BREAKING: Silliness is as silliness does!

SATURDAY, MAY 15, 2021

Forrest Gump visits the Times: This morning's New York Times offers high-visibility personal profiles of three different people.

One profile appears on the paper's front page. The other two top the newspaper's International section. Here are the three principal headlines:

Meet the Nun Who Wants You to Remember You Will Die

Miss Universe Myanmar Arrives in Florida With a Message for the Junta

Prince Harry Shares ‘Pain and Suffering’ of Growing Up in Royal Family

Sad! Needless to say, the former punk-rocker nun with the skull on her desk was hurried to the front page. At the New York Times, sub-headlines like this sound extremely deep and intriguing.

Meet the Nun Who Wants You to Remember You Will Die
Suffering and death are facts of life: “Everyone dies, their bodies rot, and every face becomes a skull.”

Intriguing! No really, that sounds extra-deep!

For ourselves, we hadn't realized, until this very day, that Ruth Graham, a good decent person, had achieved an escape from Slate. Graham wrote the front-page profile of Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble, complete with a triggering dateline.

The profile graces the paper's front page. The profile starts like this:

BOSTON—Before she entered the Daughters of St. Paul convent in 2010, Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble read a biography of the order’s founder, an Italian priest who was born in the 1880s. He kept a ceramic skull on his desk, as a reminder of the inevitability of death. Sister Aletheia, a punk fan as a teenager, thought the morbid curio was “super punk rock,” she recalled recently. She thought vaguely about acquiring a skull for herself someday.

These days, Sister Aletheia has no shortage of skulls. People send her skull mugs and skull rosaries in the mail, and share photos of their skull tattoos. A ceramic skull from a Halloween store sits on her desk. Her Twitter name includes a skull and crossbones emoji.

That is because since 2017, she has made it her mission to revive the practice of memento mori, a Latin phrase meaning “Remember your death.” The concept is to intentionally think about your own death every day, as a means of appreciating the present and focusing on the future. It can seem radical in an era in which death—until very recently—has become easy to ignore.

At the Times, this sort of thing stacks up as thoughtful and cool.

According to the Times' front page, we live in an era "in which death—until very recently—ha[d] become easy to ignore." Before long, Graham explains what that odd statement means:

"The pandemic, of course, has made death impossible to forget."

Until the pandemic came along, were we living in an era in which death had become easy to ignore? We're prepared to say that the answer is yes, unless you had access to newspapers.

(Or unless you grew up in the Catholic church! Everywhere you look in such churches, you see images of a gruesome death, accomplished amid vast suffering.)

In our own experience, Boston nuns of the 1950s were selling that iconography to small children in  angry and negative ways. Today, the Times is intrigued by the 40-year-old nun with all the skulls, the one who's helping death make a comeback.

Had death become easy to ignore begore the pandemic came along? Not exactly! For example, children were dying in Iraq, often alongside their parents. After that, children were drowning in the Mediterranean. Some people had died in the Holocaust!

Had the nun and her followers heard about that? Did the former punk-rocker nun with the skulls and her followers care?

Today, the Times is treating the nun, with a hat tip to Arsenio Hall, as someone who makes you go oooh. Meanwhile, Miss Universe Myanmar is deeply invested in courageous behavior with respect to the dying and dead in her dangerous nation. Remarkable people of her stripe deserve every person's respect.

As for Prince Harry, he didn't ask to be born a royal. He has every right to think his situation through.

That said, does the Times have to hang on every word? Dearest darlings, use your heads! In its finer precincts, out in the Hamptons, this is the reigning culture of the fatuous, failing enterprise widely described as Our Town!

Meet the Nun Who Wants You to Remember You Will Die? In our view, Miss Universe Myanmar—Ma Thuzar Wint Lwin—shows us what a very insightful, very brave person might be willing to do after that!

Also, Greta Thunberg: Also, Greta Thunberg! She shows us what a very bright person might be willing to undertake on behalf of the young and the living.

Top report in National: Also this! The top report in the National section appears beneath this headline:

A.O.C. Had a Catchy Logo. Now Progressives Everywhere Are Copying It.

Please don't get excited! This top report doesn't focus on AOC's policy views. It covers "the slanted text in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s logo, and its break from the traditional red, white and blue color palette." 

(Presumably, no pun intended!)


Statistics can be amazingly hard!

FRIDAY, MAY 14, 2021

Especially for upper-end journalists: Statistics are amazingly hard, especially for upper-end journalists.

For today, let's consider an error which doesn't matter. After that, let's consider an omission which pretty much does.

