# blueollie

## One difference between this liberal and Trump supporters: I don’t vote my resentments

I stopped in a Red Roof Inn just outside of Columbus, Ohio (off I-70, heading toward Dayton). I went to eat at Perkins and got change to leave for a tip for my motel maid. Then I noticed a couple of them outside of the building, smoking. I had (brief) thoughts of taking my tip back …and before you jump on me…I did NOT take the tip back. I wouldn’t do that, even if I knew that the person who cleaned my room smoked.

But it reminded me: yes, I DO have social resentments, and I share many of these with my conservative friends. This sort of thing disgusts me.

Now yes, I agree with President Obama when he said that “you didn’t build that alone”

And yes, it is NOT just society (schools, parents, infrastructure) it is also like “what you were gifted with and WHEN”. If that doesn’t make sense to you ask yourself this:

Yes, Larry Bird is a wealthy man. Would he have been wealthy, say, 80 years ago? No. He is wealthy because he was a good athlete in an era that rewarded good athletes. Would, say, an ace computer programmer been as well off, say, in the 18’th century? Different gifts thrive in different eras…even if the personality and the will to work hard is the same.

So, I understand that sheer luck has a lot to do with success, EVEN if the person who is successful worked their butt off to attain that said success. Hard work is “necessary but insufficient”, as a mathematician might say.

Nevertheless, stupidity would lead to failure in any era, and yes, there are lot of people who behave in very dumb ways and who make very bad choices.

Time and time again, I’ve been told “you are lucky you didn’t have a family to support” early in life. Well, I knew enough not to impregnate a woman before I was ready to support a kid!!!! But alas, such lessons are lost on many. There is some truth to the “Ant and the Grasshopper” fable.

But…I still support safety net programs, even if it means that a portion of the support goes to dummies and slackers. For one, many people do get hit hard by stuff even a reasonably diligent person might not anticipate (lay-offs, death of a breadwinner, severe illnesses, etc.). And there is evidence that poor kids who get SNAP benefits are less likely to need public aid as adults than poor kids who don’t.

Also, there is some economic stimulus to SNAP/welfare benefits..it trickles up through the economy; it stimulates demand.

So, for me, the reality of the spreadsheet, along with the compassion that an affluent society can afford, leads me to support such programs with my tax dollars…even if I am disgusted by a small percentage of recipients of said benefits.

December 21, 2016

## Black Lives Matter, small traffic fines and Scandinavia?

One reason there is inequality with respect to race and law enforcement is that black people have more encounters with law enforcement, even among minor matters (such as speeding tickets). One reason for this: black poverty rates are higher and a smaller percentage of poor people can pay traffic fines. Yeah, I don’t like a 100.00 dollar speeding ticket but it won’t break me. I’ll grumble and pay it.

Others don’t have that luxury; that leads to more fines, more traffic stops, etc. Sometimes poverty can turn reasonably honest people into criminals.

That got me to thinking about the way that many Scandinavian countries (including Finland) handle speeding tickets: there, the fine is based on income. Yes, a 100.00 dollar ticket is painful, but manageable for me (about the right amount). It could break a poor person and it would be a “Monopoly Money” fine for a very rich person.

Would this be politically viable in the United States? Yeah; it does make me think about “what does fair” mean. But I’d quietly support such an option.

August 7, 2016

## Semester is over and I opine on politics, Fox News, etc.

Politics and Social Issues

Yes, President Obama called out Fox News for distorting the debate about poverty:

Of course, Fox News complained (and probably grinned ear to ear, enjoying a viewer surge) but..well, the DO say the kinds of things that he accused them of saying.

I am beginning to think that Fox is secretly hoping that Hillary Clinton will win the Presidency.

Now speaking of the election: let us not forget how bad Gov. Jeb Bush would be. Think of who is advisers would be and of how awful they were the last time they were in power. The Democrats must remind people of this.

Yes, I am hearing about the Bush vs. Clinton “dynasties”. Please. This article gets it right..at least mostly right. But it does leave one thing out: the Bush sons come from a super wealthy, very connected family whereas the Clintons are self-made.

