We pause this week's discussion of trauma...

TUESDAY, JUNE 23, 2020

...for a moment of comic relief:
This morning, reading the New York Times, we were struck by a detail in a report about Stonehenge.

Yes, that's right—about Stonehenge! We're just now passing the summer solstice and, according to the Times report, an "astonishing discovery" has been made not far from that famous site.

The discovery involves some large sunken pits which surrounded Durrington, a village not far from Stonehenge. The pits were constructed in the ancient era when the Stonehenge site was in full operation.

We'll highlight the detail in question:

SPECIA (6/23/20): “Stonehenge was for the dead, Durrington was for the living,” Dr. Gaffney said. “But now, what we are probably looking at was this great big boundary around them probably warning people of what they are approaching.”

He said that the pits had been set at a deliberate distance and that their locations would have had to be paced out from a central point. That is a significant clue about people living in the area at the time, he said, because it “means they could count”—making it among the earliest evidence for counting in what is now Britain.
Really? The discovery of those large, sunken pits has produced some of "the earliest evidence for counting in what is now Britain?"

According to the Times report, the events in question date to the Neolithic period, "more than 4,500 years ago." We wouldn't have known that the very ability to count isn't known to have existed at so recent a time.

One often hears that "primitive" members of our own species used a primitive, three-part system of counting: "One, two, many." We don't know if that's actually true, but a quick scan of the Internet seems to suggest that it may be.

Still, we wouldn't have thought that counting, however defined, could have been so recent an invention as this. Moments later, we encountered a possible modern-day problem with counting right there in today's New York Times!

We offer what follows as comic relief, but it helps drive a key point. Especially at times like these—at partisan, even revolutionary times—almost everything you read or see is likely to be somewhat slanted.

Thumbs will be placed on various scales. Even the simplest statistical matters may be massaged and selectively presented.

We humans! Our ability to work with statistics at all is, at best, rather shaky. At highly fraught times like these, such skills may evade us completely.

Consider the Times report:

The report concerns some recent shootings in Seattle—more precisely, some recent shootings inside the police-free, autonomous zone now described as the CHOP.

Altamont has already come to Seattle! The Times report starts like this:
BAKER (6/23/20): From the ice cream shop she runs in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, Molly Moon Neitzel has watched as protesters have laid claim to the area’s streets over the past two weeks to demand racial justice.

The barricades and graffiti outside her storefront have carried messages that Ms. Neitzel embraces: Race equity, she says, is the top issue facing the city.

But this weekend, two shootings rocked the so-called Capitol Hill Organized Protest zone set up as an experiment in communal living, free of the police, in the area around Ms. Neitzel’s shop. Now, a memorial sits outside her shop for a 19-year-old man who died in the gunfire over the weekend.
Two shootings had occurred in the protest zone? We were fairly sure we'd heard that the number was actually three.

Granted, that was the number we'd heard on Fox. Still, we decided to read the Times report further.

By paragraph 5, the Times was reporting that "the violence over the past few days" had produced "a total of three people shot." That was the number we'd heard on Fox, but a certain lack of clarity now obtained in the Times report.

How would this matter get resolved? Quite a bit later, we entered a possible modern-day version of ancient counting shortfall:
BAKER: The first shooting at the zone occurred early Saturday morning. John Moore, a medic working at the scene, said it began with a series of confrontations among people in the crowd. He treated the 19-year-old who was shot and then transported him to a hospital before he was pronounced dead. A 33-year-old man was also shot nearby.

Mr. Moore said he was upset that the Fire Department had not entered the zone to help with the man who died. Fire Department officials said they had been following procedure and waiting for the Police Department to secure the area first. Police officers had taken time to stage outside of the zone and, when they did enter, they encountered hostility from people who said the victim had already been removed from the scene.
That's what the Times was now describing as "the first shooting."

We're told that, by the time police had entered the protest zone, "the victim" (singular) had already been removed from the scene. That said, it almost sounded to us like two different people had already been shot!

You can count it that way if you like. In modern parlance, you can count it that way on Fox—or you can count it like this:
BAKER (continuing directly): The second shooting occurred late Sunday night. A 17-year-old boy who was shot was treated at Harborview Medical Center and released, a spokeswoman for the hospital said.
That was the second shooting! To our ear, it almost sounded like the "33-year-old man who was shot nearby" didn't quite get shot—didn't exactly count!

