- 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
- Chris Christie and Subjective, Very Subjective, Social Class
- Good Time Charts, Bad Time Charts
- Odd “Even”
- My Handshakes Bring All the Boys to the Yard
- Cops – Killing and Being Killed
- Porn This Way
- Clogged Traffic at the Gateway
- Higher Ed as Cheerios
- To Kindle a Fire
- Freedom and Freeloaders
- Homo Promo
- Private Troubles and Public Op-eds
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 Chonicle 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 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 the lessons – taught by example rather than directly articulated – about school. 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 goes extends the context further, to the brass and the politicians, who, in his view, 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 a corrective, 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 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. “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.
April 22, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Chris Christie’s net worth (at least $4 million) is 50 times that of the average American. His household income of $700,000 (his wife works in the financial sector) is 13 times the national median. But he doesn’t think he’s rich. “I dont consider myself a wealthy man. . . . and I dont think most people think of me that way.” That’s what he told the Manchester Union-Leader on Monday when he was in New Hampshire running for president. Of course, being out of touch with reality doesn’t automatically disqualify a politician from the Republican nomination, even at the presidential level, though misreading the perceptions of “most people” may be a liability. But I think I know what Christie meant. He uses the term “wealth,” but what he probably has in mind is class. He says, “Listen, wealth is defined in a whole bunch of different ways . . . ” No, Chris. Wealth is measured one way – dollars. It’s social class that is defined in a whole bunch of different ways. One of those ways, is self-perception.This self-perception as middle class rather than upper can result from “relative deprivation,” a term suggesting that how you think about yourself depends on who are comparing yourself with.* So while most people would not see the governor as “deprived,” Christie himself travels in grander circles. As he says, “My wife and I . . . are not wealthy by current standards.” The questions is “Which standards?” If the standards are those of the people whose private jets he flies on, the people he talks with in his pursuit of big campaign donations – the Koch brothers, Ken Langone (founder of Home Depot), Sheldon Adelson, Jerry Jones, hedge fund billionaires, et al. – if those are the people he had in mind when he said, “We dont have nearly that much money,” he’s right. He’s closer in wealth to you and me and middle America than he is to them. I also suspect that Christie is thinking of social class not so much as a matter of money as of values and lifestyle – one of that bunch of ways to define class. To be middle class is to be one of those solid Americans – the people who, in Bill Clinton’s phrase, go to work and pay the bills and raise the kids. Christie can see himself as one of those people. Here’s a fuller version of the quote I excerpted above. Listen, wealth is defined in a whole bunch of different ways and in the end Mary Pat and I have worked really hard, we have done well over the course of our lives, but, you know, we have four children to raise and a lot of things to do.” He and his wife go to work; if they didn’t, their income would drop considerably. They raise the kids, probably in conventional ways rather than sloughing that job off on nannies and boarding schools as upper-class parents might do. And they pay the bills. Maybe they even feel a slight pinch from those bills. The $100,000 they’re shelling out for two kids in private universities may be a quarter of their disposable income, maybe more. They are living their lives by the standards of “middle-class morality.” Their tastes too are probably in line with those of mainstream America. As with income, the difference between the Christies and the average American is one of degree rather than kind. They prefer the same things; they just have a pricier version. Seats at a football game, albeit in the skyboxes, but still drinking a Coors Light. It’s hard to picture the governor demanding a glass of Haut Brion after a day of skiing on the slopes at Gstaad, chatting with (God forbid) Euorpeans. Most sociological definitions of social class do not include values and lifestyle, relying on more easily measured variables like income, education, and occupation. But for many people, including the governor, morality and consumer preference may weigh heavily in perceptions and self-perceptions of social class. --------------------------- * An ealier post on relative deparivation among the rich is here.