Yes, I was never a big fan of Secretary Clinton as a presidential candidate in 2008; you can read my (sometimes scathing) opinion of her campaign and campaign tactics elsewhere on this blog. But here is something you can never take away from her and her husband: these were NOT silver spoon people. Bill grew up poor, and Hillary grew up middle class. Both excelled academically but this was NOT a matter of some outrageously wealthy, connected family pulling the strings for them. They made it under their own steam, period (as did President Obama). There is no comparison between their story and the story of the Bush family. Period.

And yes, I see her as a worthy candidate and I’ll support her if she wins the Democratic nomination, as expected. And no, I know of any other credible Democrat challenger and…forget the Republicans. Every Republican who has announced is a loon (at least, with respect to politics; many have achieved in other professions).

Social/Political snark

Yes, 32 percent of Republicans think there is something to the “Obama wants to take over Texas” conspiracy. That’s right..and this isn’t just Texas Republicans either.

Note who these people tend to favor for President; there is an interesting correlation, no?

Now, yes, sometimes a famous Democrat will speak out after a major event (in this case, the Amtrack crash in Philadelphia), and yes, in this case, the train was going 100 mph in a 50 mph maximum zone. And yes, often said famous Democrat will have no qualifications in that field. What is funny is that this offends some conservatives …I wonder how many of these listen to Chuck Norris or Ted Nugent? Heck, even Joe “the Plummer” has a following. 🙂 Pot: meet Kettle.

Academia: stuff like this gives academics, and the humanities in general, a bad name:

An incoming Boston University professor has apologized for her controversial remarks regarding White males on Twitter, Fox News reports.
Saida Grundy, an Assistant Professor of Sociology and African-American Studies at Boston University who identifies as a “feminist sociologist of race & ethnicity,” was hit with criticism after calling White college males a “problem population” on her social media page.
Many slammed the professor and called her tweets bigoted after she stated she wouldn’t contribute to White-owned businesses on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and called St. Patrick’s Day a “made up holiday.”

“Why is White America so reluctant to identify White college males as a problem population?” she wrote.
“Every MLK week, I commit myself to not spending a dime in White-owned businesses. And every year I find it nearly impossible.”
“Can we just call St. Patrick’s Day the White people’s Kwanzaa that it is? This is not a thing in actual Ireland. It’s completely made up.”

Her tweets have since been deleted.

OF COURSE, she claims that …well..her comment was “nuanced”. That is how the game is played; cry foul if it appears that YOUR group is being attacked, but turn around and make similar statements about other groups and claim to be “misunderstood”.

Yes, we in academia (especially us lefties) to have to clean up our act and this is a step in the right direction, as is this.

May 15, 2015

## Contempt for the poor who get public aid

This is not one of those “other people suck but I am so wonderful by comparison” posts. I am talking about an attitude that I am prone to as well.

This post stems from seeing public reaction of the Baltimore riots, listening to people talk about the anti-poverty activities that they are involved in, discussing family situations and the like.
This is not a discussion about police actions; clearly there is a problem there.

This post is more about my reactions to hearing about the poor.

Example: someone told me that a principal at a low income school found that some of her students didn’t have warm winter coats (we live in Illinois, where the winters are very cold). So she called up a local Rotary club, which provided some. Yes, that was a good thing, but I felt anger toward the parents of those kids.

I feel the same way when someone says that they are outraged about child poverty and child hunger in the US: isn’t it PARENTAL responsibility to feed and clothe the kids?
Anger and contempt for these “parents” wells up in me.

Look at the biological mothers who have multiple kids (often via many different men) and think it is someone else’s job to provide for them:

Yes, these are individual examples, and I know that the question of “who uses welfare: chronic users or short time users” is a question which answer depends on how the question is framed: “at any given time, are they more chronic users than one time users” versus “of all who have ever used it, are there more chronic users or one time users”.

