Sunday, July 17, 2016

Babies with no Fathers or How to Spin the Facts

Here's a quote from Greg Hunter's Weekly News Wrap-Up, week ending 15 July 2016:  "Seventy percent of African American kids are born with only a mother" (Hunter, 2016, min. 16:20).  Really?    To me, this comment implies that these children have no father.  (Note to Mr. Hunter:  kids are baby goats.)  Mr. Hunter, who promotes himself as one who presents only unbiased factsin contrast to his nemesis the Mainstream Media (MSM)is nevertheless remarkably skilled at spinning empirical evidence.  In this case, his fact is correct.  According to the US National Vital Statistics System, in 2015 70.4% of US births (415,029 infants) were delivered from women who identify themselves as Non-Hispanic black and unmarried (Hamilton, B. E., Martin, J. A., & Osterman, M. J., p. 10).  Mr. Hunter, please also note, the US National Center for Health Statistics uses the following terminology to label women who are not married when they give birth to human infants:  births to unmarried mothers.  "Infants born to unmarried mothers" is not equivalent to "kids with only mothers."  Treating the two phrases as if they were conceptually equivalent is called spin.  
It seems like the point Mr. Hunter intends to make is probably one about which many people would agree, regardless of race or ethnicity.  Yet sadly, the way he phrases his comments comes across as judgmental and divisive.  What I think he means is that African Americans are enduring continuing conditions of rampant inequality, even under the Obama administration, which was supposed to bring change for them along with the entire population of our country.  But, using an accurate statistic out of context laced with a nearly subliminally delivered value judgement creates and perpetuates stigma that in turn reinforces horrendous and probably untrue beliefs about a socially designated sub-population of the US.  While it's true that 70.4% of babies born to Non-Hispanic black mothers are delivered from unmarried women, it is also true that 29.2% of babies born to Non-Hispanic white mothers, 52.9% of babies born to Hispanic mothers, and 40.2% of all births, regardless of race and ethnicity, are delivered from unmarried women.  Everyone has high numbers if our ideology forces a goal of zero births to unmarried women.

His words become increasingly less factual and more moralistic when he suggests that the remaining 30% of African American children born in 2015 are born into homes with "a mommy and a daddy" and are probably not the ones being arrested indiscriminately and committing rapes, murders, and other crimes.  The implied conclusion here is that nuclear families with one male and one female adult produce children who are productive, desirable US citizens.  I'm not sure there is conclusive empirical evidence anywhere that's been peer reviewed to suggest that African American children born to unmarried women are significantly more likely to become criminals compared with those who are born to women who are married.  Mr. Hunter has wandered decidedly afar from unbiased reporting into the realm of dogma.  He has made a very strong causal claim based solely on a slanted interpretation of one single statistic generated from indicator data with which he has surreptitiously intertwined his personal belief system.  These claims amount to no more than pontification and only serve to abuse his viewers' trust that he is providing an unbiased news program.  Behavior like this is called using a news program as a pulpit.

His words are divisive and destructive.  His tactics are no better than the MSM he despises.  He is fueling the racial divide in this country by perpetuating myths and unnecessarily creating sub-categories of humanssome of whom he judges to be more productive and valuable than others.  Using a single statistic taken out of context can be a powerful weapon, capable of wielding unthinkable destruction.  His human being categorization function weakens our nation by dividing it, at a time when it is supremely critical for us to focus on equality for all, and find platforms of commonality among individual people who are all equally valuable members of the human race and our societies.  His unexamined train of thought illustrates US white male Judeo-Christian hubris and hegemony.  

Greg Hunter needs to be scolded for his ignorance and arrogance.  And I'm here to do it.  It's because I like him and I believe that what he thinks he is doing is offering a factual alternative to the lame information we are fed by the MSM.  His objective is the same as mine.  To discover and convey truth for the welfare of humanity.  He is, in some odd way, a humanitarian.  I also believe that he has a good heart and means to do well by his countrymen.  Still, his thoughts are steeped in ignorance and reveal that he hasn't spent sufficient time looking inward to articulate what he truly believes.

Also, I must thank Mr. Hunter for providing a springboard for me to comment on one of my favorite cultural fallacies.  That is, that the demographic category of married or unmarried measures nothing more than legal status.  It is a binary metric (amusingly, also known as a dummy variable to economists) that provides almost no information about the strength or character of a conventional marriage and hence its effect on any children it produces.  It's even more absurd to use marital status as a dependable signal for assessing the character of a nuclear family.  More accurately, marriage is a socially ascribed legal status for filing tax returns and a handy, automatic asset distribution mechanism for settling financial matters upon the death of one spouse or the other.  That's it.  Regardless, marital and child support obligations are very cumbersome and complicated to enforce legally.  So, what our laws reflect about the values we believe marriage ought to protect, often differs from the reality of life events.  Furthermore, whether a woman is married or not when she gives birth to a human infant or infants is probably not a valid or reliable indicator of the child's immediate or future welfare.  Just because two people are married doesn't mean they live together, sleep in the same bed, or even speak to one another.  Speaking of marital quality, worse yet, maybe the spouses live together but speak to one another using hostile or dismissive tones and attitudes.  Alternatively, when a mother is unmarried it does not necessarily mean that the father is uninvolved.  A father and mother may live together but choose not to marry.  Particularly in low-income, less fortunate sub-populations, it's more likely that state and federal policies provide perverse incentives for parents to remain unmarried or even live apart.  There are many factors that combine and interact to effect major life outcomes for an infant born on this planet.  The real point is, married or not is a weak, egregiously over-celebrated indicator of family structure, unity and quality of life.