“If you were asked to use one of four names for your social class, which would you say you belong in: the lower class, the working class, the middle class, or the upper class?”That question has been part of the General Social Survey since the start in 1972. It’s called “subjective social class.” It stands apart from any objective measures like income or education. If an impoverished person who never got beyond fifth grade says that he’s upper class, that’s what he is, at least on this variable. But he probably wouldn’t say that he’s upper class. Neither would Chris Christie. But why not? My guess is that he thinks of himself as “upper middle class,” and since that’s not one of the GSS choices, Christie would say “middle class.” (Or he’d tell the GSS interviewer where he could stick his lousy survey. The governor prides himself on his blunt and insulting responses to ordinary people who disagree with him.)
APRIL 21, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ How do you graph data to show changes over time? You might make “years” your x-axis and plot each year’s number. But you’re not the Washington Post. If you’re the Post Wonkblog (here), first you proclaim:The point is clearer: beginning in 1980 or thereabouts, the 1% started pulling away from the lower 90%. A graph showing the percentage change shows the historical trends still more clearly.
(Click on a chart for a slightly larger view_.)The data points are years, but the seem to be in no logical order, and they overlap so much that you can’t tell which year is where. Even for a point we can easily identify, 1987, it’s not clear what we are supposed to get. In that year, the average income of the lower 90% of earners was about $33,000, and the average for the top 1% was about $500,000. But how was that different from 1980 or 1990. Go ahead, find those years. I’ll wait. Here’s the same data,* different graph.
From the mid-40s to 1980, incomes for the lower 90% were growing more rapidly than were incomes for the 1%. This period is what some now call “the great compression,” when income inequality decreased. Since 1980, income growth for the 90% has leveled off while incomes for the 1% have risen dramatically.(The Post acknowledges that it got its material from Quoctrong Bui at NPR. But the NPR page (here) has two graphs, and the one that is similar to the one in the Post has an time-series animation that shows the year to year changes.) ------------------------------- * The data set, available here , comes from the Paris School of Economics. Presumably, it contains the data that Thomas Piketty has been working with.
APRIL 10, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ The “Mad Men” exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image shows how scrupulously Matt Weiner and company sought historical authenticity. They are proud of their period-perfect props, objects that we will glimpse for a split second or not at all – the lunches in the office fridge, the driver’s license in Don Draper’s wallet.Why, then, does nobody check the script for linguistic anachronisms? I’ve noted some of these before (here). In this seventh and final season, “even” has popped up ahead of its time. In an episode before the mid-season break, Bert and Don have this conversation. The year is 1970.In another Season 7 episode, teenage Sally, briefly home from boarding school, has a confrontation withe her mother. Echoing Dad she says, “Why am I even here.”For the final episodes, Weiner has brought legendary screen writer and screen doctor Robert Towne on board. Towne was born in 1934, and he has an ear for dialogue. Maybe he will be able to keep the language suited to the historical period.
Here’s the transcript: Bert: You thought there was going to be a big creative crisis and wed pull you off the bench, but in fact, weve been doing just fine. Don: So, why am I even here?To my ears, that “even” sounded odd, a bit too recent. Mark Liberman at the Langauge Log agrees. In a 2011 post (here) on the history of “even,” he says that this use of “even” for emphasis is very recent. The specific phrase "what does that even mean?" has become fairly common in the news media and in books, but most of the hits are from the past decade. . . . I dont remember this expression from my youth, and I cant find any convincing examples before 1993. Google nGrams too shows that the sharp rise does not begin until after 1980.
