- Reach Out
- Know Your Sample
- Never Apologize, Never Explain
- Sorry ’Bout That
- Polarization in Small Groups and in Politics
- AKD 2014
- The End of Society as We Know It (or, as they knew it)
- Snickers and the Last Laugh
- Prophetic Umpires
- Women’s Magazines – Colors and Numbers
- Blessed Are the Assault Rifles
- Families for Deceptive Statistics
- Less for Your Money
- Motivation and Incentives - Are the Rich and Poor Different?
- Poverty – Race, Ryan, and Rhetoric
- Jazz and Rap, White and Black
- Losing Their Religion - And So . . .?
- Pryor Convictions
- Righteous Slaughter
- Envy, Anger, Greed, Sloth - (4 Out of 7 Ain’t Bad)
- Mixing Oscars and Exams
- ESS - Student Posters
- Wonks Nix Pic Survey
- I Heard It Through the Grapevine
- Miner Disagreement
APRIL 23, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ An article about a bread recipe in the Times today (here) has this sentence:The caption" “David Ortiz reaches out and extends Fenway greeting to former Red Sox teammate Jacoby Ellsbury.” Big Papi is literally reaching out, but the phrase implies something more. Others might not notice, but to my aged ears, all this reaching out sounds strange. And in fact, “reach out” is fairly recent.
This recipe runs 38 pages in the cookbook “Tartine Bread”; when I began to I began to streamline it into the version you see here, I reached out to Mr. Robertson.What struck me wasn’t the 38 pages. (“Making the dough is also a two-day process. Resist the temptation to rush any of the steps” – assured me that I would definitely not be making this bread.) It was “reached out.” We don’t call people, we don’t write to them, we don’t try to get in touch with them. We reach out. I get memos from the university urging me to reach out to students who are not doing well. In response to a question about hiring, the dean tells me to reach out to someone in HR. New Jersey has a Reach Out and Read program. To find other examples I reached out to Lexis-Nexis, limiting my search to today. The Washington Times says the DoD “has come a long way to reach out to suffering soldiers.” This Times story has the subhead “New York Police Reach Out on Twitter but Receive a Slap in the Face.” WaPo, writing about the choice of people to throw out the first ball at yesterday’s RedSox - Yankees game says, “we hope they didnt reach out to fellow Cabinet member John Kerry,” who threw one in the dirt back in 2004. Newsday has a picture from the same game
(Click on a chart for a larger view._)* Long distance is now a dim artifact now considered immoral. In this “Kids React to Technlogy” video , when the unseen adult explains about long distance charges, one kid says, “They shouldn’t do that.” Only one of the kids guesses what long distance was. On the other hand, the dial tone and busy signal are a complete mystery. ** At Seder last week, a ninth grade girl received as a gift a YA book with the title, “I’ll Be There.” The sederians of an older generation on seeing this were moved to a brief unison rendition of what we could remember of “Reach Out (I’ll Be There).” (We didn’t do very well on “Dayenu” either.) Even at that, we got it wrong. It turns out that the book title referred to a different Motown song, the one by Michael Jackson.
APRIL 22, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Tim Huelskamp is a Congressman representing the Kansas first district. He’s a conservative Republican, and a pugnacious one (or is that a redundancy). Civility, at least in his tweets, is not his long suit. He refers to “King Obama” and invariably refers to the Affordable Care Act as “ObamaScare.” Pretty clever, huh? He’s also not a very careful reader. Either that or he does not understand the first thing about sampling. Tonight he tweeted.
(Click on a graphic for a larger view_.)Since polls also show that Americans support gay marriage, I clicked on the link. The report is brief in the extreme. It gives data on only two questions and has this introduction.
APRIL 19, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ In their research on celebrity apologies, Karen Cerulo and Janet Ruane found that the most effective apologies are simple admissions of fault. “I did it. It was wrong. I won’t do it again.” Forget about excuses, explanations, and denials. Yesterday’s post gave two recent examples – an effective apology (James Franco), and a less effective denial (Jenny McCarthy). Unfortunately, Cerulo and Ruane did not include those celebrities who simply ignored the reported misdeeds, celebrities who followed the advice of John Wayne in “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” – “Never apologize and never explain – its a sign of weakness.” That was almost the strategy adopted by Zygmunt Bauman, distinguished sociologist, author of several dozen books.
[I] never once failed to acknowledge the authorship of the ideas or concepts that I deployed, or that inspired the ones I coined.The accusation was not that he plagiarized ideas and concepts but passages from Wikipedia and other sources. Then he pulled rank. He got all huffy and supercilious, suggesting that his accusers were pitiful pedants and that the rules of plagiarism were, at least as concerned him, wrongheaded.
All the same, while admiring the pedantry of the authors of the Harvard Guide to Using Sources, and acknowledging their gallant defence of the private ownership of knowledge, I failed in those 60-odd years to spot the influence of the obedience to technical procedural rules of quotations on the quality (reliability, effectiveness and above all social importance) of scholarship: the two issues that Mr Walsh obviously confuses. As his co-worker in the service of knowledge, I can only pity him.We can’t know the general reaction to Bauman’s statements. The Times Higher Education article (here) has only five comments, but all of them are negative. One characterizes Bauman’s response as “really despicable.”
