GREETING FROM BABEL: Basic facts you can't learn from Blow!


Part 3—Contextually clueless in Babel:
Today, we plan to have naming of parts. We'll have naming of parts in this morning's report, then again in an afternoon post.

This morning, we'll start with naming of parts concerning crime in Gotham. According to the leading authority, these were the numbers of murders in New York City in the early 1990s:
Number of murders in New York City, 1990-94
1990: 2245
1991: 2154
1992: 1995
1993: 1946
1994: 1561
Last year, the number of murders was 345. That's still a lot of murders, of course, especially for the people killed and for their families and friends.

Next, we'll have the naming of homicides in Chicago during that same era. According to the leading authority, those numbers look like this:
Number of homicides in Chicago, 1990-94
1990: 851
1991: 928
1992: 943
1993: 855
1994: 931
Last year, the number was 488. By standards of the developed world, that's still a very large number (and it makes Chicago our current "Murder City"). But it's roughly half as large as those figures from the early 1990s.

(According to the leading authority, New York City's numbers were dropping at that time. Chicago's numbers were not.)

Next we'll have the naming of parts concerning the vote in the House on the 1994 crime bill. By most counts, this is the way the voting broke down within the Congressional Black Caucus:
Final vote, 1994 crime bill, Congressional Black Caucus
Voting yes: 23 members
Voting no: 11 members
We're not saying those votes were right or wrong. We're just saying those votes were cast.

(Our own congressman, Kweisi Mfume, voted for the 1994 bill. Two years later, he was named president of the NAACP. Just for the record, Mfume is a very impressive person.)

As you may have heard, Bernie Sanders voted for the 1994 bill. In the Senate, so did Paul Wellstone. So did Carole Mosely-Braun. At the time, she was the nation's only black senator.

According to this mid-level authority, it's also true that "a majority of the Congressional Black Caucus voted for the 1986 law that created the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine." We name that part to offer even more context concerning a recent New York Times column.

We'd like to name one additional part, although this part is somewhat complex. It concerns the extent to which the 1994 crime bill created, or contributed to, our current rates of incarceration.

Breaking! By the norms of the developed world, our incarceration rates are extremely high—so high that our current practice is often described as "mass incarceration."

That said, to what extent did the 1994 crime bill contribute to those current rates? There's no simple statistic with which that question can be answered, unless it's this statistic, reprinted in a recent post by Kevin Drum:

"In the US, federal prisons house only about 13 percent of the overall prison population."

In that post, Drum added these further bits of context. They involve the naming of some very basic parts:
DRUM (2/11/16): [B]y 1995, when the crime bill took effect, state and federal policies had long since been committed to mass incarceration. Between 1978 and 1995 the prison population had already increased by more than 250 percent. Between 1995 and its peak in 2009, it increased only another 40 percent—and even that was due almost entirely to policies already in place.
Drum includes a striking graphic which illustrates these parts:

Incarceration had already displayed a steep rise before 1994. Federal incarceration rose after 1994, but that constituted a small part of the overall rise.

Were those 1986 votes a mistake? How about those votes on the 1994 crime bill?

In today's naming of parts, we aren't trying to answer those questions. We're trying to offer amazingly basic context concerning those bills and those votes.

As we do, we'll name one further part:

If you read Charles Blow's latest imitation of journalism, you weren't exposed to any of this extremely basic context. You weren't offered any of these extremely basic facts.

Instead, you saw an increasingly familiar sight, here in the Babel where we all live. You saw a grown man with a very high platform pandering to someone much younger.

You saw that grown man refusing to play the role of the serious journalist. You saw him refusing to play the traditional role of the elder. Instead, you saw the amazing reversal of roles which, by now, has come to define Our Own Ridiculous Babel.

According to Blow's ridiculous column, Ashley Williams, age 23, is a "young graduate student." Recently, she interrupted a presidential campaign event to make a somewhat peculiar statement, a peculiar statement the slacker Blow tied to the 1994 crime bill, and to the heinous first lady who spoke once on its behalf.

Blow didn't provide the most obvious context. Instead, he pandered and fawned and pimped script.

