- Patriots and Scoundrels
- Ward Swingle (1927-2015)
- What You Mean, “We”?*
- Dissed Again
- Gifted and Talented – Academics and Athletes
- Oops, We Did It Again
- This American Life Sociology Syllabus
- Poverty, Perceptions, and Politics
- Crowds – Blinkers vs.Thinkers
- Becker in Paris
- The Wisdom of Crowds vs. The Smart Money - Again
- Names Ending in N
- Police, Protests, Police Protests, and Legitimacy
- Horton Hears a Whom?
- Freaks and Civilization
- Uncertainty and Foreboding. Are Things Really Falling Apart?
- Whose Anecdote Is This Anyway?
- Antiquated Ideas
- Preaching to the Working Class
- To Wit, I Was a Total Dick
- Another Bungled Apology
- Negative Negativity
- “Whiplash” - The Little Drummer Boy
- Old Folks At Home . . . And Abroad
- Sexting and Gender
JANUARY 25, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Sunday, and no football. But we’ll always have Belichick and Brady. I’m not saying that the Patriots are out-and-out liars. But they are outliers. The advantage of an underinflated ball, like the eleven of the twelve footballs the Patriots used last Sunday, is that it’s easier to grip. Ball carriers will be less likely fumble if they’re gripping a ball they can sink their fingers into. We can’t go back and measure the pressure of balls the Patriots were using before the Colts game, but Warren Sharp (here) went back and dug up the data on fumbles for all NFL games since 2010. Since a team that controls the ball and runs more plays has more chances to fumble, Sharp graphed the ratio of plays to fumbles (values in red squares in the chart below) along with the absolute number of fumbles (values in blue circles). The higher the ratio, the less fumble-prone the team was.It’s pretty much a bell curve centered around the mean of 105 plays-per-fumble. Except for that outlier. And the chart shows just how far out it lies. The Patriots play in a cold-weather climate in a stadium exposed to the elements. Yet their plays/fumble ratio is 50% higher than that of the Packers, 80% higher than the Bears. They have good players, but those players fumble less often for the Patriots than they did when they played for other NFL teams. Usually, the statistical anomaly comes first – someone notices that US healthcare costs are double those of other nations – and then people try to come up with explanations. In this case, it wasn’t until we had a possible explanatory variable that researchers went back and found the outlier. As Peter Sagal of “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” said, “The League became suspicious when a Patriots player scored a touchdown and instead of spiking the ball he just folded it and put it in his pocket.” UPDATE, JAN. 28: Since I posted this, there has been some discussion of Sharp’s data (“discussion” is a euphemism – this is sports and the Internet after all). If you’re really interested in pursuing this, try Advanced Football Analytics or this piece at Deadspin “Why Those Statistics About The Patriots Fumbles Are Mostly Junk,” (to repeat, “discussion” is a euphemism, and if you want more strongly voiced views, read the comments). One of the difficulties I suspect is that a fumble is a rare event. The difference between the teams with the surest grip and the most butterfingered is about one fumble every couple of games.
(Click on an image for a larger view._)One of these things is not like the others. That’s what an outlier is. It’s off the charts. It’s nowhere near the trend line. Something about it is very different. The variables that might explain the differences among the other data points – better players, better weather or a domed stadium, a pass-centered offense – don’t apply. Something else is going on. As the graph shows, when the teams are rank ordered on the plays/fumbles ratio, the difference between one team and the next higher is usually 0-2, there are only two gaps of 5 until the 9-point gap between #3 Atlanta and #2 Houston. From the second-best Texans and to the Patriots there’s a 47-point jump. Sharp also graphed the data as a histogram.
JANUARY 23, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ (Not sociology but, to borrow Chris Uggen’s term, “self-indulgery.”) Ward Swingle died last week. A few weeks earlier, I had been listening to this video of Andras Schiff playing the Bach C-minor partita, and I heard him play a wrong note in the Sinfonia. Maybe not wrong, but not what Bach wrote – a C instead of a B♭.* Ward Swingle was the reason I knew.In 1963, Phillips released “Bach’s Greatest Hits” – Bach compositions done the Swingle Singers, a vocal octet, plus drums and one of Europe’s top jazz bassists, Pierre Michelot). I listened to that record so often enough that I knew every note in the Sinfonia. I even got the music since the left hand was mostly eighth notes at a slow tempo, I could play it in my own clumsy fashion.** Here are the Swingle Singers lip-synching to that record. Funny, but what sounded so cool then, now sounds thin, even cheesy, especially with the drums, and I think it would be better a capella.Because the Swingle Singers were based in Paris (many of them had been in the Double Six de Paris), I was surprised to learn from the obits that Swingle himself was not French (he grew up in Mobile, Alabama) and that Swingle really was his name rather than a nom-de-disque he invented because of its jazzy overtones. ------------------------------ * It comes at about the 2:00 mark. ** I am entirely self-taught (i.e., untaught) at the piano, and my left hand is pretty much useless for anything but chords.
JANUARY 20, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ What do we mean when we say “we”? Or more to the point, what does the president mean when he uses that word? The Atlantic has an interactive graphic (here) showing the relative frequencies of words in State of the Union addresses. (“Addresses” because I’m choosing my words carefully. These were not “speeches” until Wilson. Before that, it was written text only.) Here “we” is.Other words are less puzzling. Freedom is a core American value, but of late (the last five or six presidents), it’s the Republicans who really let it ring.That sense of a public seems to have declined. Even the “collectivist” Democrats of recent years use the term only about one-tenth as much as did the Founding Fathers. Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison – their SOTUs had more than ten _publics _for every _freedom_. I checked one other word because of its revance to the argument that the US is “a Christian nation,” founded on religious principles by religious people, and that God has always been an essential part of our nation.The Almighty, at least in State of the Union addresses, is something of a Johnny-come-lately. Like _We_, He gets a big boost with the advent of big government. FDR out-Godded everybody before or since, except of course, the Bushes and Reagan. Thank you and God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.*** ---------------------------- * For those who are very young or have led sheltered lives, this title is the punch line spoken by Tonto in an old joke, which you can Google. ** See his _Habits of Heart_, written with Richard Madsen, William M. Sullivan, Ann Swidler, Steven M. Tipton. Or get a brief version in this lecture. *** Update: I just noticed that the two “Gods” in that sentence work out to a rate of 200-300 per million. If tag lines like that are included as part of the text, that accounts for the higher rate since FDR. It’s not about big government, it’s about radio. Prior to radio, the audience for the SOTU was Congress. Starting with FDR, the audience was the American people. Unfortunately, I don’t know whether these closing lines, which have now become standard, are included in the database. If they are included, the differences among presidents in the radio-TV era, may be more a matter of the denominator of the rate (length of speeches) than of the numerator (God). FDR averaged about 3500 per SOTU. Reagan and the Bushes are in the 4000-6000 range. Clinton and Obama average about 7000. So it’s possible that the difference that looks large on the graph is merely the difference between a single God-bless closing and a double. This audience factor might account for some of the increase in the use of _we_. A president might use _we_ far more often when he his addressing the nation than when he is reporting to Congress.
(Click on thechart for a larger view._)The rise of “we” seems to parallel the rise of big government, starting with Wilson and our entry into a world war, followed by a brief (10-year) decline. Then FDR changes everything. “We,” i.e., the people as represented by the government, are doing a lot more. Sorting the data by frequency shows that even in the big-We era, big-government Democrats use it more than do Republicans. (JFK used We less frequently than did the GOP presidents immediately before and after him. But then, it was JFK who said not to ask what the government could do for us.)
JANUARY 18, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Sociology is the Rodney Dangerfied of social science. The latest insult comes from economist Noah Smith. On his Noahpinion blog, he posted two pictures of faux zoo animals: a dog that a Chinese zoo tried to pass off as a lion; and a “panda” in an Italian circus that was really a chow painted black and white.But why did Smith say that his post was “a blaze of amateur sociology”?* Smith does not mention sociology in the post, nor does he use any sociological terms, as if to suggest that the amateur sociology dig is so obvious that it needs no explanation. But I’m confused. Is he saying that these clumsy attempts to pass domestic dogs off as exotic animals are amateur sociology? Or is he saying that his pointing out frauds that are this obvious is amateur sociology? Either way, we don’t get no respect. ------------------------ * Smith changed the title, but the original still shows up in blog aggregtors like my G2Reader and in the URLfor the post: http://noahpinionblog.blogspot.com/2015/01/lion-dog-panda-dog-blaze-of-amateur.html.