APRIL 18, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Were celebrity apologies much in the news this past week or so? Or is it just that Karen Cerulo’s talk at our AKD evening turned my antennae to pick up more of them? The morning after Karen’s talk, James Franco was on “Kelly and Michael” talking about his too-well publicized Instagram exchange with a 17-year old girl he was trying to pick up.Franco got it right:But lately the news has been carrying stories about outbreaks of measles, mumps, and other diseases because of the increased numbers of parents who refuse to allow their children to be vaccinated. This is a tough one for McCarthy. Can she apologize and say that her activism is partly responsible for the return of these childhood diseases? “I’m sorry and it won’t happen again” would mean giving up her position that vaccines can cause serious harm. Instead, she claims (here) that she never suggested that parents refuse vaccination.
I’m embarrassed. guess I’m just a model about how social media’s tricky. It’s a way people meet each other today, but what I’ve learned is you don’t know who’s on the other end. I used bad judgment and I learned my lesson.Almost no excuses. Mostly: I was wrong, and it won’t happen again. Gossip sites didn’t buy the media-naivete excuse, but they approved of the apology.
You have to give James some credit for going on TV and completely owning up to his mistakes. He got tripped up for sure, but he wasn’t afraid to admit it and we think he’s extremely brave for doing that. (HollywoodLife.com)Then there was Jenny McCarthy. McCarthy has been outspoken in questioning vaccines, suggesting that they are dangerous and can cause autism.
If you ask a parent of an autistic child if they want the measles or the autism, we will stand in line for the f*cking measles.In other words, better to refuse vaccination and get measles than to get the vaccination and risk autism. Same thing for the polio vaccine.
I am not “anti-vaccine.” . . . I’ve never told anyone to not vaccinate.This might be technically true (though several of her statements have recently disappeared from Websites that used to display them). Saying, “If you vaccinate, you are risking autism,” is not exactly the same as “Don’t vaccinate.” But I suspect that this distinction will be lost on most people. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any poll data on public reaction to McCarthy, but I suspect that like other denials of what everyone knows (“I did not have sexual relations with that woman”), it will not win many followers to her side.
APRIL 13, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ In class last week, I tried replicating the “risky shift” experiments that date back to the 1950s. Groups discussed problems that pitted caution against risk. For example, down by three points on the last play of a football game, should you kick a field goal and settle for a tie, or try a play that might win but also risks a loss?* In the original studies, not only were group decisions riskier than individual decisions, but discussion persuaded more people towards risk than towards caution. Later research showed that the risky shift was one instance of a more general effect – group polarization: When members of a group share a value, and they discuss something related to that value, group opinion will shift further out towards the pole on that dimension. I hadn’t thought that the concept had much use outside of small groups, but now I wonder if something similar happens in politics. “North Carolina Shows Strains with G.O.P.” says today’s Times (here) on page one.
the divisions that are gripping the party nationally are playing out powerfully, expensively and often very messily. And after haunting losses in 2012 in which far-right Senate candidates prevailed in primaries only to collapse in the general election, the Republican establishment is determined to stifle the more radical challengers.Those divisions were always there. As someone pointed out even in the victorious Bush years, the party was an uneasy coalition of The Predators (pro big business), The Taliban ( religious and cultural conservatives), and NeoCons (foreign policy hawks). Now add the more populist, libertarian Tea Party, who accuse the others of being RINOs (Republicans in Name Only). Republican primaries are basically group discussions among those who share conservative values. As in the small-group studies, participants are aware that others are evaluating them on their positions, so they move towards the valued end of that dimension. Those already further out provide an anchor – or perhaps a magnet – to pull the others further in that direction.** Other things being equal, we might expect positions to get more extreme of the course of the primary season. But of course, other things are not equal. The difference between group discussion and politics is that in the small group experiments, all participants had an equal ability to voice their ideas to the group. In politics, thanks to the Supremes, the question is not just what someone wants to say; it’s who has the money to have his message heard most frequently. ----------------- * In those days, college football had not overtime. The game ended after the fourth quarter. ** The question in the experiments asked, “What is the lowest probabiblity that you would accept in order to go for the win rather than the tie?” The person who went in choosing a 5-in-10 option might have thought himself reasonably risky. But when he got in the group, he found that others would be willing to take a 3-in-10 or even 1-in-10 chance. His original position no longer seemed so in tune with the tacit value on risk, and he might shift to a riskier alternative.
APRIL 8, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ This year, twenty-four students joined AKD, the sociology honor society.
