- Green Light, Red Light, 3-2-1
- Stateways v. Folkways; Alito v. Roberts
- Character or Structure – The David Brooks Temptation
- YouThought So Too? I Had No Idea.
- James Salter, 1925-2015
- Me and Earl and the Diffusion Curve
- Girl With a Disputed Ethnography
- With a Quack Quack Here
- A Time to Be Born
- Did Protests Lead to the Killing of More Cops?
- Data Is Like Spaghetti
- Don Draper and The Pursuit of Loneliness
- Privilege (Twice!), Class, and Collectivism
- No, No, a Thousand Times No
- Don Draper Meets the Chicago School
- Do Liberals Fail the Churches?
- The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place, But None There Vote in a Senate Race
- Still Giving It Away
- Is Sensitivity a Plague?
- Imagining the Motives of Others
- Luigi Zingales Occupies Wall Street
- Baltimore Ballet
- Edmund Burke on Rioting
- Ideology Happens
- David Brooks – The Great Resource
JUNE 30, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ The good news about those countdown timers at pedestrian traffic lights is that they do what they’re supposed to do – save pedestrian lives and limbs. here). You may have heard Shankar Vedantam reporting it on NPR a few days ago (here). The bad news is that while these timers are good for pedestriams, they are bad for cars. They increase car-on-car violence, and of a particular kind – rear-end collisions. Economists Magesan and Kapoor think of an intersection as market of walkers and drivers. The purpose of their study was “to evaluate a policy that improves the information of all market participants.” They conclude that giving everyone more information about when the light will change is what’s causing the accidents. The largest increase is in rear-end accidents and we think it’s because two cars approaching a light, who both see the countdown, the guy behind, he sees the two or three seconds and thinks, oh, the guy in front of me is going to floor it too, Ill floor it and we’ll both get through the intersection. Whereas the guy in front thinks, OK, I only have two or three seconds left, Im going to slowdown. It’s like the old joke:At 72nd St., if drivers going downtown on Broadway focus on the timer, rather than racing through the intersection, they will stop while the traffic light is yellow.
Cop to driver who has run a light: Don’t you know what that yellow light means? Driver: Yeah, go like hell, the red one’s next.The problem is not that pedestrians and drivers have the same information but that drivers have two sources of information. My guess is that in these rear-enders, the driver in front is paying more attention to the traffic light. he sees that it’s yellow and might turn red at any moment now. He slows down. The driver behind is focused more on the countdown timer. He sees that he still has a second or two to beat the light. Crash. The economists have a solution – asymmetric information. More specifically Install them so that the pedestrians are aware of the timers but the drivers are not. And one way to do that would be to broadcast the timers via audio so that the pedestrians can hear the countdown clock go down, but drivers cannot. Would you want the added noise of an audio signal? And if the intersection is already loud with the noise of traffic, the volume on the audio would have to be fairly high for people to hear it. There’s a different, and cheaper, way. Give the walkers and drivers different information. In New York, some countdown timers for pedestrians are not synched with the traffic lights for cars. At the corner of 79th and Broadway, the light for cars turns red at the 9-second mark and red at 6 seconds.
(The poor quality of the video makes it hard to see the timer, but take my word – it goes to 0 when the traffic light turns orange.)As you can see from just these two videos, the time difference between the lights for drivers and walkers varies considerably from one corner to the next. I have no idea whether each timing is based on some logic and evidence about the specific intersection or whether these are different treatments in an experiment.
JUNE 27, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingsto_n “Stateways cannot change folkways.”* Or can they? That’s an empirical question, and it figures briefly in two of the dissents in the Supreme Court’s gay-marriage decision yesterday. Chief Justice Roberts (Dread Justice Roberts – except for an occasional Obamacare decision) and Justice Alito both dissented. Their arguments were mostly about the Constitution. But both also made stateways/folkways predictions about the effects the decision would have on public opinion. Justice Roberts went sociologist Sumner one better. The law would change public opinion – but in the opposite direction.
Supporters of same-sex marriage have achieved considerable success persuading their fellow citizens—through the democratic process—to adopt their view. That ends today. Five lawyers have closed the debate and enacted their own vision of marriage as a matter of constitutional law. Stealing this issue from the people will for many cast a cloud over same-sex marriage, MAKING A DRAMATIC SOCIAL CHANGE THAT MUCH MORE DIFFICULT TO ACCEPT.
* * * *
Indeed, however heartened the proponents of same-sex marriage might be on this day, it is worth acknowledging what THEY HAVE LOST, AND LOST FOREVER: THE OPPORTUNITY TO WIN THE TRUE ACCEPTANCE that comes from persuading their fellow citizens of the justice of their cause. And they lose this just when the winds of change were freshening at their backs. [emphasis added]
Alito, on the other hand, thinks the Court’s decision will make gay marriage so widely accepted that those who oppose marriage equality will live in fear, able to “whisper their thoughts” only in the safe rooms of their houses.
It will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy. In the course of its opinion, the majority compares traditional marriage laws to laws that denied equal treatment for African-Americans and women. The implications of this analogy will be exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.
I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.
By imposing its own views on the entire country, the majority facilitates the marginalization of the many Americans who have traditional ideas.
Once you get past the whiny tone (poor little Sam Alito: “My ideas will be won’t be popular any more and people will make fun of me”), you have an empirical prediction. Those who “cling to old beliefs” will be persecuted. You know, like early Christians (or contemporary Christians if you believe Bill O’Reilly).
For one of his predictions you have to define “marginalization” and “vilification” and get measures of them before and after yesterday’s decision — a difficult task, maybe an impossible one, though the question remains an empirical one. It will be easier to operationalize and get data on how often America’s governments, employers, and schools mistreat the anti-gay-marriage thought-whisperers.
If previous SCOTUS decisions are a guide, you have to lean towards Alito, at least as concerns public opinion. Patrick J. Egan at The Monkey Cage (here) created this chart showing trends in public opinion following decisions on interracial marriage and abortion. He also included opinion on marriage equality in the years leading up to yesterday’s decision.
In 1967, the year of the _Loving_ decision, supporters of interracial marriage were in the minority.** By the time of that decision, support had risen, and it continued to rise. The Court had to paraphrase Roberts, “stolen the issue from the people,” But that decision did not “cast a cloud over interracial marriage,” nor did it “make a dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept.” Much the opposite. But _Roe v. Wade_ seems to have had little impact on public opinion. _Obergefell _looks more like _Loving_ than like _Roe_. Support for gay marriage has been on the increase and has already become the majority view. More important, the pro/anti differences are generational, as was the case with interracial marriage. The generations coming in are more liberal on this issue than are the generations exiting the population. Opposition to marriage equality will continue to fade, not because of persecution or because of “government, employers, and schools,” but because of heart disease, cancer, and respiratory illness. -------------------------- * What Sumner actually said was, “legislation cannot make mores.”* But he said it in a book called Folkways (1906), the meaning is nearly identical, and it sounds better than what he really said. For more on inaccuate quotes, see James Grossman’s blog post Did They Really Say That? (here). Grossman adds, “if you are of a mind to check ‘legislation cannot make mores,’ please note that if you do it through Google Books you are likely to be asked whether you really mean ‘legislation cannot make smores.’” ** The chart shows GSS data on “oppose ban” – 44%. A Gallup poll from roughly the same time asking about “approval” for interracial marriage showed only about 20% approving.