An error which doesn't much matter:

Yesterday, Jonathan Chait was having some fun with the latest report about Trump. Along the way, he made this obvious error:

CHAIT (5/13/21): We should pause the narrative to point out that getting somebody in Washington to call Donald Trump an idiot is almost a trivially simple task. This is in fact one of the most widely held opinions in the United States as a whole. (One poll found that 39 percent of Americans volunteered the description “idiot” for the President.)

We didn't even have to fact-check the highlighted claim. Even before we checked it out, it was obvious what Chait had done.

First things first! Chait provided a link in support of the highlighted claim. Unfortunately, it was a classic "link to nowhere." It took us to this report from May 2017—a report which doesn't make the highlighted claim.

That earlier report did identify the specific poll to which Chait was referring That earlier report included a classic "useless link"—a link to the Quinnipiac web site, not to the specific poll to which the report referred.

Still, we were able to locate the specific poll in question—this Quinnipiac poll from May 10, 2017. Obviously, that poll didn't "find that 39 percent of Americans volunteered the description 'idiot' for [Trump]."

Obviously, that didn't happen. Here's what happened instead:

Question #9 in that poll was a classic "first word that comes to mind" question. Here's the text  of the question, exactly as it appears in the Quinnipiac report about the poll's results:

9. What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of Donald Trump? (Numbers are not percentages. Figures show the number of times each response was given. This table reports only words that were mentioned at least five times.)

Which part of "numbers are not percentages" don't journalists understand? We ask because journalists constantly make the kind of mistake Chait made in this case.

As Quinnipiac reported the results of that survey question, it reported that 39 people had volunteered the word "idiot" when asked about Donald J. Trump. But that wasn't 39 percent of the survey's respondents. It was 39 people—39 people total.

For better or worse, Quinnipiac had interviewed 1,078 people in conducting this poll. That means that 3.6% of respondents had volunteered the word "idiot," not the larger 39 percent.

Why do public polling companies keep asking such "top of mind" questions? We have no idea. They always include the statement saying that the numbers posted "are not percentages," and journalists always respond by acting like they are.

It doesn't matter how often this mistake is made. The next time around, the mistake will be made again. Which part of the simple word "not" don't top scribes understand?

An omission which likely does matter:

Chait's mistake is a classic head-scratcher but no, it doesn't matter. An omission in a new report by the Washington Post pretty much does, unless we prefer unfettered Storyline to full-blown depictions of fact.

Yesterday, this new report appeared online. It hasn't yet appeared in print editions. Its dual headlines say this:

Police shootings of children spark new outcry, calls for training to deal with adolescents in crisis
A Washington Post database of fatal force incidents finds most children shot by police are minorities and less likely to be armed than adults shot by police

The report concerns the number of "children"—actually, people under age 18—who have been shot and killed by police officers since the start of 2015.

The report's data come from the Post's Fatal Force site. The report offers this overview:

KINDY ET AL (5/13/21): [Stavian Rodriguez] is one of 112 children who have been fatally shot by police between Jan. 1, 2015, and Monday, according to a Washington Post database that tracks fatal police shootings. Over the same period of time, 6,168 adults were shot by police.

[...]

The database shows that the circumstances leading up to the shootings of children are varied, with about half beginning with a robbery, a traffic stop, a stolen car or a 911 call. Most of the incidents took place during daytime hours; only one appears to have involved alcohol use by the child; and 19 of the children were experiencing a mental health crisis at the time of the shooting.

The database shows that children are frequently armed with a gun or knife during these fatal police encounters, but not as often as adults who die by police gunfire—63 percent of the time for children vs. 76 percent for adults.

Sixty-six percent of the children who died in fatal police shootings were Black, Latino, Asian or Native American compared to 44 percent of adults who were racial minorities.

Again, the word "children" in this report refers to anyone under age 18. Allowing for that bit of nomenclature, we'll focus on the (accurate) statement made right in the headline:

Most children shot by police are minorities.

Allowing for that bit of nomenclature, that statement is perfectly accurate. The specific percentage of non-white decedents is 66%, the Post's report says. That figure involves a minor statistical error on the part of the report's authors, but we'll call that number close enough for journalistic work.

It may or may not seem surprising to read that only 34% of under-18 decedents are white. At this point, though, we note a fairly basic statistical omission in the report—we note the fact that white kids are now a minority of the American public school population.

We'll guess that a lot of people are unaware that fact. This was the rundown from the National Center for Education Statistics as of September 2017:

NCES: In fall 2017, of the 50.7 million students enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools, 24.1 million were White, 7.7 million were Black, 13.6 million were Hispanic, 2.8 million were Asian/Pacific Islander (2.6 million were Asian and 185,000 were Pacific Islander), half a million were American Indian/Alaska Native, and 2 million were of two or more races. 