APRIL 6, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Handshakes are important. They can make a difference. After Kentucky lost to Wisconsin in the semis Saturday night, several of the Wildcats started off the court, skipping the handshake line.The Kentucky coaches managed to round up some of them, but three of the Kentucky stars shook no hands.* That was now. But this Kentucky-handshake contretemps seems to be history repeating itself, albeit with some color reversal. In 1950, for post-season basketball, the NCAA had a close rival in the NIT. The “I” stands for “invitational,” and Kentucky, always a basketball power, easily won an invite. City College was a bit iffier, but they too were invited, and in the second round they matched up against Kentucky, coached by the legendary Adolph Rupp. Part of the Rupp legend was racism. According to journalist Marvin Kalb, Rupp had been quoted saying he’d never coach a team with “kikes” and “blacks.” This was still in the days when Southern universities were segregated. The Kentucky squad was all White, all Christian, something of a contrast to the City College starting five – three Jews and two Blacks. As the game was about to start, the City College coach Nat Holman told his players to show their sportsmanship and shake hands with their Kentucky counterparts. The City College players went to their positions for the opening tip-off and, following coach’s orders, each extended a hand to the Wildcat standing next to him. Before a crowd of 18,000 at the Garden, the Kentucky players turned away. No handshakes from the Wildcats. The scenario had the effect Holman had intended. The City College players were, to say the least, fired up. Final score: City College 89, Kentucky 50. That may still stand as the worst loss in Kentucky’s history. Sure there are differences – the no-handshake before rather than after the game, the players doing the snubbing Black, the snubbees mostly White. But the similarities – Kentucky, no handshake, loss to a Northern team – were a thematic echo I found too intriguing to pass up. --------------------------- * Some observers lumped this unsportsmanlike conduct together with Andrew Harrison’s comment about Wisconsin’s center Frank Kaminsky. In a post-game team interview, when a reporter asked a question about Kaminsky, Harrison, thinking he was off-mike, muttered, “Fuck that nigga.” I see this less as poor sportsmanship than as grudging admiration. If I were Kaminsky, I wouldn’t be offended. I’d be flattered.
APRIL 3, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ This story from Kos has been quickly circling through the left portion of the Internet.Let’s assume that the numbers are accurate.* Dont bother adjusting for population differences, or poverty, or mental illness, or anything else. The sheer fact that American police kill TWICE as many people per month as police have killed in the modern history of the United Kingdom is sick, preposterous, and alarming. The author is right. Although the US has a much larger population, and it has more police officers . . .In this century, 25 UK officers died in the line of duty. The figure for the US, 2445, is nearly one hundred times that. Adjusting for numbers of officers, US deaths are still ten times higher. My guess is that what accounts for much of the UK-US difference is guns. Most British cops don’t carry guns. Last August, I posted (here – it’s gotten over 25,000 page views ) a video of a berserk man wildly swinging a machete in a London street. The police come, armed only with protective shields and truncheons. Eventually, they are able to subdue the man. In the US, it’s almost certain that the police would have shot the man, and it would have been completely justifiable. More cops with guns, more cops killing people. But more civilians with guns, more cops getting killed. Since 2000, six UK cops have died from gunshots; in the US, 788. We have 11 times as many cops, but 130 times as many killed by guns.***(I did not include the yearly data for the UK since it would not have been visible on the graph. In most years, total cop deaths there ranged between 0 and 2.) Thanks to the ceaseless efforts of gun manufacturers and their minions in legislatures and in the NRA and elsewhere, US cops work in a gun-rich environment. They feel, probably correctly, that they need to carry guns. If that man in London had been wielding an AR-15 (easily available in many states in the US – in the UK, not so much, not at all in fact), the cops could not have responded as they did. They would have needed guns. There would probably have been some dead civilians, perhaps some dead cops, and almost certainly, a dead berserker. ---------------- * We don’t have a good source of data on how many people the police kill. (See this WaPo article.) An unofficial source since 2013 is KilledByPolice.net. The data on killings by the UK police is also not precise. Politifact (here) says that the Wikipedia numbers that the Kos article is based on are “far low, but we don’t know how low.” PolitiFact does suggest that many of those killings by police were not by London Bobbies. They were by the R.U.C in Northern Ireland during the “Troubles” with the I.R.A. ** The denominator for the UK – the number of police officers over the last 115 years – is my own very rough estimate. *** The other two leading causes of police deaths are heart attacks and car accidents. Maybe UK cops practice better cardio fitness. But they also spend less time patrolling in cars, and they are less likely to be chasing other cars on the highways.