JUNE 26, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ I was on jury duty this week, and the greatest challenge for me was the David Brooks temptation. I found myself on the verge of using that experience to expound on the differences in generations on the great changes in culture and character that technology and history have brought. I did my first tour of duty in the 1970s. Back then you were called for two weeks. Even if you served on a jury, after that trial ended, you went back to the main jury room. If you were lucky, you might be released after a week and a half. Now it’s two days. What most struck me most this time was the atmosphere in the main room. Now, nobody talks. You’re in a large room with maybe two hundred people, and it’s quieter than a library. Some are reading newspapers or books, but most are on their latops, tablets, and phones. In the 1970s, it wasn’t just that there was no wi-fi, there was no air conditioning. Remember “12 Angry Men”? We’re in the same building. Then, you tried to find others to talk to. Now you try to find a seat near an electric outlet to connect your charger.I started to feel nostalgic for the old system. People nowadays – all in their own narrow, solipsistic worlds, nearly incapable of ordinary face-to-face sociability. And so on. But the explanation was much simpler. It was the two-day hitch. In the old system, social ties didn’t grow from strangers seeking out others in the main jury room. It happened when you went to a courtroom for voir dire. You were called down in groups of forty. The judge sketched out the case, and the lawyers interviewed the prospective jurors. From their questions, you learned more about the case, and you learned about your fellow jurors – neighborhood, occupation, family, education, hobbies. You heard what crimes they’d been a victim of. When judge called a break for bathroom or lunch or some legal matter, you could find the people you had something in common with. And you could talk with anyone about the case, trying to guess what the trial would bring. If you weren’t selected for the jury, you went back to the main jury room, and you continued the conversations there. You formed a social circle that others could join. This time, on my first day, there were only two calls for _voir dire_, the clerk as bingo-master spinning the drum with the name cards and calling out the names one by one. My second day, there were no calls. And that was it. I went home having had no conversations at all with any of my fellow jurors. (A woman seated behind me did say, “Can you watch my laptop for a second?” when she went to the bathroom, but I don’t count that as a conversation.) I would love to have written 800 words here on how New York character had changed since the 1970s. No more schmoozing. Instead we have iPads and iPhones and MacBooks destroying New York jury room culture – Apple taking over the Apple. People unable or afraid to talk to one another because of some subtle shift in our morals and manners. Maybe I’d even go for the full Brooks and add a few grafs telling you what’s really important in life. But it was really a change in the structure. New York expanded the jury pool by eliminating most exemptions. Doctors, lawyers, politicians, judges – they all have to show up. As a result, jury service is two days instead of two weeks, and if you actually are called to a trial, once you are rejected for the jury or after the trial is over, you go home. The old system was sort of like the pre-all-volunteer army. You get called up, and you’re thrown together with many kinds of people you’d never otherwise meet. It takes a chunk of time out of your life, but you wind up with some good stories to tell. Maybe we’ve lost something. But if we have lost valuable experiences, it’s because of a change in the rules, in the structure of how the institution is run, not a because of a change in our culture and character
JUNE 24, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ The governors of Virginia and South Carolina have now taken stands against the Confederate battle flag. So have honchos at Wal*Mart, Sears, Target, and NASCAR. NASCAR! How could this cascade of reversals have happened so rapidly? Did these important people wake up one morning this week and say to themselves, “Gee, I never realized that there was anything racist about the Confederacy, and never realized that there was anything wrong with racism, till that kid killed nine Black people in a church,”? My guess is that what’s going on is not a sudden enlightenment or even much of a change in views about the flag. To me it looks more like the process of “pluralistic ignorance.” What these people changed was not their ideas about the Confederacy or racism but their ideas about other people’s ideas about these matters. With pluralistic ignorance (a term coined by Floyd Allport nearly a century ago) everyone wants X but thinks that nobody else does. Then some outside factor makes it possible for people to choose X, and everyone does. Everyone is surprised – “Gee, I thought all you guys wanted Y, not X .” It looks like a rapid change in opinion, but it’s not. A few years ago in places like Ireland and Europe, people were surprised at the success of new laws banning smoking in pubs and restaurants. Oh, the smokers will never stand for it. But it turned out that the smokers too were quite happy to have rooms with breathable air. It’s just that before the laws were passed, nobody knew that’s how other people felt because those people kept smoking. The same thing happened when New York City passed a pooper-scooper law. The law is unenforceable, people said; cops will never see the actual violation, only its aftermath. And do you really think that those selfish New Yorkers will sacrifice their own convenience for some vague public good? But the law was remarkably effective. As I said in this post from 2009, Even before the new law, dog owners had probably thought that cleaning up after their dogs was the right thing to do, but since everyone else was leaving the stuff on the sidewalk, nobody wanted to be the only schmuck in New York to be picking up dog shit. In the same way that the no-smoking laws worked because smokers wanted to quit, the dog law in New York worked because dog owners really did agree that they should be cleaning up after their dogs. But prior to the law, none of them would speak or act on that idea. In South Carolina and Georgia and Bentonville, Arkansas and elsehwere, the governors and the CEOs surely knew that the Confederacy was based on racist slavery; they just rarely thought about it. And if the matter did come up, as with the recent Supreme Court decision about license-plates, they probably assumed that most of their constituents and customers were happy with the flag and that the anti-flaggers were a cranky minority.With the support for letting that flag fade into history, it looks as though for a while now, many Southerners have been uncomfortable with the blatant racism of the Confederacy and the post-Reconstruction era. But because nobody voiced that discomfort, everyone thought that other Southerners still clung to the old mentality. The murders in the Charleston church and the subsequent discussions about retiring the battle flag allowed Southerners to discover that their neighbors had always shared their misgivings about the old racism. And it allowed the retail giants to see that they weren’t going to lose a lot of money by not stocking the flag.
JUNE 20, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ A Sport and a Pastime has long been one of my favorite novels. The author, James Salter, died yesterday. The novel was published in 1967. I don’t remember when I first read it – maybe in the 1970s. It had me at hello. Here are the opening sentences September. It seems these luminous days will never end. The city, which was almost empty during August, now is filling up again. It is being replenished. The restaurants are all reopening, the shops. People are coming back from the country, the sea, the roads all jammed with cars. The station is very crowded. There are children, dogs, families with old pieces of luggage bound by straps. Unmistakably Paris. The narrator is in the station and then on a train leaving the station. Soon we are rushing along the valley of departure, the houses of the suburbs flashing by, ordinary streets, apartments, gardens, walls. The secret life of France into which one cannot penetrate, the life of photograph albums, uncles, names of dogs that have died. Salter paints with quick brushstrokes, somehow finding the perfect details that convey the entire scene and an idea – the narrator, an American, can never know this secret but ordinary France. The names of dogs that have died. At first, I was a bit hesitant to recommend this book, mostly because of the sex. Even the Times obituary is circumspect. Controversy surrounded “A Sport and a Pastime,” a slender book dense with eroticism about an American expatriate’s affair with a young Frenchwoman. Their lovemaking is described at close range by a third party, a none too reliable narrator, in a story that has been called, among other things, “intensely transgressive.” Any guesses as to what about the lovemaking was transgressive? OK. It was anal sex – in 1967 still a rarity for serious writers. Only Burroughs in _Naked Lunch_ (1959)and Mailer in _An American Dream_ (1965) come to mind, and they using it to epater le bourgeois; these were exertions in being “transgressive.” In A Sport and a Pastime, the anal sex is part of the love affair. Strange that the Times is so prissy nearly three decades after they first decided the AIDS crises had made the phrase “anal sex” fit to print. I long ago abandoned my diffidence about recommending the book because of it. The narrator presents more of a problem. His identity and his relation to the characters is ambiguous. We can trust him about what he sees out the window of the train. But how can he know what has gone on in the hotel rooms of the lovers (Philip Dean and Anne-Marie)? He makes no secret of his unreliability. I am not telling the truth about Dean, I am inventing him. I am creating him out of my own inadequacies, you must always remember that. But I confess, it’s mostly for the prose style that I reread this book. Images of the towns. Sens. The famous cathedral which is reflected in the splendor of Canterbury itself rises over the icy river, over the still streets. . . . The little shops have grown close around it, cinemas, restaurants. Still, it cannot be touched. Beneath the noon sun the roof, which is typically Burgundian, gleams in the strange design of snakeskin, banded into diamonds, black and green, ocher, red. The sun splashes it like water. The brilliance seems to spread. Snakeskin! I had looked at those roofs in Burgundy several times, but I had never really seen them.