Between fall 2000 and fall 2017, the percentage of students who were White decreased from 61 to 48 percent, and the number of White students decreased from 28.9 million to 24.1 million.  Similarly, the percentage of students who were Black decreased from 17 to 15 percent, and the number of Black students decreased from 8.1 million to 7.7 million. 

In contrast, the percentage of students who were Hispanic increased from 16 to 27 percent during the same period, and the percentage of students who were Asian/Pacific Islander increased from 4 to 6 percent...

Between fall 2017 and fall 2029, the percentage of public elementary and secondary students who were White is projected to continue decreasing (from 48 to 44 percent)...

As of September 2017, the percentage of white public school students nationwide was 47.5 percent and slowly falling. 

It we use that as a starting point, the number of white youths shot and killed by police is still disproportionately low in simple statistical terms. But the disproportion may not be as large as people might be inclined to imagine or assume.

Why is there a disproportion at all? That would be a larger question, calling for careful analysis. For better or worse, we humans love our Storylines, even here in our self-impressed town.

Statistics can be very hard. They can also be misleading. 

It seems to us that the Washington Post made a significant omission in this new report. Just how large is the disproportion to which the Post may seem to be pointing? You'd think we'd all want to know that.

Where would an analysis go from there? In large part, that would depend on the extent of our love for preferred Storyline. In recent years, that love has been strong in Our Town.

That said, statistics can be amazingly hard, especially for upper-end journalists. According to international experts, Storyline is more pleasing by far. Our attraction to Storyline is hard-wired, these experts consistently tell us.

We'll say it again: Very few actual children get shot and killed by police. We'd like to see the Washington Post compare those Fatal Force numbers to the overall population of Americans aged 12-17, whatever those numbers may be.


SCRIPTED, ARROGANT, DUMB AND TOWN: Who failed Ma'Khia Bryant?

FRIDAY, MAY 14, 2021

Who killed Davey Moore? It's routinely amazing to see the things which appear in the New York Times.

We're struck today by the cosmic indifference reflected in one line of Sarah Vowell's opinion column—the line in which Vowell blithely declares that Bozeman, Montana is blessed with "good schools."

We'll discuss that blithe claim below. We were also struck by this passage from a letter on today's letters page:

LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (5/14/21):With respect to my own decision not to get the vaccine, I had Covid in February, and therefore almost certainly am immune to infection.

According to the letter writer, she had Covid in February. For that reason, she doesn't need to get vaccinated.

Blithely, the New York Times put that assessment in print, furthering that understanding. But is that understanding well founded?

We can't necessarily answer that question. Luckily, one major newspaper already has.

That newspaper is the New York Times. In February, the Times devoted an analysis piece to that very question. The Times report started like this:

MANDAVILLI (2/20/21): Nearly 30 million people in the United States—and probably many others whose illnesses were never diagnosed—have been infected with the coronavirus so far. Should these people still be vaccinated?

Two new studies answer that question with an emphatic yes.

Who knows? Maybe the science has changed since that time. That said, the Times report was "updated [on] April 22" and that emphatic judgment remained.

Maybe that letter is expressing sound science. But does anyone actually think that the editor who put that letter in print gave as much as a second of thought to that obvious question? Also this:

Vowell says that Bozeman boasts "good schools." That certainly could be true.

That said, what she actually means—most likely, all she actually knows—is most likely something like this: 

Bozeman's student population is almost entirely white and Asian-American. Presumably, a healthy dose of that student population is connected to highly educated parents who work at Montana State University in the small city Vowell describes as "my beloved college town."

Almost surely in part for those reasons, Bozeman's test scores exceed average scores across the state of Montana. To the dilettantes who control Our Town, this sort of thing has always been taken as a marker of "good schools." 

Full and complete total stop. In fact, these people don't care.

Such judgments betray a gruesome indifference to the question of where test scores come from. This gruesome indifference has always been screamingly evident in the way the Hamptons-based New York Times reports on the public schools. 

The truth is, the Times doesn't care about the kids who attend our public schools; almost surely, the Times never will. 

Above-average test scores = "good schools" has long been the watchword of those people in Our Town who simply don't care to give such matters a single thought. Such people dominate the major news orgs which drive the prevailing dumbness here in Our Town.

The Times is routinely uncaring about such matters as this. This observation brings us to a related question—a question concerning the late Ma'Khia Bryant, age 16 at the time ofher death, and the upbringing and the fate of her three younger siblings.

On Sunday morning. above the fold, the Times turned one of its kid reporters loose to address that important question. He opened with a passage right out of Storyline.

