It’s the End of the World (as Glenn Beck Knows It)

But I feel fine.

DarkestIt’s been both fun and somewhat horrifying reading headlines and social media posts the last few days. Here’s a sampling:

“Five lawyers overruled 2.7 million Michigan voters,” says Michigan State Rep. Gary Glenn.

“This irrational, unconstitutional rejection of the expressed will of the people in over 30 states will prove to be one of the court’s most disastrous decisions,” says former Arkansas Gov. and presidential wannabe Mike Huckabee.

“The country as we know it is done,” says TV and radio host Glenn Beck.

“Now the destruction of the family begins,” says Michigan GOP committeeman David Agema.

“So sad we seem to keep going down the drain faster and faster, But God is not mocked!” says a comment on a friend’s Facebook page.

“June 26, 2015: the day the twin towers of truth and righteousness were blown up by moral jihadists,” a tweet from American Family Radio personality Bryan Fischer.

“This is indeed a rogue act by the SCOTUS which effectively ends Western Civilization as we know it,” a Facebook post by Michigan activist and reputed pastor Stacy Swimp.

And my favorite, from both the Breitbart Facebook page and from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz: “Darkest week in America’s history.”

Let’s let that one sink a little. The “darkest week in America’s history.”

I’m relieved that we made it through the “darkest week in America’s history” without the 7,000 deaths of the first week of July, 1863. Or the 2,500 deaths of the first Sunday of December, 1941. Or the 2,900 from the second week of September, 2001. Not to mention the 8,000 deaths of Galveston in September of 1900, the millions in poverty after October, 1929 or the 3,000 dead and 225,000 homeless of San Francisco in April,1906.

Now, we’re hearing from the same bloviators who complain about the excessive self-absorption of the so-called “Me Generation.” They are now apoplectic: A ruling on a badly worded provision of a two-year-old, poorly written healthcare law, and the ability of four percent of the American population to have their relationships legally recognized, overshadows dozens of wars, recessions and depressions, national disasters … even the Harding and Nixon administrations.

GRIP

Now, the “overruled the voters” complaint is an odd and disingenuous expression of intellectual inconsistency. It is, of course, SCOTUS’ job to “overrule” voters when voters – and their elected representatives – pass laws that do not meet the standards of the constitution. They overruled the voters in Brown v. Board of Education and Loving v. Virginia. Of course, those cases would probably cause the same wailing and gnashing of teeth among the same people today. But these very same people were beside themselves with joy when the Court overruled the voters in Bush v. Gore and in Citizens United v. FEC.

But the other overly dramatic complaints? They would be silly, if they weren’t such an insult to the people who have suffered or died because of one of the aforementioned dark weeks, or many others, in America’s history.

Less hubris would allow them to remember that every week, the families of 47,000 Americans each face their darkest week, as they lose a father, mother, grandparent, sibling or child.

For the record, my positions on these two decisions is pretty much 180 degrees from those of Chief Justice Roberts. I am 100-percent behind the decision on marriage. And I believe the Affordable Care Act is a deeply flawed law that, while addressing a few of the symptoms of a huge disease, will ultimately only make the disease worse.

But now that we’ve had a couple of days to take a breath, I think all the conservatives who have called this “the darkest week” in our history, “the beginning of the end of our republic” and all other manner of drama-queen hyperbole, need to consider something.

A few paragraphs ago, I ticked off five “dark weeks” in which a total of 66,000 people lost their lives and many times that many lost their homes. America is still here.

In fact, this republic is one tough old bird.

It survived an invasion, less than 40 years after its founding, by what was then the world’s greatest superpower. It survived a war with its southern neighbor, two world wars, Korea, Vietnam and dozens of other incursions – not to mention a civil war that literally ripped the nation apart. It survived – and won – a 40-year stare-down with the Soviets.

It survived three major economic crashes – one accompanied by the nation’s most devastating drought– and dozens of smaller ones.

It survived the assassinations of four of its leaders and attempts on several others. It survived hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and explosions.

Ted Cruz, Bryan Fischer, Rush Limbaugh, Bobby Jindal and other so-called patriots have declared that this republic will crumble. Because the GOP still hasn’t been able to put together a real healthcare cost-containment solution. And because all Americans can now legally marry the ones they love.

America has proven that it’s stronger than that. And true patriots believe it.

