Thursday, July 17, 2008

Sherlock Holmes and the Case...

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of
the Mysteriously Changing Race Track Job Figures!

By Ryan

It was the Wednesday when I last read my email - on July 16th, 2008 to be precise - where I first noticed something was amiss. I imagined that what I was reading was as if I had been reading it one hundred years before, electronically digitalized text transposed to paper and ink, the kind that would rub off your fingers if you read it too long. There were many stories, in many papers, that day, but none of them quite made sense. I knew this was a job for my friend, the great Sherlock Holmes.

So I left my home and wandered down the dirty streets of London. There were the shops, the barbers, the butchers, the bakery - all the sorts of things you'd expect to see walking through a densely packed London street. The people were walking to and fro as if nothing was wrong at all. And then I saw it - Holmes's flat, nearly like any other. Years ago there may have been a sign above his door, but he had no need for such advertisement these days. His powers of deduction, now famous, were quite beyond compare, of course. That's why I knew if anyone could figure out how many jobs were at Race Tracks in that little state across the pond, Sherlock Holmes could.

So I walked up his first few steps and knocked on his door, as I had hundreds of times before, to see his servant girl open the door quite kindly. She led me to the parlor, where Holmes was sitting smoking his pipe as usual, reading the daily papers.

"Why, Watson, my boy, how good to see you!" Holmes said.
"Indeed, Mr. Holmes, I quite agree."
"And I can tell you're worried about these stories of all different job figures."

Stunned, I looked Sherlock Holmes over yet again, no matter how well I knew him, he always could manage to surprise me.

"Howsoever did you know?"

"Why, Watson, it's elementary - my dear boy - elementary. I know that, this early in the morning, you would never come to see me on a Thursday, of course, unless you had some sort of burning question in your mind. Furthermore, like me, I know you're prone to read the papers in the morning. So when I began to read, after I got up from bed, I noticed very peculiar stories, each contradicting the other, each with quotes coming from the same person on the same day."

"But how did you know."

"Oh, quiet Watson, I was getting at that. Of course, most people would find these contradicting stories quite perplexing, so when I noticed you came here at this hour, I simply deduced the fact that you wanted to get to the bottom of these ever-changing figures."


"Well, fear not, Watson, I've already figured it out."

I shouldn't have found myself surprised one bit, but of course I did. "How?"

"Well, to be honest, it's quite easy. Let's take a look at the stories."

Holmes picked up several papers from a pile, each a different newspaper and each with a story about a mysterious man named George Carney. He was a man both powerful and influential both behind the scenes and out in the open - wealthy and quite willing to use his wealth to help hatch his mastermind plots. Of course, he also had a charming, quaint nature about him, and was savvy, getting most reporters to apparently believe or at least not question whatever he said.

"Here's the first story, Watson. Here, in the Taunton Gazette, he reports that 800-1000 jobs would be lost at two different tracks, if the Greyhound ban were to be enacted by popular vote. That would be about 400-500 jobs per track, but one would think he'd know whether his track were employing 400 or 500 people - because 100 people would represent upwards of a million dollars in costs every year. So, my dear Watson, it's quite clear - in just reading this article alone - that Carney is lying."

Stunned, I watched Holmes place the Gazette back on the table, replacing it with two other papers, now in his hand.

"And in these papers, the Brockton Enterprise and Patriot Ledger, we hear a completely different story. His track alone, he claims now, employs a full 650 people. While that further illustrates his dishonesty when it comes to these numbers, let's ignore that for now. Knowing that the two tracks could employ as little as 800 people, according to him, that would mean the other track would employ only 150 people. Is it likely that one track would employ 650 and the other 150, when they do the same job and require similar amounts of Greyhounds? I think not, Watson, I think not. It's only more clear that he's being rather liberal with his truth."

"Furthermore," Holmes began, "some of the stories began to get at other numbers that Carney didn't present, the ones that are actual facts and figures, according to the Government - the reporters, apparently, never bothered to look at them, failing to properly do their jobs, simply questioning Carney, but never his motives. It's quite sad, really. So I did a little searching to find the source of these Government figures."

"And you had time to do that this morning?" I asked.

"Of course, my dear boy, of course. You see, there's this wonderful thing that guys like George Carney just don't know about; I believe people like him call it 'The Google.' You just type in a few practical words here and there, and you could find information on almost anything! To people like Carney, it must seem like a difficult magic that must take a lifetime to learn, so they just ignore it as if it didn't exist. But people like me - we use it to find facts, figures and important theories nearly instantaneously."