Was there anything flatly wrong with the Times report? Not necessarily, no.

That said, how hard is it for professional journalists to count to three> How hard is it for professional journalists to offer a simple, straightforward account of how many "shootings" there were, and of how many people "got shot?"

More to the point, is it possible that the Times counted the shootings the way it did, landing on a count of "two," because, for reasons of tribal messaging, the Times may have felt more comfortable stating a smaller number?

We have no idea if that happened, implicitly or otherwise. But if you feel sure that couldn't have happened, "Who's being naive now, Kay?"

We're offering this as comic relief in a time when almost everything you read or see is being massaged, tilted, adjusted, improved, slanted or possibly spun. How hard could it be for professional journalists to describe those Seattle shootings in a coherent way right from the jump—to write, for example, that "three people were shot in a pair of shooting incidents," if that's what actually happened.

Is that what actually happened? Was "the man who was shot nearby" shot by the same person who shot and killed the 19-year-old? In that sense, were two different people shot in one single shooting incident?

We don't know, and the Times report doesn't say. But when you see a news report like that, we invite you to consider a possibility:

Almost everything you read is being tilted, massaged.

We offer this strangely jumbled report as a bit of comic relief. We offer the passage shown below as something resembling a miracle:
KRUGMAN (6/23/20): It’s true that deaths are still falling for the nation as a whole, although they’re rising in some states. This reflects some combination of the way that deaths lag infections, better precautions for the elderly, who are the most vulnerable, and better treatment as doctors learn more about the disease.

But we’re still losing around 600 Americans per day...
In a column which we'd say contains many hints of partisan tilt, Paul Krugman was actually able to present a reasonably accurate statistic!

According to the Washington Post's data, the seven-day average for daily deaths nationwide dropped to 571.9 after yesterday's totals were recorded. That said, judged by recent norms, Krugman's statistic—"around 600"—is remarkably accurate.

That doesn't mean that deaths won't rise in the next few weeks, though we don't know if that will happen. We will say this about recent reporting of covid-19 spread:

We're not sure if we've ever seen a fully competent presentation concerning this popular topic. On "cable news," the stars don't have enough time to create such a critter, even if they're interviewing wholly capable expert guests. Nor do the stars, as a general matter, have the demonstrated ability to work with numbers at all, unless the assignment is as simple as one, two, many.

Our journalists can't adjust for inflation. They can't disaggregate public school test scores.

They couldn't explain the lead exposure data from Flint. They refuse to talk about per capita health care spending. They tend to adjust for population only when doing so furthers their preferred point.

In terms of coronavirus reporting, "cases" is the current hot statistic. The current rise in "cases" may presage a future rise in deaths, although it also may not. But we'll ask Kay to make no mistake:

The anti-Trump crowd tilts toward "cases," at least in part, because that statistic can be used to paint the gloomiest picture. Meanwhile, the man they oppose is baldly insane, and they lack the intellectual integrity to speak to medical experts about that.

There's little you see that isn't faux at such times as these. Did Al Gore say he invented the Internet? For twenty months, they took turns swearing that he did. Do you think that claim was accurate?

A press stampede was underway then; today's stampede makes two. We offer today's Seattle example as a bit of comic relief.

Stonehenge was then; Seattle is now. But counting has always been hard for our kind, and we've always been a bit crazy.

Tomorrow: We return to the topic of trauma. We'll start with this videotape.

42 comments:

  1. "Still, we wouldn't have thought that counting, however defined, could have been so recent an invention as this. "

    The problem is finding evidence that counting existed. It may have existed for much longer but finding something that proves that people were counting is difficult because such evidence is transient and doesn't come down to us across time. The equal spacing of the pits from a central location IMPLIES counting but it isn't the same as finding a sheet of paper with numbers written on it. The impossibility of evidence surviving for so long a period is the problem, not the development of counting itself, which may have been around 10,000 years ago, for all we know.