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The Most Dangerous Places in America

Is Benton Harbor really the most dangerous place in Michigan?
Is Benton Harbor really the most dangerous place in Michigan? Photo from homesnacks.net

Yet another website has published a list of “most dangerous places.” A Facebook friend tipped me off to this one, which listed the “most dangerous cities” in Michigan.

These sites – and many news organizations – do the same thing. They pore over the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, compile violent crime rates from them, and then rank them – usually against other cities of comparable size.

So this particular site that a friend tagged for me said the “most dangerous” city in Michigan was Benton Harbor … which had, in 2013 (the most current statistics available) three homicides and 225 violent crimes.

Detroit, on the other hand, which ranked third on the list, had 316 homicides and 14,500 violent crimes. Flint, all the way down in sixth place, had 48 homicides and 19 violent crimes.

Now, before I reveal what the most dangerous places in the U.S. really are, let me help you understand the flawed logic behind these ranking sites.

Statistics Don’t Lie. But the People Who Use them Do.

Let’s start by naming the top five home run hitters in Major League Baseball history

1. Mark McGwire
2. Babe Ruth
3. Barry Bonds
4. Jim Thome
5. Ralph Kiner

What’s that, you say? Everyone knows the top five are Bonds, Aaron, Ruth, Rodriguez and Mays? How can this be?

It’s the difference between incidence and rate. Mark McGwire has MLB’s highest home-run percentage vs. at-bats, Ruth is second. This logic, then, dictates that Benton Harbor is “more dangerous” than Detroit, that Camden, N.J. is “more dangerous” than Chicago.

But basing the average person’s “danger” on the rate presumes that violent crime is like the lottery, and every person in the city has bought a ticket.

Personally, I think a city in which there were 300+ murders and 14,000 violent crimes is far more “dangerous” than one where three people were killed and 225 robbed or assaulted.

But then, I think Barry Bonds hit 180 more home runs than Mark McGwire did.

The Most Dangerous Places

But let’s look at the ultimate danger – that is, death. Based on national death rates per 100,000, here are the most dangerous places in America:

1. Fast food restaurants (cardiovascular disease: 252)

2. Places that sell tobacco products (chronic lower respiratory disease: 47.2; malignant neoplasms of trachea, bronchus and lung, 49.4)

3. Your car (motor vehicle accidents: 41.3)

4. A workplace, or home, that presents a danger of falls or exposure to toxic materials, or a lake or swimming pool (nontransport accidents, 29.3)

5. Your pantry (diabetes: 23.9)

6. A hospital (hospital-acquired infections: 23.0)

7. The dark recesses of depression (suicide: 13.0)

Homicide, the gold standard of “danger” for place-ranking websites, comes in nationally at 5.1 deaths per 100,000 – just a little behind alcoholic liver disease (5.7)

Ponder number seven another moment though. If you’re going to die at someone’s hand, nationally, it’s 2.6 times as likely to be your own than someone else’s.

Yes, Detroit’s homicide rate per 100,000 is significantly higher than the national average, at 45. But even in Detroit, you’re 5.6 times as likely to die from heart disease than from a homicide.

What’s the Harm?

It bears noting that on its Uniform Crime Reports website, the FBI specifically cautions against using the statistics for ranking locations against each other. There are lots of reasons, not the least of which is inconsistency in reporting methodology (because FBI feels the number is underreported, Chicago shows zero rapes for 2013) and jurisdictional issues (the Sandy Hook shootings do not show up in Newtown, CT’s 2012 statistics – because the case was handled by the state police).

But we do it anyway. Why? I believe it to be a grotesque manifestation of Americans’ seemingly insatiable fetish for ranking, ratings and lists. Like quarterback ratings, college football polls and standardized test scores, they really tell us nothing but how something was arbitrarily measured at a given time. And, as we know, not everything that’s measured is important … and not everything that’s important can be measured.

So it could be considered harmless fun. If it were, indeed, harmless.

But it isn’t. It makes it even more difficult for cities to pull out of the decline that has led to high crime rates. You know how a lottery ad portrays everyone who plays as a winner? These ratings portray everyone who sets foot in the city as a violent crime victim. The characterizations are equally misleading.

Worse, it helps Americans do even more of what is one of their most self-defeating behaviors: being afraid of the wrong things. We have millions of preventable deaths because people are too afraid of the stranger at their door to be concerned about the cheesecake in their fridge.