- Yes, But Harvard Students Know a Lot More Now
- Civilization and Its Stoplights
- The War on Hanukkah
- Emotional Contagion
- Coleman Hawkins
- The Committee Report – Plagiarism and Translation
- The New Conventional - Anything Goes
- The Rich Really Are Different - They Pay Lower Taxes
- Unseparating Church and State
- Tax Rates and Incentives - Rich and Poor
- Is That a Thing?
- Careers Night
- The Revenge Fantasy - Django Unchained and 12 Years a Slave
- Separate Ways
- The Vaper’s Drag
- Fearing Democracy
- The Redskins — No Offense
- Pointless Post in Useless Blog
- It’s Not About Obamacare
- The Daughter Also Rises
- Chess Problem – In a Real Game
- CNBC Values
- The Dean's Speech
- Arguments Going to Extremes
- How to Misread a Graph (It’s Not Easy, but The Heritage Foundation Finds a Way)
DECEMBER 3, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Headline in the Crimson today.For comparison, here is the grade sheet from a 1940 Government course.* The mean and median are a C+, so the B- by that fellow in the K’s is a shade above average.Yes, the most common grade at Harvard is an A, but the most common grade at universities generally is an A (the graph below ignores the + and –).
(Click on an image for a _ _clearer view_.)We professors can, and often do, go on at length arguing about the problem of grades, the purpose of grades, the effects of grades, and so on. But the trend is unmistakable. Grades have gone up, and much more so at private universities than at the publics. Harvard is different in only in degree.
(The graphs are from gradeinflation.com)For the record, this is not what my gradesheets look like. But I suspect that if I went back and looked at my gradebooks from when I started, I would find that I too give higher grades now than I did years ago. ------------------------------- * I mentioned this to a friend who had been chair of her department at another school. “How did you get a gradesheet now from a course JFK was in?” “The teacher was late turning in his grades,” I said. She howled. Maybe you have to have been chair to really appreciate the joke.
DECEMBER 2, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_
Three in the morning, Dad, good citizen stopped, waited, looked left, right. He had been driving nine hundred miles, had nearly a hundred more to go, but if there was any impatience it was only the steady growl of the engine which could just as easily be called a purr. I chided him for stopping; he told me our civilization is founded on people stopping for lights at three in the morning. — from a poem by Bruce Hawkins.I read these lines on a political blog* this morning, and I thought of Murray Davis. One December long ago, I got a ride home from Boston to Pittsburgh with Murray in his black VW Beetle. He was a graduate student, I was an undergrad, and in those days the trip took twelve hours. We got into Pittsburgh some time after 2 a.m. The streets were deserted In Shadyside on Fifth Avenue, not far from my parents’ condo, we came to a red light. Murray paused, then drove on through. “Sociology allowed me to do that,” he said. I can’t remember his explanation, but I think it had something to do with “rules in use” and the negotiability of norms. That’s interesting, I thought. Maybe it was even convincing, though I still turned in my seat to see if there were any cops behind us. There weren’t. Murray was right. At that hour of empty streets, waiting for the green serves no rational purpose. When there is no traffic, traffic safety is not an issue. But Bruce Hawkins’s dad is also right. He takes a more Durkheimian view: rationality is not the basis of society. What makes society possible is people’s attachment to the group and its ideas – its values, its beliefs, and its stoplights.I wonder what Murray would have said now about this poem. (Murray died six years ago. The ASA obit is here. He wrote some insightful books – _Intimate Relations, What’s So Funny?, Smut_., and a well-known essay on sociology and phenomenology. ) * Hat tip to Keith Humphrey at The Reality-Based Community. He reprints the poem in its entirety here.
NOVEMBER 29, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ In recent years, Modern-day Paul Reveres like Bill O’Reilly and Sarah Palin have been riding through every Middlesex village and Fox News station, spreading the alarm about the War on Christmas. This is a serious threat. Don’t let yourself be lulled into complacency by the Goliath-David ratio of manpower – the US population is 76% Christian, 2% atheist. The badly outnumbered army of Progressive atheists has resorted to weapons of midnight mass destruction – like clerks at the mall saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”; media elites referring to the “holiday tree.” Meanwhile, the War on Hanukkah has started. Look what things were like before these attacks began.But now in the store we find this.“Milk chocolate coins” indeed. Not a hint of a Jewish holiday anywhere in sight. And yet the media remain silent in the face of this blatant anti-Semitism. Where are Krauthammer, Podhoretz (x 2), Kristol and the rest? Either they are closing their eyes to a situation they do not wish to acknowledge, or they are not aware of the caliber of disaster indicated by this kind of repackaging. Maybe it would be more revealing to trace this attack on Hanukkah back to the original perpetrators.A fifth column in the homeland? Or maybe it’s just too hard to conduct a counteroffensive when nobody’s sure how to spell the name of the side that’s under attack. Is it Chanukah? Hanukkah? Hannukah? No wonder it took so long to get Qaddafi.
The label says it clearly. It’s Chanukah gelt – or Hanukkah gelt – a chocolate version of the real money sometimes given as a gift.
NOVEMBER 22, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ The Kennedy assassination was my first clear lesson in the sociology of emotions, though I didn’t know it at the time. I was in Japan, living with a Japanese family in a small town in the mountains of Nagano prefecture. I had been there less than two months, my knowledge of the language was barely rudimentary. There were no other Americans. I was the first Westerner many people in the town had ever seen in the flesh. (Everyone had seen _gaijin_ on TV since the Japanese networks ran many American shows.) When I came to breakfast that Saturday morning, and even before I had taken my place on the tatami floor with the others, my Japanese family desperately tried to tell me the news. At first all I could understand was that it had something to do with Kennedy. The Japanese words for_ shoot_ or _kill_ were not part of my tiny vocabulary. I knew the word for_ dead_, but when the father of the family used it, I assumed I was hearing one of the many homophones. The television was on, but I certainly could not understand what the news readers were saying. Finally, the father, still seated, acted it out. He fired his index-finger pistol. Then pointing to himself and saying, “Kennedy,” he clutched his hands to his chest and canted his body over as if falling to the floor. The gravest event translated into a simplified charade – it would have seemed ludicrous had it not been so serious. I understood, but I was still incredulous. In the next few days, I learned more, mostly from the one person in the town who spoke fluent English (he had just come back from a year in Kansas), and from the English language daily, the Japan Times, my only outside source of information. I remained isolated from other Americans. If emotions are contagious, I had been quarantined. It was only much later, when I was back in the US that I learned of what it was like to be here then. When I heard people describing where they were; or on anniversaries like today, when the media hauled out their archival footage – only then did I sense the emotion that so many Americans felt. Most people, if asked, would probably have said that their grief was caused entirely by a personal sense of loss perhaps and the symbolic meaning they assigned to Kennedy – the president who, in is youth and vibrancy, represented hope for the future, etc. I had felt none of that. I was stunned of course. In the world I had taken for granted, presidents did not get assassinated.* Now that assumption was shattered. But the Kennedy in my mind was still the same person, politician, and president that he had been before the assassination. So I missed out on feeling of grief and great loss. And I think the reason that I did not feel those emotions is not that I was young and callow (though I was that too) but that I was so isolated. Had I been in the US, engaged in the flood of constant talk, both in person and in the media, I would probably have felt those feelings more intensely. When something so unusual and traumatic happens, we search for a way to make sense of it – our old sociological friend, a “definition of the situation.” In that search, we look to others, and the definition we learn from others – what this thing is and what it means – is not just information and explanation. We learn the emotions that are part of this definition. We have a fairly large repertoire of emotions that we can experience, and in a sympathetic-vibration-like process, the emotions we see all around us evoke the same emotion in us. We experience that emotion as personal. But in an important way, it is also social. ------------------------ * Twenty years ago today, on the 30th anniversary, Barry Wellman recalled he was sitting in a Social Relations class when Stanley Milgram burst in to announce the news. That a president could be assassinated was so incredible that Wellman was sure that Milgram was doing some sort of experiment. When another student in the class turned on his transistor radio so that everyone could hear the the news reports, Wellman remained convinced that the radio was merely part of Milgram’s elaborate hoax. (Wellman’s account is here.)