(Click on the graph for a larger view._). . .but even adjusting for that, the US killings by cops dwarf the UK figure**.
MARCH 31, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ If you were gay and getting married, would you go out of your way to hire a homophobic photographer or baker? Would you seek out the florist who, as he delivers your flowers, lets you know that God despises you for your sinful and disgusting ways? Let’s get real. The uproar over the Indiana law is about something other than a relatively small number of gays prevented from boosting the bottom line of bigots. It’s about something more important – not the practical consequences but the symbolism. What the law symbolizes is the relative status of different groups. It is an attempt to reassure religious Christian Hoosiers that they still hold sway, that Indiana is still their state. The corollary is that in the state’s official view, gays do not have the same moral standing as Christians. That reduced status of gays can have real consequences. The more that gays sense that others disapprove of their sexuality, and the more they get the message that their sexuality is not legitimate,then the more likely they will be to stay in the closet, generally not a happy place for them or their loved ones. Although it seems eminently logical and reasonable to me that gays who live in places where homosexuality is not accepted will be less happy, it would be nice to have some data. Unfortunately, getting information on gays – the number in and out of the closet, and their general happiness – is an inexact science, and we have to turn to sources not usually explored in the undergraduate Methods course. Over at Sociological Images, Lisa Wade recently posted some data from PornHub on the relative frequency of gay porn use in the 50 states. What percent of all PornHub searches were for gay porn? They compared states with and without marriage equality.The gay percentage was slightly higher in states where gay marriage was not legal. PornHub’s research report has a couple of problems. For one thing, their map is badly out of date (they posted it only a couple of weeks ago). The number of marriage-equality states is not eighteen (including DC), it’s thirty-eight. Those fuchsia circles on the map are my addition – marriage-equality states that PornHub classified incorrectly. Another problem is that PorhHub did not take into account basic demographic facts about the states – age and marital status, for example – that might influence the numbers of gay and straight porn consumers. Still, it’s surprising that the demand for gay porn, relative to straight, is as high in the deep South – Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi – as it is in states with well known gay areas.* That similarity is real, not just an artifact of PornHub’s possibly flawed methods. Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, writing in the Times in December of 2013 (here) found similar results using different data – Google searches for terms like “gay porn” and “Rocket Tube.” These searches, like those at Pornhub, constituted about 5% of all porn searches. Stephens-Davidowitz also found that ratios among the states were similar regardless of general attitudes towards homosexuality. While tolerant states have a slightly higher percentage of these searches, roughly 5 percent of pornographic searches are looking for depictions of gay men in all states. This again suggests that there are just about as many gay men in less tolerant states as there are anywhere else. Stephens-Davidowitz’s “tolerance” measure is more sophisticated than PornHub’s simple law-or-no-law variable (even if they’d gotten it right). It was based on Nate Silver’s estimate of support for gay marriage laws.**Women everywhere, apparently, are more likely to ask “Is my husband gay?” than “Is my husband cheating?” But that ratio is higher in less tolerant states. Searches questioning a husband’s sexuality are far more common in the least tolerant states. The states with the highest percentage of women asking this question are South Carolina and Louisiana. In fact, in 21 of the 25 states where this question is most frequently asked, support for gay marriage is lower than the national average. Anti-gay sentiment in a state, a sentiment that takes the concrete form of laws, forces gay people into unhappy and unfulfilled life in the closet. Maybe that’s what the supporters of these laws intend. The laws are their response to the feeling that their position of dominance is slipping. That’s the motivation behind proposals to make English the official language of a state or the country, or to make Christianity the official religion.*** In its symbolic message, Indiana’s “OK to Say Nay to Gays” law makes hetero the official sexuality of Indiana. The law is a reassurance to conservative, anti-gay Christians that Indiana is still _their _state. And the nationwide reaction against the law is no more about wedding cakes than the sit-ins of the 1960s were about the delicious hamburgers that Woolworth’s was serving to its White customers. What’s at issue is the moral legitimacy of an entire category of people. ------------------------------------ * In Maira Kalman’s famous December 2011 “New Yorkistan” cover for the New Yorker, Chelsea appears as Gaymenistan. **You can find more on Silver’s method here. *** An earlier post on the wish for Christianity as the official religion is here. I have also argued (here) that the reaction against Obamacare is more about status politics than it is about health care.