    I'm not sure Somerby is the right person to be evaluating use of counting by the media, or anyone else.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A GREAT SPELL CASTER (DR. EMU) THAT HELP ME BRING BACK MY EX GIRLFRIEND.
      Am so happy to testify about a great spell caster that helped me when all hope was lost for me to unite with my ex-girlfriend that I love so much. I had a girlfriend that love me so much but something terrible happen to our relationship one afternoon when her friend that was always trying to get to me was trying to force me to make love to her just because she was been jealous of her friend that i was dating and on the scene my girlfriend just walk in and she thought we had something special doing together, i tried to explain things to her that her friend always do this whenever she is not with me and i always refuse her but i never told her because i did not want the both of them to be enemies to each other but she never believed me. She broke up with me and I tried times without numbers to make her believe me but she never believed me until one day i heard about the DR. EMU and I emailed him and he replied to me so kindly and helped me get back my lovely relationship that was already gone for two months.
      Email him at: Emutemple@gmail.com
      Website: http://emutemple.website2.me/
      Call or Whats-app him: +2347012841542

      Delete
  2. You should know, dear Bob, that the struggle against WHITE SUPREMACY has intensified, and it will inevitably claim more victims.

    You must join your brothers and sisters, dear Bob, stand with them shoulder to shoulder, and fight. Instead of indulging in your unwelcome nitpicking on revolutionary journalism and its progressive methods.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Watching Mao's desperation to cling to white supremacy like the pathetic piece of shit Right-winger he is, tells me we're dong it right this time.

      Delete
  3. "One often hears that "primitive" members of our own species used a primitive, three-part system of counting: "One, two, many."

    There are two counting systems localized to different areas of the brain. One is the one, two many system, existing in toddlers and primates. It is located in the parietal lobe. The other is a symbol-based system that allows mental representation of numbers and abstract thinking about quantities, manipulation of numbers, and that is found in the frontal lobes. We can also think about numbers using language, words. This more complex use of numbers is what is taught in school and it is harder to learn.

    Somerby is on shaky ground when he criticizes people for making errors related to the acquired numerical abilities. It is like criticizing people for not knowing about how the brain processes quantitative information.

    I have a strong distaste for anyone who makes fun of other people for lack of knowledge. No one knows everything and ridiculing people just impedes their willingness to learn more. I would have thought Somerby, as a former teacher, would understand that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have a strong distaste for anyone who makes fun of other people for lack of knowledge.

      Then you must hate me. I’ll spend a few minutes later on today trying to come to terms with that.

      I agree that it’s wrong to ridicule people for not knowing what they’ve had no opportunity to learn or when they have no capacity to learn. You shouldn’t ridicule a sixth grader for not knowing the algebra that’s not taught until the eighth grade. You shouldn’t ridicule dyslexics for their slow reading.

      But some people have the obligation and capacity to learn certain things. And when their ignorance is apparent, criticism like TDH’s is warranted. I’ll go further and say that ridicule is a valid corrective. It may prompt the ignorant to cure their condition — although I’ll have to say that I’ve found precious little evidence for that around here — and it serves the purpose of warning others not to take nonsense seriously.

      Delete
    2. TDH has become so feckless, now it is just used for lining in pet-potty areas, so it does serve some purpose.

      Deadrat living the thug life.

      "Then you must hate me", that is Trump level narcissism, here's a cookie.

      Delete
    3. It's right up there in @12:37's comment: "I have a strong distaste for anyone who makes fun of other people for lack of knowledge." I even quote it in my own comment. I spend my time here making fun of ignoramuses like you who won't learn because they won't read for comprehension. It simply follows logically that I wouldn't be 12:37's favorite, no narcissism required. But thanks for making my point for me. Again.

      The thug life? You think I think of myself as gangsta? Bwahahahahaha. Sparky, my side gig is serving as the unit white person for the National Bureau of Standards.

      What kind of cookie?

      Delete
    4. Contrary to your self assessment, you do not make fun of people, and if I have to explain, no cookie for you.

      I read for edification, not comprehension, fool.

      The hate you give...nevermind, hopeless case.

      Delete
    5. No cookie? This is serious.

      OK, not make fun of. How about ridicule, skewer, dissect, excoriate, shred, correct, instruct.

      You have a low bar for hate. Disrespect? Be impolite?

      And, Sparky, you can't edify yourself if you can't comprehend. But thanks for the admission.

      Delete
    6. Does everything go over your head?

      Delete
    7. Where's my cookie, goddamit!

