Math problem

To the Editor:

I very much enjoyed the Editorial Comment in last week's Weekend Edition. A point well taken. But you missed a wonderful opportunity to expose the real magnitude of the disparity between sewage spills in Lyndonville and in Essex Junction. Translating 500,000 gallons of sewage into 60,000 lbs. gave me some pause. I consulted my wife's measuring cups, and low and behold, it showed that 1 Quart equals 32 oz. In order to make sure we were talking liquids, I filled the measure with water and as expected, the scale read 2 lbs. Since a gallon equals 4 quarts, each weighing 2 lbs., it does not take rocket science to conclude that 500,000 gallons of sewage weighs 2 x 4 x 500,000 = 4,000,000 lbs., ignoring the small weight difference between pure water and sewage.

Lyndonville was fined at the rate of $15,000 per ton of spilled sewage, according to your editorial ($60,000 divided by 4). 4,000,000 lbs of sewage equates to 2,000 tons (4,000,000 divided by 2,000). Applying the Lyndonville penalty rate to Essex Junction therefore results in 2,000 x 15,000 = $30,000,000, a far cry from the measly $450,000 suggested in your editorial. I hope you do not make these kinds of mistakes in you Accounting Section.

What led me, however, to write this letter was my subsequent reading of Geoffrey Norman's op-ed piece on the same page. Here was a possible explanation as to why the editors of the Caledonian were unable to perform simple multiplication and division operations. Apparently Vermont students, or at least a large majority of them, perform badly on NECAPs, especially in math. Mr. Norman correctly concludes that math skills are helpful in the modern world. Unfortunately, dealing with numbers seems to be above the skill level of The Caledonian editors. Could this be a demonstration of the poor education received in "public" elementary school? Maybe it's the fault of the Teachers' Union, an organization you so frequently blame for all the ills of the Vermont education system and the problems graduating students have finding jobs or getting into college? Or maybe, and most likely, the cause of poor math is just sloppy writing, no one's fault but the writer's. Taking responsibility for making mistakes and doing something about it rather than blaming societal institutions would be a very refreshing change of direction at the Caledonian.

Werner Heidemann

St. Johnsbury, Vt.

PUBLISHER NOTE: Mr. Heidemann is quite right and we are (humbly) grateful for the correction. The proportional fine for the 500,000 gallon Essex Jct. sewage plant spill, based on the $15,000 per ton levied on Lyndonville, ought to be more than 60 times larger than what we said. We remain confident that neither amount will be levied by the state.

As an interesting aside, the edit board member who proposed and researched the topic is a math major with an engineering degree. And it happens that I did exclusively get A's in "advanced" math classes at the St. Johnsbury public schools. Humbly, TMS


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