(_Click on the image for a larger view._)In 2012, states in the Northeast scored about 50% higher than did states in the South and Southwest. Yet in the ratio of porn searches specifying gay material, differences were very small. But while the proportion of men who are gay may be about the same in Mississippi and Oklahoma as it is in Massachusetts and California, the lives of those men are very different. Men in less tolerant states were, not surprisingly, more likely to be closeted. In the less tolerant states, fewer men identify themselves as gay in their Facebook profiles. In Mississippi, for example, while porn-search data suggests that 5% of the men are gay, only 1% of Facebook gender preferences are for another man. Match.com shows similar results. Of course, it’s possible that gay men in less tolerant states are already matched up with other men and have no need to declare their preferences on Facebook or Match.com. Possible, but unlikely. Instead, these men are seeking others offline. Or they are married – to women, of course – and surreptitiously searching for gay porn on the Internet. If so, they are not doing such a great job of fooling themselves. Or their wives. If you Google “Is my husband,” Google will complete the phrase according to the frequency of searches. This is what you’ll see.
MARCH 26, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ All politicians lie, said I.F. Stone. But they don’t all lie as blatantly as Chris Christie did yesterday in repeating his vow not to legalize marijuana in New Jersey. EVERY BIT OF OBJECTIVE DATA WE HAVE TELLS US THAT IT’S A GATEWAY DRUG TO OTHER DRUGS.Maybe the governor was trying to show what a good Republican he is when it comes to the findings of science, because that statement simply is not true. The evidence on marijuana as a gateway drug is at best mixed, as the governor or any journalist interested in fact-checking his speech could have discovered by looking up “gateway” on Wikipedia. If the governor meant that smoking marijuana in and of itself created a craving for stronger drugs, he’s just plain wrong. Mark Kleiman, a policy analyst who knows a lot about drugs, says bluntly (here) The strong gateway model, which is that somehow marijuana causes fundamental changes in the brain and therefore people inevitably go on from marijuana to cocaine or heroin, is false, as shown by the fact that most people who smoke marijuana don’t. That’s easy. But of course nobody really believes the strong version. Nobody? Prof. Kleiman, meet Gov. Christie Or maybe Christie meant a softer version – that the kid who starts smoking weed gets used to doing illegal things, and he makes connections with the kinds of people who use stronger drugs. He gets drawn into their world. It’s not the weed itself that leads to cocaine or heroin, it’s the social world. That social gateway version, though, offers support for legalization. Legalization takes weed out of the drug underworld. If you want some weed, you no longer have to consort with criminals and serious druggies. There are several other reasons to doubt the gateway idea. Much of the evidence comes from studies of individuals. But now, thanks to medical legalization, we also have state-level data, and the results are the same. Legalizing medical marijuana did not lead to an increase in the use of harder drugs, especially among kids. Just the opposite.
(The graph is from Vox.)First, note the small percents. Perhaps 1.6% of adults used cocaine in the pre-medical-pot years. That percent fell slightly post-legalization. Of course, those older people had long since passed through the gateway, so we wouldn’t expect legalization to make much difference for them. But for younger people, cocaine use was cut in half. Instead of an open gateway with traffic flowing rapidly from marijuana through to the world of hard drugs, it was more like, oh, I don’t know, maybe a bridge with several of its lanes closed clogging traffic.