JANUARY 16, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Can women be brilliant? Apparently, academics don’t think so, at least not according to some research reported in The Chronicle (here).
New research has found that women tend to be underrepresented in disciplines whose practitioners think innate talent or "brilliance" is required to succeed.Women might be successful in those fields, but while the top men in those fields will be seen as having some ineffable _je ne sais quoi_ – in the words of the survey questionnaire, “a special aptitude that just can’t be taught” – women achieve their place the old fashioned way– hard work. The Chronicle interviewed Sarah-Jane Leslie, one of the authors of the study. It’s easy to find portrayals of men with a “special spark of innate, unschooled genius,” like various incarnations of Sherlock Holmes or television’s House, M.D. But accomplished and smart women—think Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series—are typically depicted as simply hard-working. That reminded me immediately of a similar issue in sports, where the key variable is not race but gender. (See this HuffPo piece.) The observation has become almost a cliche. Blacks are perceived to have natural talent while for Whites it takes diligence and perseverance to achieve a place on the All-Star team. Or to paraphrase Ms. Leslie and The Chronicle: It’s easy to find portrayals of Blacks with a "special spark of innate, unschooled genius," like Michael Jackson or Magic (note that name) Johnson. But accomplished Whites – Larry Bird or Steve Nash – are typically depicted as simply hard-working.
JANUARY 16, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ How many times can you lose your innocence? I was listening to a podcast of an old (June, 2000) episode of the BBC’s “In Our Time.” It was about America, and on the panel was Christopher Hitchens, the British journalist who had relocated to Washington, DC. The moderator’s first question was about American idealism, and this is what Hitchens had to say: Here is a transcript, but you should really listen to the audio clip, if only to catch Hitchens’s tone and to hear him spin out long, perfect sentences with the ease that most of us have for answering questions like “What time is it?” The one that amuses me the most is the reference that you get about once a year to the American loss of innocence, as if this giant, enormous, powerful, slightly vulgar society ever had any innocence to lose, let alone could regain it and lose it again. I’ve heard the loss of innocence attributed to: the Spanish-American War, the assassination of President Kennedy, the assassination of President Kennedy’s brother, the war in Vietnam, the disclosures made at Watergate, through the discovery, which is in Robert Redford’s movie “Quiz Show,” that the quiz shows in the fifties were fixed – that was apparently a great American loss of innocence – and on the front page of the New York Time, when he died, in the obituary of Frank Sinatra, the idea that Frank Sinatra’s songs represented the loss of innocence for America. . . There is . . . a danger of self-regard, of narcissism in that. That was in 2000, so you could add 9/11, the Iraq war, Abu Ghraib, the torture report. If we keep losing our innocence so often, we never really lose it. We might be temporarily careless with it, but we find it again very quickly and forget that we’d ever lost it. We return to an idealized view of ourselves as a nation whose motives are 100% pure. As Randy Newman puts it in his song “Political Science,
No one loves I don’t know why We may not be perfect, But Heaven knows we try.With such a view of ourselves, each revelation of anything that departs from the ideal is a new shock. One immediate reaction is denial. And when the facts become undeniable, we react wtih something like the disbelief and regret of the morning-after drunk who had blacked out.* “I really did that? Oh, gee, I’m sorry. Killing millions of indigenous people and taking their land? I really did that? Slavery? Atomic bombs?** We really did that?” Why not face it: we’re not that innocent. Forgetting (in Freudian terms, repression) and denial allow us to retain our innocence, at least in our own minds, but with the result that we’re less likely unlikely to change. For example, many White Southerners today want to enshrine the Confederate flag, the flag of a country that was based on the enslavement of Blacks and that waged a war that killed a greater proportion of the United States population than did any other war.** “We really did that?” James Baldwin once said, “Nobody is more dangerous than he who imagines himself pure in heart.” --------------------- * I think Philip Slater may have made this same analogy. If so, maybe his inspiration was the same as mine – Shelly Berman. **When my brother taught world history in high school, he included this question on a test:
Which is the only country that dropped an atomic bomb on another country? a. Russia b. Germany c. Japan d. the United StatesOnly about half the students got it right. *** In absolute numbers, more US soldiers died in World War II.
JANUARY 13, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ At the ASA meetings in 2013, when Ira Glass and “This American Life” were given the award for Excellence in the Reporting of Social Issues, Donald Newman hailed the show for providing such good material for his classes but regretted that the show was so short on theory. No, no, Ira protested. What the show wants is stories, especially stories with interesting characters, who, almost by definition, are not typical. Sociological principles and generalizations, Ira said, are the last things we want.* But that means that the show is a great resource for us professors. It provides the stuff that will grab students’ attention. Then we come in and show how sociological concepts spin a larger web that includes other stories that at first might not seem related. Last weekend’s edition (the podcast is here) is a case in point. The show, given over to Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel of NPRs new “Invisibilia” podcast, was about “expectations.” Miller and Spiegel begin with a laboratory rat they had smuggled into the NPR offices. They would show people the rat and ask, DO YOU THINK THAT THE THOUGHTS THAT YOU HAVE IN YOUR HEAD – YOUR PERSONAL THOUGHTS – CAN INFLUENCE THE WAY THAT RAT MOVES THROUGH SPACE? Nearly everyone said no. “Ask Bob Rosenthal,” I said to myself. I had taken methods with him not so long after he had done the famous experiments – grad students told that their rat was either “maze bright” or “maze dull.” The rats were, of course, the same, but the results were different. And Miller and Spiegel did ask Bob Rosenthal, who described those experiments. They also asked Carol Dweck, who extended the idea, listing other examples of expectation influencing performance. But the phrase coined by sociologist Robert Merton, “Self-fulfilling prophecy,” isn’t mentioned, though it covers an even wider range of behaviors. Then Miller and Spiegel moved to a different question: COULD MY EXPECTATIONS MAKE A BLIND PERSON – WHO LITERALLY HAS NO EYEBALLS – SEE?Even Bob Rosenthal says no. The question led to a segment on Daniel Kish, who is blind – no eyeballs – but who, using a kind of echolocation he taught himself, was riding a bike by age six. He climbed trees and fences, walked to school, made his own breakfast and lunch, and couldn’t imagine living any other way. In fifth grade, Daniel meets another blind kid, Adam.
Adam completely unnerved him because he was so incapable of getting around on his own. . . He had simply never needed to get around on his own before.
ADAM: I went to this school for the blind from age five to age seven.
And there he was taken around on someone’s arm almost all the time. In the lunchroom, people brought him his food, carried his books, helped him tie his shoelaces.
ADAM: I don’t know why people did things for me. They just did.
Robert Scott, _The Making of Blind Men,_ I said to myself. I’d read it decades ago. It’s about agencies for the blind, adult versions of Adam’s school. I tried to remember how Scott put it. People arrive thinking that they are normal people who have a lot of trouble seeing; the agency teaches them that they are blind people who have some residual vision.
Sure enough, just as the program called Bob Rosenthal to talk about his experimenter-effect experiments from the 60s, now they had Bob Scott talking about his research from roughly the same time. Again, the program takes you right up to the edge of sociological concepts and generalizations and then stops. It mentions the idea that blindness might be a “social construction,” but by this they seem to mean, as Spiegel puts it, “that blindness is mostly in our head.”
Talking with Scott, they couldn’t very well miss the role that agencies for the blind played. Lulu Miller says that Scott, in the course of his research, started to see that what organizations for the blind were doing was to communicate to them the message, “Blind people can’t do those things.”
But the larger point is that expectations are not just personal and interpersonal (“mostly in our head”). They are institutional. “Social constructions” are more than just conventions or shared definitions. Once they become built into the architecture of institutions, they become real in a way that makes them much more difficult to question.
So** for the sociologist, a one-hour podcast fills in several open spots in the course outline – self-fulfilling prophecy, social construction of reality, institutions, self-concept and the self, and perhaps more.
*I’m working from memory here. Ira might not have said this so explicitly.
** Lulu and Alix (pronounced uh-LEECE) start most of their sentences with “so.” They’re not alone. I hear it all the time now, and since I can remember a time before this trend, I notice it. And I wonder: so when did this start?
