Durham, press coverage on local bands can prove to be a prickly issue.

At Flagpole, we have to deal with the disgruntled, anonymous "concerned musician" on a weekly basis. They're usually rude folks who've never contacted us before, calling or e-mailing to complain about a generic or vague description we wrote beside their band name in the weekly listing (we can usually find out the band name, the place and the date, but we can't review recordings we don't have). These folks are clueless, whether innocently or not. Some catch on to the idea that if they actually provide the music department at the weekly with a recording, a glossy 8-by-10 or a smudged Polaroid, a scrap of paper with the band's lineup scribbled on it--anything of substance really--there's a far greater chance of getting accurate coverage in the pages.

Note that it's the paper's duty to try to cover the local musical events, not necessarily promote them. In tight-knit scenes like Athens and Chapel Hill/Raleigh/Durham, its impossible to completely exclude coverage of old friends, ex-housemates, former co-workers, ex-bandmates, and general acquaintances in the name of fairness. Certainly, a potential conflict of interest may come along when a band or artist close to a music writer or editor gets coverage for a show or album release or whatever. I doubt that Carlson bases this coverage on her own relationships with the bandmembers or connection with the label or what have you. I'm sure Carlson, like most serious music editors, bases it on the merit of the band's music, activities, and impact on the scene.

I've written features for the paper on bands I didn't particularly enjoy and on individuals whose company I didn't particularly enjoy based solely on the significance of the band and/or the event connected to it. And this goes for just about every style of music--from hippie-dippie jam bands, unorganized hip-hop ensembles and sour-faced free-jazzers to smug post-rock and mousy indie-popsters.

It is our job as music writers to try and keep up with what's happening in our scenes and stay on top of new acts and trends, but it's the responsibility of the artists (or their "managers") and the live music venues to meet us half way. A simple phone call. A e-mail message with a link to a band's Web site. An envelope with a cassette tape or CD-R, a slip of paper and a snapshot of the band standing against the practice room wall. Anything. The sooner bands realize the basics of the game--and the sooner whiners can take a step away from complaining and take a step towards putting something constructive together--the sooner they can reap the rewards of "promotional diligence."

Of course, if the band supplies a thorough press kit but it's music absolutely sucks, that's another whole ball of wax.
--T. BALLARD LESEMANN, ATHENS, GA.

Correction
In our story, "Divided Minds" [May 22], we were mistaken when we said Stephanie Gilmore's late father was an alcoholic. There was alcoholism on her father's side of the family, Gilmore says, but it did not include her father. The Independent regrets the error.

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