But this phenomenon of poor men having kids via multiple women is a real one, as even this “poor people friendly, liberal slanted” article admits:

Edin sees in these obstacles to full-time fatherhood a partial explanation for what’s known as “multiple-partner fertility.” Among low-income, unwed parents, having children with more than one partner is now the norm. One long-running study found that in nearly 60 percent of the unwed couples who had a baby, at least one parent already had a child with another partner.

Multiple-partner fertility is a formula for unstable families, and it’s really bad for children, which Edin acknowledges in the book. But rather than view “serial dads” as simply irresponsible, Edin suggests that they suffer from unrequited “father thirst,” the desire for the intense experience of being a full-time dad. Consciously or not, they keep trying until they finally sort of get it right, usually with the youngest child, to whom they devote most of their resources at the expense of the older ones.

Note the psychobabble employed to excuse the actions of these irresponsible men.

I should point out that the contempt is not an attitude exclusive to white conservatives. Read what Snoop Dogg (a black rap artist) had to say when he was defending his song lyrics when they were compared to what Don Imus said on television:

Snoop Dogg has issued a new warning: Don’t dare to compare his lyrics — or any other MC’s — to syndicated radio host Don Imus’ recent racially inflammatory comments about the black women on the Rutgers University women’s basketball team. Imus called them “nappy-headed ho’s,” among other insults.

Admittedly, Snoop and some of his peers have called women “bitches” and “ho’s” in their lyrics, but as the Dogg put it Tuesday afternoon (April 10), there is no parallel to what Imus said.

“It’s a completely different scenario,” said Snoop, barking over the phone from a hotel room in L.A. “[Rappers] are not talking about no collegiate basketball girls who have made it to the next level in education and sports. We’re talking about ho’s that’s in the ’hood that ain’t doing shit,…

And yeah, I feel that attitude too. I wonder why someone who is poor is also..well…fat, a smoker and making kids that they have no hope of being able to afford to raise properly.

Now as to causes, well, this post really isn’t about that. You have the conservative side that blames crappy morals and bad attitudes, and yes, even among the white poor.

On the other hand, the data suggests that, statistically speaking, social pathology follows joblessness and poverty and not the other way around and that, well, poverty itself leads to bad decision making.

But that isn’t always the reason.

That reminds me of what I saw recently. Many years ago, a brother and sister were left with an equal inheritance (low 6 figures). Both siblings had educational opportunities growing up; in fact both have masters degrees. But the life paths diverged. The “reasonably well off” one still has her money. I had predicted that the “perpetually in need” person would lose it all in 2 years time. Instead…he lost it in UNDER SIX MONTHS.

So, in some cases, stupidity plays a role in ending up poor to begin with. People indeed piss away opportunities.

Of course, the lottery is a poor risk to begin with…

So, what is this all about?

For me: it is probably fear. I know that I am….perhaps, one lay-off or one untimely illness/accident from being just like that. I’d like to think that I controlled ALL (or most) aspects of my life and don’t want to think that much of it was merely good fortune.

May 8, 2015

## Poverty, Baltimore, disagreement, TPP, etc.

Baltimore protests and riots (which are different things)

The American Renaissance has a reputation as being a white supremacist site/publication. But some of what they say might appear to be merely “uncomfortable truth” that others are too polite or cowardly to say:

Discovers why blacks riot.
An article from yesterday’s New York Times about the relative calm in Baltimore stumbled by accident onto something like the real reason why blacks were rioting. Near the famous burned-out CVS–the city had begged the company to “invest” in a dodgy neighborhood–the Times reporter found someone it identified as “Robert Wilson, a college student who went to high school in Baltimore.” The article concludes with Mr. Wilson’s explanation of why blacks rioted. He said nothing about Freddie Gray or police brutality. Instead, he said this:

We’re just angry at the surroundings–like this is all that is given to us?–and we’re tired of this, like nobody wants to wake up and see broken-down buildings. They take away the community centers, they take away our fathers, and now we have traffic lights that don’t work, we have houses that are crumbling, falling down.