JANUARY 9, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ My mother used to tell the joke about the story written by a girl from a rich family, a third grader at a fancy private school: “Once upon a time there was a very poor family. Everybody was poor. The mommy was poor, the daddy was poor, the butler was poor, the maid was poor . . . “ The recent Pew survey (here) doesn’t use the words _rich_ or _poor_. Instead it talks about “financial security,” a new measure of the same concept. The financially secure have bank accounts and IRAs; the financially insecure have food stamps and Medicaid. The basic finding is that the well-off have no idea what it’s like to be poor. More than half of the financially secure think that “poor people today have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return.”The top two groups* are far more likely say that the US government can’t afford to do more for the needy. A Washington Post writer, Roberto Ferdman (here ) looks at the data and asks, “Why the surprising lack of compassion?” Surprising? Don’t WaPo writers know about the Tea Party? Or the GOP victory two months ago? Much of that success was based on the idea that the government should do less for the poor in order to reduce taxes on income for the non-poor. (The biggest tax breaks in the actual proposals would go to the very richest, though the GOP doesn’t advertise that in its public statements.) The poor often have incomes that, after deductions and credits, are so low that they fall below the threshold for the income tax. The Wall Street Journal famously referred to these poor people as “lucky duckies.” We choose perceptions that fit with our ideologies. WSJ sees the poor as lucky, the Tea Party sees them as moochers. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for compassion. It’s hardly surprising that the financially secure have no idea of what it’s like to be poor.** The lives of the different social classes rarely intersect, and even when they do, it’s unlikely that the relationships are close enough that people would talk about their financial problems. Instead, we get a TV news reporter showing that he can buy caviar and lobster with food stamps. Maybe what’s surprising is that aid to the poor has survived at all. Policy is up to politicians, and politicians get far more votes from the financially secure than from the insecure. The Pew report is called “The Politics of Financial Insecurity,” and one of the basic political facts is that poor people don’t vote.I had just been reading Alice Goffman’s _On the Run_, and when I saw the Pew report, I remembered something she says in her methodological (and autobiographical) note. She had spent years living among poor Black people in Philadelphia. Her book is mostly about the young men in trouble with the law, but she also hung out with “clean” people. When she steps out of that world to enter graduate school at Princeton, she is a cultural and political fish out of water. Since I’d been restricting my media only to what Mike and his friends read and watched and heard, I couldn’t follow conversations about current events, and learned to be silent during any political discussions lest I embarrass myself. Goffman is educated, White, and financially secure. Yet living in the world of the insecure, she gradually acquired their view of politics, which is almost no view at all, where politics is unknown and unseen. ---------------- * The top two levels comprise perhaps 35-40% of the population. That’s a guess because the Pew report gives no information on the middle groups. It says only that the top group is about 25% and the bottom group 20%. ** In the 2012 presidential campaign, Anne Romney an interview talked about her and Mitt being poor in the years as young marrieds, this despite Mitt’s wealthy father. My mother must have been looking down from above and remembering her joke. In any case, the advantage of Pew’s variable is that it distinguishes between income and financial security. The young Romneys may have had a low income, but they were not insecure.
(Click on an image for a larger view._)I’m curious about the 29% of the least financially secure who also agree with that statement, but Pew provides only the basic statistical breakdown. If you have that perception of poor people and government, the policy question is a no-brainer: Don’t spend any more government money on the poor.
The financially secure were nearly three times as likely to have a firm political viewpoint -- 32-33% compared with only 12% among the financially insecure.If politics and voting are ways of securing interests and ideas, those who have no firm point of view will give politics and voting a low priority (unless there is some single issue that stirs them). The financially insecure have little motivation to sense of connection to electoral politics. Asked which party they support, they are more likely to say they’re “unsure” than to pick the Democrats or Republicans.
JANUARY 6, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Most of the wisdom-of-crowds post in this blog have been about sports betting. The trouble there is that no matter how many people are betting, they have only two choices – the favorite or the underdog. To see whether the crowd is wiser than the experts, you’d need data on many, many games. The original wisdom-of-crowds test was a weight-guessing contest, so the crowd had an infinite number of choices – not just Colts or Bengals but all weights from one pound on up. Plymouth, England, 1906. On display is an ox, slaughtered and dressed. How much does it weigh? Fairgoers submitted their guesses. A statistician, Francis Galton, happened to be there and recorded the data. Galton was also a eugenicist, so he was certain that the guesses of the masses would be less accurate than those of the experts. But it turned out that the crowd, as a group, was far more accurate. The average of all the guesses (n=787) was within one pound of the actual weight (1,198 lbs). No individual guess came that close. In a blog post many years ago, I mentioned (here) that I was going to try to replicate the study with the students in my class replacing the fairgoers, and instead of ox, a jar of M&Ms. I did, but the class mean was way off, mostly because of one outlier, a girl whose guess was an order of magnitude higher than the others. Besides, the sample size, about 20 students, was too small. Now, Erik Steiner, a geographer at Stanford, has gone Galton using the coins his parents had been tossing into a jar for the last 27 years. Steiner crowdsourced guesses to the entire Internet. He posted the contest on the Stanford Website, and then Wired reposted it.
Photo: Susie SteinerHe got 602 guesses,* not exactly the entire Internet, but enough for data analysis. Here is his summary: I won’t bore you with the finer points of asymmetric non-parametric one-sample T tests, but let’s put it this way: The crowd was_ waaaay _off. The value of the coins in the jar was $379.54. The average of the guesses was $596.12 – a difference of $216.58, or 57%. Steiner’s results don’t give much support to the crowd. But the experts, those who tried to be the smart money, were even shorter on wisdom. . . . people who claim to have done some math were far less accurate (X =$724.81) than those who made a snap judgment (X =$525.02). This may explain why estimates submitted from .edu or gmail addresses were less accurate than guesses submitted from hotmail and yahoo addresses. Here is Steiner’s chart of the data.
(Click on the chart for a larger view._)Steiner refers dismissively to “all that Gladwellian snap-judgment stuff.” But even he has to admit that the blinkers did better than the thinkers. In fact, the crowd_ median_, rather than the mean, was pretty close to the actual value. Without those thinkers who “actually did the math,” the median and mean would have been even closer to the mark. (Steiner’s write-up, along with charts and links to the data, are at Wired – here.) ------------------------ * I’m not sure what to make of these response rates. Steiner sent his query out to potentially the world, but his crowd turned out to be smaller than the one that wrote down their guesses one day at a fair. I guess it’s a matter of whose ox is scored.
JANUARY 5, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ You know what the real problem with Bourdieu was? The real problem with Bourdieu was that he was a schmuck – power-hungry and mean in spirit and obsessed with career. Now that I’ve got your attention . . . Yes, I suppose that’s the money quote in Adam Gopnik’s profile of Howie Becker in the latest New Yorker (here). Most of the article, thankfully, is not about character assessment (or assassination). It’s about sociology, American sociology as practiced by Howe Becker. Gopnik interviews Becker in Paris – at his apartment in the 5ème and at a nearby resto. I had not known that Becker has a following in France, unexpected given his preference for starting with ground-level data – what people do and say. The important difference between Becker and European sociologists (and many American sociologists too) is Becker’s commitment to “exotic beauties of empiricism” (Gopnik’s phrase, not Becker’s). “He’s resolutely anti-theoretical and suspicious of ‘models’ that are too neat.”Becker never starts by laying out theoretical concepts; he starts with people doing something together – playing music,* getting high, studying medicine. When he does move to a slightly more theoretical plane, it’s to point out something that is fairly simple but that most people seem to be overlooking. Until _Outsiders_ (1963), much writing about deviance and crime started from the question, “Why do those people do those weird or bad things?” Becker reminded us that deviance is a process; it involves not just breaking rules but also creating and enforcing those rules, and that we should study the motives and methods of the “moral entrepreneurs” as well as those of the deviants. The “why” question focuses all attention on the deviant. It also leads to theoretical abstractions. Becker asks “how,” which focuses attention on what people actually do. Gopnik, by the way, is sensitive to this France/America divide over the primacy of facts or theory. As an American journalist in Paris, he had to fact-check an article, only to find that the French were completely unfamiliar with this job. “What do you mean, _une fact checker_?” There is a certainty in France that what assumes the guise of transparent positivism, “fact checking,” is in fact a complicated plot of one kind or another, a way of enforcing ideological coherence. That there might really be facts worth checking is an obvious and annoying absurdity; it would be naive to think otherwise.** For Becker, checking the facts, even the ordinary ones, and thinking carefully about them is not only necessary; it is what eventually leads to sociological insight. ------------------------------- *I had always assumed that Becker was a competent but ordinary jazz pianist. In _Outsiders,_ he refers to the musicians he played with (and got high with) as “dance musicians.” Now, thanks to Gopnik, I discover that he studied with the extraordinary Lennie Tristano. **From Paris to the Moon (2000). An earlier blog post on facts and theory in France and the US is here. http://montclairsoci.blogspot.com/2007/07/thinking-and-working.html
JANUARY 4, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Several posts in this blog have looked at the “wisdom of crowds” in football betting. In brief, the wisdom of crowds idea asserts that the collective opinions of the many are more accurate than the opinions of a few experts. (For a fuller explanation, see this post from 2009.) Today’s playoff game between the Bengals and the Colts provides an example. The crowd loves Indianapolis. Two-thirds of bets have been coming in on the Colts, who opened as 4-point favorites. Nevertheless, early in the week, the line went down to 3 ½. Apparently, the bettors who the bookies most respected, were taking the Bengals, even though the Bengals star receiver, A. J. Green will not be playing. Today, the public has continued to bet the Colts, with the result that some books have raised the line back to 4. The smart money is still on the Bengals. But if you believe in the Wisdom of Crowds, you should be on the Colts. UPDATE: The smart money wasn’t. The crowd was wise. The Colts easily beat the Bengals 26-10.