In the Babel we all inhabit, Blow is one of the ultimate slackers. In his highly dramatic column, he hurried past all the parts we have named today.

He didn't make the slightest attempt to determine if his young graduate student had the first freaking idea what the freak she was talking about. Instead, he played the role of the penitent hero, part of a nauseating morality play in which so many of our tribal leaders are now profitably engaged.

If she read Blow's column, the young graduate student wasn't challenged by the simple facts we've assembled. (We wouldn't prejudge her response.) Subscribers to the New York Times didn't encounter any of this basic context either.

Instead, they encountered the usual crap which now routinely gets shoveled at us here in Our Own Private Babel.

In comments, our liberal tribals swung into action, reciting our memorized tribal scripts. Moments later, up jumped Josh Marshall, newly refashioned as Gramps.

Tomorrow: Tugging his forelock, confessing his guilt, Josh plays an appalling sad game


  1. Part Bob did not name?

    [Former President Bill Clinton on Wednesday disavowed part of the anti-crime legislation that he long considered one of his top accomplishments, concluding that it went too far in sending even minor criminals to prison “for way too long.”

    “I signed a bill that made the problem worse,” Mr. Clinton said. “And I want to admit it.”

    “But in that bill, there were longer sentences,” Mr. Clinton told the N.A.A.C.P. gathering in Philadelphia. “And most of these people are in prison under state law, but the federal law set a trend. And that was overdone. We were wrong about that.”]

    1. Yes, shouldn't this too have been part of the context that Williams considered when choosing her target? Shouldn't it too have been part of Blow's column? Both Clintons have shown the capacity to learn from their experience and to apply their wisdom to new problems. That should be a virtue.

      No one has yet explained why Clinton was targeted by Williams, and not Sanders or the tough-on-crime Republican congress that Clinton had to deal with (much like Obama's). Whatever her husband did as President, Hillary Clinton did not vote for the bill and she doesn't own this issue. She owns the current solution.

    2. "Shouldn't this too have been part of the context...(for Williams and Blow)?"

      Not necessarily for them. But for Bob Somerby, who constantly complains about context and matters left out of columns limited in length, to leave it out is typical of his hypocrisy.

    3. When you leave out something that supports your point it is not hypocrisy (it is more like avoiding overkill). It is hypocrisy when you leave out something that goes against the point you are making.

      You seem to think that leaving anything out is wrong. That isn't true. Leaving things out is called being selective, especially since even blog posts are limited in length. One cannot include everything so choices are made. The nature of those choices is the point -- not whether something was left out.

  2. As he beats the same horse a third time, we are told to look forward to Bob Somerby opening a fourth can of blogger "Whup Ass," this tiome on Josh Mashall.

    We look forward to which part of Marshalls piece Bob not only does not name, but which he disappears.

    Here we get to the limits of our abilities as a commenter on a blog like this. Because it is not at all that I dislike Somerby and, therefore, don't see the appeal because I don't share the affection for him that his supporters have.

    It's nothing like that.

    1. And at the same time, he continues to beg Uncle Drum for attention.

    2. Bob used to get positive attention from his fellow bloggers.

      Then he got negative attention.

      Then he got positive attention only from right-wing bloggers. ("Even liberal blogger Bob Somerby says . . .:)

      Now he gets no attention at all.

    3. While you are at it, please disappear yourself @12:03.

    4. 12:03 unfortunately the voice you have given to your disconsolance won't have any bearing whatsoever on forthcoming posts.

    5. Nor will Bob ever have any influence on any writer he reviews.

    6. Except he already has.

    7. Yes, Bob has amazing influence!

  3. One troll off his meds with a Jones about Somerby sure can make a lot of noise.

  4. It is the Important thing:

    Never to get too concerned about the fact that Somerby is literally correct, that Blow (for example) does indeed do a huge disservice to his many readers through the factual background he chooses to omit -- But instead to become concerned, Very Concerned, about the much More Significant lack of influence of the Awful Somerby, and his own supposed omission of a supposedly Quite Relevant after-the-fact comment by an ex-President that certainly could not have been made for political reasons in the present day, heaven forfend!

  5. Two words: private prisons.

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