Hamilton, B. E., Martin, J. A., & Osterman, M. J. (2016). Births: Preliminary Data for 2015. National vital statistics reports: from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System, 65(3), 1.

Hunter, G.  [Greg Hunter].  (2016, July 15).  Weekly News Wrap-Up 7.15.16 [Video file].  Retrieved from

Friday, July 8, 2016

Making policy is so 20th Century

The board for the coop building where I live has issued a memo introducing the idea of making our collective residence a non smoking building.  Evidently, they were spurred into action by a passionate discussion about non smokers' rights during the recent monthly public meeting.  They write:  "owner-expressed concerns about second hand smoke as well as prevailing standards and practices related to smoking informed the discussion."  While the memo neglected to define non smoking building, it asked owners for a yea or nay vote about whether we should "transition" to a non-smoking building.  A better question might have been:  do we need a policy to solve the second hand smoke problem?

There are too many problems with the board's approach to enumerate here.  Initially, the word bungled comes to mind.  They are handling this matter as if they themselves are members of the US Congress or Council of the European Union.  That means chaotic, short-sighted, out of touch with reality, truly uninformed, and motivated by power and hegemony.  Their memo illustrates:  how to stir up angst and competition among neighbors who otherwise live together peacefully.  

The board's actions also illustrate the reckless practice of using policy as an intervention when it's unnecessary and furthermore, without considering how it may cause more harm than good.  In this case, addressing the problem of second hand smoke with a blanket no smoking anywhere policy is like using a cannonball to kill a flea.  Policy implementation is not a panacea for public problems, and in many situations policy effects may be more undesirable than living with the perceived problem.  The field of biomedicine provides a useful example.  Policies that fund and promote vaccine and antibiotic use save lives.  Upon discovery, they revolutionized advances in ability to produce optimal public health.  They reduce human morbidity and mortality, and unquestionably improve quality of life and life expectancy.  However, using them in an unrestrained manner is rendering them ineffective at best and iatrogenic at worst due to sequelae such as, antibiotic resistant bacteria, vaccine side effects, and populations with overall weakened immune responses.

It's worth noting that conventionally recognized strategies for solving public problems are limited to two intervention options:  (1) regulation through public policy or (2) privatization using economic markets.  Alternatively however, Elinor Ostrom reminds us that there are multiple remedies for any public problem and a limitless range of potential solutions for equitable allocation of public resources, referenced by economists as the commons.  Mostly, these approaches can be characterized as self-governing.

In this youtube video, The Role of Culture in Solving Social Dilemmas, Dr. Elinor Ostrom speaks about how local and regional farmers in Africa self-govern to manage access to water, a precious, limited, commons resource that is not owned by any individual or corporation, or regulated by any government.  Interestingly, her comments include exceptional attention to effectiveness and productivity resulting from these interventions.  It's also worth noting that Dr. Ostrom was trained as an anthropologist, not an economist.  Ponder that fact for a minute.  

Another example of self-governing is set in Manhattan.  From the New York TImes, At Strawberry Fields, Feuding Musicians Give Peace a Chance is a story about a group of street musicians who have organized themselves to allocate benefits derived from a famous, magical, coveted park bench.  The musicians rely on access to the bench, a commons resource, to produce income from performing.  By self-governing, they no longer need to call the police to settle disputes or risk being shunned by would-be patrons, who choose to avoid public obscenity and risk of becoming collateral damage from a full blown public brawl, rather than listen to music in Central Park.  The musicians have made a beautiful discovery.  Behaving cooperatively to achieve a common solution to a public problem protects the commons and ultimately their livelihood.

As for the second hand smoke problem at the coop, I'm wondering how to introduce self-governing concepts to my neighbors and the board, without sounding too weird.  It seems to me it's possible to solve the problem of exposure to second hand smoke without:  (1) dividing the community into yea or nay camps, (2) working tirelessly on developing a policy that will never satisfy everyone, and (3) monitoring and enforcing compliance once they implement yet another regulation.  What's irritating me and diminishing my quality of life are my neighbors' car alarms that spontaneously ignite just outside my window at 2 am or any other time for that matter.  These car owners make up the subpopulation I'll call other-side-of-the-building-residents who are oblivious to the noise from unattended auto noise that pollutes my-side-of-the-building environment.  I think the coop may have just opened a Pandora's Box.