JANUARY 3, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ A post at FiveThirtyEight (here), by Nate Silver and Allison McCann, has the title, “How to Tell Someone’s Age When All You Know Is Her Name.”* But if the person in question is a male, you might make an equally good guess with one letter – the final one. In a 2009 post (here), I had some graphs showing the rise of boys names that end in the letter N.And here are the youngest 25.Among the oldsters, only Norman and Herman sport the final N. But in the 3-10 median age group, 14 of the top 25, including eight of the eleven youngest, end in N. I am at a loss as to how to explain this. It could just be one of those cases of unintentional and unconscious influence. With some names, the imitation with slight variation is more overt – Aidan, Jayden, Brayden, Kayden, et al. But for those others – Landon, Mason, Julian, and the rest – maybe there’s something about that final N that, like the music of Mumford and Sons or Kings of Leon, sounds just right to the ears of 21st-century parents. ----------------- * The post appear May but was recently tweeted, which is how I discovered it.
JANUARY 2, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Steve Anderson, the police chief of Nashville deserves some kind of an award. The city of Nashville had protests about the shootings in Ferguson and elsewhere. The police department respected the rights of the demonstrators. The department even blocked of part of the Interstate for them and provided them with hot chocolate. No violence or destruction of property resulted. Not everyone in Nashville was happy with the policy. You really have to read the letter he wrote explaining his policy to a disgruntled citizen. Actually, he explains a lot more. The Nashville.gov page (here) starts with Chief Anderson’s message to his police officers (nice, but not required reading), followed by the citizen’s letter (very civil in tone). (MNDP is probably Metropolitan Nashville Police Department, THP Tennessee Highway Patrol). The Chief’s answer is a gem. Matching the civility of the citizen, he nevertheless points out the empirical and logical flaws. He writes in plain English, slightly formal but with no academic terms. Still, I would guess that he has some background in political theory, cognitive psychology, and sociology. I did not find much that seemed directly relevant to the recent police actions and inactions here in New York. But there is this: Anderson starts by quoting the citizen.
“I have a son who I have raised to respect police officers and other authority figures, but if he comes to me today and asks "Why are the police allowing this?" I wouldnt have a good answer.”
[The Chief responds:]
It is somewhat perplexing when children are injected into the conversation as an attempt to bolster a position or as an attempt to thwart the position of another. While this is not the type of conversation I ordinarily engage in, here are some thoughts you may find useful as you talk with your son.
First, it is laudable that you are teaching your son respect for the police and other authority figures. However, a better lesson might be that it is the government the police serve that should be respected. The police are merely a representative of a government formed by the people for the people—for all people. Being respectful of the government would mean being respectful of all persons, no matter what their views.
You have to admire the Chief for nailing the citizen’s rhetorical strategy (“I have a son . . .”). More important is the chief’s understanding of the relation between the police and the government. Adding in the NYC conflict,I would go further. The police have a unique power – the general right to use force and violence. But that power is legitimate only if the police serve the government – a duly and democratically elected government. If the police use that power to oppose the government, to engage in partisan politics, to give vent to their petulance, or to further their self-interest (the police union is still in negotiations with the city over their contract), they risk losing their legitimacy.
It would also be interesting to see how the opinioneers on the right and the left are framing these issues. As Peter Moskos* (here) and perhaps others have pointed out, it’s complicated. The tangle of ideology includes strands labeled Government, Police, Race, Unions, and now Crime and Broken Windows. But perhaps the underlying or ultimate issue, one not explicitly spoken of, is legitimacy.
HT: Peter is also my source for the Nashville letters.
DECEMBER 31, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ In discussions of language and grammar the word _correct_ should usually be in quotes. Either that or it should be amended to “_currently_ correct.” That goes for pronunciation and spelling too. The trouble is that language prescriptivists seem to think that what is currently correct has always been so and always will be. They’re wrong. NPR recently asked listeners for their language gripes – “the most misused word or phrase.” Topping the list was “I and “me.” (The full list is here.) Strictly speaking, “the gift is for you and I” is wrong. We have objective pronouns (me) and subjective pronouns (I). Putting a couple of words between the preposition (for) and the pronoun doesn’t change that. If you wouldn’t say, “The gift is for I,” then don’t say, “The gift is for you and I.”*Strictly speaking, it should be “between you and me.” But we don’t speak strictly. Language changes. Yesterday’s solecism becomes today’s standard usage. I don’t like “between you and I,” but wishing people would stop using it is like wishing they’d stop texting. (Need I point out that _text_ as a verb did not exist until very, very recently?) At #9 on the prescriptivists list isBut not too long ago, “he graduated from college” was itself a grammatical error. NPR, in the very next sentence, says,Imagine a newspaper in 1900 asking the NPR “most misused word or phrase” question. High on the readers’ list of grammar gripes: “Even our best educated are now saying, ‘I graduated from Harvard,’rather than the correct, ‘I was graduated from Harvard.’” “Was graduated from” was never the most popular way of saying it, but it held its own up until about 1950. Since then “I graduated from” became the clear winner and is now, at least among the NPR complainers, the “correct” form. Coming in at #5 on the list isThe graph from Google Ngrams shows the frequency in books, i.e. formal writing. Its misuse can escape copy editors even at the Times :
Saying someone “graduated college” instead of “graduated from college.”They don’t have too much to worry about. Their preferred form is ten times more common.
A college graduates a student, not the other way around. The "from" makes a big difference.But while NPR sees why this makes “he graduated college” incorrect, it fails to note that by this same logic, “he graduated from college” is also wrong. If it’s the college that graduates the students, we should say “he was graduated from college.” And in fact, we did say it that way.
Ongoing confusion over “who” vs. “whom.”The confusion is easily cleared up: get rid of whom. Reserve it for a few special occasions. In fact, that’s what’s been happening.
The defenders of the interrogation program say little about two men whom are portrayed especially harshly by the Senate reportSurely _whom _is fading even faster in everyday speech. I’m surprised that NPR could find even a few dozen people who mourn its passing. I am certainly not among them. (Or is it_ amongst _them?) --------------------- The root of the “I/me” problem is that English lacks a disjunctive pronoun. The French, thanks to _moi_, _toi,_ etc., never make these mistakes.
DECEMBER 30, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Whatever happened to freaks? I saw the musical “Sideshow” on Saturday. It’s based on the story of the Hilton sisters, Violet and Daisy, conjoined twins. When the musical opens, they are in Texas with a traveling sideshow of freaks – the bearded lady, the dog boy, the half-man/half-woman, a midget couple, a three-legged man, and others. The storyline of the show traces the girls’ escape from the exploitative sideshow operator, who in effect owns them, and their relation with two men who teach them to sing and dance and who eventually develop their them into vaudeville stars of the 1920s.Vaudeville is long gone, and so is the freak show. We still have the staples of vaudeville – singers and dancers and comedians. And you can still find, in clubs or circuses or late night TV, magicians and ventriloquists, jugglers and fire-eaters, contortionists and animal acts. But no freaks. I don’t mean the performers – the glass eater, the sword swallower, the human pin cushion, the geek. [Language note: Until very recently, the term geek referred to the sideshow guy who bit the heads off live chickens, and I am curious as to how geek came to mean something much less specific and much less deviant. The word freak too lost its bite starting in the 1960s with speed-freaks and acid-freaks. As unconventionality became more stylish, freak might mean nothing more than enthusiast.