JUNE 16, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ How does a movie gain an audience? Saturday night, I went to the 7:30 showing of “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” The movie had just opened, so I went early. I didn’t want the local teens to grab the all the good seats – you know, that thing where maybe four people from the group are in the theater but they’ve put coats, backpacks, and other place markers over two dozen seats for their friends, who eventually come in five minutes after they feature has started. That didn’t happen. The theater (the AMC on Broadway at 68th St.) was two-thirds empty (one-third full if you’re an optimist), and there were no teenagers. Fox Searchlight, I thought, is going to have to do a lot of searching to find a big enough audience to cover the $6 million they paid for the film at Sundance. The box office for the first weekend was $196,000, which put it behind 19 other movies. But don’t write off “Me and Earl” as a bad investment. Not yet. According to a story in Variety, Searchlight is looking that “Me and Earl” will be to the summer of 2015 what “Napoleon Dynamite” was to the summer of 2004. Like “Napoleon Dynamite,” “Me and Earl” was a festival hit but with no established stars and debt director (though Gomez-Rejon has done television – several “Glees” and “American Horror Storys”). “Napoleon” grossed only $210,000 its first week, but its popularity kept growing – slowly at first, then more rapidly as word spread – eventually becoming cult classic. Searchlight is hoping that “Me and Earl” follows a similar path. The other important similarity between “Napoleon” and “Earl” is that both were released in the same week as a Very Big Movie – “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” in 2004, “Jurassic World” last weekend. That too plays a part in how a film catches on (or doesn’t). In a post three years ago (here) I graphed the growth in cumulative box office receipts for two movies – “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and “Twilight.” The shapes of the curves illustrated two different models of the diffusion of ideas. In one (“Greek Wedding”), the influence came from within the audience of potential moviegoers, spreading by word of mouth. In the other (“Twilight”), impetus came from outside – highly publicized news of the film’s release hitting everyone at the same time.* You can see these patterns again in the box office charts for the two movies from the summer of 2004 – “Harry Potter/Azkaban” and “Napoleon Dynamite.” (I had to use separate Y-axes in order to get David and Goliath on the same chart.)**“Harry Potter” starts huge, but after the fifth week the increase in total box office tapers off quickly. “Napoleon Dynamite” starts slowly. But in its fifth or sixth week, its box office numbers are still growing, and they continue to increase for another two months before finally dissipating. The convex curve for “Harry Potter” is typical where the forces of influence are “exogenous.” The more S-shaped curve of “Napoleon Dynamite” usually indicates that an idea is spreading within the system. But the Napoleon curve is not purely the work of the internal dynamics of word-of-mouth diffusion. The movie distributor plays an important part in its decisions about how to market the film - especially when and where to release the film. The same is true of “Harry Potter.” The Warner Bros. strategy for “Harry Potter” was to open big – in theaters all over the country. In some places, two or more of the screens at the multi-plex would be running the film. After three weeks, the movie began to disappear from theaters, going from 3,855 screens in week #3 to 605 screens in week #9.“Napoleon Dynamite” opened in only a small number of theaters – six to be exact. But that number increased steadily until by week #17, it was showing in more than 1,000 theaters. BoxOfficeMojo.
JUNE 13, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ The Chronicle ran this photo to accompany its story about Alice Goffman. Rembrandt lighting.” But the portrait suggests 17th-century Holland more than 21st-century Philadelphia. It also much different from the way Alice Goffman comes across in person.
JUNE 8, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Heather MacDonald, in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, tried to blame an increase in killings of cops this year on a “Ferguson effect.” Protests over the police killing unarmed people cause politicians to criticize the police. The police, rather than risk sanctions, reduce their proactive efforts. As a result, the “criminal element is feeling empowered.” So crime and cop-killing increase. In a post last week, I offered a simple count of cop killings to show that MacDonald’s assertions about them were quack criminology. I didn’t say anything about crime in general, but in yesterday’s Daily News (here), Frank Zimring, a distinguished criminologist, calls out MacDonald on those numbers as well.
The most recent official crime statistics indicate that so far in 2015, [New York City] has experienced significant declines from 2014s ultra-low levels in burglary, robbery and larceny. At the same time, total homicides for the first five months of the year at 135 are higher than in 2014 — but quite close to the pace of 2013 and around 30% lower than in 2010.
At their current rate, killings in New York City would end 2015 as either the third or fourth lowest year in the city’s modern history.
“Ferguson Effect”? Doesn’t look like it.
And if such an effect has indeed increased the New York homicide total, should it also get credit for the 223 fewer robberies so far in 2015 when compared to the previous year? How about the 974 fewer burglaries in five months?
The Zimring asks, “Why Mac Donald’s fearful haste?”
His answer is, roughly, that MacDonald and The Manhattan Institute where she is the Thomas W. Smith fellow just have a penchant for a sky-is-falling perception of crime. He could have added that the corollary to this view is a preference for policies promoting punishment and the police.*
* Years ago I posted (here) about MacDonald’s “lock ’em up” views on drugs.
JUNE 8, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Primates of Park Avenue is Wednesday Martin’s quasi-anthropological account of the young and the wealthy on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The “wife bonus” got most of the pre-publication flap, but the item that struck me was about family planning.
Martin was further panicked to learn her child had been born in the wrong month; many women on the Upper East Side time their pregnancies and IVF treatments to school enrollment, so their child will begin school at the oldest age possible — a practice known as redshirting.
“You go to the Upper East Side, and everyone will be heavily pregnant in the same month, because the time to have a baby is October or November,” Martin says. “Those are the good birthdays.” [New York Post.]
And why not? We now know, thanks to Malcolm Gladwell, that role birth month plays a large part in who winds up at the top in Canadian junior league hockey.* Couple that with the child-rearing strategy that Annette Lareau calls “concerted cultivation” typical of middle- and upper-class parents. The agrarian metaphor is apt. For Martin’s East Side one-percenters, even before the cultivation of an actual child comes a careful decision about when to plant the seed.
In this, they resemble the breeders of race horses. The official “birthday” of all thoroughbreds is January 1, so breeders time things so that for maximum development at that cutoff date. That’s why American Pharoah and four of the other seven horses in the Belmont were foaled in April.**
At private schools in Manhattan, where tuition fees are comparable to stud fees (K- 5 will run you upwards of $200K), a similar logic makes October and November “good birthdays. ” The cutoff date is September 1; children entering kindergarten must have turned five before that date. Those October children will have turned five eleven months before the cutoff.
Do the Primates of Park Avenue really time their pregnancies? And does the strategy work? Are elite-school classes in May and June unpunctuated by cupcakes? If anyone has data on the birthdays of kids in the lower schools of Dalton, Trinity, Horace Mann, etc., please come forth.
In horse racing, early developmental advantages fade as the horses become older. But Gladwell argues that for humans – or at least, for Canadian junior league hockey players – the initial advantage expands thanks to the way the system is organized. It’s what Robert Merton called “The Matthew Effect.” The parents of Park Avenue seem to subscribe to this same idea – that the October advantage extends past kindergarten, past grade school and high school, into the Ivies and then to career success. What puzzles me is my own reaction that there’s something not quite right with this birth-timing. I accept other aspects of family planning – controlling the spacing of siblings or timing a birth so as to minimize the inconvenience to the parents’ work lives (especially given the anti-family US policies on parental leave). The same goes for the other things parents do to cultivate their children and ensure their chances of a successful life – the culturally enriching experiences, the “good” schools, the tutors, the coaches and, if necessary, the therapists – assuming that these are in fact helpful. There’s really no reason I should find the “good birthday” strategy objectionable. But I do. ------------------------ * In first chapter of his best-seller _Outliers_, Gladwell shows that the ranks of the top Canadian junior league hockey teams (boys 16-19years old) are heavy with boys born in the first quarter of the year. That’s because official age is determined by the calendar year. The born on January 1, 2008 and the boy born 12 months later on Dec. 31, 2008 are both seven-year olds. But the January boy has a huge edge in physical development. He is more likely to be selected for better teams, better coaching, and better competition. ** Horses born in the early spring mature faster than do those born earlier. Here is a chart of the birth months of winners of the individual Triple Crown individual races since 1970 and the birth month of horses sold at the Keeneland Yearling sales. (To keep both variables on the same chart, I have divided the sales figure by 10. Data source here.)If you are spending $60,000 to have your mare bred to Pioneer of the Nile (American Pharoah’s sire) or $300,000 for Tapit, the sire of Frosted, who finished second in the Belmont, you want to make sure that your foal has the best chance to win these million-dollar purses.
