Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Give me a Break

Being as I was semi-comatose at the end of a long, hard weekend I tuned in my local TV news last night -- specifically the NBC affiliate in Boston. I'm sure you've already guessed the lead story, which took up at least 60% of the non-weather non-sports part of the broadcast. These insane clowns had actually sent a reporter to Boulder, where he proposes to remain for the duration. Of course, he had to be in Boulder to report on events which took place in Thailand, and on an airplane above the Pacific.

Like all "news" production operations, they have branded the story: "Justice for Jon Benet," in this case. Their advertising blitz for the upcoming epoch of all Jon Benet, all the time, features intrepid reporter Dan Hausle, with a bulldog expression, striding resolutely forward in slow motion and then folding his arms in the "Mister Clean" pose, to prove he's stronger than dirt -- which is a logical impossibility because you can't be stronger than yourself. Intrepid investigative reporter Hausle's story consisted of an entire inter-commercial segment dedicated to the scandal of what John Mark Karr had consumed on the airplane: champagne, chardonnay, pate, fried prawns. They featured interviews and quotes from various people who were shocked and appalled that an accused criminal would be eating prawns on an airplane. After the break, they went to a conversation among Hausle and the studio anchors swapping disgust and horror over the depravity of the FBI's failure to begin exacting vengeance prior to the indictment.

Well, here are some actual facts which it might truly be in the public interest to know. Perhaps a responsible TV news producer -- oh sorry, that's oxymoronic -- would want to take this opportunity to tell us something meaningful. Murder of a child five or under is not extremely common in the United States -- there are about 600 per year. The rate went up from 1980 till the mid-90s, and then started to come down a bit, but these trends are weak.

Victims are disproportionately Black -- around 37%, more than twice the proportion of the population which is Black -- but crime statistics, unfortunately, don't give us any further ethnic breakdown. (We need to fix that.) A parent is the perpetrator in just over half of all cases -- mothers and fathers about equally -- and a friend or acquaintance, usually male, in 25%. Murders of young children by strangers are, in fact, rare.

And, of course, most victims are not beauty pageant contestants who provide an excuse for endlessly showing video which is disturbingly close to kiddie porn on prime time TV. And most victims are not from highly affluent families who glow in the dark, although rich people aren't immune from killing their kids. Child murder is largely a sub-category of family violence. Families are the most violent institution in society, in fact. So much for family values.

Oh yeah -- I don't think Karr did it. So this whole thing is going to look really, really silly. As if it doesn't already.

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