Monday, September 22, 2008

Matt Damon - Hollywood Blowhard (Probability McCain Will Die in Office)

By Pat Racimora
Author: Pat Racimora

I love Hollywood movies just like most everyone else. Give me a comfortable stadium seat, a good thriller, a bag of fresh popcorn, and a cold Pepsi, and I am as happy as a hog in warm poop.

But I don’t go to the stars, even my favorite ones, for factual information about any candidate or political position. Every time I hear one mouthing off about politics, I strip away who they are and pretend instead that they are the neighbor next door who watches Keith Olbermann and figures she now knows everything.

The difference is that my neighbor has no bully pulpit. But our Hollywood celebrities get their faces and words out there in the bright lights, and the media eats it all up. Their ignorance metastasizes in an instant.

My latest beef is with Matt Damon, one of the shinier stars and normally among my favorites. He played the part of a genius in (and even co-wrote) Good Will Hunting, but his real-life fact-generating skills are far less impressive.

Damon is trying to scare everyone by suggesting that John McCain would be fairly likely to die while in office—a one in three chance. To “prove his point” he totally misrepresents the actuarial data (probably because he cannot read a percentage chart—if you pretend to be dumb, you can see how he came up with this figure).

First, let’s be clear about mortality actuarial tables. They are used to predict risk, using probability statistics, and the figures do not represent only healthy people. So by the time one gets to 70, some have taken very poor care of themselves and others are chronically ill. John McCain has had bouts with melanoma in the past, but he is under the best doctor’s care and would continue to be were he to be elected President. His dreadful years in a Viet Nam prison brought on lifetime physical consequences, but none seem to have left life-threatening sequela. His mother is alive and well into her 90s. He is married, financially strong, and churchgoing, all of which are positively correlated to longevity. And also remember, the older you get the more years you likely have yet to live. (You get extra credit for living longer.)

Using straight actuarial mortality tables (based on general population trends), McCain has an average of little over a 3% chance of dying each year if in office, starting at age 72. At his current age, McCain’s life expectancy is 12 more years. See exact figures here (and you probably won’t be able to resist checking out yourself).

So, Matt, next time you spout off, get your facts straight!

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