Our speaker was Karen Cerulo of Rutgers, who talked about her latest paper (co-written with Montclair’s Janet Ruane), “Confessions of the Rich and Famous.”*
“Big Brother is Watching You” quality of the background image is misleading. It’s we who are watching the public figures as they offer apologies, and how we judge them depends on the rhetorical strategy of the apology. When the “Bridgegate” story broke, Governor Christie first mocked those who said his administration might have been involved. When he finally did apologize, he began with a sentence of apology to the people of New Jersey and Fort Lee. But his next sentence shifted the focus to himself : “I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team.”** Bad strategy. Apologies are built on different components – victim, offender, act, context. What distinguishes one apology from another is not just the selection of components but their sequential structure. We hear a different story depending on how the segments are arranged, as Cerulo/Ruane discovered when they looked at public opinion polls for estimates of which strategies were most effective. The short answer is: apologize, don’t explain. It’s about the victim, it’s not about you except for your mortification and remorse. Gov. Christie was claiming that he was the victim – his staff had “embarrassed and humiliated” him. New Jerseyites did not care, just as basketball fans in Cleveland did not care if LeBron explained why moving to Miami was good for LeBron (“But I knew this opportunity was once in a lifetime.”) This research was limited to celebrities, but you have to wonder if apologies among us mere mortals work the same way. -------------------------- *In introducing the speaker, it occurred to me that for many in the audience the title of the paper would have absolutely no ring of familiarity. ** The sample of 183 celebrity apologies went only through 2012 and thus missed the Christie statement.
APRIL 5, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ In the unit on social class, I sometimes show an excerpt from the 2001 PBS show “People Like Us: Social Class in America.” Here’s a brief clip. One semester, it dawned on me that for some of the words and images in this 35-second excerpt, my students haven’t a clue.“Those people on horses – does anyone know what that is?” Usually not. When I tell them, they are often incredulous that there could actually be such a thing as a fox hunt. And it takes place only a twenty-minute drive from the Morristown Mall.The man in the clip is identified as a “society columnist.” Few of my students have any idea what _society_ here means. The society columnist says the sometimes class is based on “if your mother came out at the Infirmary Ball in New York City.” Coming out? Being presented to society at a debutante ball? It might as well be a Kwakiutl potlatch. The distance is not just one of class but of generation. These upper-class rituals seem to be going out of style. Even wealthier kids born in the 90s may find them an anachronism. Do newspapers still have society columnists? When I Googled that phrase, most of the hits seemed to be obituaries. This headline from 2006 is typical. WASHINGTON STAR SOCIETY COLUMNIST BETTY BEALE, 94Miss Beale and the Star are no longer with us. Her profession seems to be headed for a similar fate. As for being presented at a ball, we know precisely when that took a dive thanks to Google’s Wedding Crunchers. It’s basically their n-grams function, but the database is wedding announcements in the New York Times.*
(Click on the graph for a larger view._)Being presented at a ball started its rapid decline in 1998. Five years later, it had disappeared. Even if you had been presented at a ball, it was not something you wanted to include in your Times announcement. What new distinctions have arisen in place of balls? I don’t know, but Wedding Crunchers might be a great resource for clues. There’s much more to be gleaned from Wedding Crunchers. The default page shows changes in bride ages (26 - 33). In 1993, the most frequent age was 26. Last year, it ranked seventh out of eight.Things change, even for the elite. ----------------------------- *HT: Andrew Gelman.
APRIL 1, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Advertisements echo with many reverberations and overtones. Different people hear different things, and with all the multiple meanings, it’s not always clear which is most important. Lisa Wade posted this Snickers ad from Australia at Sociological images (here). Its intended message of course is “Buy Snickers.” But its other message is more controversial, and Lisa and many of the commenters (more than 100 at last count) were understandably upset.The construction workers (played by actors) shout at the women in the street (not actors). “Hey,” yells a builder, and the woman looks up defensively. But then instead of the usual sexist catcalls, the men shout things like,Hunger has transformed them. The ad repeats the same idea at the end.
I appreciate your appearance is just one aspect of who you areand
You know what I’d like to see? A society in which the objectification of women makes way for gender neutral interaction free from assumptions and expectations.The women’s defensiveness softens. They look back at the men. One woman, the surprise and delight evident in her smile, mouths, “Thank you.” But, as the ad warned us at the very beginning, these men are “not themselves.”
The twist ending is a genuine “fuck you” to the actual women who happened to walk by and become a part of the commercial. . . . I bet seeing the commercial would feel like a betrayal. These women were (likely) given the impression that it was about respecting women, but instead it was about making fun of the idea that women deserve respect.I suspect that Lisa too feels betrayed. She has bought her last Snickers bar. It may be unwise to disagree with one’s editor, especially when the editor is a woman who studies sex and gender, and the issue at hand is sexism. But my take is more optimistic. In an earlier generation, this ad would have been impossible. The catcalls of construction workers were something taken for granted and not questioned, almost as though they were an unchangeable part of nature.* They might be unpleasant, but so is what a bear does in the woods. This ad recognizes that those attitudes and behaviors are a conscious choice and that all men, including builders, can choose a more evolved way of thinking and acting. The ad further shows, that when they do make that choice, women are genuinely appreciative. “C’mon mates,” the ad is saying, “do you want a woman to turn away and quickly walk on, telling you in effect to fuck off? Or would you rather say something that makes her smile back at you?” The choice is yours. The surface meaning of the ad’s ending is , “April Fools. We’re just kidding about not being sexists.” But thats a small matter. Not so far beneath that surface progressive ideas are having the last laugh, for more important than what the end of the ad _says_ is what the rest of the ad _shows_ – that ignorant and offensive sexism is a choice, and that real women respond positively to men who choose its opposite. ------------------ *Several of the comments at Sociological Images complained that the ad was “classist” for its reliance on this old working-class stereotype.