NOVEMBER 21, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ There was no special Google design, but today is Coleman Hawkins’s birthday. He would have been ninety-nine. His 1939 recording of “Body and Soul” is one of the most famous solos in jazz. Maybe the most famous. The recording is all the more interesting in that it’s all solo (i.e., improvisation). Nowhere in it does Hawkins play the Johnny Green melody.I heard Hawkins once, a few years before his death, when I was an undergraduate. A senior, Charlie Giuliani, the campus’s main source of marijuana (still something of a novelty then) had gotten some Student Association funds and made the arrangements – Hawkins and a local rhythm section. The venue was nothing elegant – an open area in the student center. No chairs, we sat on the floor. Charlie let me hang out in the “green room,” an adjoining classroom-sized room, before the concert, where Hawk took several pulls from the flask he kept in his suit pocket. In the break between sets he pretty much drained it. I was young and naive; I’d never seen anyone drink like that as a matter of course. The next day, when Charlie asked me what I thought, I mentioned that Hawk seemed to drink a lot. “If you had to play “Body and Soul” every night of your life for thirty years, you’d drink too,” said Charlie.
NOVEMBER 18, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ I’m jumping on the sympathy-for-plagiarists carousel. When Rachel Maddow called out Rand Paul for plagiarism, linguist Geoffrey Nunberg offered a defense of sorts in his six minutes of airtime on NPR. So what if Paul speechified Wikipedia sentences as though they were his own (or those of his speechwriters)? Lots of people do the same and worse, says Nunberg, and besides it’s no big deal.
Paul may not have been guilty of dishonesty, just cavalier disrespect for the rules.And those rules Paul was dissing – you know, the ones that schools put in the student handbook and that we put on our syllabi – in Nunberg’s view, they’re sort of like rules about which fork to use for salad.
The rules for quoting and attributing can seem arbitrary at times, with little connection to the respect for intellectual property that originally motivated them. You could think of them just as a kind of literary etiquette.Basically, no harm, no foul. Now there’s a more egregious case here in New Jersey. The associate VPAA at Kean University, Katerina Andriotis, wrote a 15-page report on “enrollment management” with large portions copied and pasted from similar reports at other schools. The Star-Ledger put it on page one.
KEAN EXEC OUT AFTER PLAGIARISM ALLEGATIONI confess I have not read the nine pages she plagiarized or the six she didn’t. But from the news story, I’d guess that the report consists mostly of the vague, the meaningless, and the obvious, all of it painted in the dull, don’t-read-me colors of bureaucratic ed-speak.
It is vitally important to Parkland that meaningful research focus on the factors which influence student decisions, to ascertain which ones have a positive influence on student retention behavior. In addition, a key to helping to retain students is the ability of Parkland to identify ‘at-risk’ students early enough to permit intervention strategies to work.Find-and-replace Kean for Parkland, and you’ve got an Andriotis paragraph. Does it matter that the Parkland report was written 18 years ago for a 2-year community college in downstate Illnois while the Kean report was about a university in urban northern New Jersey? Not if this paragraph reflects the report’s overall level of analysis (and I’d bet it does). Translated into plain English it says,
We have to find out why students drop out, and if we don’t get to them early on, nothing will work.If this is all that a retention committee is going to say, then the reports are interchangeable. And if they’re interchangeable, why not interchange them? Yes, what Andriotis did was plagiarism. But I get the impression that the plagiarism was a joint effort between her and the higher-ups in the administration who would, supposedly, read the report. She wasn’t trying to fool them so much as she was helping them fool themselves. That joint effort says, in effect: We may not be able to do anything to keep our students from dropping out, but having a report gives the appearance that we’re trying really, really hard. (I am speculating about all of this. Maybe the enrollment management committee will spark some changes that have a real effect. )
NOVEMBER 15, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_
In olden days a glimpse of stocking Was looked on as something shocking, But now lord knows — Anything goes. — Cole Porter, 1934Poor Richard Cohen, columnist for the Washington Post. He’s being raked over the liberal coals for this recent observation:
Today’s GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party, but it is deeply troubled – about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York – a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts – but not all – of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.As Ta-Nehisi Coates points out, gagging at a Black-White couple and their biracial children is in fact racist. So let’s focus on the word that Cohen uses to avoid that obvious conclusion – _conventional_.
Conventional: conforming or adhering to accepted standards; ordinary rather than different or original.Matthew Yglesias at Slate seizes on that word and those “people with conventional views.” Yglesias too calls Cohen’s column “racist,” but more to the point, he provides some Gallup-poll evidence that interracial marriage is the new conventional.
(Click on a graph for a larger view_.)
Or as Cole Porter put it in a 1935 production:
When ladies fair who seek affection Prefer gents of dark complexion As Romeos — Anything goes
Porter was bemused; Cohen is troubled. My spider sense tells me that if he’s not actually one of those people with conventional views repressing a gag reflex, he at least feels some strong sympathy for them. But they are on the wrong side of 21st century history, and not only on interracial marriage. Consider that parenthetical comment
(Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?)
First, this is a pretty good example of one of my favorite rhetorical devices, paralipsis (or is it apophasis?) – saying something while saying that you’re not saying it. “To keep this discussion one of principle and not personalities, I won’t even mention that my opponent was arrested for wife-beating and has been linked to the Gambino crime family.”
Second, as with interracial marriage, opinion on homosexuality has shifted considerably. Here’s the GSS data.
In less than twenty years, the Always Wrong* delegation has shrunk from more than three-fourths to less than half. As Cohen says, this change has “enveloped” only parts of America. The gag reflex is still strong in the East South Central, which comprises Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky – the most unenveloped (unreconstructed?) of the GSS regions.