JUNE 1, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Since July of of last year, the media have publicized a handful of cases of police officers killing unarmed Black people. In response, people – mostly Black – have mounted protests not just about these killings and the exoneration of the killers but about police treatment in general. Have these protests endangered police lives? Heather MacDonald, the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute, seems to think so. In the Wall Street Journal Friday (here), she wrote: A handful of highly publicized deaths of unarmed black men, often following a resisted arrest—including Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y., in July 2014, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in August 2014 and Freddie Gray in Baltimore last month—have led to riots, violent protests and attacks on the police. Murders of officers jumped 89% in 2014, to 51 from 27. The logic of those two sentences is that the protests caused the increase in murders of police. If that’s true, then most of the those murders should have come in the second half of 2014, following the protests over the killing of Eric Garner. The Officers Down Memorial Page for 2014 (here) lists 59 homicides of police, eight more than MacDonald’s figure – 47 by gunfire, 10 by vehicular assault, 2 by assault. Conveniently, ODMP* lists these deaths by month. Here’s the tally.Not much difference, especially considering that the extra three days in the latter six months of the year. MacDonald’s main point is not about danger to police officers. It’s about police and crime. She is arguing that officers’ perception of increased risk coupled with “this incessant drumbeat against the police” (the main drumbeaters being public officials) has led police to withdraw from proactive policing, and that this withdrawal has in turn allowed criminals free to commit crimes. She may be right, though as she says, data for the latter half of 2014 is not yet available, and data for the first half of 2015 is at least a year away. But when that data is available, we can assume that she will treat it as scrupulously and honestly as she treated the 2104 data on the murder of police officers. ------------------------ * I also used ODMP data in an earlier post on killings of police officers ( here http://montclairsoci.blogspot.com/2015/04/cops-killing-and-being-killed.html).
JUNE 1, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ I used to say, “The data are.” Pretentious I know. But no more. Now I’m a “the data is” kind of guy. I’m not alone. Here’s the chart from Google n-grams, which also shows that we’ve become steadily more data-conscious.For much of the twentieth century, most people who wrote about data preferred the word as a plural. Even as the references to data increased, the pluralists maintained their lead. Then in about 1985, the tide turned. When we talk about “the data,” we are referring to a whole -- a large thing made up of lots of smaller similar things. The word _data_ is plural only in the most technical sense – it’s plural in a foreign language. The trouble is not that the language is foreign or that nobody speaks it. The problem is that _data_ is a plural of a word that in English has no real singular. Nobody talks about _a datum_. When we select a particular instance in our data, we call it a “data point.” It’s like spaghetti, another plural word in a foreign language. Spaghetti refers to a lot of similar things all combined to create a whole thing, a dish. We speak of that ensemble as a singular thing. We don’t say, “The spaghetti are delicious.” If we were speaking Italian, then yes, we would follow Italian grammar and use the plural “Gli spaghetti sono deliziosi.” And in Latin we would use the plural conjugation for _data_. But we’re speaking English.With spaghetti, for a single instance, analogous to a data point, we refer to “a strand of spaghetti.” I would bet that even in Italian cookbooks (I have two of them on my shelf – gifts from people who thought my Italian is much better than it actually is – but I’m not going to try searching), authors do not use the singular. They do not say, “to check for _al dente_, bite into _uno spaghetto_.”
MAY 26, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_
three human desires that are deeply and uniquely frustrated by American culture
(1) the desire for_ community_ – the wish to live in trust, cooperation, and friendship with those around one.
(2) the desire for _engagement_ – the wish to come to grips directly with one’s social and physical environment.
(3) the desire for _dependence_ – the wish to share responsibility for the control of one’s impulses and the direction of one’s life.
The fundamental principle that gives rise to these frustrations is, of course, individualism.
Individualism is rooted in the attempt to deny the reality of human interdependence. One of the major goals of technology in America is to “free” us from the necessity of relating to, submitting to, depending upon, or controlling other people. Unfortunately, the more we have succeeded in doing this, the more we have felt disconnected, bored, lonely, unprotected, unnecessary, and unsafe.
Most of those adjectives could apply to Don Draper at this point. In earlier episodes, we have seen Don, without explanation, walk out of an important meeting at work and, like other American heroes, light out for the territory, albeit in a new Cadillac. He is estranged from is family. He is searching for something – at first a woman, who turns out to be unattainable, and then for . . . he doesn’t really know what. He winds up at Esalen, where revelation comes from an unlikely source, a nebbishy man named Leonard. In a group session, Leonard says:
Ive never been interesting to anybody. I, um – I work in an office. People walk right by me. I know they don’t see me. And I go home and I watch my wife and my kids. They don’t look up when I sit down. . . .
I had a dream. I was on a shelf in the refrigerator. Someone closes the door and the light goes off. And I know everybody’s out there eating. And then they open the door and you see them smiling. They’re happy to see you but maybe they don’t look right at you and maybe they don’t pick you. Then the door closes again. The light goes off.
People are silent, but Don gets up, slowly moves towards Leonard and tearfully, silently, embraces him.
On the surface, the two men could not be more different. Don is interesting. And successful. People notice him. But he shares Leonard’s sense that his pursuit – of a new identity, of career success, of unattainable women - has left him feeling inauthentic, disconnected, and alone. “I’ve messed everything up,” he tells his sometime co-worker Peggy in a phone conversation. “I’m not the man you think I am.” The next time we see him, he is watching from a distance as people do tai-chi on a hilltop.And then he himself is sitting on a hilltop, chanting “om” in unison with a group of people. At last he is sharing something with others rather than searching for ego gratifications.And then the punch line. We cut to the Coke hilltop ad with its steadily expanding group of happy people singing in perfect harmony.A simple product brings universal community (“I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company”). It also brings authenticity. “It’s the real thing.” Esalen and Coca-Cola. Both are offering solutions to the frustrated needs Slater identifies. But both solutions suffer from the same flaw – they are personal rather than social. A few days of spiritual healing and hot springs brings nor more social change than does a bottle of sugar water. It’s not that real change is impossible, Slater says, and in the final chapter of the book, he hopes that the strands in the fabric of American culture can be rewoven. But optimism is difficult. So many healthy new growths in our society are at some point blocked by the overwhelming force and rigidity of economic inequality. . . . There’s a . . . ceiling of concentrated economic power that holds us back, frustrates change, locks in flexibility. The Mad Men finale makes the same point, though with greater irony (the episode title is “Person to Person”). When we see the Coke mountaintop ad, we realize that Don Draper has bundled up his Esalen epiphany, brought it back to a huge ad agency in New York, and turned it into a commercial for one of the largest corporations in the world.