MARCH 30, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ “It ain’t nothin’ till I call it,” said umpire Bill Klem. And if he called it a strike, a strike it was. As Klem knew, the umpire has something resembling papal infallibility. That was then. Klem worked behind the plate from 1905 to 1942 and holds the record for throwing players and managers out of the game (the infallibility thing is sometimes a bit much for players to take). Now, thanks to modern technology, we can know just which calls the umpires miss. Here’s Matt Holliday taking a called third strike.Holliday’s body language speaks clearly, and his reaction is understandable. The pitch was wide, even wider than the first two pitches, both of which the umpire miscalled as strikes.*The PITCHf/x technology that makes this graphic possible, whatever its value or threat to umpires, has been a boon for sabremetricians and social scientists. The big data provided can tell us not just the number of bad calls but the factors that make a bad call more or less likely. In the New York Times today (here), Brayden King and Jerry Kim report on their study of roughly 780,000 pitches in the 2008-09 season. Umpires erred on about 1 in every 7 pitches – 47,000 pitches over the plate that were called balls, and nearly 69,000 like those three to Matt Holliday. Here are some of the other findings that King and Kim report in today’s article. * Umpires gave a slight edge to the home team pitchers, calling 13.3% of their pitches outside the zone as strikes. Visitors got 12.6%. * The count mattered * At 0-0, the error rate was 14.7%. * At 3-0, 18.6% of pitches outside the zone were called as strikes * At 0-2, only 7.3% of pitches outside the zone were called as strikes * All-star pitchers were more likely than others to get favorable calls . . . * . . . Especially if the pitcher had a reputation as a location pitcher. * The importance of the situation (tie game, bottom of the ninth) made no difference in bad calls. It seems that expectation accounts for a lot of these findings. It’s not that what you see is what you get. It’s that what you expect is what you see. We expect good All-star pitchers to throw more accurately, especially control freaks like Greg Maddux.** We also expect that a pitcher who is way ahead in the count will throw a waste pitch and that on the 3-0, he’ll put it over the plate. My guess is that umpires share these expectations. The difference is that the umps can turn their expectations into self-fulfilling prophecies. -------------------- * I took the graphics from fangraphs **The pitcher in the clips is Tyler Clippard, a pretty good closer for the Nationals. He was selected as an All-star once, not nearly enough to meet the King-Kim criterion level of five.
MARCH 29, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ First there was Barbara StanwyckAnd then Kelly LeBrock . . .. . . movie history repeating itself, the second time as farce. According to current evolutionary psychology thinking, the prevalence of women in red is not an accident. The title of this 2013 article says it all: “Women Use Red in Order to Attract Mates.” Just like Ray Charles said. i I was thinking about this the other day as I walked past the newsstands in Port Authority, and not just because of Philip Cohen’s off-the-cuff research study lending support.
(Click on the photo for a larger view. The photo is a composite _
_of shots from three different magazine racks. _)The trouble was that on all these magazines in the women’s section, only one of the covers had a lady in red(New You, which is apparently aimed at women with a bit of anxiety about getting older). The covers also made me think about the idea sometimes put forward by the evol-psych crowd (and sometimes by presidents of Harvard) that women do not have an affinity for math. Maybe so, but while the women’s magazine racks this mongth had almost no red, they had a lot of numbers. * Seventeen – 328 Fun Hair Ideas * More - 12 Rules to Follow and 4 to Skip * Style Watch - 728 Spring Looks You’ll Love * Lucky - 25 Best Bags of Spring * Bazaar – 437 New Looks for Now * Elle - 300 Instant Outfit Ideas, * 80+ Tips from the World’s Top Makeup, Hair, & Skin Pros * the14 Books Every Woman Must Read * Cosmopolitan – 168 Ways to Kick More Ass * Teen Vogue – 273 Looks at Any Price * Oprah - 20 Questions Every Woman Should Ask Herself Today! * In Style - 378 Amazing Spring Accessories * Vogue - 648 pages of Spring Fashion * Glamour - 99 Best Bags & Shoes Now * Cosmopolitan Latina - 87 Power Moves * New You – 250+ Springtime beauty solutions, sexy workouts & dietary musts I’ve commented on this years ago (here and here). Back then, it was not unusual for a magazine to have more than one number on the cover. The curious thing is that numbers themselves seem to be a fashion mag fashion. They go in and out of style. For a while, numbers almost completely disappear from the covers of women’s magazines. But at least for Spring 2014, the numbers are back. If the SocioBlog had a cover, it might say 14 MAGAZINES FOR SPRING WITH NUMBERS ON THE COVER
MARCH 24, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ “Righteous Slaughter” was the title I gave a post (here) about the ideas of some people on the gunslinging right. It referred to their glorification of killing so long as the killing could be justified. At the time, I thought that “righteous” might be stretching it just a little since the term implies that the slaughter has a holy, Biblical inspiration and benediction. Silly me. Fox News today set me straight. As the spineless lefties at the Daily News were quick to point out in their lede, the prize this house of worship was offering was
a high-powered assault rifle similar to the one used to slaughter 26 innocent people at Sandy Hook Elementary School.Nor is this upstate New York church unique. While it was raffling off one piddling assault rifle, Lone Oak First Baptist Church in Kentucky was doing 25 times that amount of God’s work.
roughly 1,300 people crammed into the church hall for a steak dinner and pep talk by gun expert Chuck McAlister, who was hired by Kentucky’s Southern Baptists to grow membership. Twenty-five guns were raffled off during the dinnerThe New York church is trying its best to catch up – as the headline says, another church-sanctified AR-15 will go to some lucky Christian tonight.