Despite the recent liberalizing trend, the Always Wrongs outnumber the Never Wrongs by more than two to one.
But wait, Cohen is not from the South or Appalachia. Like Bill deBlasio, he’s a New Yorker born and bred. (DeBlasio is from Manhattan, Cohen from Far Rockaway, Queens.) But there might be one other demographic source of that gag reflex – age. Cohen is 72. Here’s how his peers feel about people who share Cole Porter’s sexual orientation.
Among septuagenarians and their elders, those gagging at gays have a large 3½-to-1 edge.
Cohen is probably making the mistake that many of us make – projecting our own views as more widely held than they actually are. Journalists may be especially prone to this kind of projection, preferring to write about what “the public” or “the voters” want or think, when simple first-person statements would be more accurate. So when Cohen says, “to cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all,” he may be talking about himself and the country he grew up in - Far Rockaway in the forties and fifties.** But in 2013, that Far Rockaway is far away.
* I never understood those middle two categories – Almost Always Wrong, and Sometimes Wrong. If gay sex is almost always wrong, under what conditions is it not wrong? Apparently the GSS respondents share my befuddlement. Those choosing the two ambiguous categories never account for more than 15% of the responses. My guess is that those respondents are mentally recoding the choices as a Likert scale along the lines of Absolutely Wrong, Wrong, Somewhat Wrong, Not Wrong.
** For a view of this time and place, see Woody Allen’s wonderful “Radio Days,” which touches lightly, very lightly, on politics and homosexuality (though not race), and it admirably avoids treacly sentimental nostalgia.
NOVEMBER 13, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Two weeks ago, I posted a graph showing the income tax rates paid by the very wealthy. The official tax rate for that bracket is over 35%, but the rate actually paid was less than half that. In the recent presidential campaign, Mitt Romney insisted that he had always paid at least 13%, as though using loopholes in order to pay barely more than a third of the official rate were an honorable act deserving of great admiration.* The loophole most at issue then was “carried interest” – a magic word that transforms the huge fees paid to hedge fund managers into capital gains, which are taxes at a lower rate. This trick is available to a very few – the aforementioned hedge fundies and private equity operators like Romney. But wait, there’s more. That is, there’s less – less taxable income – at least if you’re filthy rich. In a recent interview (here), David Cay Johnston, the premiere tax journalist, outlines another scheme available only to the very rich.
Very, very wealthy people — Warren Buffett, hedge fund managers, Mitt Romney when he ran a private equity fund — are not required to report most of their economic gains and legally they can literally live tax-free or nearly tax-free by borrowing against their assets. You can borrow these days, if you’re very wealthy, against your assets for less than 2 percent interest and the lowest tax rate you could pay is 15 percent. So no wealthy person with any sense of good economics will pay taxes if they can borrow against their assets.Genius. If your money is borrowed rather than earned, it’s not income. That’ even better than the preferential low tax rate on capital gains. Unfortunately, most of us can’t try this at home.
Now you and I can’t do that because our assets aren’t worth that much, but if you’re a billionaire and you borrow, let’s say, $10 million dollars a year to live on, you pay $200,000 interest, but your fortune through investing grows by $50 million. At the end of the year you pay no taxes, your wealth is up almost $40 million dollars and your cost was just the interest of $200,000.If the $10 million were earned income taxed at the official rate, you’d pay more than $3.5 million in taxes. This way you pay only $200,000 in interest. And if Johnston’s estimate is right, your investments bring you 20 times what you paid in interest. --------------------- * Romney made public only one or two years of his tax returns. For his claims about the other years, he asked us to take his word for it – much like W.C. Fields’s “gentleman’s game” in _My Little Chickadee_, as I blogged (here) at the time. Demands for actual evidence were, in the Romneyside view, ungentlemanly. What ever happened to “trust but verify”? HT: Andrew Gelman
NOVEMBER 3, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Republicans tend to be Second Amendment absolutists. The NRA and their representatives in Congress haven’t yet weighed in on the specific issue of, say, banning assault rifles in LAX, but they just might argue that such a law would be an unconstitutional infringement of the right to bear arms. The First Amendment begins, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” and when it comes to the Establishment Clause, Republican ideas become a bit more nuanced. Here are the results of a recent YouGov survey (pdf here). The question was , “Would you favor or oppose establishing Christianity as the official state religion in your state?”Democrats and Independents oppose the establishment of Christianity – “strongly oppose” is their modal response. But a majority of Republicans favor making their state a Christian state, and of those, most (two-thirds) are in the “strongly favor” pew. This is not to say that Republicans are unaware of the Establishment Clause. “Based on what you know, would you think that states are permitted by the constitution to establish official state religions, or not?”Republicans are slightly more likely than Democrats to say that the Constitution does not permit state religions. They just think that on this one, the framers of the Constitution got it wrong. Republicans are only a bit less enthusiastic about establishing Christianity as the official religion of the entire country. “Would you favor or oppose a Constitutional amendment which would make Christianity the official religion of the United States?”A plurality, 46% – almost a majority – want to correct the Framers’ careless omission by amending the Constitution, a document, by the way, in which the words “God” and “Buick” appear with equal frequency, but I assume that the Republicans would want to change that too. I guess our model would be The Islamic Republic of Pakistan. We’d be The Christian Republic of the United States of America. We can’t know specifically what the people who favor the establishment have in mind by making Christianity the official religion of a state or of the nation. Republicans themselves probably differ in their ideas. Maybe only symbolic gestures, like invoking Jesus’s blessing on public events. Maybe public indoctrination – requiring Christian prayer and Bible reading in the public schools. Or maybe more tangible forms of support – giving taxpayers’ money directly to Christian organizations for explicitly religious purposes. Nobody really imagines that establishment will happen, but a conservative still can dream.* And meanwhile, they can continue the indirect establishment of religion that has come with government-supported “faith-based initiatives.” ------------------------ * The Christianists have friends in places where it counts – the Supreme Court. Justice Scalia apparently thinks that the cross is a symbol of the nation rather than the emblem of a religion. In a post four years ago (here) I compared his view to the saying “It’s Sinatra’s world, we just live in it.” That may be funny when it’s about Ol’ Blue Eyes. But Scalia and the other Christian theocrats are telling us, “The US is Christianity’s world; we’re just allowed to live in it.” Non-Christians are not amused.