He went on, "Knowing that it is your behavior to come here to clear such peculiar circumstances up, I decided to search these Googles before you arrived, to find out the real answer to your question - because, quite frankly, I'm tired of searching halfway across the country for them! So, if you'll allow me to continue?"

I didn't say anything else, but couldn't help but notice Sherlock Holmes's genius. He was able to get at the truth with nothing but a few words and a computer! Wow!

"Perhaps the most perplexing article of the bunch," he said, as he pointed to one of the final papers on the table, "comes from the Boston Globe."

He put down the Ledger and Enterprise, picking up the Paper of Record.

"Here we find another article that contradicts Carney's numbers, the article saying that both tracks employ 650 people combined. That's rather closer to reality, though still hundreds too inflated. Now, what's odd is the way the paper describes those 650 jobs. Here, I'll read the quote.
Carney added that the ban, if approved, will result in a loss of jobs; the two tracks employ about 650 part-time and full-time workers.
Now, does that mean Carney is saying the tracks employ 650 people? Likely, that's the case, and the reporter simply forgot to add a qualifying statement at the end of his sentence, such as 'according to Carney,' because the Boston Globe repeats a different number - much closer to reality - just two more sentences in. Here, have a look, Watson."

Holmes handed the paper to me, pointing to this particular sentence:
Supporters of the ban said Carney's employment figures are greatly inflated. "That number is closer to 250, according to the census," Adams said recently.
"Wow, this is quite perplexing, Mr. Holmes. What do you make of it?

"Well, as I said, the paper doesn't make this completely clear, though the probability is that - so closely tied to Carney's statement - Carney had informed the paper that 650 total jobs were at stake. Otherwise, the Globe would have had to reveal some kind of source before making such a blanket statement. Given that all the real sources, provided by the Government, reveal that there's a total of 707 total employees at all Massachusetts Race Tracks, including horse tracks and amateur car speedways, that's quite unlikely. The other tracks take up far more than 57 jobs, especially since one of the horse tracks is the biggest of all Massachusetts Race Tracks."

"So what's the answer?" I asked, "How many people are really employed at these dog tracks?"

"It's a wonder that only one of these papers even bothered to source the best source, when the Gazette attributed 700 jobs at all race tracks, including horse and car, to the Massachusetts Department of Labor. However, none of the papers referenced the US Census numbers, which describes how many jobs are at each track - which would have saved a guy like me all this trouble! I'm retired, for heaven's sake!"

Sherlock Holmes was clearly annoyed, yet he somehow managed to continue.

"All they had to do was click here on their computers, they would have found the answer. Carney employs between 100 and 249 people at his Race Track according to the Census, which breaks businesses into various size classes. However, looking at the payroll of his company, which is public records through a court case he filed, we can tell that the actual number is close to around 200 as of a few years ago. Though, that's likely down a few employees, because his company has been bleeding profits. We know that the other Race Track in question, Wonderland, claimed the 250-499 bracket on the Census data from a few years ago."

"Well, if Wonderland employed 499 people, wouldn't that mean Carney's numbers were right?"

"Unlikely, my dear Watson, unlikely. Nay, impossible even. Knowing that both tracks require around the same number of dogs and that the Raynham track is and has been the more successful of the two for over a decade, Wonderland's track must have employed something very close to the 250 figure those years ago. However, we now know that Wonderland is taking in less than 2 million a year in wagers, meaning they couldn't afford to employ 250 people and stay in business. It's very likely that the number today is below 200, and likely far below it. And don't forget that we know, from the State Department of labor, that all the tracks employ a maximum of 707 people."

"So, as I said before, how many people do the tracks employ?"

"I'm getting there, Watson, I'm getting there. It's clear that Raynham employs around 200 jobs; it's quite likely that Wonderland employs around the same. That would be a total of about 400-450 jobs, leaving 250-300 between the horse and car tracks. Suffolk Downs, the state's largest track, would likely need around 250 employees to run the facility and serve the patrons, so I think we have our number, pinned within 50 employees."

"Indeed we do, Mr. Holmes, indeed we do."

"Thank goodness, Watson! Now, if you'd please, let me finish reading this morning's paper!"

Watson shook his friend's hand and left for the day, knowing that come another there would be more mysteries to solve - mysteries, he hoped, that would take more than Google to uncover.

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