_Mr. Draper, I don’t know what it is you really believe in but I do know what it feels like to be out of place, to be disconnected, to see the whole world laid out in front of you the way other people live it. There’s something about you that tells me you know it too. _ (Mad Men, Season 1, Episode 1)The ending of Mad Men was brilliant. It was like a good mystery novel: once you know the solution – Don Draper creating one of the greatest ads in Madison Avenue history – you see that the clues were there all along. You just didn’t realize what was important and what wasn’t. Neither did the characters. This was a game played between Matt Weiner and the audience. The ending, like the entire series, was also a sociological commentary on American culture. Or rather, it was an illustration of such a commentary. The particular sociological commentary I have in mind is Philip Slater’s _Pursuit of Loneliness_, published in 1970, the same year that this episode takes place. It’s almost as if Slater had Don Draper in mind when he wrote the book, or as if Matt Weiner had the book in mind when he wrote this episode. In the first chapter, “I Only Work Here,” Slater outlines
MAY 22, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ _Privilege_* is the title of Shamus Khan’s 2011 study of St. Paul’s, an elite New England prep school where he had been a student. The difference between the new elite and the old is the difference between “entitlement” and “privilege.” Whereas elites of the past were entitled – building their worlds around the “right” breeding, connection, and culture – new elites develop privilege: a sense of self and a mode of interaction that advantage them. The old entitled elites constituted a class that worked to construct moats and walls around the resources that advantaged them. The new elite think of themselves as far more individualized, supposing that their position is a product of what they have done. _Privilege_** is also the title of Ross Douthat’s 2005 memoir of Harvard, an elite New England university where he had been a student. He sees the same evolution from the old entitlement (the “right to rule”) to the new privilege.
Ruling classes have always believed in their own right to rule, but it once was understood ... that their place in the social order was arbitrary, an accident of birth and breeding, rather than a matter of cosmic justice. Ideals of _noblesse oblige_ grew from just this sense: the knowledge that God (or blind chance) had given the elite much that was not necessarily deserved.
The modern elite’s rule is regarded not as arbitrary but as just and right and true, at least if one follows the logic of meritocracy to its unspoken conclusion. For today’s Harvard students ... there is nothing accidental or random about their position in society. They belong exactly where they are – the standardized tests and the college admissions officers have spoken, and their word is final.
At Harvard, and at similar schools around the country, a privileged class of talented students sits atop the world, flush with pride in their own accomplishments, secure in the knowledge that they rule because they deserve to rule, because they are the best
For both authors, the new elite see themselves and the world through the lens of individualism. The old elite saw themselves as a class. For Khan, the crucial function of that class was to protect its economic and political advantages (“walls around the resources that advantaged them”). Douthat, though he uses the old Marxist term “ruling class,” emphasizes their sense of humility and social obligation (“ideals of _noblesse oblige_”).
The irony is that Douthat, the conservative, dislikes a system based on individual merit; he seems to prefer the more collectivist elites of the past. (That picture of the past is necessarily romanticized and heavily edited). This is quite a contrast with an older conservative, William F. Buckley, Jr., one of Douthat’s heroes and early benefactors. Buckley’s first book was about Yale. Like Douthat’s book about Harvard, it could have been called _That Really Famous College I Just Graduated From – Here’s Why It Sucks_. For Buckley, the big problem was godless atheism. The actual title was_ God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of “Academic Freedom.” _ I believe that the duel between Christianity and atheism is the most important in the world. I further believe that the struggle between individualism and collectivism is the same struggle reproduced on another level. That was then – 1951. Three generations later, at Harvard (and presumably Yale) individualism is the only view left standing. That ascendance didn’t go the way Buckley would have wanted it. These campuses are largely liberal and godless, politically correct and feminist. But the young elites there see themselves as individuals, not as members of some class or collectivity. To quote once more from Shamus Khan: [The elite] have gone from seeing themselves as a coherent group, a class with particular histories and tastes, to a collection of the most talented and hardest working of our nation. They look more diverse, by which I mean that they now include members formerly excluded. They have rejected moat and fence building around particular resources and qualities that might identify then as a class and have accepted the fundamentally American story of “work hard, get ahead.” They think in terms of their individual traits, capacities, skills, talents, and qualities. ---------------------------- * The full title is _Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School_. ** The full title is _Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class_.
MAY 21, 2015_ _ _Posted by Jay Livingston_ The Financial Times wants me to tweet this quote from Martin Wolf, “widely considered to be one of the worlds most influential writers on economics” (Wikipedia).I admit, there is tweet temptation. But not for the reason the FT thinks. No, what strikes me in this quote is the multiple negatives. They leave me utterly confused as to what the passage means. Here’s a simplified version. It is IMPOSSIBLE to believe that the government CANNOT find investments . . . that DO NOT EARN more than the real cost of funds. IF THAT WERE NOT TRUE, the UK would be finished. The first sentence has three negatives. The next sentence not only has another negative, but it throws in a mysterious pronoun – _that_. If you can figure out what _that_ is referring to, you’re a better reader than I am. I have posted before (here most recently) about the confusion of negatives that carom about, reversing and re-reversing the direction of the sentence. Yet here we have one of the word’s most influential writers tossing one negative on top of another, and another. Personally, I find it impossible not to believe that writers can’t learn not to avoid simplifying their prose by using positive constructions.
MAY 20, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ In the next-to-last episode of “Mad Men,” Don Draper has walked out of an important meeting at work and driven to Wisconsin searching for a waitress he had a brief affair with. Not finding her, he now continues to Kansas and Oklahoma. He is on the road. The reference point though is not Kerouac but a much earlier book. The title of the episode is “The Milk and Honey Route.” Nels Anderson was a “Chicago school” sociologist, a student of Park and Burgess in the 1920s. That school produced what we would now call urban ethnographies – Harvey Zorbaugh’s _The Gold Coast and the Slum: A Sociological Study of Chicago__’s Near North Side _(1929) or Paul Cressey’s _The Taxi-Dance Hall: A Sociological Study in Commercialized Recreation and City Life _(1932). Perhaps the first of these ethnographies was Anderson’s _The Hobo: The Sociology of the Homeless Man_ (1923). In 1931,Anderson also published a more popular treatment of the same material. He used a pen name, Dean Stiff. The book was _The Milk and Honey Route_.
(Older readers: if the cover art looks vaguely familiar, that’s because the illustrator, Ernie Bushmiller, was the creator of the comic strip “Nancy,” which began in 1938.)The road the real hobo follows is never ending. It is always heading into the sunset of promise but it never fully keeps its promise. Thus the road the hobo roams always beckons him on, much as does the undealt card in a game of stud. Every new bend of the road is disillusioning but never disappointing, so that once you get the spirit of the hobo you never reach the stone wall of utter disillusionment. You follow on hopefully from one bend of the road to another, until in the end you step off the cliff. Substitute “Don Draper” for “hobo” in that paragraph, and you get something you might have read this week in one of the many appreciations of “Mad Men.”
MAY 18, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Ross Douthat calls out liberals who think, and declare, that churches today are more focused on “culture war” issues like abortion and homosexuality than on poverty. Ridiculous, says Douthat. Religious organizations spend only “a few hundred million dollars” on pro-life causes and “traditional marriage” but tens of billions on charities, schools, and hospitals. (His column “Do Churches Fail the Poor?” is here.) Those numbers shouldn’t be surprising, especially since much of religion’s spending goes to the developing world while the culture war is being fought almost entirely within the US. Unfortunately, Douthat and his sources lump all spending together rather than separating domestic US budgets from those going to the developing world. But even in the US and other wealthy countries, abortion and gay marriage are largely legislative and legal matters. Building schools and hospitals and then keeping them running – that takes real money. Why then do liberals get this impression about the priorities of religious organizations? Douthat blames the media. He doesn’t do a full O’Reilly and accuse the media (liberal, it goes without saying) and others of ganging up in a war on religion, but that’s the subtext.* Anyone who tells you that America’s pastors are obsessed with homosexuality or abortion only hears them through a media filter. You can attend Masses or megachurches for months without having those issues intrude. Actually, the media do not report on the sermons and homilies of local clergy at all, whether they are urging their flocks to live good lives, become wealthy, help the needy, or oppose gay marriage. Nor is there a data base of these Sunday texts, so we don’t know precisely how much American chuchgoers are hearing about any of these topics. Only a handful of clergy get media coverage, and that coverage focuses on their pronouncements about controversial issues. As Douthat says, liberals are probably reacting to “religious leaders who make opposition to abortion more of a _political_ priority than publicly-funded antipoverty efforts.” Of his own Catholic church, Douthat adds, “You can bore yourself to tears reading denominational statements and bishops’ documents (true long before Pope Francis) with a similar result.” Maybe he has done this reading, and maybe he does think that his Church does not let “those issues intrude.” Or as he puts it, “The belief that organized religion is organized around culture war is largely a conceit of the irreligious.” But here, thanks to the centralized and hierarchical structure of the Church, we can get data that might reveal what the Church is worried about. As Douthat implies, the previous pope (Benedict XVI, the former Joseph Ratzinger), was more concerned about culture-war issues than is the current pope. How concerned? I went to Lexis-Nexis. I figured that papal pronouncements on these issues would be issued in masses, in official statements, and in addresses. For each of those three terms, I searched for “Pope Benedict” with four “culture-war” terms (Abortion, Homosexuality, Condom, and Birth control) and Poverty.This is not the best data. It might reflect the concerns of the press more than those of the Church. Also, some of those Lexis-Nexis articles are not direct hits. They might reference an “address” or “statement” by someone else. But there’s no reason to think that these off-target citations are skewed towards Abortion and away from Poverty. .So it’s completely understandable that liberals, and perhaps non-liberals as well, have the impression that Big Religion has a big concern with matters of sex and reproduction. ----------------- * Perhaps not subtext. Douthat decries the sins of “the Obama White House, with its . . . attempts to strong-arm religious nonprofits.”