MARCH 22, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ If you live in New York City and have a working television set, you’ve seen those heart-wrenching ads accusing Mayor DeBlasio of “taking away the hopes and dreams” of 194 middle school children. The meanie mayor did this by allowing 14 of 17 charter schools to get free space in public schools. Unfortunately, at least one of the three that didn’t meet the criteria* is run by Eva Moskowitz, who is closely connected with some heavy hitters.** Hence the multi-million dollar saturation ad campaign. The ads come from an organization called Families for Excellent Schools. It was bad enough that they took over my television. Now they’ve turned up, unbidden and unfollowed, in my Twitter feed.Wow – 79% want to “protect or expand.” Looks like four out of five New Yorkers is strongly pro-charter. But just to be sure, I followed the link and arrived at a Quinnipiac poll (here). It’s Quinnipiac, so I assume that the sampling and questions are OK. Here’s the relevant item:
Notice that “protect” was not one of the choices. The trick is obvious: lump the 39% who said “Keep the same” with the 40% who said the 39% who said “Increase,” and voila – 79%. But the trick works both ways. Using the same logic, charter opponents could add the “Keep the same” group to the 14% “Decrease” group and say POLL FINDS MAJORITY OF NEW YORKERS WANTS TO HALT GROWTH OF CHARTER SCHOOLS, 53 - 40. AMONG THOSE WITH KIDS IN PUBLIC SCHOOL, THEY OUTNUMBER PROPONENTS OF CHARTER EXPANSION 49 - 45. Would that be deceptive? Maybe, but certainly no more so than “protect or expand.” -------------------------------- * Diane Ravitch (here) has more on the criteria for “co-location” of charters in public schools. ** “Jeremiah Kittredge, the executive director of Families for Excellent Schools, said the strength of the movement comes from the bottom.” (From a story on WNYC radio.) Hmm. Do you pay for a multi-million dollar TV ad campaign with money from the bottom? It turns out that Families for Excellent schools gets its money from ordinary bottom folks like the Walton family and probably a bunch of billionaire hedge-funders and CEOs, though we can’t be sure: “Kittredge declined to discuss his organization’s funding.”
30. As you may know, charter schools are operated by private or non-profit organizations. The schools are paid for with public funds and do not charge tuition. Do you think the mayor should increase the number of charter schools, decrease the number of charter schools, or keep the number of charter schools the same?And here are the results (I’ve left out the demographic breakdowns which you can find by following the link above).
Kid in PS
Keep the same
MARCH 21, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ What to do about snow days? That was one of the last items on the agenda at the half-day-long meeting of all department chairs. In coming semesters, we’ll probably get more weird weather, so what kind of advance arrangements should make? Schedule more pre-exam-period reading days that can be converted to class days? Have teachers tockpile a few online classes? “I don’t know about anyone else,” said one chair, trying to sound puzzled, “but so far none of my students have complained about the two missed classes.” (OK, it was me.) There was laughter, though not an entirely easy laughter. I continued:
I had two immediate mental associations when the topic came up. One was my brother. Long ago, I was talking to him about this problem or something similar He took out a blank piece of paper. “Suppose this is your field, sociology.” Then he drew a square that took up less than half the page.. “And this is how much you know.” “And this,” he drew a smaller square inside that one, “is what you can cover in a semester.” It was beginning to look like an Albers print but without color. “And this,” a still smaller square “is what your students can learn.”The bit became famous after Don Novello did it on SNL in the early 1970s. This version is from 1980, still early enough that the audience gets the Mickey Mouse Club reference.