"Who killed Davey Moore?" the observer known as Bob Dylan once asked. In this case, the Times' "diaper dandy" pointed his finger at the state of Ohio's foster care system. His analysis went like this:

BOGEL-BURROUGHS ET AL (5/9/21): Ms. Bryant’s tragic death was also preceded by a turbulent journey through the foster care system, which had cycled Ma’Khia through at least five placements in two years—after her own mother was found to be negligent—despite efforts by their grandmother to reunite the family.

Ohio places children in foster care at a rate 10 percent higher than the national average, and child welfare officials here are considerably less likely than in the country as a whole to place children with their relatives. Black children, like Ma’Khia and her sister, account for nearly a third of children removed from homes—nearly twice their proportion in the population.

A review of Ma’Khia’s pathway through foster care shows that it failed her in critical ways.

Research has demonstrated that children fare far better when they remain with family members, a practice known as kinship care. It also shows that each successive placement causes additional trauma, further setting back a child in crisis.

“Everybody knows and the research has proven over and over and over again that the best placement for children is with their kin,” said Ronald R. Browder, the president and chief executive of the Ohio Federation for Health Equity and Social Justice. “But the focus has always been on foster care.”

Those were paragraphs 7-12 of the Times' 81-paragraph front-page report. Right off the bat, Times readers were told this:

Her grandmother had tried to reunite the family. But the Ohio foster care system failed the late Ma'Khia Bryant in various ways.

That indictment could be true, of course. Unfortunately, because we read this lengthy report in the New York Times, we have no real way of knowing.

Is there really something wrong with the rate at which Ohio banishes kids to foster care? As we noted yesterday, nothing in this young fellow's report gives a reader any way of making such an assessment.

Does Ohio consign too many kids to the Hell of foster care? We don't know how to answer that question. As we noted yesterday, judging from appearances, neither does Bogel-Burroughs.

That said, the claim that Bryant was failed by Ohio's foster care system suits modern Storyline. Rather, it allowed the Times to slide away from a more obvious source of the inadequate care which led to this young person's death.

Was Ma'Khia Bryant, age 16, failed by the gummint bureaucrats of the state of Ohio? Everything is possible! But to identify someone who plainly failed this teenaged girl, let's consider something we're finally told very late in the dandy's report.

While we're at it, let's consider an obvious question—a question which went unasked and unanswered in the diaper dandy's report.

The question which went unasked

A violent fight was underway when Ma'Khia Bryant was shot and killed in Columbus, Ohio. Her younger sister, Ja'Niah Bryant, was present at the scene, in front of the house where the two had been living in foster care.

A violent fight was underway. Early in Sunday's report, Bogel-Burroughs briefly describes it:

BOGEL-BURROUGHS ET AL: [On April 20], Ja’Niah called 911 again, telling the police that she and her older sister were being threatened by two young women who used to live at the house. Officers arrived in the middle of a melee outside the house, and one of them fatally shot Ja’Niah’s 16-year-old sister, Ma’Khia Bryant, who was lunging at one of the women, brandishing a steak knife.

Judging from the bodycam tape, the fatal shooting of Ma'Khia Bryant may have saved the life of the young woman at whom she was lunging with that knife. 

For that reason, it's been hard to blame the police officer in the case of this fatal shooting. The Ohio foster care system was quickly subbed in by the Times.

Much, much later in his report, Bogel-Burroughs adds a bit of detail to his account of that deeply unfortunate fight. Included are the names of the two young women with whom Bryant was involved in the fight.

As best we can tell, Ma'Khia Bryant never received sufficient help in the course of her young life. In the highlighted sentence, we finally get the answer to one question about that fight—the answer to a question which has largely been avoided:

BOGEL-BURROUGHS ET AL: A police officer stepped out of his car and walked toward the driveway just as Ma’Khia turned her attention to Ms. Craig-Watkins and could be heard on a video from a neighbor’s surveillance camera threatening to stab her. 
As Ma’Khia charged, Ms. Craig-Watkins tumbled to the ground, and Ma’Khia’s father tried to kick her. Ma’Khia turned to Ms. Bonner and backed her up against a car. 
Ma’Khia raised a knife, and Officer Nicholas Reardon, a white 23-year-old who was the first officer to approach the scene, shot four times at Ma’Khia, who slumped down. 
As Ma’Khia’s body lay on the ground, police officers led Ja’Niah inside Ms. Moore’s house, along with her father’s young son.

Ja’Niah turned on the television to find some cartoons for her younger [half-]brother to watch...