MARCH 25, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ How embarrassing. The University of North Georgia used this stock photo for the cover of their course catalogue.Two White men in suit, white shirt, and tie crossing the finish line triumphantly well ahead of a White woman (dressed more casually). Staggering in last place is a Black man (no suit jacket). What were they thinking, the people who chose this photo. More accurately, what were they seeing, or still more accurately, what were they not seeing? One of the privileges of being in the dominant group is that you don’t have to worry about how members of your group are portrayed. You don’t even have to notice it. You don’t even have to notice that people like you are in fact dominant. You’re the default setting. Those in the minority do not have this luxury of cluelessness. When one of “theirs” is portrayed, they notice. But what strikes me most about the choice of this photo is not that the catalogue-makers did not notice categories of race and gender. It’s the basic assumption about what a university is and what education is. The view of education underlying the clueless cover is much different from that of the people who actually create and teach the courses described inside that catalogue. Surely you are familiar with these course descriptions, all stamped out from the same template – the questions a course will raise, the ideas and topics it will probe. For example.
SOCI 3510 - Sociology of Religion
This course examines religious theory and comparative religions, investigates contemporary American religions, and explores personal religiosities with sociological insight and imagination. Course readings and fieldwork underscore religion’s role as a pivotal institution that influences and shapes societal discourse
(I have resisted the temptation to use SOCI 2100 Constructions of Difference, (“focusing on race, class, gender and sexuality”), a course the catalogue makers surely had not taken.)
Even the courses in business rest on similar assumptions.
BUSA 2108 - Business Communication
A management-oriented course emphasizing theories and channels on communication, semantic problems, and other barriers to effective communication with emphasis on both oral and written communications.
The cover photo promotes a much different perspective on education. The cover reminds me of magazine ads for children’s food. These would typically show an exuberantly cheerful child doing something incredibly active, while off to the side, mom smiled in warm satisfaction, the food she had given her child having endowed him with energy for success. “Go Power,” as Cheerios used to say.
What the University of North Georgia says it is really offering is not learning or ideas. It’s Go Power. Those courses in the catalogue are power-packed Cheerios that will allow you to triumph over other people and to come in first in the corporate Hunger Games. This utilitarian view of education is so widespread and unquestioned as to go unnoticed, more so than rankings of race and gender. But those of us in the minority – the people who write the course descriptions, the people who in our caps and gowns at the end of the year think about medieval scholars and the students who followed them just to hear what they had to say – we notice.
MARCH 21, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ “Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day” (Exodus 35:3). Orthodox Jews extend this prohibition to electricity. No flipping that wall switch or pushing the start button. But Jews have figured out ways of getting around this restriction – keeping to the letter of the law without having to endure the least inconvenience. Last June, I blogged (here) about the _shabbos goy_ – the gentile you pay to come in and light the oven. (“Hey, God only said that _I_ couldn’t start the oven. He didn’t say anything about hiring someone else to do it.”) This last_ shabbat_, an orthodox woman in Brooklyn had another way to to get around the restriction. She turned her hotplate on before sundown Friday and left it on. That way she could use it all day Saturday. (“See, God didn’t say we couldn’t cook on _shabbat_. He only said that we couldn’t kindle a fire.”) The hotplate sparked a fire, and seven children in the house died. The authorities attributed the fire to an unknown malfunction in the electric hot plate, a device often used by observant Jewish families to keep food warm from sundown on Friday, the start of the Sabbath, until its end on Saturday night. (NYT) “Observant.” But what are they observing? In that earlier post, I said that what bothered me about these legalistic interpretations was the tone that often accompanied the hypocrisy – “at worst a smug satisfaction, more typically an amiable chuckle – as though there were virtue in putting one over on God.” But it’s worse than that. How clever to seize on the narrowest interpretation of God’s words, “you” and “kindle a fire,” (much like the Republicans currently in _King v. Burwell_ seizing on a single word in the healthcare law as justification for destroying Obamacare). And how utterly stupid to elevate that linguistic technicality above the spirit of the words and above ordinary safety and sense. We’ve been here before. Some years ago a religious leader pointed out (mostly to Jews) this mistake of keeping the letter of the law while ignoring its spirit. He frequently put it this way: “You have heard that it is written . . . but I say unto you.” Eventually he developed a fairly large following.