NOVEMBER 2, 2013_ _ _Posted by Jay Livingsto_n Taxes on the rich were a big issue in Obama’s first term. The Bush tax cuts that had lowered the top rates were set to expire, and Republican lawmakers and media voices were fighting hard on behalf of the wealthy (a category most of them belonged to). Under the Obama proposal, the Bush tax-cut* rate of 35% for those at the top would have returned to 39.6%. That was on paper. In fact, the superwealthy actually paid nowhere near those rates. In the Times today (here), James B. Stewart reports on the plight of the 400 wealthiest American in 2009. They saw their adjusted gross income decline, on average, from $320 million to $200 million. And the percentage they paid in come taxes did go up. But not to 35%.2012 CBO report , at about $27,000 the amount paid in taxes exceeds the value of government benefits, and disposable income rises more slowly than actual earnings. The CBO also calculated the marginal* tax rates on people from the 10th percentile to the 90th.The graph shows the marginal tax rates for people earning less than 450% of the poverty line (i.e., less than $51,700 for an individual, less than $88,000 for a family of three). As the report concludes:
(Click on an image for a larger view_.)The rate the very rich paid rose from about 16% to 20%. The slightly less wealthy – the top .01%, average income $1.4 million – paid a rate of 24%, higher than the top 400 but still well under the official rate. That 24% rate was also the average for the poorest of the rich, the 1% with incomes of at least $344,000. Economists like Greg Mankiw have risen to defend the wealthy, arguing that if rich people’s taxes rise – i.e., revert back to the levels of the 1990s – the rich will become lazy. With the government taking another 4 cents out of each dollar, rich will not work so hard, and then where would we be? (As I pointed out [here], Mankiw himself was anecdotal evidence to the contrary. Those articles claiming that marginal tax rates were key incentives for the rich – Mankiw, a rich economist, was getting paid peanuts or nothing at all for his work in writing them.) Those “high” taxes of the 90s – back before the Bush tax cuts – didn’t seem to keep the rich (or anyone else) from working. Unemployment was low, and the economy was doing just fine thank you. I find it hard to believe that if the top rate returns to pre-Bush levels, Dustin Pedroia will start heading for the dressing room after the seventh inning or that Tom Hanks will confine himself to minor parts that involve only a few days on the set or that traders at Goldman will start taking Fridays off. But what about the effects of increased marginal rates on people who struggle to make ends meet? The Congressional Budget Office has released figures showing what happens when poor and middle-income people increase their income.
In 2013, 37 percent of low- and moderate-income taxpayers who have earnings face total marginal tax rates—including federal and state individual income taxes, federal payroll taxes, and the phasing out of benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—between 30 percent and 39 percent, and over 20 percent of that group face marginal rates of 40 percent or more.The issue of tax rates and means-tested programs is complicated (see Nancy Folbre’s columns at the Times Ecomomix web page, for example). But it is curious that those who were prominent in their concern over the disincentive effect of an increase in marginal rates on the rich are silent or even enthusiastic when it comes to increased marginal rates on the poor.
OCTOBER 30, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ On Sunday, both New York tabloids put the same story on page one – the stabbing death of a woman and four children in their apartment in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.A stabbing at the University of Indiana. The related stories are a stabbing death of a teacher in Long Beach, California and of a teacher in a Texas high school. So, students stabbing people at schools – is that a thing? Probably not, but it is a news theme.
(Click on an image for a larger view_.)The story the Daily News chose as “related” concerns the “Green Gang goon who was caught on video slugging a female New England Patriots fan in the face after the Jets’ upset victory” a week earlier. It turns out that in a fight twenty years ago, when he was 17, he fatally stabbed another kid. He served three years. How are these two stories related? There is no connection between the two killers or their victims. The incidents are separated by two decades. The motives and circumstances are entirely different. If the Jets fan had not been caught on camera punching the female Patriots fan, no journalist following the Sunday killing would have dug up information on this crime of twenty years ago in an attempt to elaborate on the Sunset Park killings. Knowing about that “related” crime gives us no better understanding of Sunday’s stabbing. Instead, the two stories are related by a common theme – they are both about killing where the weapon is a knife. The Daily News seems to be taking a page from Amazon’s marketing strategy. “Readers who liked this story also liked . . .” or Netflix recommendations. (I wonder what the stabbing-death-story demographic is.) Television news often groups stories thematically. A story about a commercial arson in one part of town will be followed by a story about an accidental fire in a house in a distant neighborhood. The circumstances, location, and causes of the two fires are completely different, and if the big fire had not occurred, that house fire might not have been newsworthy. But that night, it fit with the fire theme. Mark Fishman wrote about this thematic organization of TV news in his 1978 article “Crime Waves as Ideology.” We’re so used to it that when we watch the local news at eleven, we barely notice it. Now, thanks to hyperlinks, online news can do the same thematic grouping. A possible consequence that Fishman pointed out is that the news directors can unwittingly create media crime waves – sudden increases in the number of stories while the the actual number of crimes remains unchanged. Once the theme is established, it’s just a matter of combing the city or the entire country for incidents that fit. Here is another screen from the Daily News website.
OCTOBER 28, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ We had our annual careers night. Or it might be or bi-annual careers night, or even tri-annual. Some years we have it, and some we don’t, and this year we did. It’s our attempt to answer the age-old question, “What can I do with a degree in Sociology?” We know what some sociology graduates have done – become head coach of the Steeles or First Lady of the United States. But since those jobs are currently taken, we were lucky to have three of our recent graduates on hand to tell us what they were doing. We had a pretty good turnout – at least fifty students.And here are our speakers: Emman Hamdan, Jessica McCabe, and Kristine Nemec.Emman is in her first year of an MSW program at Rutgers.She’s taking courses and “shadowing” a social worker in the field. She said that her Sociology at Montclair had prepared her so well that the instructor in one of her courses had asked her not to speak up in class so that the other student could wrestle with the questions. Kristine got her degree in May, but she is already a consulting company.Back in the spring semester, when Kristine was in Chris Donoghue’s section of Senior Research Project, Chris got an inquiry from a medical board. They needed a survey. Kristine was on it immediately. She singlehandedly designed the survey and is now analyzing the data. She plans to do further consultant/contract work. Jessica is working for two non-profits. At the Masakhane Center in Newark she is a sex educator, where, she says, the insights of sociology have helped her tailor her approach for the needs of an inner-city population.She also works at the National Council of Jewish Women, a different p;opulation (Short Hills ain’t Newark). After looking at some of the surveys Council had done, she said to herself, “Prof. Ruane would not have liked the construction of this survey.” She told them so, tactfully, and offered to do it right. So now she is their unofficial in-house survey maven. The speakers were great, and the students were very interested to know what might lie on the other side of a sociology degree. We really should do this more often.
