Monday, September 17, 2018

Crime And The Statistics That Clarify (Or Distort) The Issue

I started looking into statistics about crime for two reasons.

First, someone casually mentioned recently that there is clearly no racist bias shown by police since more white people are killed by police than black people. Sure, that’s true, but it’s not an honest truth. There are a lot of other factors to consider which make it almost impossible not to take the accusation of bias seriously

Second, I started looking into gang demographics in the United States. It turns out that quantifying the size of gangs is a really inexact science (in once city, estimates by various organizations ranged from 20,000 to 80,000). One of the reasons is that gang membership is often calculated with a “guilty by association” model.
  • Someone posts a picture on social media that includes a gang member. Police count all those in the picture as gang members.
  • People wears colors or sports-related clothing associated with a gang, and they are counted as being part of a gang. 
  • Some gangs claim local numbers (like area codes) as part of their brand; if someone innocently uses these numbers on clothing or vehicles, he is assumed to be in a gang.
  • I read one account of a young lady who dated a gang member. She was counted by local law enforcement as being in the gang though she had nothing to do with it. When she broke up and began dating another guy, the police listed the new guy as a gang member. 
This got me thinking about crime statistics. As the popular phrase goes, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. So just for the sake of being better informed, I started diving into the numbers. Unfortunately, as I discovered, the statistics can sometimes be the thing that creates the problem. Here, with no further ado, are some things worth knowing about crime in the United States.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Believing in Something - Or Anything, Really

By now, you have likely heard the Nike ad: Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything. The meme-generating machine that is the internet has already provided loads of parodies, some of them humorous, some of them not so humorous. Rather than taking that route, I want to address the wisdom of the ad itself.

Believe In Something

Joss Whedon once offered a succinct paraphrase of a popular phrase: "Be yourself - unless you suck." In other words, saying "Be yourself!" to someone might at times be terrible advice. Same with "Express yourself!" or "Follow Your Arrow." One might say these things to encourage someone who is discouraged or shy, but not all expressions merit equal praise, and sometimes we shoot the arrow over our house, and hurt our brother.

I don't think "Believe in Something" is necessarily great advice. It can be; some things are worth believing in. But not everything is. One can believe in racial equality or white supremacy; one can believe men and women have equal value, worth and dignity or that one is superior; one can believe in God or no God or many gods; one can believe in creationism or evolution; one can believe the earth is a globe or flat; one can believe space aliens and Bigfoot live among us or that they are not real; one can believe that marriage is a cultural construct or a timeless institution; one can believe gender is fluid or not; one can believe the unborn is a human being or a blob of tissue; one can believe in global warming or cooling or believe it's not worth having an opinion.

Simply saying that believing in something is admirable is the same as saying that believing in anything is admirable - and surely none of us believe that, do we?