MARCH 19, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Economic policies often rest on assumptions about human motivation. Rep. Ryan (Republican of Wisconsin):
The left is making a big mistake here. What they’re offering people is a full stomach and an empty soul. People don’t just want a life of comfort. They want a life of dignity — of self-determination.Fox News has been hitting the theme of “Entitlement Nation” lately. The Conservative case against things like Food Stamps, Medicare, welfare, unemployment benefits, etc. rests on some easily understood principles of motivation and economics. 1. Giving money or things to a person creates dependency and saps the desire to work. That’s bad for the person and bad for the country 2. A person working for money is good for the person and the country. 3. We want to encourage work 4. We do not want to encourage dependency 5. Taxing something discourages it. Now that you’ve mastered these, here’s the test question:
1. According to Conservatives, which should be taxed more heavily: a. money a person earns by working b. money a person receives without working, for example because someone else died and left it in their willIf you said “b,” you’d better go back to Conservative class. A good Conservative believes that the money a person gets without working for it should not be taxed at all.* Not all such money, of course. Lottery tickets are bought disproportionately by lower-income people. If a person gets income by winning the PowerBall or some other lottery, the Federal government taxes the money as income. Conservatives do not object. But if a person gets income by winning the rich-parent lottery, Conservatives think he or she should not pay any taxes. What Conservatives are saying to you is this: if you work for your money is not as good as instead of inheriting it.** This message seems to contradict the principles listed above. But, as Jon Stewart recently pointed out (here), Conservatives apply those principles of economics and motivational psychology only to the poor, not to wealthy individuals or corporations. Me, I’m with Rep. Ryan on this one. I think that the children of the wealthy would not at all mind paying considerable taxes on their inheritance. What abolishing inheritance taxes offers people is a full stomach (not to mention a full bank account, stock portfolio, a full house or two, etc.) but an empty soul. To repeat the Wisdom from Wisconsin: “People don’t just want a life of comfort. They want a life of dignity — of self-determination.” Unfortunately, Conservatives want to take away that dignity and self-determination ---------------------- * Conservatives like to call the inheritance tax the “death tax” as though a person is being taxed for dying. But it’s not the deceased who is being taxed. It’s the lucky people who are given the money. ** Conservatives also favor lower taxes on other ways of getting money that are available mostly the wealthy and involve little or no work – gambling on stocks and more complicated derivatives for example.
MARCH 18, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Poor Paul Ryan – he said what he really thought. That’s not always dangerous, but this time it was about why Black men don’t work, and Rep. Ryan’s explanation was that there’s something wrong with the men, their families, and their culture. You can’t blame Ryan for his statement. His guard was down. He was among friends, being interviewed by William Bennet, a whale of a conservative. Bennett set the ball on the tee:
We’re setting records in terms of people not working. . . . There’s a cultural aspect to this . . . Boys particularly learn how to work. Who teaches boys how to work. . . . A boy has to see a man working, doesn’t he?And Ryan took a swing:
Absolutely. . . . We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.When a reporter (lauren victoria burke of Crew of 42 - here) later asked Ryan about the racial implications in his statement, Ryan first tried the standard dodge” “it was taken out of context.” Then he went for total denial:
This has nothing to do whatsoever with race. It never even occurred to me. This has nothing to do with race whatsoever.Rep. Ryan was using here a rhetorical device known as “a lie.” The context for the Bennett interview was Ryan’s recent report on poverty programs, particularly those that encourage “dependency” rather than work. Nor did Ryan embellish or add relevant ideas that were left out of the quote. So the statement was perfectly in context. As for race, the term “inner city” is so often to mean Black that it can’t even be considered a code word; it’s a synonym. When burke (in a West-Wing-like walk-and-talk) pointed out the racial implications, Ryan suddenly remembered that poverty and unemployment were not purely inner city problems
This isn’t a race based comment. It’s a breakdown of families, it’s rural poverty in rural areas, and talking about where poverty exists — there are no jobs and we have a breakdown of the family.Ryan’s second thoughts are accurate. In fact, rates of poverty are higher in rural areas than in metro areas. The difference is slight in most regions, probably because metro areas have so many people who are not poor. But in the South, the rural-urban difference is unmistakable.
(Click on the graph for a larger view_.)As several others have pointed out, it was only when Ryan’’s image of poverty expanded to include rural Whites that his explanation expanded to include what should be obvious – the lack of jobs. We cant really know the implicit associations in Rep. Ryan’s mind. But it certainly looks as though they go like this: Why are inner-city Black people poor? Because of their culture – they haven’t learned the value of work. Why are Whites in Appalachia poor? Because there are no jobs. HT: Eric Volsky at ThinkProgress for the graph. (An earlier version of this post had Ryan as a Senator. He is in fact a Representative. What could I have been thinking.?)
MARCH 16, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ “Dave Brubeck Was The Macklemore Of 1954,” wrote Patrick Jarenwattananon, NPR’s jazz blogger (here), after Macklemore’s post-Grammy text apologizing to Kendrick Lamar. Sixty years earlier, Time magazine put Dave Brubeck on the cover, and in 1954 being on the cover of Time was a big deal. Brubeck’s quartet was on tour with the Duke Ellington orchestra at the time, and Brubeck felt, as did many others, that if any jazzer was going to be on the cover of Time, it should be Duke. (Time put Ellington on the cover two years later.)Jarenwattananon hears in these stories a recurrent motif in American popular music:Does any of this apply to Macklemore?** He works in a genre that, even in its least White forms, is already popular among Whites. The White audience for rap is huge.*** Many a Grammy had been awarded to Black rappers before Macklemore. But in 1954, only one other jazz musician – Louis Armstrong – had been honored with a Time cover. Others who know more about rap and the Grammys than I do can correct me, and obviously it depends on who votes. But my impression is that Macklemore’s Grammy did not have so much to do with “systemic privilege.” Nor do I think he won because he “enjoy[ed] mainstream success prior to the black artists [he was] initially inspired by.” _Hat tip to a regular reader and erstwhile copy editor of this blog for referring me to the NPR story. _ ----------------------- * To _swing_ is a term that defies precise definition – perhaps the difference between swinging and not swinging amounts to a matter of microseconds in the length of notes and perhaps the choice of tonalities – but jazzers know it when they hear it. And when they don’t. ** I know almost nothing about Macklemore and his music – only that our sartorial preferences run to similar sources. Fuckin’ awesome. *** You frequently hear the claim that the rap audience is 70-75% White. The WSJ’s “numbers guy” Carl Bialik checks it out as best he can (here) and concludes, “Conventional wisdom, for once, turns out to be mostly correct – with the caveat that there’s a lot we dont know about race and rap sales.”