(Click on the image for a larger view_.)Abortion was the big winner. Poverty was referred to in more articles than were the other individual culture-war terms. But if those terms are combined into a single bar, its clear that poverty as a papal concern is dwarfed by the attention to these other issues. The graph below shows the data for “mass.”
MAY 16, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Black people in the US vote overwhelmingly Democratic. They also have, compared to Whites, much higher rates of infant mortality and lower life expectancy. Since dead people have lower rates of voting, that higher mortality rate might affect who gets elected. What would happen if Blacks and Whites had equal rates of staying alive?The above figure is from the recent paper, “Black lives matter: Differential mortality and the racial composition of the U.S. electorate, 1970-2004,” by Javier Rodriguez, Arline Geronimus, John Bound and Danny Dorling (here behind a paywall). A summary by Dean Robinson at the The Monkey Cage summarizes the key finding. between 1970 and 2004, Democrats would have won seven Senate elections and 11 gubernatorial elections were it not for excess mortality among blacks. At Scatterplot, Dan Hirschman and others have raised some questions about the assumptions in the model. But more important than the methodological difficulties are the political and moral implications of this finding. The Monkey Cage account puts it this way given the differences between blacks and whites in their political agendas and policy views, excess black death rates weaken overall support for policies — such as antipoverty programs, public education and job training — that affect the social status (and, therefore, health status) of blacks and many non-blacks, too. In other words, Black people being longer-lived and less poor would be antithetical to the policy preferences of Republicans. The unspoken suggestion is that Republicans know this and will oppose programs that increase Black health and decrease Black poverty in part for the same reasons that they have favored incarceration and permanent disenfranchisement of people convicted of felonies. That’s a bit extreme. More stringent requirements for registration and felon disenfranchisement are, like the poll taxes of an earlier era, directly aimed at making it harder for poor and Black people to vote.* But Republican opposition to policies that would increase the health and well-being of Black people is probably not motivated by a desire for high rates of Black mortality and thus fewer Black voters. After all, Republicans also generally oppose abortion. But, purely in electoral terms, reducing mortality, like reducing incarceration, would not be good for Republicans. --------------- * Republicans never —well, hardly ever — say that these measures are intended to suppress Democratic votes. Instead they talk about voter fraud or justice. I would guess that most people, maybe even most Republicans, recognize these justifications for the fictions they are.
MAY 14, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Back in 2001, Joel Best published an essay called “Giving It Away” (_American Sociologist_, .pdf here). Written in the key of Rodney Dangerfield, the essay bemoans sociology’s “modest standing in the academy.” Worse, we let the ideas and practitioners that might bring us more respect slip off to other disciplines with barely a word of protest. The study of organizations became “management” and went to business schools. Public opinion and survey research blossomed elsewhere as marketing and polling. “Every time sociologists develop something that looks like it could turn a buck, we get rid of it.” What brought the essay to mind was economist Noah Smith’s recent blog post aboutFreakonomics, one of the most successful social science books ever. It’s become a franchise with radio shows, podcasts, sequels, and probably t-shirts. But as Smith says, “theres very little actual economics in it!” The quantitative empirical work is mostly reduced-form regressions with natural experiments. Thats a fine and good research technique, but its not really special to econ - it doesnt include anything about market design, structural estimation of supply and demand, game theory, search, prices, general equilibrium...nada! Here’s the kicker.
So this book has sociology, history, stats, and some general empirical techniques that could be used by any social scientist. . . . AN EMPIRICAL SOCIOLOGIST COULD EASILY TAKEN LEVITTS PLACE AS THE TECHNICAL CO-AUTHOR of the book, alongside journalist Dubner.
But it was an economist Dubner got, and FREAKONOMICS WAS BILLED AS A POP ECON BOOK, NOT A POP SOCIOLOGY BOOK. Why? It seems to me that its because economists are respected as all-purpose sages. Like I said in my previous post, economists get taken seriously on any topic imaginable. [emphasis added]
I tell ya, we don’t get no respect.
MAY 13, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ I begin my Foundations of Sociological Inquiry course with Durkheim, specifically the stability of suicide rates.* Last year, after that first class, one of the students asked to speak with me for a minute. He was, a burly-looking man of about 30, with heavily tattooed arms and legs (warm September, shorts). He said he’d recently gotten out of the military. He knew guys who had committed suicide, including a good friend who had killed himself only a few months earlier. “So some of this stuff can be kind of rough for me.” I assured him that we were going to be talking about suicide rates, not cases, but that I would keep in mind what he’d just told me. And I did. “Are we living through a plague of hypersensitivity?” asks Todd Gitlin in an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education (here, behind a paywall). He’s referring to demands by some students that assigned material that might upset them be prefaced by “trigger warnings.” That plus speech codes and talk of “microaggressions.” “Is fragility the new normal?” Gitlin asks. He doesn’t really answer the question as to whether the plague is real. He seems to assume that the answer is yes and offers some data that might explain “Why should so many skins be so thin nowadays?” The data Gitlin digs up shows that students today report more stress, anxiety, depression, and less “self-rated emotional health” than did their counterparts of decades past. They see therapists more often and take more meds. They also work more at non-academic jobs. But Gitlin never explains why these factors would lead to more demands for trigger warnings, perhaps because there’s no good evidence of that cause-effect connection. Instead, he moves to “the realm of higher, perhaps airier speculation.” I’m all for speculation, but what puzzles me is that although Gitlin is a sociologist, his speculations omit three important sociological dimensions: class, gender, and power. I get the impression that the principle movers and speakers for what Gitlin calls fragility are women at elite schools. I repeat, that’s my impression, not data, and it might be just me, or it might be where the media like to focus their attention. But that’s sort of the point. I teach at a university, but it is not an elite school, and I know of these sensitivity issues only via the media. Even my ex-soldier student was making a personal statement, not pushing a policy. I haven’t heard any calls for trigger warnings here. Neither have friends at similarly second- and third-tier schools. I would also guess that when there are such demands at non-elite schools – UC Santa Barbara has gotten some press – the students demanding more sensitivity come from privilege. Those reacting against these student demands often want to frame the issue as one of toughness. “America’s College Kids Are a Bunch of Mollycoddled Babies” says the title of a post at Politico by Chester Finn, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution who writes a lot about education. (Finn says some other pretty stupid things in the post – here if you’re interested.) Oberlin’s trigger warning policy elicited tweets about “sniveling little Victorian misses with vapours” and “the victimization style of feminism that has become so popular with young people” (cited in a worthwhile post at XO Jane). In other words, man up and shut up. What seems to bother these critics is that students are asserting themselves, trying to use what power they have to bring about changes they want – in this case, protection of the vulnerable. With this “students should be seen and not heard” attitude, it’s the Chester Finns who want students to be more like Victorian misses – docile and compliant. Where did students get this idea that they can speak up for what they want and for what they think is right? I’m surprised that Gitlin didn’t mention Annette Lareau’s _Unequal Childhoods_, a study of child-rearing and social class, one of the most widely read sociology books in recent history. Most relevant here are class differences in the lessons parents give to kids about school – lessons taught by example rather than directly articulated. Lower-class and working-class children saw their parents passively accept what the teachers and administrators did. Parents might complain among themselves, but they didn’t challenge the school’s authority. Midde-class parents, by contrast, were “very assertive.” There were numerous conflicts during the year over matters small and large. For example, parents complained to one another and to the teachers about the amount of homework the children were assigned. A black middle-class mother whose daughters had not tested into the school’s gifted program negotiated with officials to have the girls’ (higher) results from a private testing company accepted instead. The parents of a fourth-grade boy drew the school superintendent into a battle over religious lyrics in a song scheduled to be sung as part of the holiday program. The superintendent consulted the district lawyer and ultimately “counseled” the principal to be more sensitive, and the song was dropped. Children assimilated the lesson.