OCTOBER 23, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Many critics are praising _12 Years a Slave_ for its uncompromising honesty about slavery. It offers not one breath of romanticism about the ante-bellum South. No Southern gentlemen getting all noble about honor and no Southern belles and their mammies affectionately reminiscing or any of that other _Gone With the Wind_ crap, just an inhuman system. _12 Years_ depicts the sadism not only as personal (though the film does have its individual sadists) but as inherent in the system – essential, inescapable, and constant. Now, Noah Berlatsky at The Atlantic points out something else about _12 Years_ as a movie, something most critics missed – its refusal to follow the usual feel-good cliche plot convention of American film:It’s the comic-book adolescent fantasy – the nebbish that the other kids insult when they’re not just ignoring him but who then ducks into a phone booth or says his magic word and transforms himself into the avenging superhero to put the bad guys in their place. The classic example is the Charles Atlas ad that used to grace the back page of those comic books.As I’m sure others have pointed out, this scenario sometimes seems to be the basis of US foreign policy. An insult or slight, real or imaginary, becomes the justification for “retaliation” in the form of destroying a government or an entire country along with tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of its people. It seems pretty easy to sell that idea to us Americans – maybe because the revenge-fantasy scenario is woven deeply into American culture – and it’s only in retrospect that we wonder how Iraq or Vietnam ever happened. _Django Unchained_ and the rest are a special example of a more general story line much cherished in American movies: the notion that all problems – psychological, interpersonal, political, moral – can be resolved by a final competition, whether it’s a quick-draw shootout or a dance contest. (I’ve sung this song before in this blog, most recently here after I saw_ Silver Linings Playbook_.) Berlatsky’s piece on _12 Years_ points out something else I hadn’t noticed but that the Charles Atlas ad makes obvious: it’s all about masculinity. Revenge is a dish served almost exclusively at the Y-chromosome table. The women in the story play a peripheral role as observers of the main event – an audience the hero is aware of – or as prizes to be won or, infrequently, as the hero’s chief source of encouragement, though that role usually goes to a male buddy or coach. But when a story jettisons the manly revenge theme, women can enter more freely and fully.
If we were working with the logic of Glory or Django, Northup would have to regain his manhood by standing up to his attackers and besting them in combat._Django Unchained _is a revenge fantasy. In the typical version, our peaceful hero is just minding his own business when the bad guy or guys deliberately commit some terrible insult or offense, which then justifies the hero unleashing violence – often at cataclysmic levels – upon the baddies. One glance at the poster for _Django_, and you can pretty much guess most of the story.
(Click on an image for a larger view_.)For the sake of brevity and clarity, here is the Reader’s Digest version in three frames – one before the magic transformation, two after.
_12 Years a Slave_ though, doesnt present masculinity as a solution to slavery, and as a result it’s able to think about and care about women as people rather than as accessories or MacGuffins.Scrapping the revenge theme can also broaden the story’s perspective from the personal to the political (i.e., the sociological):
_ 12 Years a Slave_ doesn’t see slavery as a trial that men must overcome on their way to being men, but as a systemic evil that leaves those in its grasp with no good choices.From that perspective, the solution lies not merely in avenging evil acts and people but in changing the system and the assumptions underlying it, a much lengthier and more difficult task. After all, revenge is just as much an aspect of that system as are the insults and injustices it is meant to punish. When men start talking about their manhood or their honor, there’s going to be blood, death, and destruction – sometimes a little, more likely lots of it. One other difference between the revenge fantasy and political reality: in real life, the results of revenge are often short-lived. Killing off an evildoer or two doesn’t do much to end the evil. In the movies, we don’t have to worry about that. After the climactic revenge scene and peaceful coda, the credits roll, and the house lights come up. The End. In real life though, we rarely see a such clear endings, and we should know better than to believe a sign that declares “Mission Accomplished.”
OCTOBER 15, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston _ Six years into a marriage is about the peak year for divorce. Six years ago the ASA proposed to Malcolm Gladwell. We gave him the Award for Excellence in the Reporting of Social Issues, whichChristopher Chabris, the author of the linked piece in Slate, is not a sociologist, he’s a cognitive psychologist, but you sense that sociologists too are seeing the same flaws. Oh, why didn’t we see them before. It’s not as though anybody has really changed all that much. The faults were always there. In fact, some sociologists did see them. Here’s a clip of Robb Willer telling his social psych class about his experience as a panelist at the ASA session where Gladwell was given the award. Chabris, in his deposition, speaks of our naïveté. Oh, yes, maybe we sensed that Malcolm wasn’t always telling the truth, but we rationalized.
honors individuals for their promotion of sociological findings and a broader vision of sociology. The ASA would like to recognize the contributions of those who have been especially effective in disseminating sociological perspectives and research.We were virgins. Malcolm was our first. He swept us off our feet. He was cute and funny, and famous - he had TED talks, he’d been on NPR! But more important, he made us feel good about ourselves. It wasn’t just the flattery of his beautiful words and clever phrases. He really paid attention to us, we thought, gazing deeply into our articles. He told us that what we did was important, relevant. It was too good to last, and now the break-up seems imminent. You can see it coming in tweets like this one by Matt Salganik of Princeton sociology.
perhaps I am the one who is naive . . . I had thought Gladwell was inadvertently misunderstanding the science he was writing about and making sincere mistakes in the service of coming up with ever more “Gladwellian” insights.But he was playing us for a fool. He lied to us
according to his own account, he knows exactly what he is doing, and not only that, he thinks it is the right thing to do. Is there no sense of ethics that requires more fidelity to truth especially when your audience is so vast . . .?*Oh well, these things happen. Life goes on. We try again and again, kissing frogs (remember that date with David Brooks back in 2011?)** and hoping for a true prince. -------------------------- * Chabris here is echoing Macbeth: “I will not yield, To kiss the ground before young Malcolm’s feet, And to be baited with the rabble’s curse.” (V, 8) ** The list of award recipients is here.
OCTOBER 13, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ A question in the Social Q’s column of the Times today asks about the etiquette of electronic cigarettes at a dinner party. In his answer, Philip Galanes expains what e-cigs are ( “battery-powered vaporizers . . .that deliver synthetic nicotine Users exhale an odorless white vapor”). He continues,As the song says,
The “vaper” (yes, that’s the colloquial term for users) should have asked your host and tablemates . . .I don’t really care what the answer is, but I love _vaper_. I just wonder how many people will get the reference. It hark back to _viper_, which in the first half of the twentieth century was slang for a marijuana smoker. The term did not survive the marijuana boom of the 1960s, though I have no idea why. _Reefe_r and _pot_ survived as terms for marijuana, but _boo_ disappeared. So did _viper._ Sill, some historical artifacts remain, notably Stuff Smith’s 1936 song “If You’se a Viper,” which begins,
Think about a reefer five feet long.Wikipedia says that it’s “one of the most frequently covered songs about marijuana.” The best-known of these covers is probably the one by Fats Waller (himself the compser of “Viper’s Drag”). Fats cleaned up the grammar (“If _You’re_ a Viper”) and slowed down the tempo. But here’s the original.
When your throat gets dry, you know you’re high.
OCTOBER 12, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Let’s give Michelle Bachman her due. She speaks her mind. She also speaks the minds of other Republicans who won’t: what oft was thought but ne’er so outrageiously expressed. Yes, she likened Obamacare to crack.