(Frequency of freak_ in books, as per Google nGrams.)The term allowed an utterly ordinary person the fantasy of metamorphosis into someone offbeat and interesting. Freakonomics – need I say more? The characters on the 2000s TV series “Freaks and Geeks” were neither, at least not according to the definitions of only a few decades earlier. They would not have qualified for the sideshow. On the other hand, many people walk around in the conventional world today so extensively tattooed that they would have easily been sideshow material a century ago.] The performers who had developed unusual skills were examples of what we sociologists might call “achieved” deviance. The freaks I wonder about are those who one of the characters in “Sideshow” calls “nature’s mistakes.” They seem to have disappeared from sight. My friends who grew up in New York used to go to Hubert’s Dime Museum on 42nd St., a sideshow collection of freaks and acts that ran through the mid-1960s. The closest that the today’s Disneyfied Times Square comes is Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum is just a few doors down the street. But Hubert’s and the like have not reopened anywhere. No doubt there are places on the Internet showing all sorts of physical anomalies, but I the audience for these sites is probably smaller and more secretive than was the freak show audience. The freak show has fallen victim to a normative shift that has taken two forms. First, freaks are less abnormal. We have become more accepting of people who are different. They are no longer the objects of fascination and horror that they once were. Our normative circle has expanded, spreading now to include many of the “differently abled” who might previously have been excluded. As the boundary has broadened, even those who are really different are no longer so distant. Consequently, they are not so deviant. We have defined their deviance down. Second, as norms have become more accepting of physical difference, they have also become less tolerant of those who haven’t gotten the message, the unenlightened rabble who would belittle, tease, laugh, or gawk. We must teach them restraint and kindness. It’s not nice to point and stare and others’ deformity. This sounds a bit like Norbert Elias’s _Civilizing Process_, which traces how Europeans came to throw the heavy cloak of manners over bodily functions, violence, dining, and speech. Elias was writing about a transition that began with the medieval aristocracy and filtered through bourgeoisie of later centuries. By the time book was published (the mid-20th century), the civilizing process seemed like something that had reached its peak in the 19th century. The strictures of Victorian norms were loosening. We were less uptight about bodies, and that was groovy. Maybe, but apparently the civilizing beat goes on. If there is a message to “Sideshow,” it is that the freak show – exploiting its cast while egging on its audience, daring them to stare – was a shameful spectacle, one that we like to think we have relegated to the bin of history.
DECEMBER 26, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Don’t be fooled by the stories in the headlines or on the evening news, says Steven Pinker in an article for Slate (here). Those stories are about death and devastation, and they reinforce a popular but incorrect picture of a world in chaos. I think Robert McNamara was the first government official to use the quote from Yeats that has now become a cliche in this regard:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,*Or as Times columnist Roger Cohen said just two months ago (here), Many people I talk to . . . have never previously felt so uneasy about the state of the world. . . . The search is on for someone to dispel foreboding and embody, again, the hope of the world. A few weeks later, in his year-end summary (in verse, no less), Cohen repeated the same idea: “The world has never seemed more fragile.” Never? Nonsense, says Pinker. As a nation and as a world, we’ve never had it so good. And unlike the journalists reviewing their headlines and ledes, Pinker backs up his never-better diagnosis with data from the last quarter-century. Murder, rape, war, mass killing, genocide, dictatorships – all down. Democracy – up. the availability heuristic: As long as violence has not vanished from the world, there will always be enough incidents to fill the evening news. And since the human mind estimates probability by the ease with which it can recall examples, newsreaders will always perceive that they live in dangerous times. All the more so when billions of smartphones turn a fifth of the world’s population into crime reporters and war correspondents. True, but there’s something else, and I’m surprised that Pinker misses it: we are uneasy about the world today because of its uncertainty. It seems worse than anything that’s gone before because we know how those things in the past turned out. The trouble with all the current problems that we can so easily think of – ISIS, climate change, global recession, and the rest – is not just that they’re bad but that they might get worse, and in ways that we can only imagine. (Of course we can only imagine them. They haven’t happened yet.) Hence, Cohen’s “foreboding” and “uneasy” feelings. Bad stuff happened in the past – recessions and crime and wars and global threats. But we survived them all, those of us who are still alive. Some things turned out terribly (Rwanda, Cambodia, Chernobyl, etc.), but they are over now, so we need not feel any sense of foreboding. In most cases, we don’t even feel much afterboding. Even when the underlying problem remains, if we live with it long enough, it becomes familiar. So as long as it doesn’t get much worse, we learn to live with it. By definition, what is familiar cannot be uncertain, so it causes less anxiety. Back in the high-crime years of the 1960s and 70s, surveys found that people felt safer in their own neighborhoods than in unfamiliar neighborhoods – even when their own neighborhoods had a much higher crime rate. I remember phoning a guy for directions to his party in some NYC neighborhood I didn’t know. “Is it safe?” I asked. “Of course it’s safe,” he said indignantly. When people asked the same question about my neighborhood, I’d give the same answer. “Of course, it’s safe.” I lived across from Needle Park, and I would sometimes see junkies on the nod, standing in stupor on the sidewalk. There were murders in Riverside Park two blocks away. But I had not been personally victimized, and the junkies became part of the taken-for-granted landscape. My cognitions were adapting locally, but globally we do the same thing. The 1964 movie “Dr. Strangelove” is about a nuclear confrontation between the US and the Russia. People worried about that back then. Today, both those countries still have more than enough nuclear warheads to blow up the world, and there have been some Strangelovian close calls. But the uneasiness, fear, and uncertainty of the 1960s have passed. Or as the full title of the movie says, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” It’s not that we love the bomb, but we have stopped worrying. When Roger Cohen and other handwringers look back at 2014 from the distance of a decade or probably less, they won’t see it with unease. Today’s problems won’t seem so threatening. They will instead be something that we lived through. And maybe, just maybe, they will also look at the data on long-term trends. ----------------------- * I recall some journalist reporting that he overheard McNamara use this quote during a dinner party conversation. McNamara, Secretary of Defense for both JFK and LBJ, was one of the most important among the folks who brought us Vietnam. So I doubt that his quoting of Yeats extended to the next line of the poem, the one about “The blood-dimmed tide.” My memory of this whole thing could be faulty. I’ve searched using Google and the Times index but can find no reference to it.
DECEMBER 22, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ (This is a revised post. The original version was different in tone.) How much can we trust the memory of a memoirist? In Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild (now a movie starring Reese Witherspoon), a man she meets on the road tells her an unusual anecdote. A few days later, she will read that same anecdote in a book. The echo cannot be coincidence. The anecdote is too special. According to the jacket flap, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail is “A powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an eleven-hundred-mile solo hike.” Strayed leaves the trail at times to check back in to civilization or to circumvent stretches of the trail locked in by snow. After one such detour about halfway through her journey, she is hitching back to the PCT. An old Ford Maverick stops to offer a ride – a woman and man in the front seat, another man and a husky in the back. She accepts. Strayed’s seatmate in the back is Spider (“his dark hair woven into a thin braid. He wore a black leather vest without a shirt underneath and a red bandanna tied biker-style of the top of his head.”
“What are you doing on the road anyway?” Lou** asked from the front seat
I went into the whole PCT shebang, explaining about the trail and the record snowpack and the complicated way I had to hitchhike to get to Old Station. They listened with respectful, distant curiosity, all three of them lighting up cigarettes as I spoke.
After I was done talking, Spider said, “I’ve got a story for you, Cheryl. I think it’s along the lines of what you’re talking about. I was reading about animals a while back and there was this motherfucking scientist in France back in the thirties or forties or whevever the motherfuck it was and he was trying to get apes to draw these pictures, to make _art_ pictures like the kinds of pictures in serious motherfucking paintings that you see I museums and shit. So the scientist keeps showing the apes these paintings and giving them charcoal pencils to draw with and the one day one of the apes finally draws something but it’s not the art pictures that it draws. What it draws is the bars of its own motherfucking cage. Its own motherfucking cage! Man, that’s the truth ain’t it? I can relate to that and I bet you can too, sister.