Children, too, asserted themselves at school. Examples include requesting that the classroom’s blinds be lowered so the sun wasn’t in their eyes, badgering the teacher for permission to retake a math test for a higher grade, and demanding to know why no cupcake had been saved when an absence prevented attendance at a classroom party. In these encounters, children were not simply complying with adults’ requests or asking for a repeat of an earlier experience. They were displaying an emerging sense of entitlement by urging adults to permit a customized accommodation of institutional processes to suit their preferences.
_American Sociological Review_, 2002, Vol. 67 (October:747–776) (here)
Yes, as a teacher, I would prefer that students shut up and not complain about anything I do or say. I would also prefer that people inside and outside the academy stop whining that we don’t have enough conservatives on our faculty or on our commencement programs. They should all just shut up and stop complaining. But somehow, they’ve gotten the idea that they can try to change policy. Maybe that’s not such a bad idea.
* I show the annual data on US suicides since 1990. “It’s not like TV ratings,” I say. “We know that if eight million people watched ‘Gray’s Anatomy’ this week, next week’s audience will also be about eight million. They’re the ‘Gray’s Anatomy’ fans.” Then I point to the numbers on the suicide chart. “But the 32,000 people who killed themselves in 2005 cannot be the same 32,000 who killed themselves in 2004.” I add, “There aren’t very many facts in social science that we’re 100% sure of, but that’s one of them.” Sometimes it gets a laugh, sometimes it doesn’t.
MAY 8, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ There’s been much hand-wringing about commencement speakers now that the season has begun. The critics complain that because student protests – or hints of protest – last year caused speakers to withdraw, the fashion trend in speakers this year is toward bland rather than brazen. (See this InsideHigherEd article.) These alarms over university pusillanimity offer us two lessons in sociology: one is the attribution of motives; the other, the nature of rituals. The hand-wringers, mostly sitting over on the right of the field, seem to know what’s motivating the protesters: fear.
The unwillingness on the part of some students to allow another voice in the discussion is indicative of people who fear their minds will be contaminated just by listening to another viewpoint.
(_Christine Ravold at American Council of Trustees and Alumni.)_
I think it’s the extension of the echo chamber from our personal curated Twitter feed or Facebook friends. Now students like seeing just the views they agree with, and it extends past social media onto the commencement stage. . . . “If we treat ideas we don’t agree with as barred from campus, then really what’s left are only the most inoffensive, and by extension most uninteresting, folks.
(_Will Creeley, vice president of legal and public advocacy at FIRE_. )
We should always be just a bit suspicious when commentators attribute a motive that the person in question does not acknowledge. In this case, nothing in what the protesters have done suggests that they are afraid. They just don’t want that person to be the voice of their graduation. The leaders of the protests, far from holding their hands over their ears and eyes, have probably scanned every word the speaker has written in their search for evidence of villainy.
Rarely do those attributing the motives bother to confront that evidence or the other arguments that the protesters make. When Condoleezza Rice withdrew as speaker at the Rutgers commencement last year, critics accused the protesters of being against free speech and of being afraid to hear ideas they didn’t like. Never mentioned was the protesters’ argument that Rice had been a leader in policies that were immoral, unjustified, unwise, and disastrous for the country.
Needless to say, when people agree with the protest, they make no such attribtions.When President Obama was asked to deliver the commencement speech at Notre Dame in 2009, some students protested, and 65,000 people signed a petition urging that Notre Dame disinvite the president. The right-wing became silent about free speech, and nobody accused the protesters of being afraid of hearing Obama’s words.
Commencement protesters at Rutgers 2014 and Notre Dame 2009Instead, they correctly saw commencement as a ritual. As Durkheim said more than a century ago, a ritual, whatever its stated purpose (honoring graduates or bringing rain ) has two slightly less obvious functions – enhancing roup solidarity and reflecting the group’s shared ideals and values. The protesters are up in arms because their school is honoring someone who contradicts their values – values which should be those of the school as well. The ritual should be strengthening the connection between the graduates and the school, but for a substantial number of students, perhaps a majority, the school is doing the opposite. What matters is who the speaker is, not what she says. In most cases, the world little notes nor long remembers the content of the speech. Neither do the graduates. But they do remember who their commencement speaker was – what he stood for and, at least at my graduation, what the students stood in protest against. _For a longer version of commencement-as-ritual, see last year’s graduation post (here). _
MAY 6, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Just one of those coincidences. Yesterday, the Times had a story about the enormous sums that hedge funders took home last year.
Last year, the hedge fund industry had returns of only 3 percent on average. . . But the top 25 managers still managed to earn $11.62 billion in compensation in 2014
Kenneth C. Griffin of Citadel. . . $1.3 billion. . .. James H. Simons of Renaissance Technologies was second with $1.2 billion, and Raymond Dalio of Bridgewater Associates was third with $1.1 billion. William A. Ackman of Pershing Square Capital was a close fourth, earning $950 million in 2014.
I know it sounds like a lot, but 2014 was an off year. That $11.62 billion was barely half what the top 25 hauled in the year before. I guess there’ll be some belt tightening.
The point though is that in an efficient market system like ours, people get what they are worth to the economy, don’t they?
“Does Finance Benefit Society?” That is the title of a paper or talk by Luigi Zingales, an economist who has had posts at Harvard and Chicago’s Booth School of Business. The paper is from January, but by coincidence it was discovered to me (hat tip: Dan Hirschman) the same day as the hedge fund story.
Here is the short version of Zingales’s answer to the question:
At the current state of knowledge there is no theoretical reason or empirical evidence to support the notion that all the growth of the financial sector in the last forty years has been beneficial to society.
Zingales is no flaming radical. The right-wing website The Daily Caller says he is “an advocate of free market economics and limited government.” The trouble is that the hedge funders and bankers keep messing up those free market models with their rent-seeking and fraud. (A table at the end of the paper summarizes cases of fines paid to the US Government 2012-2014. And those are just the ones where someone got caught.)
A couple of other quotes on the same theme:
If political power is disproportionately in the hands of large donors – as it is increasingly the case in the United States – why is the negative public perception of finance a problem? Rich financiers can easily buy their political protection. In fact, this is precisely the problem.
Many financial activities tend to have a private return that is much higher than the (perceived) social return.
Furthermore, I am not aware of any evidence that the creation and growth of the junk bond market, the option and futures market, or the development of over-the-counter derivatives are positively correlated with economic growth.
A pdf of the paper is here.
MAY 5, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Someone should tell David Brooks that policing is not ballet. When I first read Brooks’s column about Baltimore,“The Nature of Povery” (here), I thought he was just singing the same personal-responsibility-and-family anthem so beloved of conservatives everywhere. Brooks writes of
This was simply about keeping the poor down, and that war footing has been an excuse for everybody to operate outside the realm of procedure and law. And the city willingly and legally gave itself over to that, beginning with the drug-free zones and with the misuse of what are known on the street in the previous generation as ‘humbles.’