That passage describes the death of a teenage girl who had perhaps been failed by the people around her. In the highlighted sentence, we learn that the man who is seen kicking, or attempting to kick, that one young woman in the head was, in fact, Ma'Khia's father, Myron Hammonds, who had been called to the scene of the dispute.

Who killed Davey Moore? Let's restate the question like this:

Was Myron Hammonds, Ma'Khia's father, the family member to whom the foster care system should have assigned the Bryant sisters and their two younger siblings? 

In fact, he was the father of the four Bryant kids. But as Bogel-Burroughs had mentioned in passing, "Mr. Hammonds, Ma’Khia’s father, did not live with the family and [the children's mother] described herself as raising the children largely on her own."

Was the foster care system supposed to assign the four Bryant kids to their father? When he was called for help that day (apparently by the children's grandmother), he came to the house with a younger son and proceeded to help matters out by kicking a young woman in the head as she lay on the ground.

Was the Ohio foster care system supposed to assign the four Bryant children to him? Were they supposed to continue to assign them to the paternal grandmother, to whom they'd initially been assigned? 

Repeat! Initially, protective services had assigned the children to their grandmother. Later, as Bogel-Burroughs reports, she had become homeless, living at times in her car. At that point, the Bryant children went into foster care.

Was the foster care system supposed to tell the four Bryant kids to report to their grandmother's car? Was that the assignment which would have let the siblings "fare far better?"

These children were in the child protective system in the first place because their mother had placed them there. When the mother appeared on CNN's disgraceful Chris Cuomo show, it seemed fairly clear to us that she was intellectually or emotionally challenged in some way. 

That doesn't mean that she's a bad person. But was the Ohio system supposed to send the kids back to her?

How about the showboating cousin—the city council member in Mansfield, Ohio who kept telling the world what a fabulous kid Ma'Khia had been? 

At that time, we asked why Ma'Khia Bryant hadn't been living with him. Should Ohio's foster care system have called on this high-achieving, showboating cousin?

The Times report doesn't mention this guy. Did reporters bother to ask whether he had been willing to help?

"Who killed Davey Moore?" Bob Dylan once asked. In his song, he offered a list of people, all of whom said, "Not I."

Today, we ask a similar question:

Who failed to help Ma'Khia Bryant in the course of her sixteen years?

There seems to be a fairly obvious initial answer to that question, if the Times feels it has to be asked. It looks like the four Bryant kids didn't get the kind of help all children deserve to get, where possible, from their immediate family.

This may not have been anyone's "fault." The mother and the paternal grandmother may have done the best they could—and the problems with which they may have been struggling may reach all the way back into our nation's brutal history.

Ma'Khia's mother and her paternal grandmother may have done the best they could. But how about the New York Times? Did they do the best they could?

At the Times, they quickly fingered the foster cares system, suggesting that the Bryant kids would have "fared far better"  had they remained in the care of family members. In fact, the protective system had placed them in their grandmother's care, until the grandmother turned ended up homeless.

At that point, they went into foster care. But also, imagine this:

At no point did the Times' diaper dandy ask, or answer, an obvious question! That question would be this:

When the four children's grandmother no longer could provide care, why didn't their father step in? Why didn't the Bryant kids' father take in one or all of his kids?

As the New York Times flayed the foster care system, that question went unasked. The Times aggressively implied that the kids should have stayed in family care. But the New York Times' diaper dandy never pointed a finger at him.

It may well be that Ma'Khia's father was doing the best he could. Based on what he did on the day she died, his best doesn't look especially good. Should Ohio's foster care system should tried to rely on him?

In fact, the cub reporters at the Times were working from preferred Storyline. In the current environment, we don't discuss the shortcomings and the misbehaviors of black decedents in cases like this. We don't even discuss the shortcomings of their families.

Instead, Our Town's favorite stars go on TV and misstate basic facts about these fatal incidents. And a bright young kid one year out of college puffs himself  up and blames the Ohio foster care system, based on the flimsiest possible type of analysis.

The children would have fared far better had they been assigned to family members! That's what this vastly inexperienced kid said as the start of his piece, with the permission of his slumbering editors.

Bogel-Burroughs didn't assign himself the task of composing this unintelligent takedown. If there were such a thing as very bad people—we don't think that's a helpful way to view the world—we would say that this high-achieving diaper dandy was badly failed by his elders, a bit like Ma'Khia before him.

Who killed Davey Moore? At the routinely gruesome Times, arrows of blame had to be aimed at public servants first. The people who struggle with family situations like this don't live in the Hamptons, after all—nor are they the wretched of the earth, about whom the New York Times is now pretending to care.

