Possession? Mona Charen Is Sounding Like Marion Barry!

Charen is another one of those former conservative pundits, like George Will, Bill Kristol, Max Boot and Jennifer Rubin, who was so repulsed by Donald Trump that she flip-flopped on all her previously held principles and became a Democratic Party shill. But channeling the late, memorable D.C. Marion Barry, a lovable rogue, is something new.

In 1989, then-Mayor Barry told a luncheon audience at the National Press Club. ″Except for the killings, Washington has one of the lowest crime rates in the country.″ In the midst of a drugs and murder crime explosion, Barry’s comment was mocked in the news media from end to end of the ideological spectrum, because, after all, it was an incredibly stupid thing to say. But those were still the days when journalism, though already corrupted, biased and crumbling, hadn’t completely rotted away. Today, however, almost all of the mockery has come from the Right, while the mainstream media pundits have been largely silent—after all, Mona is just trying to save democracy.

One notable exception is left-leaning Washington Post columnist Helaine Olen, who wrote in reaction to Charen’s tweet, “I can’t believe this still needs to be said but ‘crime is down except for murder’ is not a winning or persuasive argument.”

Ya think?

Moreover, the Pew study that Charen relied on made it quite clear that the raw statistics are misleading, starting with the fact that there are no comparable statistics on 2022 yet, and the perception that crime has gotten worse, even if you don’t count murder, may in fact be true. Plus…

  • The accuracy of the statistics is in question: “The most recent version of the FBI study shows no rise in the national violent crime rate between 2020 and 2021. That said, there is considerable uncertainty around the FBI’s figures for 2021 because of a transition to a new data collection system. The FBI reported an increase in the violent crime rate between 2019 and 2020, when the previous data collection system was still in place.” Pew also explains that estimates from some nongovernmental organizations do point to an increase in certain kinds of violent crime in 2022, such as the Major Cities Chiefs Association. That organization of police executives representing large cities, estimates that robberies and aggravated assaults increased in the first six months of this year compared with the same period the year before. The mid-year report of the Council on Criminal Justice also showed crimes other than murder increasing significantly in cities in 2022.
  • Murder is up significantly. “Both the FBI and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a roughly 30% increase in the U.S. murder rate between 2019 and 2020, marking one of the largest year-over-year increases ever recorded. The FBI’s latest data, as well as provisional data from the CDC, suggest that murders continued to rise in 2021.” Pew goes on to point out that the murder rate was even worse in the 1990s, so I guess the rise in killings is OK after all. Just kidding: “This isn’t as bad a murder surge as we’ve had in the past when the streets ran red” is also “not a winning or persuasive argument.”
  • “Some voters could be reacting to conditions in their own communities rather than at the national level. Violent crime is a heavily localized phenomenon, and the national violent crime rate may not reflect conditions in Americans’ own neighborhoods.” Once more time: Ya think? 

23 thoughts on “Possession? Mona Charen Is Sounding Like Marion Barry!

  1. I don’t suppose the decriminalizing of many crimes has led to a decrease in reporting when said crimes occur. Why, I think if we stop enforcing laws altogether, our reported crime rate would go to 0!

    • We watch On-Patrol Live religiously on the REELZ channel Friday and Saturday nights. Shameless plug…if any of you don’t watch this show, you should. It’s completely eye-opening and the only program we will NOT miss.

      On Friday, Police in (I believe) Ohio pulled over a car and found a pound of marijuana (a POUND) in the man’s car. The officers seized the drugs for destruction but let the man go. They explained that they would later issue warrants for the man, but there was no point in wasting time with an actual arrest because the man would likely be on the streets before their paperwork was complete.

      I wonder if this kind of situation also plays into the notion of “lower rates of arrest.”

    • Exactly. That means that statistics can used to mean just about anything. Consider:

      “1 in 3 doctoral students at the Post-Particle Acceleration Division Program of University of Somewhere Out There is in an intimate relationship with the program director.”

      That sounds bad, right? One-third or 33%? Horrible. But, what if:

      1. There are three students in the program.
      2. The university is very small, with only 3 doctoral candidates.
      3. One of the doctoral candidates is married to the program director.


      • JB.