A humble is a cheap, inconsequential arrest that nonetheless gives the guy a night or two in jail before he sees a court commissioner. You can arrest people on “failure to obey,” it’s a humble. Loitering is a humble. These things were used by police officers going back to the ‘60s in Baltimore. It’s the ultimate recourse for a cop who doesnt like somebody whos looking at him the wrong way. And yet, back in the day, there was, I think, more of a code to it.
As rotten as the code was, it did break down. But Simon leaves no doubt as to who broke it.
For example, you look at the people that Baltimore was beating down in that list in that story the Sun published last year about municipal payouts for police brutality, and it shows no discernible or coherent pattern. Theres no code at all, it’s just, what side of the bed did I get up on this morning and who looked at me first? And that is a function of people failing to learn how to police. When you are beating on 15-year-old kids and elderly retirees – and you aren’t even managing to put even plausible misdemeanor charges on some arrestees, you’ve lost all professional ethos.
Cops “beating on 15-year-old kids and elderly retirees” don’t find their way into Le Ballet Brooks. But Simon extends the context further, to the brass and the politicians, who, in his view, are ultimately responsible for the breakdown of decent police work . (If you’ve seen “The Wire,” you’ll know that in Simon’s view both the drug dealers the street cops have a certain integrity. The true bad guys are the more powerful and ambitious figures far removed from life on the streets.)
The drug war began it, certainly, but the stake through the heart of police procedure in Baltimore was Martin O’Malley. He destroyed police work in some real respects. . . . . But to be honest, what happened under his watch as Baltimore’s mayor was that he wanted to be governor. And at a certain point, with the crime rate high and with his promises of a reduced crime rate on the line, he put no faith in real policing.
Martin O’Malley did become governor, and as we speak he seems to be running for the Democratic nomination for president. He surely knows that, as Mr. Dooley said, politics ain’t beanbag. And Baltimore policing ain’t ballet.
* Brooks gets much wrong factually about poverty and anti-poverty programs. For details, see this corrective by Matt Breunig.
“the quality of relationships in a home and a neighborhood that either encourage or discourage responsibility, future-oriented thinking, and practical ambition.”Objective conditions, especially the job market, are not even a grace note.* But I didn’t realize how deliberately Brooks was ignoring important facts until I checked one of the works he cites. Here is Brooks writing about the nature of city life. Jane Jacobs once wrote that a healthy neighborhood is like a ballet, a series of intricate interactions in which people are regulating each other and encouraging certain behaviors. As Philip Cohen points out (here), ballet is about the most inept a metaphor anyone might come up with. ry imagining“The Wire” in tutu and on point. here), you get a much better picture of the code. You won’t mistake it for “Swan Lake.” The typical arabesque consists of cops arbitrarily arresting and jailing people for a couple of days for reasons that have little to do with the law and much to do with the cop’s personal whim. As Simon says, it’s called a “humble.” The goal is humiliation.
MAY 2, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ We adjust our thoughts about rioting and looting to make those thoughts and perceptions at home with our overall ideology. That was the point of yesterday’s quote from Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense under George W. Bush. The looting in Baghdad was clearly a result of the US invasion of Iraq, an invasion Rumsfeld promoted and planned. To see the looting as the indefensible work of immoral criminals would be to admit that his policies and thrown Baghdad into the Hobbesian chaos that David Brooks sees in Baltimore. Instead, Rumsfeld characterized the large-scale theft of historical artifacts as a sign of “freedom” and liberation from oppression. This attention to historical and political context is rare in conservative analyses of looting, rioting, and other forms of what Rumseld called “untidiness” when these happen in the US. Not all conservatives. Here is Edmund Burke,* much beloved of intellectual conservative, often quoted by the likes of George Will, William F. Buckley, Jr., et al.
If you do not carefully distinguish the feelings of the multitude from their judgments; if you do not distinguish their interests from their opinions; attending religiously to the one and utterly despising the other; if you lay down a Rule that because the people are absurd, their grievances are not to be redressed, then in plain Terms it is impossible that popular grievances should receive any redress at all, because the people when they are injured will be violent; when they are violent, they will be absurd—and their absurdity will in general be proportioned to the greatness of their Grievances.
[If one pursues the rule that grievances opposed through mob-like protest should be ignored,] the worse their [the people’s] suffering the further they will be from their remedy.
HT: I took this quote from Andrew Sabl at The Reality-Based Community. He got it from David Bromwich’s intellectual biography of Burke.
MAY 1, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Looting and violence are indefensible. The people who commit such acts are nothing more than criminals who lack basic morality. Lacking any restraint, unable to restrain their impulses and for civilized ties, they create a Hobbesian nightmare for everyone in the area. Or as David Brooks wrote today (here), “Until the invisible bonds of relationships are repaired, life for too many will be nasty, brutish, solitary and short.” That’s the view from the right today just as it was fifty years ago. Conservative writers scoff at more liberal views of rioting that try to understand it in its social and political context. But not always.
RUMSFELD ON LOOTING: ‘STUFF HAPPENS’
By Sean Loughlin
CNN Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Declaring that freedom is “untidy,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Friday the looting... was a result of “pent-up feelings” of oppression and that it would subside...
He also asserted the looting was not as bad as some television and newspaper reports have indicated and said there was no major crisis ... The looting, he suggested, was “part of the price” for ... liberation.
“Freedoms untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things,” Rumsfeld said. “Theyre also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And thats whats going to happen here.”
Looting, he added, was not uncommon for [cities] that experience significant social upheaval. “Stuff happens,” Rumsfeld said.
The full story is here.
APRIL 29, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ What would I do without David Brooks? One of the exercises I always assign asks students to find an opinion piece – an op-ed, a letter to the editor – and to reduce its central point to a testable hypothesis about the relation between variables. What are the variables, how would you operationalize them, what would be their categories or values, what would be your units of analysis, and what information would you use to decide which category each unit goes in? To save them the trouble of sifting through the media, I have a stockpile of articles that I’ve collected over the years – articles that make all sorts of assertions but without any evidence. Most of them are by David Brooks. (OK, not most, but his oeuvre is well represented.) Yesterday’s column (here) is an excellent example. His point is very simple: We should consider personal morality when choosing our political leaders. People with bad morals will also be bad leaders.
Voting for someone with bad private morals is like setting off on a battleship with awesome guns and a rotting hull. There’s a good chance you’re going to sink before the voyage is over.
People who are dishonest, unkind and inconsiderate have trouble attracting and retaining good people to their team. They tend to have sleazy friends. They may be personally canny, but they are almost always surrounded by sycophants and second-raters who kick up scandal and undermine the leader’s effectiveness. . .
But, historically, most effective leaders — like, say, George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill — had a dual consciousness. They had an earnest, inner moral voice capable of radical self-awareness, rectitude and great compassion. They also had a pragmatic, canny outer voice. . . .
Those three – Washington, TR, and Churchill – constitute the entirety of Brooks’s evidence for his basic proposition: “If candidates don’t acquire a moral compass outside of politics, they’re not going to get it in the White House, and they won’t be effective there.”
The comments from readers mentioned others leaders, mostly presidents. But how do you measure a politician’s effectiveness? And how do you measure a politician’s morality? More important, how do you measure them separately. Was Bush II moral? It’s very tempting to those on the left to see the failures of his presidency as not just bad decisions but as sins, violations of morality. Was Bill Clinton effective? Those who dwell on his moral failings probably don’t think so. Presumably, political scientists have some way of measuring effectiveness. Or do they? But does anyone have a standard measure of morality?
So Brooks gets a pass on this one. It’s not that he’s wrong, it’s that it would be impossible to get systematic evidence that might help settle the question.
Still, Brooks, in this column as in so many others, provides a useful material for an exercise in methodology. If David Brooks didn’t exist, I would have to create him.