MARCH 11, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ A Wall Street Journal op-ed heralded Wisconsin’s “right to work” (RTW) law that Gov. Walker signed earlier this week. The column carried the byline of Luke Hilgemann and David Fladeboe of Americans for Prosperity, which gets a ton of money from the Koch brothers, so their support of the anti-union measure is no surprise. One of their arguments is that RTW states see a greater growth in jobs and income. Or put another way, capital will move to where labor costs are low. If a corporation shifts its work to a low-wage country like Mexico or a low-wage state like Arkansas, Mexico or Arkansas will see a growth in jobs. The wealthier and non-RTW country or state will see a decrease. Mexico or Arkansas will also see an increase in wages since the corporation, to attract good workers, may have to offer higher-than-average wages. There’s a methodological problem here, for Wisconsin is not Mexico nor is it Arkansas. Because of its history, a history which includes unions, Wisconsins workers are fairly well paid. Will RTW laws mean greater incomes for Wisconsin workers? Hilgemann and Fladeboe don’t say. They compare states - those with and without RTW laws. They do not compare workers - those represented by unions and those who are on their own. Currently, states with RTW laws have lower per capita incomes, not a great _prima facie_ case for busting unions, but Hilgemann and Fladeboe say that taking cost of living into account reduces and reverses this difference. But with or without the cost-of-living adjustment, state per-capita income may not be such a great measure of workers’ wages.* The better comparison would be between workers’ wages before and after the passage of anti-union laws. Wisconsin’s RTW law is only a few days old, and it will mostly affect workers in the private sector. Public sector employees have already lost their unions. A 2010 law known as Act 10 prohibited public sector unions from collective bargaining for their members. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages , the 2010-2013 increase in the average weekly wages for local government employees (which, I think, includes most of Wisconsin’s teachers) was about 2.6%. I compared this with the figures for neighboring state Minnesota, whose public employees still had the right to be represented by unions, and with the national average. Those increases were higher – 3.8% and 4.7% respectively.Hilgemann and Fladeboe find their own evidence on the economic benefits of of RTW laws very convincing. Your mileage may vary. But it’s not really the money that makes RTW laws so glorious, they say. It’s Freedom. “these economic benefits . . . pale in comparison with the individual freedom that right-to-work laws provide.” Their evidence that workers want to be free of unions comes mostly from Wisconsin Wisconsin’s government employees similarly left unions when given the opportunity in 2011. Nearly 70% of the state’s 70,000-member state employees union have since chosen to leave. The powerful American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association saw their ranks decline by more than 50% and 30%, respectively. This is just a tad disingenuous. If the state passes a law that says your union cannot represent you, would you continue to pay dues? That’s what happened in Wisconsin. The decline in membership (and Hilgemann and Fladeboe’s numbers are probably inflated) surely is much less a matter of workers seeking freedom from unions than their sensible decision not to join an organization that by law can bring no benefits. If a law were passed forbidding corporations to pay dividends and forbidding shareholders to sell at a higher price than they bought, many people would exercise their freedom to get out of the stock market. Union dues are often compared to taxes. Everyone pays dues, everyone gets the benefits. Under RTW laws, you still get the benefits, but you don’t have to pay. Basically, you’re a freeloader. If there’s a union where you work, and you don’t pay dues, not only to you get the wages and other benefits that union members get, but the union is legally obligated to represent you if you have a grievance. The freedom so beloved of RTW advocates does not include the freedom of the union to represent only its members and to ignore freeloaders. It’s like making taxes optional. If that happened, many Americans would no doubt seize the freedom not to pay. Those who continued to pay their taxes would feel like schmucks and would sooner or later (probably sooner) defect, with the result that government would be unable to provide the things that governments in advanced societies provide. No doubt, economic conservatives would herald this change. What is government after all but coerced collectivism? But people who send their kids to public schools, who prefer to drive on roads with few potholes, who enroll in Medicare, who pay lower tuition at state universities rather than private ones, etc., might be less enthusiastic about this increase in their freedom. --------------------- * For their statistics the authors round up numbers from right-wing sources like ALEC, Arthur Laffer, and Stephen Moore. It’s possible that less partisan sources (e.g., BLS) have other statistics to measure differences between states and between workers.
