Friday, November 03, 2006

On the Kerry thing

It's obvious to me that it was a bad joke poorly delivered. It was intended to mock President "nucular" getting stuck in Iraq ("Mission Accomplished" anyone?). It was delivered in such a way that it didn't sound like he was talking about the president. Kerry's a douche bag, for sure.

What pisses me off is all the folks piling on because it's such an easy target, if you do all the high and mighty flag waving jingoistic blind patriotism crap about the military. Sure, most of them are decent. But there's the Abu Ghraib, and the guys on trial for gang raping a girl and killing her family, or for shooting an old man in the face. And the flag wavers will dismiss these as anomalies. But these things happen any time you take a bunch of guys trained to be violent, dehumanize the opposition, and let the guys get good and angry at the dehumanized out group after suffering losses and violence the hands of the dehumanized outsiders. My Lai.

But no one's going to criticize. When you're not the one going off to get shot at, it's best to tell the folks who you and the social order have duped into going off to be shot at that they're really really awesome. Women will do this with unsuspecting men all the time.

Smart woman: Oooo, you're so big and strong, will you carry this for me?

Dumb man: Duuuuh, okay (does grunt work)

Not too different from:

Socially privileged: Ooooo, you're so brave and patriotic and self sacrificing. Will you go shoot those brown people for me?

Socially underprivileged: Duuuuh, okay (does grunt work)

So yeah, Kerry's a bone head with the personality of a sea cucumber and the comedic timing of a back hoe. But let's not think that the military is beyond scrutiny or criticism. The fact of the matter is that those who join the military do come from less affluent backgrounds. Conservative folk who would lead you to believe that this is "factually false" might cite some work from conservative think tanks like the Heritage foundation.

Those like me who read the fine print and know a thing or two about quantitative consumer, demographic, economic and sociological research can tell you that the methodology and conclusions are reprehensibly flimsy. I'd never make business decisions on such research:

For example, the most gaping flaw is that they don't actually measure the demographic characteristics of the recruits themselves. They don't measure the actual income, ethnicity and education characteristics of the folks joining the military and compare them to the actual income ethnicity and education characteristics of those who don't join. Because that would be a) the right way to do this analysis and b) not support their point.

Instead, this study assigns the average characteristics of the people in their zip code to all recruits from that zip code. And then asks the question about whether poorer, less well educated, higher minority zip codes are more likely to send folks to the military than more affluent, better educated, lower minority zip codes. Which sets aside entirely the question of whether it's the poorer, less well educated, minority folk within a zip code that end up in the military due to fewer economic options within their communities.

They go on to do a bunch of analyses, but all based on this zip code generalized data.

Now I don't know about you, but there's a pretty wide income band in my zip code. Some folks in mine own multi-7 figure homes and drive Porches. I have an apartment and drive a Toyota. Same zip code.

So when people say it's factually false that the poor and uneducated are more likely to end up in the military, ask where they get that idea. Probably from a conservative think tank using a craptastic methodology.

And when the Department of defense actually says that
"Both active and reserve recruits are primarily from families in the middle and lower middle socioeconomic strata"

one should probably believe it.

And all of this just means that Kerry, in his lame delivery, accidentally uttered a statistical truth that we'd rather not believe, in a time in which we're busy telling ourselves stories that the people over there are just like us, only more brave and patriotic, so we feel okay that it's them and not us. Fact is, we tend to send our less priviliged folk off to kill and die on our behalf. And it's good that we'd rather not believe it. In this case, shame is good. It says that, as a society, we have a decent sense of justice and social burden. But it's the truth.