        Exactly indeed. Statistics is a strange field, and without providing any context it seems that statistics can be made to say anything at all. It relies on averages and standard deviations and sampling of larger sets, and all in all it gets very messy very quickly. It is very hard to vary one variable while holding other variables constant (especially since it is rare to have a set of variables that are independent of one another), and often times it is a judgment call as to whether a tested variable has been sufficiently isolated from outside perturbations. And it isn’t helped that so many people will deliberately use statistics to fit their narrative.

        Your example is one of my pet peeves: spinning the percentages without providing any context behind those percentages. It is like saying some new cult is the fastest growing religious group in the world, when they went from 2 members to 8 in a year. A 300% increase! Never mind that a mainstream religion added several million new members, but that only represented a 0.65% increase. And others: study shows that doing X makes you twice as likely to suffer Y potentially lethal condition. Yet, what was the probability before, that it is now twice as likely? A move from one-in-a-million to one-in-five-hundred-thousand is nowhere as significant as a move from one-in-twenty to one-in-ten. Worse, honing in on one variable tends to ignore what else is going on, especially since variables are usually intertwined.

        Worse yet is the continual confusion of causation and correlation. Many items can correlate, but it does not mean that one causes the other. The ice cream sales and crime correlation is a classic example.

        In this case, we seem to have a plethora of reasons to doubt the conclusion that every other category of violent crime than murder has gone down. To a certain extent, it boils down to another problem in dealing with statistics: GIGO. Garbage in, garbage out. If the data is junk, any conclusion you reach is junk. Whether it is junk because your sampling methods are poor, or you data set is unreliable, or you deliberately merged two disparate datasets without proper compensation to produce a hockey-stick graph, as soon as anyone else realizes your data is junk, they’ll realize your conclusions are junk, as well.

        • Ryan, being a writer of fiction, I’m of the firm opinion anecdotal evidence is actually the best evidence. Of course, I dropped AP calculus after a few weeks of my senior year in high school. I was working on the “How long will it take a conical hopper of grain with a tapered base to drain out its contents?” and I said to myself, “Wouldn’t you hire somebody in a white lab coat and a slide rule to figure this out?” In any event, I salute your skills. From afar.

          • I haven’t asked before that I recall, but are you published?

            I do some writing myself, though I’ve rarely finished a story, much less tried to publish anything. I am a mathematician at heart, though, and while the probability theory and analysis underlying statistics is sound, statistics as a field just makes my skin crawl. It is so imprecise! It is so far from the pure world of theorems and proofs! And that also makes me somewhat skeptical of anecdotal evidence. Anecdotes tend to be a small, self-selected sample that could be representative of the whole, or could as likely be the set of outliers. For example, we hear lots of stories about side-effects of the COVID-19 shots, especially the mRNA versions, but the anecdotes don’t convince me there is a problem. A rigorous analysis that tries to collect sufficient data to reach certain conclusions is more persuasive.

            But… those studies might be trying to spin the statistics, and we have a peer-review crisis in academia, and lots of money going to high-profile topics to skew the results in the interests of the money source, and censoring of ideas that started in academia long before it was cool on social-media, and I’m not sure what I can trust at all! Augh! *whimpers and sucks thumb in fetal position while rocking in the corner*

            • Self-published, Ryan. “Stories from Way Out West.” Bill Fearnow. Available on Amazon. Print or digital. Grace Marshall gave the book a thumbs up!

              My comment on anecdotes is pretty tongue-in-cheek. A pun almost. I did go to college thinking I could learn about people and become a better writer. I took all sorts of intro social science courses. Anthropology, Sociology, Religion and Psychology. They were all brutally disappointing. Sociology in particular. It seemed to provide no insight whatsoever. The discipline just seemed to involve coming up with some sort of data to prove your thesis. So, I majored in English, at least in part because I was naturally good at it. But it was high end literature that deals with what the heck people are all about in the best way I can think of. Hence my line about “anecdotal evidence.” There’s nothing like a good story to tell you what people are about.

              • OB, I read through the first of your short stories, the Flyboy’s Daughter, and I was pretty impressed. I kept hoping that things would turn out all right for the protagonist, and it was very sad where you left it. Sadly, it did resonate with some of my (and more specifically my wife’s) family, and the dysfunction that we never seem to shake.