President Obama can’t wait to get Americans addicted to the crack cocaine of dependency on more government health care.Some keen-eared liberals detected subtle racist overtones in that metaphor. Heavens no. I’m sure Rep. Bachman’s intentions were pure. But let us ignore the possibly offensive metaphor and look at the substance of what she said. After all, her idea, even without that metaphor, is something you can hear in many Republican hangouts. Taken at face value, her statement is saying that in a democracy, the people cannot be trusted.
Because, once they enroll millions of more individual Americans it will be virtually impossible for us to pull these benefits back from people. All they want to do is buy love from people by giving them massive government subsidies.What she’s saying is this: If the government does something that is overwhelmingly popular with a majority of the people, it will be impossible to undo that policy using democratic means. It may seem odd, at least to those of us raised on an ideology of democracy, that there’s a danger in the government enacting programs that people like. But that seems to be what Bachman and other Republicans fear. Their worst nightmare is that once Obamacare is fully implemented, it will be successful; people will like it, and they will vote for the party that created that program. That fear about electoral consequences is overblown if not downright incorrect. The point however is that it reveals a deep distrust of democracy and of ordinary voters.
OCTOBER 10, 2013 Posted by Jay Livingston The Redskins have been in the news lately – on the front page of this morning’s Times, for example – and not for their prowess on the gridiron (they are 1-3 on the season). It’s their name. Many native Americans find it offensive, understandably so. “Redskins” was not a name they chose. It was a label invented by the European-Americans who took their land and slaughtered them in numbers that today would be considered genocide. President Obama offered the most tepid hint of criticism of the name. He did not say they should change their name. He said that _if_ he owned the team, he would “think about” changing the name. But that was enough for non-Indians to dismiss the idea as yet one more instance of “political correctness.” Defenders of the name also argue that the name is not intended to be offensive,* and besides, a survey shows that most Americans are not bothered by it. I would guess that most Americans also have no problem with the Cleveland Indians logo, another sports emblem that real Indians find offensive. In response the National Congress of American Indians offers these possibilities. The Cleveland cap is the real thing. The other two are imagined variations on the same theme.The pro-Redskins arguments could also apply here. The New York Jews and San Francisco Chinamen and their logos are not _intended_ to offend, and a survey would probably find a majority of Americans untroubled by these names and logos. And those who do object are just victims of “the tyranny of political correctness.” This last phrase comes from a tweet by Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III, an African American. His response seems to make all the more relevant the suggestion of years ago by Russell Means of the AIM: “Why don’t they call them The Washington Niggers?” _HT for the hats: Max _ -------------------------- * Football fans of a certain age may remember Washington’s running back John Riggins, who had a few good seasons but is most remembered for his comment at a 1985 National Press Club dinner. He was seated next to Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and he was drunk. He passed out, slid to the floor, and slept through Vice-President’s Bush’s speech. But before that, he told the justice, “Loosen up, Sandy baby. You’re too tight.” I’m sure his remark was not intended to give offense.
OCTOBER 9, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ The New York Post this morning had me at hello, or rather, at headline.It’s an allusion to one of the Post’s most famous headlines, from 1983.(This was long before the era of the Kristal-pouring, gold-card strip club, with sports stars and hedge-funders tossing out benjamins for lapdances. In 1983, a topless bar was most likely a seedy joint.) Today’s headline was an homage to Vinnie Musetto, author of the “Headless” headline. He had been freelancing at the Post since his retirement in 2011, but in August, the Post cut him off entirely, claiming budgetary constraints. Among Post headline writers, he’s gone but not forgotten. The news story (here) has relevance not just for headline writing but for matters of criminal justice, law, and culture as well. Jessica Krigsman, who had been arrested for being topless in a Brooklyn park back in the summer of 2012, is now suing the city for violating her rights. Her encounter with New York’s finest wasn’t exactly like “Law and Order.” She knew her rights, and the cops didn’t.
“I’m like, what? Haven’t you heard of _People v. Santorelli_?” Krigsman said she told the cops. . . . “This has been legal since the ’90s. Call your supervisor!” One of the cops told her to “stop mouthing off” and threatened her with arrest, court papers say.The cops put her in pink handcuffs and took her to the precinct. Krigsman’s knowledge of relevant case law comes with her professional territory. She’s not a lawyer, she’s a stripper – “a burlesque dancer who performs a fire-eating bondage act.” The Post explains:
She stripteases and eats fire while straddling a man whose hands are tied and is bound to a chair. A description for the event reads: “Prepare to be strange, prepare to be altered! There will be nudity, blood, vulgarity and many other unspeakable things.”Even the Post can’t make this stuff up.
OCTOBER 7, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Why are some Republicans willing to shut down the government and to force the US to default on its debts in order to prevent a health care system very much like the one instituted in Massachusetts – a plan designed by a conservative think tank (the Heritage foundation) and instituted by a Republican governor (Mitt Romney)? Maybe it’s not about health care. Four years ago, in the early days of the fight against Obamacare, it seemed to me that healthcare was a symbolic issue, a matter of status politics. (That post is here.) For many of the protesters, the question was not which healthcare policy would be good for who. The question was: whose country is this anyway? These were Sarah Palin’s “real Americans” – older, white, non-urban – and they had long assumed that it was their country. And they were right. But the 2008 election was a rude reminder that they were becoming a minority – less influential, less powerful, less respected. The passage of Obamacare would somehow inscribe that diminished status into a law. So Obamacare became the decisive battle in the fight to “take back our country.”* If _we_ lose, if Obamacare takes effect, it’s _their_ country. In this apocalyptic style of thinking, Obama and Obamacare balloon from political opponent into something close to absolute evil. And if you’re fighting evil, compromise is not an option. Christopher Parker and Matt Barreto’s recent book, _Change They Can’t Believe In_, fills out this picture of the adamant Right. The Tea Partistas are not just moe strident versions of traditional conservatives. Issues that engaged the traditional right – e.g., a muscular foreign policy – are not so important to them. They are much more likely to emphasize the illegitimacy of the Obama administration. Parker and Barreto found differences like these by comparing the postings on Tea Party websites with those of National Review Online. (The National Review has long been the voice of conservatism – and not even “moderate” conservatism – but it’s not Tea Party). The NRO posts were mostly devoted to policy matters. But on the Tea Party sites, over half the content had a flavor that Parker says is “more in line with Richard Hofstadter’s _Paranoid Style in American Politics_” – conspiracy theories, and attacks on Obama.
(Click on the chart for a larger view._)The data come from graphs posted at a WaPo Wonkblog interview with Parker (here). I don’t know what their coding scheme was,and I wonder about some of the absent topics. Immigration is the only domestic policy issue on the charts. No guns, no healthcare, no taxes, etc. When Republicans think about Obama, legitimacy is the overarching issue. Here is a word cloud of focus groups of Republicans – from Tea Party to moderates – asked about Obama.** Andrew Sullivan says, “_nothing_ represents their sense of loss and anger more powerfully than Obamacare.” So don’t ask why some people are willing to shut down the government and to have the US default on its financial obligations, with all the damage that may bring to the economy of the nation and the world, in order to thwart a change in healthcare policy. It’s not about Obamacare. -------------------------- * In my “Repo Men” post (here), I offered some data showing that his imagery of “taking back our country” is much more a staple of out-of-power Republicans than Democrats. ** A pdf. of the report by Stan Greenberg and James Carville is here .