Ma'Khia Bryant is dead and gone. The dysfunction into which she was born certainly wasn't her fault or her doing. In a somewhat better world, all American  kids would be born in the Hamptons, with major Timespersons for their parents. Or possibly out in Bozeman!

Meanwhile, can Our Town expect to survive this arrogant, dumb journalistic regime? Leading experts across the globe despondently say that we can't.

Who killed Davey Moore?: To hear Bob Dylan sing the song, you can just click here.

What the heck is herd immunity?

THURSDAY, MAY 13, 2021

Slate attempts to say: We're so old that we can remember when Slate was a smart, high-end mainstream web site.

Today, Slate largely panders. If you want to know how dumb we actually are in Our Town, you just have to visit Slate.

Slate often aims extremely low in an apparent attempt to attract and hold readers. So far today, for example, the site has offered such think pieces as these:

Pooping at the Office Again Is Going to Be Terrible
BY ANGELA LASHBROOK / MAY 13, 2021 / 5:45 AM

My Boyfriend Is Desperately Obsessed With a Pop Star
BY DANNY M. LAVERY / MAY 13, 2021 / 5:58 AM

Yesterday, some Slate readers got Schwedeled again, along with other clatter: 

Help! My Cat Caught My Friend Spying on Me Having Sex
BY DANNY M. LAVERY / MAY 12, 2021 / 11:35 AM

Help! My Ex-Husband Slept With My Mom
DEAR PRUDENCE / MAY 12, 2021 / 8:00 AM

What Trump Toilet Paper Can Tell Us About His Election Chances in 2024
BY HEATHER SCHWEDEL / MAY 12, 2021 / 5:47 AM

Some traditional articles are still scattered in, but you may be starting to get the general idea.

At certain times, Slate still tries to offer basic explanations. So it goes in today's new essay, "Most People Are Thinking of Herd Immunity All Wrong."

Readers, you've probably heard of herd immunity. But how well could you explain it?

We'll guess you couldn't explain it well. We certainly know we couldn't!

We have a rough idea of how it works, or at least we think we do. But we don't think we've ever seen anyone actually try to explain the phenomenon, and it isn't entirely clear in our mind.

For that reason, we hungrily clicked the link to the new Slate report. The report was written by a PhD scientist at Wisconsin Madison. We'd have to call her effort incoherent.

The human capacity for incoherence has been a lifelong interest of ours. A certain type of (unrecognized) incoherence was the principal concern of the later Wittgenstein, who was very hot at one time. For us, this tracks all the way back to college, back to the street-fighting days of 1969.

Certain types of incoherence are remarkably widespread. Einstein himself couldn't make Einstein easy. In the hundred years which have passed, no one else has been able to do it either, but our journalists and our academics tend to insist that various people have.

Slate's PhD. scientist writer composed a wholly jumbled mess as she tried to explain what herd immunity is, or perhaps how herd immunity works. She didn't seem to know that her essay was incoherent.  Apparently, no one else at Slate noticed the problem either.

(Go ahead—read her piece! If you think the essay makes sense, we think you should read it again!)

Concerning the piddle which keeps Slate afloat, we would ask this question:

Can a group as dumb as we have become really hope to prevail or survive? (Experts uniformly suggest that the answer is no.)

Concerning Slate's attempt to explain herd immunity, we would offer this:

Complete and total incoherence has been in the saddle and riding humankind since the dawn of the west. Naming one name, Plato almost never made a lick of sense in his "philosophical" work—but Alfred North Whitehead famously offered this assessment: 

"The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato." Arguably sad but true!

Some Slate readers got Schwedeled again. Technological progress to the side, has it been that way all along?


SCRIPTED, ARROGANT, DUMB AND TOWN: Did Ohio's foster care system fail?

THURSDAY, MAY 13, 2021

Let's take a look at the "research:" Did Ohio's foster care system fail the late Ma'Khia Bryant  and her three younger siblings?

Did it fail her "in critical ways?"

We can't answer that question! In fairness, the front-page report in the New York Times didn't exactly make that claim, though it certainly seemed to make that claim. As we noted yesterday, here's what the Times report said:

BOGEL-BURROUGHS ET AL (5/9/21): Ms. Bryant’s tragic death was also preceded by a turbulent journey through the foster care system, which had cycled Ma’Khia through at least five placements in two years—after her own mother was found to be negligent—despite efforts by their grandmother to reunite the family.

Ohio places children in foster care at a rate 10 percent higher than the national average, and child welfare officials here are considerably less likely than in the country as a whole to place children with their relatives. Black children, like Ma’Khia and her sister, account for nearly a third of children removed from homes—nearly twice their proportion in the population.

