FRIDAY, JANUARY 22, 2021
Harming the children of Flint: Our current death rate from Covid-19 is an ongoing disaster.
That said, do we live in "a country with the worst coronavirus epidemic on Earth?"
That's what Our Own Rhodes Scholar said early in last evening's program. As she spoke, Covid death rates in several countries looked exactly like this:
Current daily deaths, per million population
Seven-day averages as of January 18 or 19:
United Kingdom: 18.2
United States: 9.2
Other countries outstrip us on this measure. We're just offering those.
Meanwhile, have we suffered the most total deaths to date, adjusted for population? Sorry, but we currently rank number 11 on that measure. Our total deaths per million population are exceeded by Belgium, Italy and the U.K., but also by seven others.
Our figures are bad, but they aren't the worst, once you adjust for population. For whatever reason, that is something Our Own Rhodes Scholar never remembers to do.
Our Own Rhodes Scholars is somewhat willful in matters of this type. In fairness, she may simply be reading copy her staffers have composed. That said, if it weren't for the endless misstatements, would there be any statements on this cable news program at all?
Later last night, midway through her program, the one-time scholar even said this, speaking to Dr. Ashish Jha:
FORMER SCHOLAR (1/21/21): I have a degree in health policy, believe it or not. I have a background in statistics. I grew up as a kid in the AIDS movement. I was involved as an activist in that movement.
Since they'd been invited to "believe it or not," our analysts ruefully raised their hands for "not!" They adopted that stance because the person once sold to us as Our Own Rhodes Scholar had just finished saying this, with a misleading graphic behind her:
FORMER SCHOLAR: Even now, we can't definitively say exactly how many people died of Covid yesterday. It depends on what source you're consulting. It's somewhere between 42 hundred and 44 hundred, which is the worst of the pandemic and is terrible, but we can't give you a definitive, authoritative number, like from the CDC, because federal government data collection has just been essentially abandoned in terms of trying to come up with any sort of authoritative source.
GRAPHIC BEHIND HER:
NEW COVID DEATHS ON JANUARY 2OTH
Johns Hopkins University 4,229
Covid Tracking Project 4,409
Simply put, you can't get dumber than that. In fairness, the former scholar—the one with the background in statistics—was probably reading text prepared by staff, emoting as she went.
As every competent person knows, the numbers which appeared in that graphic were not intended as measures of how many people died of Covid on January 20. We know that because, if you look at the New York Times' corresponding Covid data, you'll find such numbers as these:
New reported deaths per day
Monday, January 18: 1,441
Wednesday, January 20: 4,370
Please note the word "reported" in the heading on that graphic.
As every competent person knows, such numbers record the number of deaths which were "reported" (that is to say, were officially recorded) on some given day. The scholar's ridiculous graphic omitted that one key word.
Those numbers represent the number of deaths which were formally recorded on some given day. They do not represent the number of deaths which actually occurred on such days.
As every competent person knows, the daily number drops over every weekend, then rises in midweek as the bureaucratic backlog is addressed. Either that, or 1400 people died this past Monday, with the number of deaths tripling two days later!
Everyone understands these facts except Our Own Rhodes Scholar. For what it's worth, she tends to handle a wide array of statistics in such cavalier ways. (Back in May 2012, her two-day handling of the gender wage gap was a cable news nonpareil, an instant cable news classic.)
The scholar's clownish incompetence doesn't really make a difference when it comes to deaths from Covid-19. According to the New York Times, our nation was averaging 3,055 such deaths per day as of January 20.
The numbers the scholar presented last night were "close enough for multimillionaire corporate journalistic work" (we're quoting the gods on Olympus). We can't link you to a transcript of the scholar's remarks. Her owners, joining hands with Fox News, are no longer willing to let you review the ridiculous things she says.
How many people died on Wednesday? We can't tell you that, but there's no particular reason to think it was 42 or 44 hundred. At present, our seven-day average of reported deaths is much lower than that.
Also, our country isn't suffering "the worst coronavirus epidemic on Earth," unless you don't bother to adjust for population. The scholar's claim was exciting and pleasing, and let's face it—her cable news program, on the whole, is a bit of a corporate news scam.
Nothing will turn on the bungled claims the scholar made last night. We can't necessarily say the same for the claims with which she pleasured Our Town last Thursday night.
Last Thursday evening, she was discussing, or was pretending to discuss, the good decent children of Flint. She began with a reference to this:
FORMER SCHOLAR (1/14/21): Flint, Michigan's lead poisoning disaster—that man-made disaster when Rick Snyder's state government poisoned an entire city with lead.
As for Snyder, he was soon described as "the man who ran the government that flipped the switch that pushed the button to poison Flint."
An entire city had been poisoned! Eventually, the scholar said this:
MADDOW: That disastrous water switch, and the refusal to listen to the people of Flint about its consequences, led to the mass poisoning of every kid in the city of Flint—the mass poisoning of the people of that city. Thousands of kids who will live for the rest of their lives with the consequences of having been poisoned by lead early in their life—having lead exposure in their drinking water when they're kids.
It's something you don't grow out of. It's something for which there is no magic antidote.
Every kid in the city of Flint has been poisoned—and it's something you don't grow out of! Thousands of kids will have to live, for the rest of their lives, with the consequences of this poisoning.
The scholar rarely fails to drop the P-bomb when discussing the water crisis. As for Snyder's complicity in what happened, we can only tell you this:
He's now been charged with two misdemeanors, apparently for failing to supervise staff. We have no idea if he'll be convicted.
Indeed, we don't even know at this point if he should be convicted. But if he is, as we noted on Wednesday, he stands to be punished by "imprisonment of up to one year or a maximum fine of $1,000."