      Delete
  4. ...incidentally, dear Bob, your '2, not 3, not 2' episode reminds me of this scene from an old movie:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6Ybkd_beUU&feature=youtu.be&t=132

    ReplyDelete
  5. Here's another example of math difficulty coming from Somerby's pal, Kevin Drum this morning. He said he prefers to deal with death statistics because they are easier to count, more accurate.

    In comments, several people disagreed with that notion. For one thing, COVID deaths are counted in different ways by different jurisdictions. Some count only those cases actually testing positive, some count deaths based on previous symptoms, some don't count the home deaths, just the hospital ones.

    So being able to count isn't the whole deal when it comes to COVID stats. It matters what you decide to count and if different people define their countable items differently, you won't have reliable totals, in the sense that Drum talks about it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There's a saying,it's a cliché, that "there are 3 kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." We see plenty of evidence of the truth of the saying these days.

      Delete
    2. That is the kind of saying that has a lot of appeal if you don't know anything about statistics.

      Delete
  6. Somerby doesn't mention the two different names that seem to be used to describe the protest zone in Seattle. The people occupying that zone are calling it CHAZ not CHOP. The AZ comes from Autonomous Zone whereas the authorities are using OP to stand for Organized Protest Zone. The use of language to redefine the meaning of the zone is a way of taking control of it, symbolically, as the City of Seattle is now doing physically, using the shootings as a justification.

    Why would Fox report 3 shootings when there were only two taken to the hospital? Somerby apparently doesn't think about that -- too busy mocking the liberal press for only reporting the ones requiring medical care.

    And then Somerby says this: "We offer what follows as comic relief". He still finds the pain of others a source of humor. What an empathetic guy our Somerby is.

    He can laugh at shootings all he wants over among the Republicans. That's one of their defining characteristics. He needs to come clean with readers here and stop pretending he is a liberal when he is just another elderly conservative asshole.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. " The people occupying that zone are calling it CHAZ not CHOP."

      You missed the memo from the Central Committee, dear dembot. Check your spam folder.

      Delete
    2. Yes, he laughs because it is unclear how many shootings happened, and Fox reports the maximum number (big surprise), but Somerby only thinks this is funny because the autonomous zone is not peaceful (no evidence police would have prevented those shootings). He pretends that the paper cannot count, but there is no evidence of that either. The woman who may or may not have been shot, could have been grazed or had an injury too minor to require hospitalization. It isn't necessarily miscounting, but perhaps confusion in the moment about whether she was shot or not. That happens immediately after a confusing breaking news event and isn't the reporters' fault. The numbers settle down in the aftermath. But what is funny about the numbers? Nothing that I can see. Somerby's joke is conservative humor all the way down, not anything a liberal would find funny.

      Delete
    3. When I first heard about the shooting, I thought maybe an alt-right person had infiltrated to start boogaloo and discredit the protesters. I still don't know that it didn't happen that way, since the news report didn't say and neither did TDH.

      Delete
    4. @1:08
      “District 3 Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who represents the Capitol Hill neighborhood, released a statement about the deadly shooting that said in part, "Though we await confirmation of the details of the killing, there are indications that this may have been a right-wing attack." 
      https://www.king5.com/article/news/local/seattle-capitol-hill-organized-protest-zone-chop-safety-concerns-deadly-shooting-mayor-durkan/281-0dbe1bab-c290-4acf-9c9f-f80d22526201

      Delete
    5. Meh. The Kshama Sawant dembot got confused. It's obviously the Russkies.

      Delete
    6. No one asked where they got their paychecks, Mao.

      Delete
    7. Why, from the WHITE SUPREMACY Bank of Kremlin, obviously.

      Delete
  7. "The anti-Trump crowd tilts toward "cases," at least in part, because that statistic can be used to paint the gloomiest picture."

    This is nonsense. You report cases, tests administered, deaths and hospitalizations. Each of these measures something different. You talk about cases when you want to emphasize the lack of control of the virus, its prevalence in the community. It isn't the gloominess of the picture (that is captured by deaths) but the incompetence of our president that anti-Trump people are emphasizing, because it is important that he be removed in November (if not sooner).