“I can,” I said earnestly.
“We can all relate to that, man,” said Dave, and he turned in his seat so he and Spider could do a series of motorcycle blood brother hand jives in the air between them.
Twenty pages later, Strayed is reading a book. Before she started her journey, she mailed packages to herself, addressed to post offices along the Pacific Crest Trail. The packages contained replenishment of food, supplies, and books. On the trail, Staryed would tear out and burn the pages as she read them – no sense carrying around the extra weight – and start a new book at the next postal station.
A few days after her ride with Spider, she picks up one such package. “I sat for hours reading the book that had come in my box – Vladimir Nabokov’s _Lolita_ – while waiting for my boots to arrive.”
Strayed doesn’t mention it, but at the end of _Lolita_ is an afterword, “On a Book Entitled Lolita,” that Nabokov added for the US edition (_Lolita_ had originally been published in France.) Here, in part, is the third paragraph:
The first little throb of Lolita went through me late in 1939 or early in 1940, in Paris . . . . As far as I can recall, the initial shiver of inspiration was somehow prompted by a newspaper story about an ape in the Jardin des Plantes, who, after months of coaxing by a scientist, produced the first drawing ever charcoaled by an animal: this sketch showed the bars of the poor creatures cage.
The same ape-cage/art-bars story. Whose memory is speaking – Strayed’s or Nabokov’s? How to explain the similarity? Spider, despite the “I was reading about animals” intro, doesn’t seem like someone who has read much literature or zoology. Maybe in writing her memoir fifteen years later, Strayed remembers the ape parable, probably because it so perfectly reflects her state of mind at the time. In her mind, the story sits in the heat and the mountains, someplace near the Trail. In a hike of three months and 1100 miles, her memory is off by only a few days and a hundred miles. But that’s enough for her to confuse her sources. She gives the story to Spider and rewrites it in his idiom.
At first I thought that Strayed might be deliberately copying Nabokov, appropriating his remembered throb and translating it into the voice of one of her characters. Maybe she did. But the passage certainly does not seem like an homage to Nabokov or evidence of his influence or inspiration.* Besides, if she had been consciously ripping off the master’s material, wouldn’t she fear that some readers might notice?
Till now, apparently nobody has.
* I’ve mentioned this problem before (here) in connection with a Kate Walbert story that appeared in the New Yorker. Lorrie Moore’s 2012 story “Referential” is very clearly references Nabokov’s “Signs and Symbols.” (My post on that is here.)
DECEMBER 16, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Who’s afraid of Virgina Woolf? The answer seems to be: men. MessyNessyChic (here) has posted some anti-women’s-suffrage posters from the 1890s and early 1900s.* The common theme is fear – fear that allowing women to vote will destroy masculinity.The anti-suffrage logic rests on the assumption that voting is masculine. Therefore women who want to vote are masculine, and men who would allow women to vote are feminine. If women get the vote, it’s the end of masculinity as we know it. Gender roles will not just be more similar, they will be reversed.This masculinity must be very fragile. It cannot survive unless the game is rigged so that men start with all the high cards – economic, social, political, and legal. Anything resembling a fair deal, and masculinity shrivels. Of course today, nearly a century after the Nineteenth Amendment, men’s anxiety about equality is hard to find. Or is it? I live in a politically liberal district, Manhattan’s Upper Left Side, but the other day, I found this message chalked on the sidewalk outside an Irish bar.If you really want to see the revival of the fears animating those anti-suffragette posters, wait till Hillary Clinton gets the nomination in 2016, and watch for the reaction on the right. Republicans seem to infuse many political questions with masculinity-anxiety. In 2009, when Obama ordered the CIA to stop using torture, conservatives argued that he was “emasculating” the CIA. Yes, that’s the word they used. (See my post from September, 2009, here.) ----------------- * The Nineteenth Amendment was finally ratified in 1920, more than a half-century after the Fifteenth Amendment guaranteed all races the right to vote.
DECEMBER 16, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Can’t these conservatives agree on what’s wrong with liberals? It was only a couple of years ago that Charles Murray was berating successful, upper-middle class liberals for not preaching to the White working class. They had gotten good educations, worked steadily at their jobs, and stayed married. But they didn’t try to inculcate these virtues in others. They didn’t even know those others or their culture. The well-off liberals were keeping poorer Whites in the dark about how to be successful. Now comes Ross Douthat saying that liberals are in fact preaching to the working class to follow their ways. The trouble, as Douthat sees it, is that those ways are not good. In his Sunday column, Douthat considers “arguments about how policy might improve the fortunes of the unemployed and the working class.” He refers specifically to the idea of working class people imitating the lifestyles of the educated and prosperous. Many optimistic liberals believe not only that such imitation is possible, but that what needs to be imitated most are the most socially progressive elements of the new upper class’s way of life: delayed marriage preceded by romantic experimentation, more-interchangeable roles for men and women in breadwinning and child rearing, a more emotionally open and egalitarian approach to marriage and parenting. Have “many liberals” really made this argument? Back in July, I myself was Douthat’s designated “many liberals” (see Douthat’s blog here ), yet I have never said anything like this. Some liberals have argued that working class marriages would be less brittle if husbands and wives were less rigid about gender roles.* But as far as I know, liberals do not see this as the roadmap to prosperity. If you know of any (or many) liberals who make this claim, please let me know. Douthat and fellow conservatives like Brad Wilcox, who Douthat cites favorably, do see a link between marriage patterns and income. And these intellectuals have no problem preaching to the working class about how to get richer, and the sermon is fairly short: marriage and religion. “Oh my working class brethren, they say, imitate us upper-middle class conservatives. Get married, stay married, and go to church. If you do that, prosperity is just around the corner.” As Robert Rector, the Heritage Foundation’s chief poverty guy put it, “Being raised in a married family reduced child’s probability of living in poverty by about 82 percent.” (An earlier post about this deliberate scrambling of cause and effect is here.) Basically, what these conservatives (Douthat, Wilcox, Regnerus,** et. al.) don’t like is sex, or rather sexuality. When Douthat refers to “romantic experimentation” in the quote above, you can almost see him biting his tongue, restraining the impulse to use some more vivid and morally loaded term. Since sexuality is bad, it must have all sorts of bad consequences. That’s the assumption underneath the preaching by the columnists and politicians; the same evil-causes-evil assumption motivates the research by the social scientists. Their sound-bite for the news or their abstract for the journal is this: Unless sexuality is tightly wrapped in marriage, it’s bad for society and bad for individuals. Maybe, but I have serious doubts as to its connection with economic success. As I said (and graphed) in that earlier post, for the last 40 years, marriage rates have been falling and out-of-wedlock childbirth has been rising. But these changes in the family show little connection to changes in the rate of poverty. So if it’s not the decline of marriage that’s eroding the incomes of the working class, what is it? As one of our more successful working-class-to-upper class exemplars put it (perhaps also an exemplar in “romantic experimentation”): it’s the economy, stupid. -------------------------------------- * Stephanie Coontz, I think, makes this argument (HT: Philip Cohen, who knows the literature on marriage far better than I do.) ** Regnerus, you may recall, was the principal researcher in the study that purported to show that children of gay parents have far more problems than do the children of straight parents.