After the riots in Baltimore in 1968, whites panicked and sold their property at desperation prices. Now, these houses are “broken down” because blacks didn’t maintain them. This pattern of white flight and “broken down” houses was repeated in Detroit, Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, Washington, St. Louis, Memphis, Atlanta, Birmingham, Jacksonville, and countless other American cities. Some of the best city housing in the world was handed over to blacks who wrecked it. Neighborhoods filled with irreplaceable architecture are now wastelands.

Mr. Wilson complains that “we have houses that are crumbling, falling down.” The remedy for crumbling houses is for the people who live in them to fix them, but instead, Mr. Wilson asks, “Is this all that is given to us?”

This quote almost perfectly captures the black mentality that leads to rioting. Blacks live in neighborhoods that they, themselves, have wrecked, and then ask, “This is all that is given to us?”

Hard-working white people built the “broken-down” buildings Mr. Wilson is complaining about. Many had parquet floors, high ceilings, and fine moldings found today only in the most expensive new construction.

Like so many blacks, Mr. Wilson doesn’t realize how perverse it is even to think in terms of pleasant houses and neighborhoods being “given” to anyone. Does he imagine the white authorities “giving” nice neighborhoods to whites and cruelly handing out slums to blacks? They didn’t start out as slums. Whites saved and worked hard to build those neighborhoods. They maintained them, repaired them, and loved them.

But in today’s world of welfare, food stamps, government housing, and white guilt, Mr. Wilson doesn’t know any better than to ask for handouts.

Ok. Yes, it is true: those houses were once nice houses and now they aren’t; they weren’t kept up and yes, blacks were living in them when they went downhill.

But that is, at best, incomplete information.

For one: if these houses were rented (as they surely were), who is responsible for the major upkeep? Yes..the landlord. Who actually OWNED those houses?
And as far as the poor blacks that moved in: what we really had was well paying blue collar jobs leaving. Remember that higher education was less accessible to the poor, especially the black poor. They weren’t in a position to follow the paths of the well paying jobs.

Now as far as social pathology: yes, it is there. But the best evidence is that the dearth of employment opportunities and poverty come first; the social pathology follows. It is time to act economically. And yes, our poverty reduction measures have worked better than some claim.

TPP: Yes, much of this is about intellectual property and though this is not likely to be a disaster, Paul Krugman wonders why President Obama is spending political capital on this.

Robert Reich is a more passionate critic.

Me: sort of on the fence; I tend to give President Obama the benefit of the doubt based on how his other programs have worked out or are working out.

May 5, 2015

## Some sane discussion…

I had posted President Obama’s remarks about Baltimore and applauded him for distinguishing the rioters and looters from the protesters. People should remember that anytime there is a disturbance that leads to a lessening of order, some will take advantage, be they sports rioters, riots and looters during police strikes, looters or just plain morons.

But as far as the plight of the poorer inner city communities (such as Baltimore’s), the evidence is that much of the social pathology is the result of poverty rather than the cause of it.

Of course, this is where I get sore. Conservatives are quick to point out the pathology and often blame…well, who else..for it.

On the other hand, trying to get the rank and file liberal to admit that there IS a social pathology and that, yes, the looting and rioting in those communities are caused by bad people, just as they are in other communities…well good luck with that. Now-a-days if you call a looter a “thug” some delusional individual will call you a racist.

In the above video, the person who spoke just afterword had some good things to say (and yes, the arguments over the word is just a distraction)

To conclude: I think that Kathleen Parker’s remarks are well taken.

May 1, 2015

## Slackers and punishment…

Workout notes early morning: 10K walk in Bradley Park; 5.1 mile plus lower 1.23 mile loop. It was cool and pretty; it would have been peaceful too except our local ROTC contingent saw fit to run around and chant stereotypical military sounding stuff. They might have been more impressive had they not been going 10-11 minutes per mile. They aren’t exactly West Point material.

So, needless to say, I don’t like slackers. But sometimes one can be counterproductive when one attempts to punish them. This New York Times story talks about the poor who get into debt but are then hampered by losing their driver’s license …which makes many jobs off limits to them. I believe in paying one’s debts; perhaps wage garnishments are the way to go.