OCTOBER 4, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ I still recall a Times wedding announcement from a few decades ago. The bride’s given name was Scarlett. Why, I wondered, would someone name their daughter Scarlett? The text of the announcement pretty much answered that. Her debutante party had been a Gone With the Wind Ball, with the family’s estate transformed into Tara. Names are always, to some extent, a projection of parental ideas onto the child.* The question is: to what extent? It’s one thing to name your kid Jayden or Isabella because you think it sounds like a cool name – unusual enough to be hip, not so unusual as to be weird. It’s another to saddle your child with your very specific fantasy derived from some novel or movie you imagine recreating in real life. (Scarlett, I recall, had become an actress, so she may have been comfortable playing out other people’s fantasies, even her mother’s.) I had thought that this sort of naming had waned, so I was a bit surprised by this sentence in a post at The Monkey Cage, a political science blog:
First up is Brett Ashley Leeds, a professor at Rice University who has published widely on issues of international security, especially alliances.I know nothing about Prof. Leeds or her work or her parents. Nor do I have any idea what effect her Hemingway-derived name might possibly have had on her. I expect that she has not taken up with journalists suffering from what we now call erectile dysfunction or with 19-year old toreros. (I would also expect that she has long wearied of references like these.) I do note however that her post, “Why is work by women systematically devalued?” has a sentence about the effects street names might have on children. She writes, “from honorary names . . .they will receive messages that are likely to produce a subconscious bias.” I’m reluctant to make any such guesses about cause and effect. But perhaps Brett Ashley knows. ----------------- * Names are parental projections, of course, only in societies where parents are free to choose the names of their children.
OCTOBER 2, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ (No sociology here, just what Chris Uggen calls “self-indulgery.”) I am not a chess player. I haven’t played since my kid was in grade school, and during Saturday morning tournaments, when the kids were playing their matches in the lunch room, some of us bored parents in the auditorium would sit on the stage and play our patzer’s version of the game. But last Saturday I was at the farmers’ market in Union Square, which also has a lane for chess players.Here’s a diagram of the position.White pushed his pawn to h4, attacking black’s knight.
White Black thought for a while, too long in fact, for he made some move with his queen. He had been so lost in thought about the line of play following that move that he forgot that he was about to lose a knight.
But neither player saw the killer move that black had. If you know anything about chess, you’ll see it immediately. It’s the kind of position you might find in the chess problem corner of the newspaper (“Black has a crusher”), on the same page with the Jumble and Funky Winkerbean. But there it was in a real game.
(Click on an image for a larger view_.)I figured these were canny players. The match in the foreground above reminded me of “Searching for Bobby Fischer” – how many times had I watched our VHS of that movie – where a park hustler competes with a grandmaster for the chess soul of a young prodigy. For a minute or so I watched this game. When I got home and browsed through my photos – mostly of things like apples and radishes -- I took a closer look at the board. It was white to move.:
SEPTEMBER 30, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ “He’s makin’ more money than you’ll ever see.” That was the preferred argument of Tommy Fiedler (not his real name but close enough), a classmate who lived across the street when I was a kid. I sometimes would disagree with Tommy about the talents or behavior of some celebrity – a rock star or an actor. Today’s equivalent might be Ke$ha or a Kardashian. Tommy’s response was usually, “He’s makin’ more money than you’ll ever see.” And that settled the issue as far as Tommy was concerned. A huge income trumped just about anything. In sociology, we talk about values. Intro texts usually define values as abstract ideas about what is good, ideas that people use as guides to action. Maybe. But the definition I prefer sees values as “legitimations” – ideas about what is good that people use to justify behavior or to win arguments.* For Tommy, money was this kind of ultimate legitimation. His behavior did not evidence a strong value on money – we were only about eleven at the time – but his judgments did. Values are what we use to evaluate. I thought of Tommy and values today when I read the transcript of a CNBC interview with Alex Pereene. Pereene has recently gone on record (here) criticizing Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan. That bank currently faces an $11 billion fine for having dealt in shoddy mortgage-backed securities. JP Morgan can afford it, of course, but $11billion begins to be real money.** The question on CNBC was whether Dimon should continue as its CEO. Pareene says no. The CNBC anchor, Maria Bartiromo then says.
Legal problems aside, JP Morgan remains one of the best, if not the best performing major bank in the world today. You believe the leader of that bank should step down?Or as Tommy Fiedler would have put it, “His bank is makin’ more money than you’ll ever see.” Here’s Pareene’s response:
If you managed a restaurant, and it got the biggest health department fine in the history of restaurants, no one would say “Yeah, but the restaurant’s making a lot of money. There’s only a little bit of poison in the food.”CNBC then brings in a Dimon booster, Duff McDonald. Asked to respond to Pareene’s charge of corruption, McDonald says,
It’s preposterous. The stock’s touching a ten-year high. It’s a cash-generating machine. Sure they’ve had their regulatory issues . . .In McDonald’s view, the charge of corruption is preposterous because JP Morgan is makin’ more money than you’ll ever see. Bartiromo’s reaction is especially telling. She seems to take Pereene’s criticism of JP Morgan personally. I thought that anchors were supposed to be neutral and try to draw guests out. But Bartiromo is openly hostile. She loudly interrupts Pereene and demands evidence of the bank’s questionable tactics. When Pereene gives an example, she defends Dimon by again appealing to the value on profits above all else. EVEN WITH ALL THESE LOSSES, THE COMPANY CONTINUES TO CHURN OUT TENS OF BILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN EARNINGS AND HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS IN REVENUES. HOW DO YOU CRITICIZE THAT? [emphasis added]Her assumption is that anyone who makes so much money cannot be criticized. Such criticism is immoral.The reporting about JP Morgan’s shortcomings is, she says, “a witch hunt.” [A video of the interview is on Felix Salmon’s blog (here). Must-see TV.] The problem with legitimations is that they work only if everyone in the room shares the same values. Members of the same culture, almost by definition, share values, and effective arguments apeal to those values. Americans, for example, are suckers for arguments based on appeals to individual freedom. We find them very hard to resist. But people in other cultures might not find those arguments so persuasive. This brief CNBC interview hints at cultures or moral worlds in collision. In the CNBC world, people take the value on making money for granted. When they encounter someone who does not share that value, who is not persuaded by arguments base don it, they act as though threatened by some uncomprehending and dangerous alien, a creature from another world. It is a clash of cultures, a clash of values, and the way we discover those is not by watching what people do (values as guides to action) but by listening to how they justify what they and others do (values as legitimations). ------------------ * I think this idea about values originates with Berger and Luckman (1966),_ The Social Construction of Reality._ ** Other fines JP Morgan has paid were far less. For its part in rigging the LIBOR, for example, they paid $450 million – pocket change.