DECEMBER 11, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Sometimes, somebody gets the apology thing right. (See this previous post on how not to apologize. Ben Edelman is the Harvard Business School professor whose e-mail exchanges about being overcharged $4 for Chinese food went viral. Technically, Edelman was in the right. Sichuan Garden charged him their current prices rather than the prices Edelman saw in their online menu when he ordered. But Edelman acted like a total dick. To wit, like a lawyer instead of a person. (He has a law degree from Harvard. In fact, he has several degrees from Harvard – further support for the multiple-intelligences idea. On a PR IQ test, Edelman would score a couple of standard deviations below the mean.) The Sichuan Garden owner, Ran Duan, responding in grammatically challenged English, offers to refund $3. Edelman cites Massachusetts statues verbatim and adds in pure lawyerese. It strikes me that merely providing a refund to a single customer would be an exceptionally light sanction for the violation that has occurred. To wit, your restaurant overcharged all customers who viewed the website and placed a telephone order. . . . You did so knowingly, knowing that your website was out of date and that customers would see it and rely on it. Boston.com ran the story with the e-mails.* It got picked up all over the Internet, and now two days later, Edelman has apologized. He doesn’t say it as bluntly as the title of this post. But to his credit, he doesn’t try to justify or explain. Many people have seen my emails with Ran Duan of Sichuan Garden restaurant in Brookline. Having reflected on my interaction with Ran, including what I said and how I said it, it’s clear that I was very much out of line. I aspire to act with great respect and humility in dealing with others, no matter what the situation. Clearly I failed to do so. I am sorry, and I intend to do better in the future. I have reached out to Ran and will apologize to him personally as well Many of the comments at Boston.com (here) are unforgiving. Haters gonna hate. But at least Edelman had the good sense not to given them more ammo by defending himself. And now, I am imagining a table of lawyers lunching in Chinatown. “I’d like something spicy,” one says to the waiter, “to wit, the Kung Pao chicken.” -------------------------- *The original story, with the e-mails, appeared at Boston.com (here). Unfortunately, the last time I looked, the e-mails did not load. Too bad. The Edelman v. Duan difference in prose style makes for great reading.
DECEMBER 1, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Ever since Karen Cerulo’s talk at our AKD honors society event last spring, I’ve become more aware of apologies. The take-away from her research (with Janet Ruane) seems to be this: Don’t explain, don’t elaborate, and for God’s sake, don’t try to justify or get people to understand. Say that you made a mistake, you did something wrong, you’re sorry, and shut up. It seems obvious, but today brings us Elizabeth Lauten’s fifteen minutes of unfortunate fame. Lauten a staffer for a Republican congressman, posted something on Facebook criticizing the demeanor of the Obama daughters at the White House turkey pardoning. Soon, that post was tweeted and retweeted around social media sites, and within a few hours, Lauten posted an apology. It didn’t help. Today she resigned. Here is Lauten’s Facebook post.Telling the First Daughters to show a little class and then telling them that their parents don’t respect their positions or the US – you can see how this might not play well with the general public. So Lauten apologized: After many hours of prayer, talking to my parents, and re-reading my words online I can see more clearly just how hurtful my words were. Please know, those judgmental feelings truly have no place in my heart. This is wrong in so many ways. First, it’s not believable. Did it really take “hours of prayer” and the rest for her to figure out that what she had written was really nasty? Do we believe that she did not see that when she wrote the post? Second, she’s saying that she didn’t mean those judgments that she put in the post. Her heart wasn’t in it. But if not, then why post it? Third, she tries to call attention to her own virtue: Look at me – I pray, I turn to my parents (who by implication are better role models and more respectful of the US than are your parents, Sasha and Malia). Fourth, the prayer-and-parents line wasn’t directed at the Obama girls at all. It was intended for the “family values” audience that Lauten sees as the constituency for her boss (Stephen Fincher, R-TN) and herself. But that’s the problem in the first place. My guess is that Lauten has been living in a reddest-state world where everyone takes for granted that Obama is the anti-American tyrant, the destroyer of the Constitution, and probably Muslim, foreign-born, and gay. So no slur is too outrageous. Outside of that hard core, using the children as a vehicle for vilifying the parents seems too much like a divorced parent saying nasty things to the kids about her ex. Even within the hard-core right, and even when the target is Obama, there might not be much support for trying to poison a daughter’s relation with her father.
NOVEMBER 26, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Negative statements are harder to evaluate than are positive statements, though the difference may be only a microsecond of thought.
1. True or False: Barack Obama is not president. 2. True or False: Barack Obama is president.When multiple negatives keep switching the sign from positive to negative and back, a reader sinks into the mud and struggles to find the meaning of the sentence. In previous posts (here , for example) I’ve made up my own examples (“The Supreme Court today failed to overturn a lower-court ruling that denied a request to reverse . . .”). I thought I was exaggerating. But try this. “BAD ACTS SHOULD NOT LONG REMAIN WITHOUT AN INSUFFICIENT TAX.”Three negatives –_ should not, without, insufficient_. Four if you count _bad_, the negative of _good_. Five if you count_ tax_ as the negative of_ reward_. I am not making this up. It’s a variant on something from Robin Hanson’s blog, Overcoming Bias . Here is the verbatim quote “GOOD ACTS SHOULDN’T LONG REMAIN WITH AN INSUFFICIENT SUBSIDY. OR BAD ACTS WITHOUT AN INSUFFICIENT TAX.” An author shouldn’t refuse to leave unedited a sentence with so many negatives. Or do I mean the opposite?
NOVEMBER 23, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ I played my drum for him Pa rum pum pum pum I played my best for him Pa rum pum pum pum If you’ve seen “Whiplash,” you’ll get the irony. If not, watch the trailer.Like most trailers, it pretty much tells you the whole story, though it inflates the boy-girl theme, which in the actual movie is an afterthought, a bit of romantic relief in lieu of comic relief (the movie has zero laughs). After all, we can’t have 105 minutes of non-stop sadism, intimidation, and humiliation. And blood. There’s a lot of blood. Much more than you’d expect in a movie about jazz drumming. But then, this movie is not really about jazz. Getting back to the Christmas carol, Fletcher (J.K. Simmons – the music teacher as drill sergeant) is no Baby Jesus, but he is a charismatic figure albeit a negative one. He leads the band via charismatic authority. Andrew (Miles Teller) and the other students are in his thrall. They want only to please him and avoid his cruelty. It is for him that they practice, it is for him that they play (“Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum, on my drum?”). “Whiplash” is shot mostly in dim music rooms, and the lighting gives the movie a film noir feel. But the constellation of conflicts and characters too reaches back to film noir. . .That’s from a book published in 1950, _Movies, a Psychological Study,_ by Martha Wolfenstein and Nathan Leites. They sort out the dominant themes in American, Brtish, and French films of the late 1940s. Watching “Whiplash” you get the sense that little has changed. In the “night-time world . . . the hero grapples with a dangerous older man and wards off entanglement with a desirable and yearning woman.” Even from the trailer, you can see that this is a good description of the place of romance in “Whiplash.” The character of Andrew’s father (Paul Reiser) is also foretold by Wolfenstein and Leites. “The hero’s father is usually a sympathetic character, and almost always ineffectual.” As in film noir, the conflicts are largely external. The hero need not admit the possibility of his own dark impulses. That goes for the audience as well. These are all projected onto the bad guy.
. . . a night-time dream world . . . where the hero is involved in a conflict of crime and punishment with the older man, his boss, often the lord of the underworld
It is the hero’s boss who attacks him and who commits numerous crimes for which he frequently tries to inculpate the hero. The violent impulses [of the hero],* acknowledged in much [other] Western tragedy, find a reverse expression here. The [hero] is in the clear because the older man attacks him first. Everything he does is in self-defense. Any bad actions of which the heroes of other dramas may accuse themselves appear as a frame-up against which the hero must fight. He would be amply justified in killing the unfairly attacking older man.Andrew’s motives are pure mostly. He starts off nearly as innocent as the little drummer boy, though with more ambition. He wants to work hard and become a good drummer, maybe the best. But then Fletcher insinuates himself into the boy’s dreams to distort those motives into a self-destructive obsession. It feels like a case of demonic possession, and Fletcher is the demon. Because the conflicts are externalized, because the film dumps all negative impulses into the character of Fletcher, there can be only one resolution. The trailer doesn’t give away the ending, but you can guess. There’s going to be a showdown between Andrew and Fletcher. Why? Because, as I’ve remarked several times in this blog (here for example), American films often hinge on the assumption that all problems can be solved by a climactic confrontation. The problems might be external – politics, crime, etc. – and the good guy and bad guy slug it out to see whose vision of the society will prevail. But even when the conflicts are internal - the hero’s moral and psychological state – they are solved by a contest, often athletic. “Rocky” and “The Karate Kid” find their true inner virtue in the ring. But the arena might just as easily be a chess tournament, a pool hall, a dance floor. Or a band performance. In reality, transposing the film noir set-up to a jazz band is a bit of a stretch. In these movies, the question is who’s going to run this show – the good guy or the bad guy (as in “On the Waterfront,” “High Noon,” and surely many others). But in the real world, jazz students in band class aren’t learning to stand out as leaders. Just the opposite – they’re learning to play as part of a band. Horn players learn to blend with their section. Rhythm section players have more latitude; where horn parts are carefully written note for note, the score for piano, bass, guitar, and drums will have sections that are less specific – chord symbols or general rhythmic indications. But rhythm players too, including drummers, must learn to meld with the ensemble.** Unfortunately, a hero learning to be an integral part of a whole would not make for much of a movie, at least not an American movie. But to repeat, this movie is not about jazz, learning it or playing it. It’s about the conflict between the young hero and the lord of the underworld. -------------------------- * Wolfenstein and Leities, writing in 1950 and much influenced by Freud, put this in Oedipal terms: “the violent impulses of sons toward their fathers.” ** There are one or two exemplary musical moments in “Whiplash” where you hear a well-rehearsed band doing some great ensemble playing. That said, there are real-life drummers who do lead the band, loudly, and let the audience make no mistake as to who is the star of the show. Most notably there was Buddy Rich, who seems to be an inspiration for the characters in “Whiplash” and perhaps for the filmmaker as well. Buddy had more than a touch of Fletcher, as you can hear in some of his rants on the bus, tearing into his young musicians, rants that were surreptitiously taped by the band’s pianist Lee Musiker. Listen here.