Charter Schools I have mixed feelings about these; and these can sometimes lead to increased segregation:

Parental preferences are part of the problem. The charter school admissions process is itself race-blind: Schools that are too popular conduct lotteries between their applicants. But if a school isn’t white enough, white parents simply won’t apply.

In previous research, Ladd discovered that white North Carolina parents prefer schools that are less than 20 percent black. This makes it hard to have racially balanced charter schools in a state where more than a quarter of schoolchildren are black.

“Even though black parents might prefer racially balanced schools, the fact that white parents prefer schools with far lower proportions of black students sets up a tipping point,” the authors write. “Once a school becomes ‘too black,’ it becomes almost all black as white parents avoid it.”

On the upside: this is the type of bipartisanship that I hope to see more of:

The Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved sweeping changes in the way Medicare pays doctors, clearing the bill for President Obama and resolving an issue that has bedeviled Congress and the Medicare program for more than a decade.

The 92-to-8 vote in the Senate, following passage in the House last month by a vote of 392 to 37, was a major success for Republicans, who devised a solution to a complex policy problem that had frustrated lawmakers of both parties. Mr. Obama has endorsed the bill, saying it “could help slow health care cost growth.”

The bill, drafted in the House in negotiations between Speaker John A. Boehner and Representative Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader, also extends the Children’s Health Insurance Program for two years, through 2017.

Without action by Congress, doctors would have faced a 21 percent cut in Medicare fees on Wednesday or Thursday. Senate leaders cleared the way for final passage by allowing votes on several amendments sought by liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans.

April 16, 2015

## NCAA predictions, Apple and the Poor…

Swim: 500 easy, 6 x 100 on 2:10 (alt fist/free; 1:53-1:57), 2 x 200 on 4 (3:31, 3:33), drill/swim, count (4 x 25; 22-23 strokes), off strokes.
Not much; just enough.

Posts

Basketball: how did Fivethirtyeight.com do? Ok.

Paul Krugman: talks about the new Apple products which allow for you to be tracked. But it also helps one avoid time wasting line waiting. The principle:

Consider the Varian rule, which says that you can forecast the future by looking at what the rich have today — that is, that what affluent people will want in the future is, in general, something like what only the truly rich can afford right now. Well, one thing that’s very clear if you spend any time around the rich — and one of the very few things that I, who by and large never worry about money, sometimes envy — is that rich people don’t wait in line. They have minions who ensure that there’s a car waiting at the curb, that the maitre-d escorts them straight to their table, that there’s a staff member to hand them their keys and their bags are already in the room.

And it’s fairly obvious how smart wristbands could replicate some of that for the merely affluent. Your reservation app provides the restaurant with the data it needs to recognize your wristband, and maybe causes your table to flash up on your watch, so you don’t mill around at the entrance, you just walk in and sit down (which already happens in Disney World.) You walk straight into the concert or movie you’ve bought tickets for, no need even to have your phone scanned. And I’m sure there’s much more — all kinds of context-specific services that you won’t even have to ask for, because systems that track you know what you’re up to and what you’re about to need.

Poverty One of the biggest divides among my friends is how poverty is viewed. One group (conservatives) see most of it as the result of bad choices made by someone (though they acknowledge that bad things can happen from time to time) whereas others consider it mostly fate (a function of where one was born), with a few outliers here and there who managed to escape it. You see this debate born out in the newspapers; for example, consider the argument over whether or not there should be laws dictating what people getting public aid should be able to do (point, counter point)

One frequently hears the phrase about the poor “being demonized” (here some food stamp recipients are being called “leeches”) and some try to compare public aid programs to tax breaks.

That is “apples and oranges” for the following reason: suppose there is a new law that reduces the effective income tax rate on someone making 1,000,000 a year from, say, 18 percent to 15 percent. That person is still paying 150,000 year in income taxes, whereas it is likely that the public aid recipient is paying 0 (though paying sales taxes, payroll taxes, etc.) Who is contributing more to society, even after the tax break?