The operative word is "or," not "and." During her twenty-minute performance, the scholar failed to use the word "misdemeanor" or to mention the lack of heft of that possible fine.
That said, our topic is the children of Flint, not the fate of the former governor. Concerning the children of Flint, we'll make two separate points:
Over at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum was writing about exposure to lead before lead exposure was cool. In January 2013, his cover report on the gruesome history of exposure to lead appeared beneath these horrible headlines:
Lead: America’s Real Criminal Element
The hidden villain behind violent crime, lower IQs, and even the ADHD epidemic.
Drum had published that fascinating report long before the water crisis started. Along the way, pull quotes said such things as this:
"Gasoline lead may explain as much as 90 percent of the rise and fall of violent crime over the past half century."
Drum had explored the historical problem of lead exposure before the Flint crisis began. During the crisis, he put his expertise to use with a series of fascinating posts about the effects of such exposure, and about the possible harm done to the children of Flint.
Drum described the degree of harm which would likely result from the degree of exposure during the water crisis. As he did, he presented fascinating information about the massive amount of lead exposure which had been typical in Flint, and everywhere else in the country, until late in the last century.
In part, Drum's conclusion was this:
The levels of exposure which were typical in Flint during the crisis would have counted as a medical miracle until very recently. He judged that the children of Flint might suffer a loss of one or two IQ points because of what had occurred.
You can find Drum's work through the miracle of Google. For a one-stop review, we'll recommend the July 2018 overview which carries this headline:
Finally: Experts Explain the Truth About Lead and Flint
You'll find those experts warning about the dangers inherent in telling the children of Flint that they've been "poisoned." As for Drum himself, you'll find him offering a fascinating chart about historical exposure to lead, and also saying this:
DRUM (7/23/18): As a political catastrophe, Flint ranks very high indeed, but as an environmental catastrophe its effects are fairly limited. The lead level in the water increased by a modest amount for a modest time, and the result was modestly elevated blood lead levels for a short time. That’s a terrible thing that should never have happened, but the actual impact is still small. We’re talking about maybe a loss of one IQ point or a change in aggression of 1 percent.
Basically, with a tiny handful of exceptions, the kids of Flint are fine. In the end, the panic might end up doing the kids more harm than the lead. If teachers and parents give up because they think an entire generation of children is doomed, then we really will have a generation of children that’s doomed. If the kids themselves grow up “knowing” that their brains have been permanently poisoned, how many of them will just give up and decide that trying in school isn’t worth it?
Could telling kids that they've been poisoned cause them to give up on themselves? Everything is possible! Indeed, in early 2017, Sarah Stillman had described that very effect as part of a lengthy report in The New Yorker about the children of Flint.
Can children come to believe that their future is gone? This anecdote involves four people who were working with, and concerned about, the children of Flint:
STILLMAN (1/16/17): [Kent] Key shared a personal story about the son of a family friend who had begun acting out in school. The boy’s mother had come to Key for help. When Key asked the boy what was going on, he replied, “Well, they said I’m not going to be smart anyway.”
“These kids are internalizing the messages about how the lead is affecting them,” Key said….It wasn’t immediately clear what had come out of the gathering. But, as she and Tucker-Ray left for their next appointment, [Maya] Shankar began contemplating aloud the possibilities. She said to [Will] Tucker-Ray, “Did you see how my eyes widened when he said that thing about the kids giving up because they think they’re going to be dumb?”
….As their last day in Flint drew to a close, Shankar and Tucker-Ray hurried to a final meeting. They had arranged to talk with a disabled Gulf War veteran and community activist named Art Woodson, who didn’t think much of the federal government. At a local municipal building, where an enlarged photograph of corroded lead pipes adorned one wall, Woodson told Shankar about his worry that local kids would give up when lead’s symptoms surfaced, or even before. “What I see,” he said, “is hopelessness.”
We read that article one day after Trump took office. We then emailed this anecdote on.
Four years later, the ranting of Our Own Rhodes Scholar continues. She wants to lock the governor up. As part of this project, she's willing to write off the children of Flint—to terrify them and their parents.
Our view? As a general matter, the former scholar is the victim of a corporate culture which confers massive wealth and fame on a few unlucky duckies. Starting with Judy Garland and Elvis, many stars have fallen victim to this recurrent disease.
At any rate, her work is horrendous, though she is not. We love to listen to her in Our Town. We get dumbed down in the process.
Three final points:
First, Drum's statistics about past lead exposure are absolutely fascinating. That said, statistics are widely known to be both boring and hard. As with test scores, health care spending and daily death rates, your journalists avoid such traps. They tell you the stories they like.
Second: As of 2019, the Census Bureau reported that Flint's population was 54.1% black, 36.9% white. "White" kids drank that water too. We say that because people like the one-time scholar may have you thinking that this racist outrage was perpetrated when the racists found among the others took aim at a city in which everyone was "black."
In the tribalized streets of our well-scripted town, that makes for extremely good copy.
Finally, we urge you to look at Drum's graphic about the massive exposure to lead which was the norm right thought the end of the past century. As you do, remember that exposure to lead results in the loss of IQ points.
Does that massive exposure to lead explain the intellectual failures of our modern upper-end press corps? The failures of us in Our Town?
Again and again, then again and again, we've found ourselves asking that question in recent years as we've reviewed the incompetent work of people like Our Own Rhodes Scholar and her apparently incompetent staff.
We live in a badly damaged time. Could leaded gasoline be the fiend which reduced us to this state?
Our scholar rarely gets anything right. That said, she's extremely good at selling the car, and we self-satisfied souls in Our Town are frequently eager to buy it.