Both also fit into a longstanding narrative in American popular music. White musicians play music of black community origin. Then, buoyed by systemic privilege, they enjoy mainstream success prior to the black artists they were initially inspired by. And they attempt to allay the guilt by deferring to said black trailblazers.That’s almost certainly true of Brubeck. His popularity owed much to Whiteness. It wasn’t just that Brubeck himself was White. His music was White. (The frequent criticism of Brubeck among jazzers was that he didnt swing – a valid criticism.*) In the early 50s, he set out to popularize his music by touring colleges, and in that era, college campuses were nearly all White. That success enabled him to move from a small label (Fantasy, with its translucent wine-colored records) to Columbia. His first record for that label was “Jazz Goes to College.” But the Brubeck and Macklemore stories are different in some important ways. Jazz has never had widespread appeal, especially among Whites. So the audience for jazz à la Brubeck was a lot bigger than the audience for what Black jazz musicians, including Ellington, were playing. If Time was looking for someone emblematic of the surge (tiny though it was) in the popularity of jazz, Brubeck was the likely candidate. Besides that, Time is a news magazine, and in 1954, Ellington was not new; Brubeck was.
MARCH 13, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ “Kids, I don’t know what’s wrong with these kids today,” sang Paul Lynde in “Bye-Bye Birdie.” That was 54 years ago. Paul Lynde is gone, but we now have N. Bradley Wilcox (here) fretting about the Millenials. Kids . . .Wilcox puts faith on a par with work and family. But what benefits does personal religious conviction bring to the society? Wilcox suggests that a willingness to trust others is a general social good. And among younger people, the very religious are more trusting, though even among the Very Religious, those distrustful outnumber the trusting by more than two to one.The Very Religious are the most likely to be married, the Not Religious the least. Wilcox and other conservatives see marriage as good for society and for the individual (married people are more likely to say that they’re happy). But on other measures, like work, education and income, being religious seems to lose its advantage. WORK: Wilcox says “full-time work remains the best way to avoid poverty and to chart a path into the middle class.” It also brings “an important sense of dignity and meaning.” But according to GSS data, religiousness is unrelated to full-time work.EDUCATION: Wilcox says almost nothing about education. Most Americans assume that it’s a good thing for both the individual and the society. School is also one of the important institutions of our society, so presumably staying in school indicates a commitment to civil society. But it is the Not Religious who get higher degrees, while the Very Religious are more likely to drop out.INCOME: Money is obviously a good thing for the individual. But it also matters for civil society. Most measures of civic engagement (voting, participation in organizations) rise with income. Again, the Not Religious come out on the positive end of the scale. Sen. Marco Rubio might interpret the data, losing your religion increases your chances of being rich by 116%. In sum, except for being married, religiousness is either not related to the “core human institutions that have sustained the American experiment,”or the direction of the relation contradicts the way Wilcox would like the variables to align. My point is not that Wilcox is wrong about a lack of civic engagement among the young. When my questions in class about current front-page political issues or important events in US history meet blank stares, I too have my Paul Lynde moments. I wonder: did students a generation or two ago know more about such things? I don’t trust my memory on that. But whatever civic engagement is, and whether the Millenials have less of it, I don’t think we find that out by asking people about their religious convictions. --------------- * “a generation of young adults ‘unmoored’ from the institutions of work, family, and civil society, and distrustful of their fellow citizens, can end up succumbing to the siren song of demagogues, especially if the economy dips into a depression.”
[their]ties to the core human institutions that have sustained the American experiment — work, marriage, and civil society — are worryingly weak.Not as tuneful, but it’s the thought that counts. Wilcox is professor of Sociology and the University of Virginia, also, according to the bio on the NRO article, director of the Home Economics Project at the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for Family Studies, so he ought to know. He looks at data from the Pew Survey and the General Social Survey and concludes that the Millenials unless they change their ways as they grow older, will lead the country to political and economic disaster.* Philip Cohen, on his Family Inequality blog (here), has already pointed some of the problems with Wilcox’s interpretation of the data on work and trust. Philip also provids a link to his earlier criticisms of Wilcox’s assertions about family. It’s the “civil society” part that interests me. But how to measure engagement in civil society? Voter turnout among the young? That was slightly higher in 2012 than it was a quarter-century earlier. Wilcox does not use that. Nor does he use rates of volunteering. Instead he uses a measure of how religious a person is. Here is the graph he borrows from the Pew Survey.