Also, consider the following: people are poor due to bad luck (say, untimely accident or being a kid born into it), bad decisions or due to being incompetent and dumb. Though one might have some empathy for those who have terrible luck, no one holds unfortunate people in esteem; who wants to believe that they are one untimely illness, lay off or accident from being just like that? That is too scary to contemplate.

And as far as poor people who make idiotic decisions, surf to the “leeches” post and note that one of the entitled sounding welfare mothers has SIX kids!!!! SIX!!!!

Edin sees in these obstacles to full-time fatherhood a partial explanation for what’s known as “multiple-partner fertility.” Among low-income, unwed parents, having children with more than one partner is now the norm. One long-running study found that in nearly 60 percent of the unwed couples who had a baby, at least one parent already had a child with another partner.

Multiple-partner fertility is a formula for unstable families, and it’s really bad for children, which Edin acknowledges in the book. But rather than view “serial dads” as simply irresponsible, Edin suggests that they suffer from unrequited “father thirst,” the desire for the intense experience of being a full-time dad. Consciously or not, they keep trying until they finally sort of get it right, usually with the youngest child, to whom they devote most of their resources at the expense of the older ones.

Yes, many poor people behave in a way that worsens their plight and adds to the public aid rolls. That is undeniable.

Of course, the astute might wonder about “correlation vs. causation”, in that: does poverty cause stupid behavior or is it the other way around? There is some evidence that it is the former.

But none of this makes it easy to sympathize with them; they are the easiest people in the world to look down on.

One of the most difficult things to do is to ask: “ok, where would I be had I been born in different circumstances, or had something bad happen to me?” It is easy to fantasize how one would have overcome but…statistically speaking, reality is different.

No, I am not wealthy but I don’t lack either. My parents weren’t rich but they gave me love, a safe place to live, plenty to eat, fun stuff to do and gave me access to good schools. And I had just enough…well…not really talent but just enough abilities to get the degrees and modest credentials that got me a steady job.

April 11, 2015

## I’m liberal for a reason, but conservatives are not all crazy…

Yes, genetically, I am a liberal. I couldn’t make myself be conservative if I tried. One of the reasons is that I am simply not tribal enough; the very idea that my country, people, etc. are the “best ever” and chosen by some deity/force of history to lead the rest of the world sounds ridiculous to me.

But, I fall afoul of other liberals in many areas too.

Here is one way: though I reject the idea that we should dictate to the rest of the world, I also reject the idea that we are especially evil either. As Steven Pinker points out in Better Angels , our moral track record isn’t that bad, when you compare us to other Leviathans.

I also think it is bad form when foreign students come to our universities and put us down (and yes, that happens, a LOT). If you don’t like “ugly American” behavior when we visit your countries, why do you act that way in ours?

I also reject some liberal attitudes toward poverty. Before you jump on me, I am FOR programs that, say, feed poor kids. There is some data that SNAP type programs reduce the probability that those who grow up poor will need public aid benefits in the future. And spending money on foot programs can help poor kids learn in school; it is tough to concentrate on ANYTHING when you are genuinely hungry.

So, I support such programs.

What I reject: I reject the claim that kids being hungry is anyone else’s fault but the parents!

So while I approve of the program, I rebel at labeling it as the failure of anyone but the parents. Is saying “don’t have kids you can’t afford” so controversial? I suppose that it is in some circles.

And just get a load of this headline: “what if everything you knew about poverty was wrong?” Uh, it isn’t:

Edin sees in these obstacles to full-time fatherhood a partial explanation for what’s known as “multiple-partner fertility.” Among low-income, unwed parents, having children with more than one partner is now the norm. One long-running study found that in nearly 60 percent of the unwed couples who had a baby, at least one parent already had a child with another partner.

Uh, that is EXACTLY what many of us think.

Seriously, at times, it feels as if holding human beings to a higher standard than we hold rabbits is considered immoral in some liberal circles.