A review of Ma’Khia’s pathway through foster care shows that it failed her in critical ways.

Research has demonstrated that children fare far better when they remain with family members, a practice known as kinship care. It also shows that each successive placement causes additional trauma, further setting back a child in crisis.

“Everybody knows and the research has proven over and over and over again that the best placement for children is with their kin,” said Ronald R. Browder, the president and chief executive of the Ohio Federation for Health Equity and Social Justice. “But the focus has always been on foster care.”

"Research has demonstrated that children fare far better when they remain with family members," Bogel-Burroughs and his fellow reporters said.

(Their editor or editors went unnamed.)

“Everybody knows and the research has proven over and over and over again that the best placement for children is with their kin,” one local activist was quoted saying. “But the focus has always been on foster care.”

(Was he speaking about foster care in the state of Ohio, or was he speaking about foster care nationwide? There's no way to tell from the way he's quoted. So it goes at the New York Times.)

At any rate, whatever! Despite the fact that everyone allegedly knows these things, "Ohio places children in foster care at a rate 10 percent higher than the national average," the young Timesman thoughtfully said. And not only that:

:"Black children...account for nearly a third of children removed from homes—nearly twice their proportion in the population." 

Is that in Ohio, or is that nationwide?  There's no way to tell from this front-page report, but the whole compendium sounded quite bad for Ohio.

Please note: Bogel-Burroughs never explicitly said that the Ohio system "failed [Bryant] in critical ways." He merely said that "foster care" failed her in critical ways, but he plainly seemed to be pointing the finger at the Ohio system.

Speaking very frankly, this presentation by the Times' "diaper dandies" struck us as arrogant, but also as strikingly dumb. It also struck us as scripted—as the kind of easy, Storyline-derived novelized work which spills from the soul of the Times.

Where does Storyline enter this picture? We would suggest starting here:

In the case of this fatal shooting, it was hard to blame the police officer, who arrived at the scene of a violent fight in which it seemed that Bryant was about to stab a young woman. With that avenue closed down, why not blame the foster care system, employing the kind of underfed analysis which gives Times readers an easy-reader novel but explains nothing in the end?

In our view, it's plain that Ma'Khia Bryant and her three younger siblings have all received insufficient help in their young lives—have been failed in various ways. 

Tomorrow, we'll try to sketch that story for you. But no, we won't be inclined to start with Ohio's foster care system.

That said, is something wrong, in some systematic way, with that state's foster care practices? We don't have the slightest idea, in part because we read the New York Times' front-page report.

How weak was the journalism these "dandies" provided? Let's take a look at the research!

The passage we have posted above came right at the start of the Sunday front-page report. We've posted paragraphs 7-12 of a lengthy, 81-paragraph report.

Right at the start of this front-page report, the diaper dandies take their shots at the Ohio system. But just how strong were there analytical skills? 

How strong were there analytical skills? Let's take a look at the record:

We'll start with the initial claim about the Ohio system. That initial, foundational claim goes exactly like this:

"Ohio places children in foster care at a rate 10 percent higher than the national average."

For all we know, that claim may even be accurate! That said, the intrepid Timespersons offered no source for this foundational claim, nor did they offer a link to any data source.

Meanwhile, and it ought to be said—we aren't entirely sure what that claim specifically means. 

Does it mean that, after adjusting for population, Ohio has ten percent more kids in foster care than the national average? Does it mean that, among children referred to child care services, the state sends ten percent more into foster care as compared to other states?

Whatever the claims specifically means, might we note a basic point? That particular claim, even if true, doesn't strike us as recording a mind-blowing level of difference: 

Does our nation condemn 1% of our kids to foster care, while Ohio banishes 1.1%? That would be ten percent more. Is that the magnitude of difference which we're talking about?

Meanwhile, is it possible that there could be local reasons for some such ten percent difference? As we noted in Monday's report, when the Washington Post assigned two veteran reporters to profile the Ohio system, they started by mentioning this:

CRAIG AND LUDLOW (4/30/21): Over the past decade, Ohio has been hit hard by the nationwide opioid crisis, leading to a surge in the number of foster children, officials said. The number of children in the state’s care has grown from 12,000 in 2012 to about 15,000 today.

That construction is a bit clumsy, but has Ohio been hit especially hard by the opioid crisis? If so, might that explain why the state has been exceeding the national average of banishments to foster care by ten percent, if it actually has been?

Also this:

Might other demographic factors explain the state's alleged divergence from the norm? We don't have the slightest idea, but you can make the following bet:

The diaper dandies at the Times don't have the first idea either! Almost surely, such fundamental statistical questions never entered anyone's head, including those of their editors. In one major area after another, that simply isn't the way reporting is done at the modern Times.