NOVEMBER 22, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ “We need to get rid of Obamacare,” says Ed Gillispie in a NYT op-ed yesterday (here). The reason: Obamacare’s “gravitational pull toward a single-payer system that would essentially supplant private insurance with a government program.” Gillespie, who lays out his credentials at the start of the article – he ran for Senate in Virginia and lost – notes that Obamacare is unpopular. But he omits all mention of a government-run single-payer system that happens to be very popular – Medicare. No Republican dare run on a platform of doing away with it. Gillespie himself accused Obamacare of cutting Medicare, a statement that Politifact found “Mostly False.”So how are seniors doing? Compared to their pre-Medicare counterparts, they are probably healthier, and they’re probably shelling out less for health care. But compared to seniors in other countries, not so well. A Commonwealth Fund survey in eleven countries finds that seniors (age 65 and older) in the US are the least healthy – the most likely to suffer from chronic illnesses.*Over half the the US seniors say that they are taking four or more prescription drugs. (All the other countries were below 50%.)And despite Medicare, money was a problem. Nearly one in five said that in the past year they “did not visit a doctor, skipped a medical test or treatment that a doctor recommended, or did not fill a prescription or skipped doses because of cost.” A slightly higher percent had been hit with $2000 or more in out-of-pocket expenses.In those other countries, with their more socialistic health care systems, seniors seem to be doing better, physically and financially. One reason that American seniors are less healthy is that our universal, socialized medical care doesn’t kick in until age 65. Their health problems may have started long before that. People in those other countries have affordable health care starting in the womb. Critics of more socialized systems claim that patients must wait longer to see a doctor. The survey found some support for that. Does it take more than four weeks to get to see a specialist? US seniors had the highest percentage of those who waited less than that. But when it came to getting an ordinary doctor’s appointment, the US lagged behind seven of the other ten countries.There was one bright spot for US seniors. They were the most likely to have developed a treatment plan that they could carry out in daily life. And their doctors “discussed their main goals and gave instructions on symptoms to watch for” and talked with them about diet and exercise.
Gillespie and many other Republicans want to scrap Obamacare and substitute something else. That’s progress I suppose. Not too long ago, they were quite happy with the pre-Obamacare status quo, even though the US healthcare spending was double that of other countries with little difference in health outcomes. That didn’t stop George Bush from insisting throughout his years in the White House that “America has the best health care system in the world. But at least now, the Republicans want to do something different. Unfortunately, their Republican ideology precludes them from learning from other countries. As Marco Rubio put it, we must avoid “ideas that threaten to make America more like the rest of the world, instead of helping the world become more like America.”But maybe they might learn from their own country by taking a second look at Medicare, a program many of them publicly support. They’ll just have to avoid letting anyone know that it for nearly a half-century it has done what Gillespie should not be done: “supplant private insurance with a government program.” ------------------------ * Includes hypertension or high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, lung problems, mental health problems, cancer, and joint pain/arthritis.
NOVEMBER 18, 2014. _Posted by Jay Livingston_
How do you feel about the girl after she sends it?, I asked.
“Super thots.” [THOT - “that ho over there”]
“You cant love those thots!”
“Thats right, you cant love those hos.”
Whichever the girl does – sext or refuse – the boys find a reason to be contemptuous.
For the boys, the pictures were not about sex or stimulation; they were purely for narcissistic satisfaction and social status.
They gloat inwardly or brag to friends; they store them in special apps or count them. . . . “Guys would pile them up,” one girl who had graduated a year earlier told me, referring to sexts they’d gotten. “It was more of a baseball-card, showing-off kind of thing.” Olivia described it as “like when they were little boys, playing with Pokémon cards.”
The boys saw the sexts as a universalistic and utilitarian currency – something they could trade and use for other goals. That’s why the boys’ promises not to show the picture to anyone else can evaporate so quickly. The picture has use value only if others see it. It has meaning as an object; that meaning is not connected with the particular person in the picture. She could just as easily be Charmander or Snorlax.
The girls, by contrast, were more particularistic. A picture was important for what it said about the relationship between her and a particular boy. Girls have the relationship in mind also in those rarer instances when they ask a boy for a picture
It is kind of a marker that you have reached a certain point in a relationship or you are about to reach a certain point in a relationship. So it can be foreplay. It can be a kind of intimacy.[_Rosin in a Fresh Air interview here._]
That “marker” comment suggests that the girls too had a “base” system in mind, but if so, the bases were the stages in the relationship, the level of intimacy with another person. They did not share the boys’ view of the sext as a bit of capital added to their individual holdings and separate from the person in the photo.
I.Much of Hanna Rosin’s recent Atlantic article “Why Kids Sext” plays on the generational divide. Parents get understandably upset about something that kids see as just another part of social life. Cops and prosecutors have an even more difficult time since a high schooler’s sexy cellphone selfie is a felony in most states. The media too aren’t sure how to play it. “Massive teen sexting ring,” gasped the headline in a local paper in Louisa County, Virginia. A couple of high school kids had created an Instagram page with about 100 photos of girls from the local high school and middle school. They hadn’t taken the pictures; they had merely consolidated the photos that were already circulating on kids’ phones. When Rosin asked kids in the local high school how many people they knew who had sexted, the “ring” turned out to be “everyone.” (The kids overestimated. I think that surveys find that about a third of kids have sexted.) Rosin’s article reveals differences not just of age but of gender, for despite the newest iPhone and Instagram technology, the ideas and attitudes, especially those of the boys, seem like something out of the 1950s. The “maddening, ancient, crude double standard” is, unfortunately, alive and well. So is the idea of sex as conquest. Boys describe how they would sweetly cajole girls to sext. When the photo arrived, the boys felt a kind of egotistical pride (“I’m the man”) – not much different from high school boys of sixty or seventy years ago bragging about “getting to second base” or farther. (I guess a sext is somewhere between second and third – a sort of .jpeg shortstop.) On college campuses, as Lisa Wade has said, the order of the bases has changed. Maybe that’s true in high school too, but the game mentality – with all its attendant attitudes and assumptions – remains the same. If a girl refused, the boys dismissed her as “stuck up” or a “prude.” And if she did send the photo . . .
II.Sex – universal commodity or special relationship? Many years ago, long before cell phones and sexts, I thought I might demonstrate this difference by asking students to imagine a dream date. I was a genii, I said, and I will grant your wish. You can have a date with any person you choose. You can spend an evening doing whatever you want, and if you like, the evening can extend till morning. But you must choose one of two conditions. A. You actually have the date, but nobody will ever know about. B. You don’t have the date, but everybody thinks you did. I had them mark their ballots anonymously but asked them to indicate their gender. Then, as an afterthought – mostly because I wanted to keep up with popular culture – I also asked them to write down who they were thinking of. I thought that more boys would choose B – the date as utilitarian currency. I was wrong. Everybody wanted the actual date. But gender did make difference on the second question. Most of the boys chose women from the media (as I recall, Heather Locklear got several votes – I told you this was a long time ago). The girls’ choices were more along the lines of “this guy I knew in high school” or “this guy I went out with last year but we broke up.” The boys did not want the date as a tradeable commodity. Instead it was an abstracted ideal, a fantasy. They had no idea what it would actually be like to spend a few hours with Heather Locklear the real person. What the girls wanted was a real relationship with a real person.