February 21, 2015

## stats, oz effects, and observant football players….

In the discussions about poverty and racism, I’ve been very vocal about parents being the ones responsible for feeding their kids. (here and here) Don’t have kids that you can’t afford to raise properly! Yes, this attitude draws the ire of many, including those who vote the same way that I do.

But when discussing irresponsible parenting, poverty, social pathologies and the like, we need data and we need to analyze it honestly. So, the headlines go: “unwed motherhood is up” and you read:

Census demographers said that single motherhood, while on a steady uptick since the 1940s, has accelerated in recent years. The birth rate for unmarried women in 2007 was up 80 percent in the almost three decades since 1980, the report said. But in the previous five years alone, between 2002 and 2007, it was up 20 percent.

Echoing the findings of many academic studies, the Census Bureau report said women with college degrees and higher household incomes are far less likely to be single mothers than are women who have lower household incomes and less education. […]

Overall, 36 percent of all births in the United States were to unmarried mothers in 2011, the year that the census analyzed from answers provided in the American Community Survey.

In the Washington region, 28 percent of births are to unmarried women. In the District, more than half of all births, 51 percent, were to unwed mothers. Maryland also had a higher rate than the national average, with 39 percent of all births out of wedlock. Virginia, in contrast, had a lower rate than the national average, with 31 percent of births to women who are not married.

The census also found that Asian mothers were the least likely to be unmarried, with just 11 percent of new Asian mothers being single. White single mothers also were below the national average, at 29 percent. Among Hispanics, 43 percent of all new mothers were unmarried, as were 68 percent of all African American women who had recently given birth.

Yep….the percent of births to unwed mothers is up! So, it follows that unwed women (especially black women) are having more kids than before? Uh…no.

Remember: “percent” is a type of fraction and it is: $\frac{unwed mom births}{total births}$ So if the numerator (the top) goes up, the percent goes up. But…if the bottom goes down by more than the top goes down, then the fraction, and hence the percentage, goes up! And we see:

Looking first at the broader issue of so-called “illegitimate children” in the black community, those who forward this argument simply do not understand how to read or interpret basic statistical information. They claim, for instance that the “out-of-wedlock birth rate” for black females has skyrocketed; but in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, actual birth rates for unmarried black women (which means the number of live births per 1000 such women) has dropped dramatically. From 1970-2010, the birth rate for unmarried black women fell by nearly a third, from 95.5 births per 1000 unmarried black women to only 65.3 births per 1000 such women. In other words, unmarried black women are already doing exactly what conservatives would have them do: namely, having fewer children. This means that even if we were to accept the absurd argument that out-of-wedlock childbearing is evidence of cultural pathology, black culture must then be steadily getting healthier and less pathological, rather than more so. In a given year, for every 100 single black females, between ninety-three and ninety four of them will not have a baby—hardly evidence that out-of-wedlock childbearing is a normative experience for black women.
The common confusion on this issue seems to stem from the fact that although unmarried birth rates have fallen considerably, the share of children born in the black community who are born out of wedlock has indeed doubled since the early 1970s. It sounds like a big deal perhaps, but what does that statistic really signify? If unmarried black women are cutting back on childbearing — and remember, that’s what the data says — the increase in the percentage of black births that are births to single moms can’t possibly be the result of those moms’ increasing “irresponsibility.” Rather, this statistical phenomenon must be due to an entirely different factor, and indeed it is: namely, married black couples have cut back even further on childbearing than single moms have. If married black couples are having far fewer children than before, and are cutting back even faster than single women, the overall percentage of births that are out-of-wedlock will rise, owing nothing to the supposedly irresponsible behaviors of single black folks. If black married couples suddenly reverted to their family size norms of fifty years ago, the share of black births to unmarried moms would plummet, even if there were no further drop in the birth rates for single black women at all.

Moral: when talking about “percentage of”, remember that you are dealing with a ratio, which has both a numerator and a denominator.

