A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Factoids on Parade

The Armies of the Homeless

"States have inadequate plans to address the worsening and often-overlooked problem,"
 – Associated Press (10 Mar 2009)
"These kids are the innocent victims, yet it seems somehow or other they get left out,"
– Dr. Ellen Bassuk, National Center on Family Homelessness.
The report estimates 1.5 million children experienced homelessness at least once that year (2005-2006)

Living Conditions of Homeless Children 2005-2006
  • 56% “Doubled Up”
  • 7% in Hotels, (incl. motels, trailer parks and camping grounds)
  • 24% Shelters, (incl. “transitional housing”)
    Emergency shelter: 29,949 units (46%)
    Transitional housing: 35,799 units (54%)
  • 3% Unsheltered (incl. "abandoned in hospitals," "primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings," "living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations.")
  • 10% Unknown
"Doubled up" means that the family is staying with friends or relatives because they cannot afford their own place. This may not match the picture in your head of "homeless," which may accord more with the living in shelters or unsheltered. But the latter would not allow a figure of "1.5 million children." Are people in transitional housing actually homeless? It depends on what you mean by "homeless."

By the definition used by the National Center on Family Homelessness, TOF was homeless for the first five years of his life on earth, since we were staying with my mother's parents (and uncles and some cousins) two houses up the street. Pere had elected to use his GI Bill money to build a house and the Government had elected to drag its feet for as long as possible. In any case, there we were, doubled up. We did not feel especially homeless as I recollect. Not with Big Mom running the show.

But this illustrates the hazards of Counting Things. If the Definitions are elastic enough, they may include things that the reader would consider as covered. Typically, we will think of the Worst Case scenario when the definition may include many Milder Case scenarios.

In a survey of TV violence back in the 60s, special “watchers” reviewed tapes of shows and counted the number of violent incidents. That's gotta be scientificalistic! The most violent show on TV that year was…..
Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In

If that show does not strike you as especially violent, well, you may be defining violent differently than the special watchers.

"3.9 million women living in a couple with a man were physically abused last year"
--Washington Post (15 July 1993)

This figure came from the 1993 Commonwealth Fund telephone survey of 2500 women, which used questions from the 1975/1985 Straus & Gelles Surveys, which asked respondents

In the past year, has your spouse/partner:
  1. Insulted or swore at you
  2. Stomped out of the room, house, etc.
  3. Threatened to hit you/throw something
  4. Threw, smashed, hit, or kicked something
  5. Threw something at you
  6. Pushed, grabbed, shoved or slapped you
  7. Kicked, bit, or hit you with a fist or object
  8. Beat you up
  9. Choked you
  10. Threatened you with a knife or gun
  11. Used a knife or gun on you
So what counts as being "physically abused"? Being sworn at or insulted may be abusive, but it is not physically abusive. (And who is to say it is not worse to crush the spirit than the body?) But otoh, having a weapon used on you clearly is physical. So where would you draw the line and say beyond this is physical abuse, below this is not?

It's not easy. A can push B simply in passing, on the way out the door, because A's intent is to cool off before exploding in genuine violence. Or A can grab B by the arm because B is swinging a frying pan at A's head. Details can matter. It's not clear to TOF that the numbered scale is actually a scale at all. No. 5 can be more serious than #6, imho, depending on what is thrown: e.g., a spitball v. a dinner plate. 

For the purpose of the survey report, the line was drawn between #5 and #6. Is that where you would have drawn it? None of the 2500 respondents reported #8 through #11. This does not mean no women suffered those degrees of abuse. It means no one in the survey reported them. Which might only mean they are sufficiently rare that a sample of 2500 did not happen to pick up any examples. 5% reported #6 and 3.4% reported #7. These added up to more than the 3.9 million mentioned in the headline, so we assume that some women reported both #6 and #7.

In any case, was #6 or #7 what you thought of when you read the phrase "were physically abused"?


  1. My favorite example of how counting things depends on your definition: the largest hoofed mammal is Balaenoptera musculus. Which has no hooves, or any feet at all unless you count highly modified forelimbs.

  2. "The weakness of all statistics is that, even when the numbers are generally right, the names are generally wrong. I mean that if somebody says there are so many Christians in Margate or in Mesopotamia, it is obvious that they are assuming that everybody is agreed on what is meant by a Christian [...] I merely point out that, when people talk about 'educational statistics' and make tables of the condition of culture in Nebraska or anywhere else, there is really nothing in their statements that is exact except the numbers; and the numbers must be inexact when there is nothing to apply them to. The statistician is trying to make a rigid and unchangeable chain of elastic links."