MARCH 9, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Moslem clerics and Christian evangelicals are often united in their opposition to sex ed, as Roger Zimmerman notes in today’s New York Times (here). These are not such strange bedfellows. They share the idea that sex ed will “promote homosexuality,” a phrase which has acquired a certain currency. Google it, and youll see this. here) Powerful stuff that. What’s puzzling is that these jihadis and crusaders attribute to homosexuality such great powers of attraction. Even letting kids know that it exists creates a nearly irresistible temptation. The obvious Freudian explanation is that the anti-gay extremists are responding to their own repressed homosexual impulses, but I would guess that only a handful of them answer to that description. The other curious leg of the religionist anti-gay argument is that homosexuality is “unnatural.” If homosexuality is not in our nature, why must we be so careful to make sure that all evidence of it remains out of sight? The argument embraces both the “essentialist” and the “constructionist” take on sexuality. On the one hand, if homosexuality is unnatural, then heterosexuality is ordained by Nature. Nature (or God) created most of us as heterosexuals, and it is not in our nature to be otherwise. But if homosexuality is a constant temptation that must be conquered or kept hidden, then sexuality is infinitely open to construction and reconstruction. Just a few words from schools or celebrities can alter a kid’s sexual path in the same way that nutrition courses and Wheaties endorsements might change his choice of breakfast foods.
MARCH 7, 2015 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ The previous post was about an op-ed by criminologist James Alan Fox that suffered from lack of data. That’s an occupational hazard for op-ed writers, though social scientists writing op-eds should know better. At least Fox didn’t try to pass his own views off as those of “the country” as some editorialists do. A post I did back in 2010 (here) showed David Brooks projecting his own concerns onto “the public” and “the country.” Brooks is far from alone in that. Many columnists conflate their own views with those of “America.” When the topic is politics and policy, the lack of data just means that the author might be wrong. But when a writer does the same thing about less political and more personal matters, it can feel downright embarrassing. David Brooks opened his Monday column with this: “So much of life is about leave-taking: moving from home to college, from love to love, from city to city and from life stage to life stage.” The rest of the column was about the leaver and the left behind. It featured “facts” without evidenceTomorrow could have tweeted the same thing in late January when Brooks wrote (here) about the difficulties people who meet online face in their transition to in-person relationships. I found myself reconsidering a Brooks column from 2009 that I sometimes use for teaching. The class exercise is to turn data-less assertions into testable hypotheses. The Brooks column, about online dating, was good source material. But the content now suggests something in addition, not just theorizing about technology but personal hopes and experiences. Online dating, Brooks says, can impose “structure” and “courtship” on romance – exactly the sort of things an old-fashioned, values-oriented conservative guy might be looking for. The pronoun “I” does not appear even once in that column. But now I wonder whether that column too was autobiographical. Any good therapist, listening to a client talking in generalities about “people” will hear the unvoiced first-person pronoun. That’s the therapist’s job. But as an op-ed reader, I’d rather have at least a thin layer of actual data between me and the writer’s personal problems.
to be around college students these days is to observe how many parents have failed to successfully start their child’s transition into adulthoodmoral prescriptions
The person being left has to grant the leaver the dignity of her own mind, has to respect her ability to make her own choices about how to live and whom to be close toand thoughts about how technology has changed break-ups
Communications technology encourages us to express whatever is on our minds in that instant. It makes self-restraint harder. But sometimes healthy relationships require self-restraint and self-quieting, deference and respect.If you knew nothing about Brooks, you could shrug it off or take it to heart, whatever your personal experiences, opinions, and situation might warrant. But if you knew even a little about Brooks’s personal life, you might have wondered if you really should be reading this. As cartoonist Tom Tomorrow tweeted: