Why do (some) people shoot and kill people?


But also, senseless work: This morning, the major newspapers are full of senseless essays, senseless reports, senseless statements and questions.

Many masquerade as good sense. Our discourse tends to be like that.

Our papers are full of senseless work. For one example, try this:

According to today's New York Times, Brad Wilcox, Hal Boyd and Wendy Wang "are researchers and writers on family life." 

Not long ago, these researchers decided to conduct research about why (self-identified) conservatives are more likely to say they're happy than are (self-identified) liberals.

For the record, is that basic premise true? Are (self-identified) conservatives more like to say they're happy than (self-identified) liberals?

Somewhat sensibly, the researchers conducted a (type of) survey. Respondents were allowed to rate themselves as "very happy," or as "pretty happy," or as "not too happy."

Respondents were given those three choices. The researchers report these results:

Reponses from conservative respondents:
Very happy or pretty happy: 79%
Not too happy: 21% 
Reponses from liberal respondents:
Very happy or pretty happy: 72%
Not too happy: 28%

Especially given the various sources of fuzziness involved in this research, do you spot a major difference lurking in those responses?

We don't see one either! That said, the researchers rode those data to a guest essay which appears in today's New York Times under this fatuous headline:

How Liberals Can Be Happier

Perhaps for perfectly sensible reasons, no comments were allowed.

In the guest essay, the researchers seek to explain the phenomenon they describe as "the conservative-liberal happiness gap." Their conclusion appears in this passage:

RESEARCHERS THREE (11/27/21): This gap is not explained by socioeconomic differences in income, race, age and gender between the two groups. But once we control for marriage, parenthood, family satisfaction, religious attendance and community satisfaction, the ideological gap in happiness disappears.

Surprising! Respondents who expressed dissatisfaction with their families (and with their communities) were more likely to be "not too happy!" 

Meanwhile, how much of that (rather modest) happiness gap is (perhaps) "explained" by such factors as income, race, age and gender? The researchers don't say.

This essay is, at heart, a statistical non-event in search of a (possibly preconceived) ideological explanation. Would anyone but the New York Times be dumb enough to publish such work?

The researchers may be completely sincere. But if Wilcox, Boyd and Wang are "researchers and writers on family life," who are they "researchers and writers" for?

The New York Times doesn't say. The answer turns out to be this:

Wilcox and Wang are research fellows at The Institute for Family Life, an entity whose stated "mission" is "to strengthen marriage and family life." (That's a perfectly worthwhile goal.)

Boyd doesn't seem to be a researcher at all. As it turns out, he's the executive editor of Deseret National, part of Salt Lake City's Deseret News. According to the leading authority on the paper, "the editorial tone of the Deseret News is usually described as moderate to conservative, and is often assumed to reflect the values of its owner, the LDS Church."

For the record, there's nothing wrong with reflecting the values of the LDS Church. Indeed, it's our impression that the church is generally associated with an above-average family culture.

There's nothing wrong with the values which seem to be held by Wilcox, Boyd and Wang. That doesn't mean that their subsequent work will make any real sense, and today's guest essay strikes us as basically fatuous—as an explanation in search of something which needs to be explained.

Who but the New York Times would publish such manifest piddle? In fairness, one thinks of the Washington Post, which published the recent column by Kate Cohen which appeared beneath this hopeless headline:

Parents think they know what is best for schools. But they often don’t.

This column was Cohen's attempt to react to the recent flap in Virginia about parental involvement in schools. That said, riddle us this:

Who but Cohen would have realized that parents will "often" not know what's best for schools? That parents will "often" (or perhaps sometimes) be wrong in their various judgments?

Who but Cohen would understand that? Based upon this rare insight, Cohen states her conclusion:

COHEN (11/24/21): Parents are pretty good at fooling ourselves. Which is exactly why we shouldn’t be in charge of our children’s education.

That’s right, I agree with the statement Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe made in a late-September debate, though it’s been dubbed a “gaffe” and a “blunder”: “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” Of course we shouldn’t!

Someone with real expertise should keep up with how many planets there are and how many genders, with the best way to do long division and to talk about race. Someone trained to develop curriculum standards and choose textbooks should keep revising our understanding of U.S. history. Not me!

According to Cohen, parents shouldn't be in charge of their children's education. Any questions which may arise should be left to the experts—to people who are experts on how many planets there are, but also on "the best way to talk about race."

Our major newspapers are clogged with foolishness every day of the week. That includes the papers which are designed to appeal to our high-IQ tribe.

This morning, a more serious questions appears in the Washington Post, courtesy of Colbert King:

What explains the fact that some people are willing to shoot and kill other people? 

King asks that serious question today. Next week, as we discuss events in Kenosha and the Rittenhouse trial, questions like that will arise.

That essay in the Times was pretty sad. So was the column by Cohen.

The Times and the Post didn't understand that. Our question:

Should journalists be in charge of our nation's newspapers? Or should we turn the task over to experts—and if so, where could we find them?


  1. "According to Cohen, parents shouldn't be in charge of their children's education."

    Whoa. It sounds like Huxley's Brave New World is finally here.

    As a self-identified liberal, there's only one thing for you to do, dear Bob: shut up and get on with the program...

  2. "What explains the fact that some people are willing to shoot and kill other people?
    King asks that serious question today."

    That's your 'serious question', dear Bob? Oh dear. And why "shoot and kill"? What about stab and kill, poison and kill, or strangle and kill?

    As for the motives, just off the top of my head: money, power, jealousy, revenge, defending yourself, your family, your country? Ever heard of these, dear Bob?

    1. You were much funnier when you pretended you weren't the world's biggest Establishment suck up.

  3. Somerby doesn't believe in expertise. He has said that before. It is amusing to think of him telling his dentist how to make a crown, his auto mechanic how to repair his car, and his doctor how to take out his appendix. He seems to think that those in the field of education don't have similar expertise when it comes to teaching children, including what to teach them at what ages and in what manner. He no doubt has careful instructions for wahtever hapless chef happens to be on duty when he gets hungry too.

    This know-it-all approach to life is akin to the "I did my research" folks who won't take the vaccine. When their family members get covid, they try to tell the doctors and nurses how to treat them, interfering with effective treatment right up to the point of death.

    I cannot imagine that this is a serious argument on Somerby's part, but if it is, someone would be a fool to pay any attention to him. It will only get unsuspecting idiots into trouble to follow this path in life.

    1. I have read Mr. Somerby's blog for awhile now and IMHO it's not that he doesn't believe in expertise or experts. I think his argument is that oftentimes the experts quoted in the media aren't all that expert and are touting preferred media storylines not supported by the research. Whether he is correct on that point or not is certainly open for debate. But I don't think it is fair to characterize Mr. Somerby as someone that "doesn't believe in expertise." His arguments really go more to being an educated consumer of media reporting more than anything.

  4. "What explains the fact that some people are willing to shoot and kill other people?"

    There is most likely not one single explanation that applies in all situations.

  5. It might be more productive to ask "why doesn't everyone shoot everyone else?" It seems to me that the cause of restraint is more interesting than the cause of homicide.

    Why don't people kill each other whenever it is convenient, in their self-interst, satisfying to one's pique or rage, possible without consequence, and so on? If you can identify the reason(s) why people do not kill each other, you may get closer to what went wrong with Rittenhouse and similar miscreants (since, obviously, nearly all people don't go around killing other people).

    Why don't all people murder their kids when they are annoying little buggers?

    Why don't all people murder their neighbors when they borrow things and don't return them, or infringe on their property or make too much noise or leave little in their yard, and so on?

    Why don't all people go bonkers and commit road rage when someone cuts them off on the highway?

    Why don't all people kill their bosses, romantic rivals, annoying customers, spouses, pets (barking dogs, cats with hairballs), teenagers (other people's, since our own kids wouldn't have made it that far), and so on?

    Somerby is an idiot when he thinks there is some magical answer that will exonerate Rittenhouse. There isn't. Rittenhouse did something that normal people would never do. There is no way to normalize his actions without bending our social fabric to the point of breaking -- and that is why liberals are so upset about this situation. There is a segment of the political spectrum, on the right, that wants to normalize all kinds of misbehavior (anything Trump, a sociopath, does for starters) for political purposes, in order to impose autocracy and fascism on our nation. Excusing murder is a small part of that plan, but a necessary part, because they need storm troopers who engage in murder and extrajudicial killing, in order to impose a top-down tyranny on our nation's citizens. Rittenhouse is a piece of crap, but he is a start...

    1. Rittenhouse was exonerated.

    2. No, he was declared legally not guilty. That doesnt make him innocent and it doesn't exonerate him. He still shot and killed two unarmed men and wounded another man who was doing nothing more than try to prevent him from killing more people, a man with his arms up. Rittenhouse is and always will be guilty of those acts, whatever his legal standing.

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  7. I believe that home-schooled children do as well academically as children who attend school. This should be amazing. In what other field can untrained parents perform as well as highly trained and experienced professionals? One cannot imagine millions of parents writing software as good as professionals or developing new vaccine as well as professionals. Apparently schools are not all that terrific at what they do.

    1. Parents want more say in how schools teach.
      They also want a LOT more say in how their communities are policed.

    2. David,
      You forgot the military.
      I could have had a handful of Afghani teenagers fight me to a draw for a lot less money than the Pentagon spent to do it.

    3. Depending on the context, home schooled students do much worse than public school students. Only when you compare self selected, higher income home schooled students to the the entire population of public school students do you find a slight increase in test scores.

      So the claim that home schooled students do better is specious, misleading, and spreading misinformation.

    4. How many actuaries are there? How many of them are home schooled?

    5. Home-schooled children do better than school-schooled

      What do Research Studies Show About Home Schooled Children?
      How do Homeschooled Children Score Academically?

      Two major studies were conducted in the last fifteen years concerning homeschooling students and academic achievement. In 1998 Dr. Lawrence Rudner, a professor at ERIC Clearinghouse, a part of the University of Maryland, surveyed over 20,000 students and titled his findings, “Home Schooling Works.” What Rudner found was that home schooled students scored, on average, thirty percentile points higher than the national average on standardized achievement tests. Critics said that it was not an accurate representation because of the control group. The study was done on 20,760 homeschooled students who agreed to take the Iowa Basic Skills Test, but all of the students were educated using Bob Jones Curriculum, and not all the students that signed up to take the test (40,000) allowed their scores to be used by Rudner [1].

      More recently, in 2009, Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute published the largest homeschool study to date on academic achievement and the demographics of homeschooling families. Unlike Rudner’s study, Dr. Ray drew from 15 independent testing services and surveyed 11,739 homeschoolers from all 50 states. The students took three well known tests, the California Achievement Test, the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, and the Stanford Achievement Test for 2007-2008.[2] The national public school average is taken as 50%, the following scores are the homeschool average as a result from these tests. These scores verify the findings from Rudner’s study, as they indicate that homeschooling students are testing 30 percentile points higher in all core subject areas.


    6. Neither 1998 nor 2009 qualify as recent studies.

      I am confused by this: "In 1998 Dr. Lawrence Rudner, a professor at ERIC Clearinghouse, a part of the University of Maryland, surveyed over 20,000 students and titled his findings, “Home Schooling Works.” ". ERIC Clearinghouse is a repository for research on education. It doesn't conduct or fund studies itself. He was apparently Director of ERIC, but is now: "Vice President for Research and Chief Psychometrician Graduate Management Admissions Council." This makes his participation in this particular study kind of odd. That this was sponsored by Bob Jones University is also suspect because again, this is not some outside entity evaluating homeschooling, but the homeschoolers themselves producing a study to validate their educational practices as a network that offers services to homeschooling parents. Since many of the students were permitted to have their scores omitted, these results mean nothing at all.

      When it says Dr. Ray's study "drew from" 15 testing services, it begs the question of what the criteria were for selecting those homeschoolers who were included in the study. And again, since this is not an outside entity but a home education institute doing the study (they are measuring themselves), the results are still suspect.

      What parent is going to draw upon these homeschooling resources without evidence that they are effective, so they cooked up some studies to justify their services. That isn't how "independent" educational research works. What do truly independent studies show?

    7. Those studies had poor methodology and at best indicate that only self selected, high income home schooled students do better than the entire population of public school students, the rest do the same or worse. Repeating misinformation does not make it any less inaccurate.

      Beyond not having scientific methodologies, those two studies were paid for by a christian home schooling advocacy group, HSLDA.

      A few seconds on Google and you can find research that exposes HSLDA's con:

      "Rudner’s published study does not claim that homeschoolers outperform public schoolers; in fact, Rudner clearly cautions against drawing this conclusion in the discussion of his results, which is omitted from HSLDA’s web version. Instead, what his study actually shows is that a small, highly privileged set of homeschoolers are capable of scoring highly on standardized tests."

      "Ray’s study has so many methodological problems that we can draw few conclusions from it."

      Another study found:

      "There was no difference in academic achievement between public school students who perceived a high level of parent involvement and homeschool students."

      Here's a rare study that actually used proper methodology:

      "The CARDUS Education Survey, conducted in 2011, is the only study of homeschool graduates that we are aware of to use a random sample. This survey, which looked only at individuals whose mothers attended religious services weekly, found that homeschooled students raised in religious homes had a lower level of educational attainment than non-homeschooled students raised in religious homes. Researchers found that homeschool graduates had lower SAT scores, completed fewer years of higher education, and were less likely to receive a college degree."

      Yes, that is an apples to apples comparison and it found that home schooled students had lower education attainment than public school students.

      So David, you are full of beans and you are WRONG.

  8. As Somerby considers his next post on the Rittenhouse murders, let's not let Somerby himself get away with murder - Whites are ten times as likely to get off on self defense claims as Black people, a rather startling stat that dovetails with another stat: the average Black family wealth is 15% of average White family wealth.

    Right wingers think these differences are due to genetics, that is called racism, which was basically invented by America; thus the issue is intractable, according to their warped thinking. Right wingers claim the value of personal responsibility, yet live high on the hog off labor they refuse to pay for.

    Those on the left consider that human life should be highly valued and apply this principle when considering self defense claims; for those on the right, there is a hierarchy to human life leading to curious circumstances, such as obscenely immoral inequality, and that a non sentient clump of cells has more rights than a person that throws a plastic bag near someone.

    Rosenbaum was murdered in cold blood by Rittenhouse - it is plain by the drone and FBI footage, just like Emmett Till was murdered by his assailants, and both got off scot-free due to right wing values.

    1. I am not defending or opining on Rittenhouse or Somerby, but how can you say America invented racism? Are you saying that nowhere, at any time, in all of human history has one group of people discriminated against another people based on race? I find that hard to believe.

    2. You may find it hard to believe, but that is in fact the academic consensus. Race, and thus racism, broadly speaking, did not exist prior to the slave trade in America. There was certainly discrimination prior, but not based on race.

    3. So no people anywhere ever discriminated against someone else because of skin color? Come on...black and white and brown and yellow and all existed before academia or slave traders labeled them race or not...and I am sure people were discriminated on because the looked different whether academics called it race or not you may be correct.

    4. Quick look at Wikipedia - Medieval Arab attitudes to Black people varied over time and individual attitude, but tended to be negative. Though the Qur'an expresses no racial prejudice, ethnocentric prejudice towards black people is widely evident among medieval Arabs, for a variety of reasons:[1] Arabs' extensive conquests and slave trade; the influence of Aristotelian ideas regarding slavery, which some Muslim philosophers directed towards Zanj,[2] and the influence of Judeo-Christian ideas regarding divisions among humankind.[3] On the other hand, the Afro-Arab author Al-Jahiz, himself having a Zanj grandfather, wrote a book entitled Superiority of the Blacks to the Whites,[4] and explained why the Zanj were black in terms of environmental determinism in the "On the Zanj" chapter of The Essays.[5]

    5. Another: Ethnocentrism and proto-racism
      Further information: Medieval Arab attitudes to Black people

      The Book of Genesis's biblical curse on Canaan, which was often misinterpreted as a curse on his father Ham, was used to justify slavery in 19th century America.[109]
      Bernard Lewis has cited the Greek philosopher Aristotle who, in his discussion of slavery, stated that while Greeks are free by nature, "barbarians" (non-Greeks) are slaves by nature, in that it is in their nature to be more willing to submit to a despotic government.[110] Though Aristotle does not specify any particular races, he argues that people from nations outside Greece are more prone to the burden of slavery than those from Greece.[111] While Aristotle makes remarks about the most natural slaves being those with strong bodies and slave souls (unfit for rule, unintelligent) which would seem to imply a physical basis for discrimination, he also explicitly states that the right kind of souls and bodies do not always go together, implying that the greatest determinate for inferiority and natural slaves versus natural masters is the soul, not the body.[112] This proto-racism is seen as an important precursor to modern racism by classicist Benjamin Isaac.

      Such proto-racism and ethnocentrism must be looked at within context, because a modern understanding of racism based on hereditary inferiority (with modern racism based on eugenics and scientific racism) was not yet developed and it is unclear whether Aristotle believed the natural inferiority of Barbarians was caused by environment and climate (like many of his contemporaries) or by birth.[113]

      Historian Dante A. Puzzo, in his discussion of Aristotle, racism, and the ancient world writes that:[114]

      Racism rests on two basic assumptions: that a correlation exists between physical characteristics and moral qualities; that mankind is divisible into superior and inferior stocks. Racism, thus defined, is a modern conception, for prior to the XVIth century there was virtually nothing in the life and thought of the West that can be described as racist. To prevent misunderstanding a clear distinction must be made between racism and ethnocentrism ... The Ancient Hebrews, in referring to all who were not Hebrews as Gentiles, were indulging in ethnocentrism, not in racism. ... So it was with the Hellenes who denominated all non-Hellenes—whether the wild Scythians or the Egyptians whom they acknowledged as their mentors in the arts of civilization—Barbarians, the term denoting that which was strange or foreign.

    6. So again, broadly speaking, racism did not exist prior to the slave trade in America. The larger umbrella notion of hierarchy has been around since humans developed agrarian based societies. Hierarchy may have existed prior to that but it does not seem like it was nearly as prominent or foundational.

      We no longer have chattel slavery in the US but it was merely replaced with wage slavery.

      The degree to which Americans, particularly right wing Americans, are servile, is startling and needs to be addressed. To put it simply, it is why we (the 99%) can't have nice things.

  9. Good question. Why do people who are not married have children? Almost all the social dysfunction emanates from this problem.

    1. Like that rotten Obama, right?

    2. 7:23 This is demonstrably false. Where does Somerby acquire these knuckle draggers?

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