    Does Somerby now believe it is wrong for liberals to attack Donald Trump's competence in handling this pandemic? If so, that is clearly a conservative viewpoint.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When localities are deciding whether to reopen (and how to do it), surely the number of cases is the most important stat. Deaths are not a threat to people any more, but folks walking around with the virus should be important to deciding whether to reopen.

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    3. 'Cases', dear dembot, is a useless function of the number of tests.

      It signifies nothing, or next to nothing.

      There could be, theoretically, 1 million 'cases' and zero hospitalizations, if all of the infected are young and healthy. No problem at all.

      Or there could be 1 million 'cases' and all of them will kick the bucket, if they all are old and sick.

      Delete
    4. It is not a "useless" function. If you calculate the % of cases arising from the total tests conducted, you get a measure of the prevalence of the virus in the area where you did your testing. If you identify those active cases, you can then use quarantine and contact tracing to limit the spread of the virus. You cannot do that without knowing who is infected (e.g., the cases).

      Trump doesn't understand how this works. He only thinks of the cases as a black mark against him personally, so he wants to reduce their number by not testing. You seem to be parroting his response rather than thinking about what testing and cases mean in the context of actually fighting the pandemic.

      Delete
    5. "If you identify those active cases, you can then use quarantine and contact tracing to limit the spread of the virus."

      Bullshit. You can't "use quarantine" or "contact tracing". The US is not China or Korea.

      Like I said, it's nearly useless.

      Delete
    6. Hawaii is imposing a 14-day quarantine on all visitors from the mainland. They are enforcing it by putting those who disobey in jail. Last time I checked, Hawaii is part of the US.

      Delete
    7. Apparently they aren't quite part of the US.

      But then what does it have to do with testing? Changing the subject? So, your next comment is going to be 100% word-salad, I presume.

      Delete
    8. '
      Does Somerby now believe it is wrong for liberals to attack Donald Trump's competence in handling this pandemic? If so, that is clearly a conservative viewpoint.'

      Somerby is a Trumptard. Like most Trumptards he spends his time attacking liberals, and defending Donald Trump, Roy Moore, Ron Johnson, Jim Jordan and Barr. So, no Somerby does not believe that Trump should be criticized since Somerby wants Trump to win the election. Somerby is a would be useful idiot for Trump, but he lacks the audience to be truly useful, so is better characterized as a 'useless idiot'

      Delete
    9. Centrist pretty much nails it

      Delete
    10. If by "it" you mean his thumb.

      Delete
  8. No clue what Times story Somerby is reading. In paragraph 5, it says

    “The violence over the past few days — a total of four people shot — has rattled a neighborhood ...”

    The first “shooting” is clearly meant to include two victims. The second had one victim, and the third, this morning, had one victim.

    This is how local Seattle media are reporting the events.

    ReplyDelete
  9. What, no second outrage today, dear Bob? No great failures of humanity? No unseemly words uttered by Our Beloved Commander?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not today, Mao.
      You'll just have to bask in the deaths of 120,000 Americans caused by Trump's criminal negligence.

      Delete
  10. “The anti-Trump crowd tilts toward "cases," at least in part, because that statistic can be used to paint the gloomiest picture.”

    The pro-Trump crowd says:

    The virus is A HOAX. Take your hydroxychloroquine and relax, Bob.

    ReplyDelete
  11. A GREAT SPELL CASTER (DR. EMU) THAT HELP ME BRING BACK MY EX GIRLFRIEND.
    Am so happy to testify about a great spell caster that helped me when all hope was lost for me to unite with my ex-girlfriend that I love so much. I had a girlfriend that love me so much but something terrible happen to our relationship one afternoon when her friend that was always trying to get to me was trying to force me to make love to her just because she was been jealous of her friend that i was dating and on the scene my girlfriend just walk in and she thought we had something special doing together, i tried to explain things to her that her friend always do this whenever she is not with me and i always refuse her but i never told her because i did not want the both of them to be enemies to each other but she never believed me. She broke up with me and I tried times without numbers to make her believe me but she never believed me until one day i heard about the DR. EMU and I emailed him and he replied to me so kindly and helped me get back my lovely relationship that was already gone for two months.
    Email him at: Emutemple@gmail.com
    Website: http://emutemple.website2.me/
    Call or Whats-app him: +2347012841542

    ReplyDelete