Do the math

We demand a recount: Our own prestigious UC Davis made a disappointing showing in the U.S. News & World Report university rankings last month. The university slipped from 42nd to 48th in the overall rankings and from 11th to 14th among public institutions. More alarming was the decline in the “faculty resources” ranking, which measures how qualified and competent the teachers are. In that category, UC Davis took a dramatic turn toward sucky in the last 12 months, falling from 84th in the nation to 215th.

After some initial hand-wringing, UC officials got suspicious about U.S. News’ methodology. Surely, the magazine had somehow slighted the proud Aggies.

And, indeed, a mistake had been made. One number, measuring the percentage of professors who have doctorates, master’s degrees, etc., was misreported to the magazine—by university employees.

“That one error was enough to drop us six places,” said university spokeswoman Lisa Lapin. What’s worse, the U.S. News folks told the UC Davis folks that the numbers didn’t look right and should be reviewed—but nobody at the university followed up. “The person who had that responsibility didn’t understand the significance of the error,” Lapin explained.

There’s no way to fix the mistake now, and Lapin said concerned alumni have been calling, demanding an explanation for the apparent slide. “It does hurt,” said Lapin, adding that university officials are concerned that the false rating will affect recruitment next year. Bites is concerned about the hapless office worker who decided that little number wasn’t worth double-checking.

Something in the water: A press release came over the transom last week that got Bites’ attention. It came from an environmental group called Commonweal, and the headline read in part, “Prominent Californians Contain Hazardous Chemicals.”

It seems that 11 well-known and well-regarded citizens are carrying trace amounts of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals in their bodies that come from the environment and various consumer products. One of the more disturbing is evidence of bisphenol A, which comes from plastic water bottles and has been linked to cancer, birth defects and low sperm counts.

But who are these unfortunate, toxic, prominent Californians you ask?

Well there’s Peter Coyote, who stars in those Return of the Living Dead movies. After that, well, there’s Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez. Kind of prominent, Bites supposes, if you’re in L.A. Then there’s a bunch of people who sound pretty important but that you’ve probably never heard of, like Jo Behm, a health-care educator from Novato.

But that’s not the point. The study is linked to a bill in the state Legislature (Senate Bill 600 by Deborah Ortiz) that would establish a statewide “biomonitoring program,” the first anywhere in the nation. It’s a worthy cause. After all, if clean-living, zombie-slaying Peter Coyote has hazardous waste floating around in his system, we’re all in trouble.

Political calculus: When the tall, thin, serious-looking man approached Bites at the Weatherstone coffee shop last week, holding out some sort of card, Bites did what comes naturally—started fishing around in the old pockets for change.

But it turned out the man could hear and speak, and he said softly, “My name is Armand Legare, and I’m running for Congress.”

Back at the Bites Cave, yours truly punched in the handwritten Web site address (, and Legare’s secret weapon for taking out incumbent Doris Matsui in next year’s Democratic primary was revealed.

Click on the link labeled “The Idea,” and you’ll see that Legare hopes to better represent the 5th District by asking his constituents to vote by e-mail on every bill that comes before Congress.

The votes would be weighed by a nuanced formula that’s too complicated for this column (besides, all that figurin’ is hard when you’re just a disembodied set of teeth). But Legare sums it up as democratic CPR—Citizens Participating in Representation.

Bites wishes Legare well as he tries to counter Matsui’s fund-raising prowess and family name by appealing to voters’ attentiveness and love of math.