If Ohio exceeds the national foster care rate, does that mean it's failing its children? We don't have the slightest idea, and neither does anyone who read the Times' pleasing report.

That said, the Times report tracked familiar contemporary ground. Too many kids are being condemned, and too many of those kids are black! We can't easily blame the policeman this time, and so we'll find our scapegoat in this other available place.

In these ways, Times subscribers are reassured about their moral goodness. The Times subscriber is better, far better, than the troglodyte rustbelt types who are bungling their state's foster care in the ways the Times has described!

Ohio is condemning too many children to foster care! Indeed, "research has demonstrated that children fare far better when they remain with family members, " we're instantly told—although we aren't told whether it would have been better to leave these particular kids with their particular family members in this particular case.

At any rate, the diaper dandies did offer a link when they referred to the "research." Hungrily, we clicked the link, eager to learn what we could.

When we clicked the dandies' link, we found what we often find in such cases, given the way Our Town's biggest news orgs work. We found a single opinion column—a single column which simply says that "research" has made that demonstration.

Here is the passage in question. No further link is offered:

EPSTEIN (7/1/17): Research confirms that compared to children in nonrelative care, children in kinship homes fare better, as measured by several child well-being factors. Children in the care of relatives experience increased stability, with fewer placement changes, decreased likelihood of disruption and not as many school changes. Relatives are more likely than nonrelatives to support the child through difficult times and less likely to request removal of problematic children to whom they are related. The children themselves generally express more positive feelings about their placements and are less likely to run away.

On average, the highlighted statement may be perfectly accurate! (Or not.)

That said, we note that the passage only says that children "fare better" when they remain with family, not that they fare far better. In fairly typical fashion, the diaper dandies—or their unnamed editor—decided to spin this claim up one additional notch.

That one claim, by that one person, is the only source the dandies provide in support of their foundational claim. Again, we aren't saying the claim made by that source is wrong. We're merely saying that the dandies show no particular sign of knowing whether the claim, which someone chose to embellish, is actually correct.

That claim, about what "research confirms," may be perfectly accurate! Having said that, we'll also say this:

The opinion column to which the Times links was published by the American Bar Association. The ABA isn't a fly-by-night social media site, but we can't help noting the fact that the ABA appended this disclaimer to the opinion column:

ABA (7/1/17): The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

That doesn't mean that those views are wrong. But again, if those views are actually right, they're only right on average. They can't tell us whether officials in the state of Ohio made the right choice in deciding that the Bryant kids wouldn't "fare far better" if left in their family's care.

The ABA was careful to note that the views expressed in that column don't represent ABA policy. We found something far more comically awful when we fact-checked the sources of Petula Dvorak's recent claims about the gender wage gap in the Washington Post.

We expect to return to that column in Saturday morning's report. For today, let's offer the following overview about the New York Times front-page report:

We've referred to the Times' listed reporters as "diaper dandies." We've done so because Bogel-Burroughs, the lead reporter, is just completing his second year out of college, and he was joined by another reporter who's at the Times for one year as part of the program which recently replaced the paper's intern program.

These cubs were joined by Ellen Barry, a fully experienced reporter.  Helped along by their editors, the trio presented an instant critique of Ohio foster care which came straight out of clown school.

Is something wrong with Ohio's system? We have no idea. Neither does anyone who drew that conclusion from reading this front-page report.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But the dandies' critique of Ohio foster care should get any college journalism student a flat-out failing grade.

As a general matter, is something wrong with the way Ohio condemns kids to foster care? Does the number of kids so consigned suggest that something is wrong?

Does the fact that black kids get consigned to foster care at a disproportionate rate suggest that something is wrong? Under current rules,  that judgment comes close to being required! But let's leave that for tomorrow.

Also tomorrow, we'll examine the central question in this tragic case. Was the state of Ohio wrong to send Ma'Khia Bryant and her siblings into foster care? 

Who actually failed this teenaged girl, who died at age 16? Could it have been the state of Ohio, or might it have been someone else?

By the current rules of the game, only one answer was possible. 

Scripting and Storyline may have kept the diaper dandies from speaking freely to that point. For our money, though, we will say this:

The Times assigned two diaper dandies to handle this very important topic. In this way, the famous newspaper may suggest that it loves Storyline, and low labor costs, more than it actually cares about kids like Ma'Khia Bryant.

Beyond that, Times subscribers are routinely failed when this newspaper plays this way. Can Our Town survive this culture?

Major experts suggest it cannot!

Tomorrow: Who seems to have failed these kids?