SEPTEMBER 25, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ After the Navy Yard massacre, David Guth, a professor of journalism at the University of Kansas, posted an intemperate tweet.The university put him on leave, and Guth consented. The debate – in the comments section at InsiderHigherEd for example, and on various blogs rehashes issues of gun control, the NRA, free speech, and academic freedom. But it was this response from an administrator, as reported by IHE (here), that struck me.
Ann Brill, dean of the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said in a separate statement that while the First Amendment allows free expression, "that privilege is not absolute and must be balanced with the rights of others. That’s vital to civil discourse. Professor Guth’s views do not represent our school and we do not advocate violence directed against any group or individuals.”I guess Deans at KU are not hired to offer clear and incisive thinking, because even these few sentences have some standout mistakes. First, Dean Brill converts free speech from a right into a privilege. Perhaps she does not recall that the First Amendment is part of the Bill of Rights, not the Bill of Privileges. Then she claims that this right must be “balanced with the rights of others.” But she does not specify who these others might be, what these rights might be, or how Prof. Guths’s tweet violated those rights. Obviously, some people were outraged and offended. But whose legal or Constitutional rights did the tweet violate? There is no Constitutional right not to be offended. Dean Brill also implies that the tweet advocated violence directed at some group or at individuals. That too is quite a stretch. Guth was not issuing a _fatwa_ calling for the slaughter of innocent children. He was saying that the next time a mass shooting happens, he hopes that the victims will be the children of the NRA, presumably so that the gun lovers might suffer the negative consequences of the policies they support. I can only assume that the Dean’s objective in this statement was not to offer a cogent analysis but to assuage the anger of state legislators and other people that the university has to make nice with.
SEPTEMBER 24, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Extreme comparisons must be irresistible. Why else would people argue that same-sex marriage is no different than marriage between a man and a dog or that aborting a 12-week fetus is as the moral equivalent of killing a twelve-month old child? And then there’s Hitler.
Godwin’s Law: As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.But it’s not just online. It happens in print, and it happens in face-to-face discussions. Perhaps in math puzzles, the extreme hypothetical can be an effective strategy. But people are not math puzzles, and in the real world, those extremes rarely happen. Despite its attractiveness to the speaker, the extreme comparison rarely convinces anyone who doesn’t already agree, and it can often backfire. The person who makes the extreme analogy looks morally obtuse, unable to tell the difference between Hitler and Obama, or Hitler and Bush, or Hitler and economic and social change.* Recently, Greg Mankiw, a prominent economist not given to immoderate language, didn’t summon Hitler, but he used an equally silly analogy in a paper defending the very rich and attacking government aid to the poor. He began,
government has increasingly used its power to tax to take from Peter to pay Paul. Discussions of the benefits of government services should not distract from this fundamental truth.Hence the next subhead:
Mankiw then used that alternative philosophy to draw an analogy between the money we pay in taxes and our precious bodily organs:
The Need for an Alternative Philosophical Framework
Thus, the same logic of social insurance that justifies income redistribution similarly justifies government-mandated kidney donation.Give them an inch, and they’ll take a kidney. And now we have Robert Benmosche, top guy at AIG, going Mankiw one better in defending the huge bonuses banks and financial firms paid out while they were crashing the economy. The uproar over bonuses, says Benmosche,
was intended to stir public anger, to get everybody out there with their pitch forks and their hangman nooses, and all that – sort of like what we did in the Deep South [decades ago]. And I think it was just as bad and just as wrong.Yes, you read that correctly. Complaining about those bonuses is “sort of like” lynching, and the executives and traders sitting on their multi-million dollar bonuses are like Black people killed by racists.Sort of like it and “just as bad.” The Wall Street Journal tactfully omitted this quote in their article (here) lauding Benmosche (“At AIG, Benmosche Steers a Steady Course”). The WSJ probably thought that Benmosche’s comparison would draw attention away from the idea that the bonus-critics were misguided and focus that attention instead on questions about the CEO’s moral universe. Only three days later did the WSJ print the fuller version of the interview ( “AIG’s Benmosche and Miller on Villains, Turnarounds and Those Bonuses” ) HT: Ryun Chittum at the Columbia Journalism Review --------------------- * During the 2008 primary campaign, Hillary Clinton, talking about the decline in good jobs, said, “They came for the steel companies and nobody said anything. They came for the auto companies and nobody said anything. . . .” an obvious reference to ““First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Jews . . .” (The NYT story is here. I remember this one because I blogged it at the time.) UPDATE Sept. 25: As I was writing this, Ted Cruz was on the floor of the Senate arguing against funding Obamacare. Giving in to the President on healthcare, he said, was like – you guessed it – appeasing Hitler in 1938.
SEPTEMBER 20, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ My post of a few days ago (here) showed The Heritage Foundation presenting a graph and deliberately drawing a conclusion that the graph clearly showed to be wrong. Apparently, that’s something of a specialty at The Heritage Foundation. Here’s their graphic purporting to show that preschool programs don’t work. (The original is here.)The problem in the Oklahoma graph is the lag time between cause and effect. For example, the baby boom began in 1947, but we would not look for its effects on healthcare and Social Security costs until much, much later. Most people know this, but Heritage seems to be lagging behind. “Fourth grade reading achievement scores in Oklahoma have actually declined.” True, they are lower now than in 1998, when universal preschool started. But is that the year should we use for a starting point for data on fourth grade reading scores? Pre-school kids are three or four years old. They don’t take the fourth-grade reading test until six or seven years later – in Oklahoma, that would be 2005 for the first cohort. Amazingly (amazing to Heritage, I guess), that was the year reading scores began to increase, and despite a slight dip last year, they are still above that level. As for the Georgia graph, anyone glancing at it (anyone except for people at The Heritage Foundation) would see this: reading scores in Georgia began increasing in 1995, two years after universal preschool began, and continued to rise when the first preschoolers reached fourth grade; scores have continued to rise faster than the national average. Georgia was behind, now it’s ahead. Something good has been happening. Heritage, however, manages not to see this and instead complains about how long it took Georgia to reach that point. (“Georgia’s program was in place for 13 years before scores caught up to the U.S. average.”) A simple graph of scores is not really an adequate assessment of universal preschool. Those assessments, which include many other relevant variables,* have been done, and they generally conclude that the programs do work. But that’s not the point. The point is that Heritage is again misreading its own graph. So again I repeat, “Who you gonna believe, the Heritage Foundation or your lyin’ eyes?” HT: Philip Cohen, who apparently thinks the Heritage deliberate obtuseness is so obvious as to be unworthy of elaboration. ----------- * These include the usual demographics, especially to see if preschool effects are different for different groups. But there’s also the problem of post-preschool education. A state might have great preschools, if it also has lousy primary schools, the benefits of preschool will be eroded away by the time the kids are in fourth grade.