                I’m a little envious: I can’t figure out how to write a short story. Everything I come up with has a much longer plot line. But certainly, I’ll follow Grace and give you a thumbs up so far. I’m looking forward to reading the rest!

                I think I understand what you mean by anecdotes, both the tongue-in-cheek, and the idea that anecdotes are the best evidence. Thank you!

                • A sale! They happen every year or so.

                  Thanks Ryan. I’ll look forward to hearing what you think about the rest. Maybe you can email your comments to Jack and he can forward them to me.

                  I’m very fond of “The Flyboy’s Daughter.” I love the dad and his buddies. Made me realize what winning a world war takes and what it takes out of the population and the wreckage it strews for generations.

                    • Thanks! Great. It’s like manna from heaven for a writer to hear what readers think. Fiction is such a baroque way to communicate ideas. It’s like creating a photographic negative that you send out and never see the impression it makes, never see the print it makes in the reader’s mind. I so admire Jack’s incredible ability to seemingly effortlessly produce really excellent essays, three or four a day. Done right, expository writing is a wonderful thing.

  2. My guess is that there is more UNreported crime these days (how many reasons can one give for THAT?), but just living here in Boston and working in Providence one gets the strong feeling simply by going outside, and by driving the roads and especially the highways, that people in general are less patient, more rude, and much less law abiding than ever before. And it just feels like “white collar” crime and related taking advantage of “privilege” are also creating new records. The latter also shows itself in spades on the roads.

  3. “I can’t believe this still needs to be said but ‘crime is down except for murder’ is not a winning or persuasive argument.”

    It’s also probably not true. If the police decline to investigate certain classes of crime, I’m not sure what the mechanism for counting those non-enforced crimes are. Sure, drug crimes, property damage and theft aren’t violent crimes, but I’m pretty sure that’s cold comfort for the victims.

    I also don’t understand this:

    “Charen is another one of those former conservative pundits, like George Will, Bill Kristol, Max Boot and Jennifer Rubin, who was so repulsed by Donald Trump that she flip-flopped on all her previously held principles and became a Democratic Party shill.”

    You’re spot on with the diagnosis, but I don’t understand flipping every position you ever held 180 degrees in a matter of a year or two. Are there theories on what happened here? Were they always Democrats, but they thought the grift was stronger on the right, so they lied through their teeth for decades until they thought there was a cashflow change? Was Trump actually so dissonance inducing that he pushed them all the way to the left? Because there is no middle ground for those people, they have no self awareness or shame. Go back, if you want your brains to liquefy, and take in the quotes from the Bush-era war hawks talking about the Afghanistan withdrawal.

    • HT,

      I would certainly like to see more analysis on these Never-Trumpers from people who are more in the know. I think Jack would say that the prospect of such an unrefined boor as Trump in office was enough to unsettle their minds, but I can’t help but wonder if the “Deep State” or the “Swamp” was really a bipartisan group bent wholly on maintaining power, content to pass the ball back and forth so long as they all kept a slice of power. Pelosi and McConnell keep popping up at the top of their parties, with their policies so Machiavellian you have to wonder if they actually care about the respective parties they belong to. Certainly actual rule of law only seems to matter when it is convenient for them.

      • In short, maybe they were simply Republicans in Name Only.

        I think Trump upset all politicians, to put it mildly, by being a total political neophyte and virtually single-handedly winning the biggest prize in the election game on his first try. I think that simply short circuited the brains of all these people who’ve been grubbing for money and votes since they were running for student council in sixth grade and for school boards in their twenties.

  4. I didn’t delve into the links, but one major problem with the FBI adopting a new reporting system for crime is that a large number of cities have not. About a third of police forces aren’t reporting crime to the FBI, including New York City and Los Angeles.

  5. Another often unaccounted-for variable in the reported murder rate is the improvements in trauma medicine over the past several decades. Many victims now survive attacks and injuries that would previously have been fatal, which means that the offense is reported as either attempted murder or aggravated assault rather than murder. Decreases in murder rates are often accompanied by increases in the two other offenses.

  6. If you live in the middle of the “hundred-acre woods,” atop a high mountain in a Buddhist monastery, or in a gated community with roving armed guards then you would be unaware and not report the crime that is going on outside the woods, on the plains below the mountain, or on the streets of major cities. All that to say the outcome of the polls is highly dependent on where the polls are taken

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