    -G.K. Chesterton, "Illustrated London News", July 23, 1927

  3. *mischief* He LEFT THE @#$#@ ROOM!?!? THAT @#$#@# *@#$@#@#!!! ABUUUUUSE!!!


    More seriously, my five were "homeless" at the start of this year. My husband was in training, we were selling our house, selling a house with four kids and a preggers belly wasn't happening, so we moved in with my parents.

    Incidentally, I stopped answering phone surveys when one of the folks let it slip they were counting me in "divorced or separated" because my husband was deployed for training.
    Not sleeping in the same house was "separated" in their book, and that got rolled into divorced.

    ....we are not divorced.

    1. ...I wonder if that has any implications for the "half of all marriages end in divorce" stat. (Which is false anyway, as usually interpreted, since the people who get married multiple times and then get divorced drive the average up; I think only something like a quarter or a third of first marriages end in divorce.)

    2. Very likely. Last time I dug around, it took until I believe the 40th+ year of marriage for *any* of the first marriage stats to drop to 50%-- and that's "ended for any reason" was only for women. Which also hurts, but a rather different way than divorce.

  4. Incidentally, my sister was bounced off of walls by her ex husband.

    He regularly threw stuff at her in public.

    There were witnesses to this at the divorce proceedings.

    ...because she did not go to the hospital as a direct result, or call the police*, it was not abuse. Thank you, Oregon.

    * what kind of utter moron would stand in front of someone who just bounced them off the wall and call the cops, with a minimum of 15 minutes response time, unless they had a @#$#@ GUN pointed at the attacker?

  5. Mr. Flynn, is it true that science is provisional and that there is no complete scientific theory?

    1. Well, of course. A continuing enterprise is not finished, and therefore it can hardly be complete.

      The scientific enterprise can only end when the world does. At that point, all good scientists hand in their papers and receive the answers from the Teacher. (I guess damned scientists will also receive all the answers at the General Judgment, but they won't enjoy them.)

    2. Ooh, forgot to point out that Peter J. Floriani (aka Dr. Thursday on the Chestertonian Internet) has a new book out, Lab Coats and Chasubles, with biographies of famous/saintly priest-scientists. All his books are very nifty, wise, quirky, and informative, so I can recommend it before reading it!

    3. It's a continuing enterprise, incidentally, because we're intrinsically limited in our understanding, and nothing in external reality exactly corresponds to our concepts of it. (At least nothing material, and when science starts talking about the wholly immaterial it's gone off the rails. See Stephen Hawking demonstrating he doesn't know what "nothing" means.)

    4. This is a good point - the world is also a mystery, as much as theological points are. In both cases, we continue thinking about them, and sometimes make progress. But there are a lot of differences too, of course!

  6. It seems some folks who would influence a public discussion are wagering on people being too busy to look under the covers. Their bet seems to pay off.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Hey there Mr. TOF - this long period of silence worries me. I hope all is well with you and your family.


Whoa, What's This?

adam amateur theology anthropology aphorisms Aquinas argument from motion Aristotelianism art atheism autumn of the modern ages books brains breaking news captive dreams cartoon charts chieftain clannafhloinn comix commentary counterattack crusades culcha dogheads easton stuff economics eifelheim evolution factoids on parade fake news fallen angels Feeders fir trees in lungs firestar flicks floods flynncestry flynnstuff forecasts forest of time fun facts gandersauce gimlet eye global warming glvwg headlines henchmen high frontier history home front how to lie with statistics humor Hunters Moon hush-hush hypatia in the house of submission irish Iron Shirts irrationalism january dancer jihad journeyman kabuki kool letter lion's mouth lunacon maps mayerling medieval metrology miscellany modern mythology moose zombies music new years nexus odds odds and ends paleofuture passing of the modern age philosophy philosophy math poetry politics potpourri psyched out! public service quality quiet sun quote of the day razor's edge redefinition of marriage religio reviews river of stars scandal science science marches on scientism scrivening shipwrecks of time shroud skiffy skiffy in the news skools slipping masks some people will believe anything stats stories stranger things the auld curmudgeon the madness continues the new fascism the russians are coming the spiral arm the writing life thomism thought for the day thread o' years tofspot topology untergang des abendlandes untergang des morgenlandes up jim river video clips vignettes war on science we get letters we're all gonna die whimsy words at play wuv xmas you can't make this stuff up