Now of course, this requires actually knowing some mathematics (albeit at an elementary level) and while this makes you smarter and more likely to engage in disciplined thinking, it is unlikely to make you popular. Paul Krugman (speaking about Dr. Oz) explains:

Simon Wren-Lewis had an interesting piece on why the financial sector buys into really bad macroeconomics; he suggested that financial firms aren’t really interested in anything but very short-term forecasting, and that

economists working for financial institutions spend rather more time talking to their institution’s clients than to market traders. They earn their money by telling stories that interest and impress their clients. To do that it helps if they have the same worldview as their clients.

Thinking about Dr. Oz also, I’d suggest, helps explain a related puzzle: even if you grant that the right wants alleged experts who toe the ideological line, why can’t it get guys who are at least competent? Why do they recruit and continue to employ people who can’t do basic job calculations, or read their own tables and notice that they’re making ridiculous unemployment projections, and so on?

My answer has been that anyone competent enough to avoid these mistakes would also be unreliable — he or she might at some point actually take a stand on principle, or at least balk at completely abandoning professional ethics. And I still think that’s part of the story.

But I now also suspect that the personality traits you need to be an effective entertainer on inherently not-so-much-fun subjects like health or monetary policy are inherently at odds with the traits you need to be even halfway competent. If Dr. Oz were the kind of guy who pores over medical evidence to be sure he knows what he’s talking about, he probably couldn’t project the persona that wins him such a large audience. Similarly, a hired-gun economist who actually knows how to download charts from FRED probably wouldn’t have the kind of blithe certainty in right-wing dogma his employers want.

So how do those of us who aren’t so glib respond? With ridicule, obviously. It’s not cruelty; it’s strategy.

Oh, how I see this. Krugman wrote about a famous incident in which a popular trader was confronted with the fact that every bit of advice he gave was completely wrong, and how anyone who listened to him would have lost money. But hey, he really knows how to yell and draw applause:

So, there was a fun moment on CNBC: Rick Santelli went on a rant about inflation and the Fed, and CNBC analyst Steve Liesman went medieval on him:

It’s impossible for you to have been more wrong, Rick. Your call for inflation, the destruction of the dollar, the failure of the US economy to rebound. Rick, it’s impossible for you to have been more wrong. Every single bit of advice you gave would have lost people money, Rick. Lost people money, Rick. Every single bit of advice. There is no piece of advice that you’ve given that’s worked, Rick. There is no piece of advice that you’ve given that’s worked, Rick. Not a single one. Not a single one, Rick. The higher interest rates never came, the inability of the U.S. to sell bonds never happened, the dollar never crashed, Rick. There isn’t a single one that’s worked for you.

Of course, he got applause because he shares the same world view of those applauding him.

And my goodness, I think that I’ve seen some of this locally. When one looks at the leaders of some local institutions, it is easy to tell from watching what moves they make that they really don’t know what they are doing. But they are sure good at getting the “right” type of people to like them. I’ve seen this in the Navy as well. Remember when the US Submarine Greenville sank a Japanese ship because it did a risky surfacing exercise to impress some civilians and didn’t follow proper procedures?

The commander of the submarine was a classmate of mine at Annapolis and I went to Nuclear Power school with him. Even then, he was an expert at cutting corners when no one was looking, but telling the superior officers what they wanted to hear when they were around; he convinced them that he “was one of them”. It was a type of “affinity fraud”.

Now of course, Paul Krumgan is an economist and he talked about losing weight. He never looked fat to me; in fact he looks like many mathematicians in the sense that most of us appear to be normal sized. You notice that at conferences, though my mind’s eye detects that, as a group, we are starting to get fatter.

Well, as far as us being more slender than normal:

Now this spread surprises me; I’d guess that firefighters and police officers would be required to stay physically fit. I’d guess wrong, unless this figure is “inflated” by things like private security guards.

Note: I can recommend the article, as it is about the employer’s interest in helping employees with their weight problems.

Football players
I can recommend this Jon Stewart video; it is a short clip that attacks the attack on the “don’t shoot” and “I can’t breathe” protests. If nothing else, listen to the last minute in which a pro football player explains that “a call for justice should threaten no one”.

December 21, 2014