(Click on a graph for a slightly larger view._)Interestingly, the Not Religious are more trusting than are the two middle categories, Moderate and Slight. (The differences, with 900 people in the sample, are not quite statistically significant at the .05 level. The differences between Very Religious and Not Religious do not come close to significance.) The religious dimension produces its largest difference in rates of marriage.
MARCH 12, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Yesterday, I posted about the conservatives’ tendency to celebrate killing – so long as the killing is, in their view, justifiable. When the moderator at a Republican primary debate cited the record number of people executed in Texas under Governor Perry, the audience cheered.To paraphrase the journalist I quoted asking about the people lining up for George Zimmeman’s autograph: Who are these people cheering when Cash sings “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die”?” The answer is simple. They’re criminals; some of them are killers. That’s why they’re in prison. And to quote Richard Pryor, “Thank God we got penitentiaries.” (The line comes early in the clip from “Live on the Sunset Strip” (1982) . (If it doesnt load, go here). But if you have forgotten, as I had, just how good Pryor was, watch the whole thing.) I imagine how Pryor might react these days:
)We don’t know how long the applause would have continued if Brian Williams hadn’t interrupted. I’m now reminded of a similar audience reaction – the inmates at Folsom Prison listening to Johnny Cash and cheering at this line in “Folsom Prison Blues”
Y’know, but there’s a difference. Them motherfuckers yelling about shootin’ a man in Reno – they was in the joint. They get out, they can’t even vote. Motherfuckers cheering for killing more people with executions and stand your ground and shit – they run half the states in the country.
MARCH 11, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ George Zimmerman was signing autographs at a gun show in Orlando this week. Liberal blogs are all over it. Conservative bloggers seem not to have noticed.* (Google “George Zimmerman autograph” and see if any red staters turn up.) Zimmerman is not the issue. It’s his supporters. Only 200 showed up for the meet-and-greet or SigSauer-and-Signature or whatever it was called. But Zimmerman has many supporters around the country, and, as Jonathan Capeheart says:
This leads to what should bean inevitable question: Who are these people glorifying the killer of an unarmed teenager in one of the most racially polarized incidents in recent history?I keep wondering how Jonathan Haidt would explain this conservative embrace of Zimmerman. The liberal reaction presents no problems. Haidt says that liberal morality rests on two principles (he calls them “foundations”) * Care/Harm * Fairness/Cheating. Killing someone certainly qualifies as Harm, and, almost literally, getting away with murder is not Fair. The Zimmerman side is that he shot in self-defense. That argument persuaded the jury, or at least created sufficient reasonable doubt. But it doesn’t explain why some people on the right see him as a hero. What moral principle does he represent? In Haidt’s schema, conservatives take Harm and Fairness into account but balance them with three others: * Loyalty/betrayal * Authority/subversion * Sanctity/degradation (A sixth foundation - Liberty/oppression – underlies both the liberal and conservative side.) It’s hard to see how any of these describe the autograph-seekers. What else might explain that reaction? The obvious candidate is racism. If the races had been reversed – if a Black man had confronted a White teenager, killed him, and then been acquitted on self-defense grounds – would the left have hailed him as a hero? I doubt it. Would those same autograph hounds in Orlando have sought him out? I doubt it. And if Black people had then turned out to get his autograph, can you imagine what the reaction on the right would have been? But it’s not just racism. It’s a more general willingness to do harm, great harm, to those who “deserve” it. The liberal view (Harm/Care) is that while in some circumstances killing may be necessary or inevitable, it is still unfortunate. But over on the right, killing, torture, and perhaps other forms of harm are cause for celebration, so long as these can be justified. In 2008, Republicans cheered Sarah Palin when she stood up for torture. (See this post from 2008.) In 2011, they cheered Rick Perry for signing death warrants for record numbers of executions (here). When Wolf Blitzer hypothsized a young man who had decided not to buy medical insurance but now lay in the ICU, and Blitzer asked “Should we let him die?” several people in the Republican audience enthusiastically shouted out, “Yes.” (here) My guess as to the common thread here is a dimension Haidt doesn’t include as a foundation of morality – boundary rigidity. In those earlier posts, I referred to this, or something similar, as “tribalism.”
Morality is not some abstract universal that applies to all people. Tribal morality divides the world into Us and Them. Whats moral is whats good for Us. This morality does not extend to Them.Could it be that as you get farther out on the right, you find more people whose boundaries are more rigid? They are the hard liners who draw hard lines. Once those lines are drawn, it’s impossible to have sympathy – to extend Care – to someone on the other side. If you imagine that you live in a world where an attack by Them is always imminent, defending those boundaries becomes very important. That seems to be the world of gun-rights crowd lionizing Zimmerman. Their cherished scenario is the defense of boundaries against those who are clearly Not Us. They stand their ground and defend themselves, their families, their houses and property, even their towns and communities (against Obama’s jack-booted thugs). It is a story they never tire of, repeated time after time in NRA publications. Zimmerman is a hero because his story, in their view, embodies the narrative of righteous slaughter. -------------------------- * A local Fox outlet did a sympathetic interview with Zimmerman (here)– sympathetic in the sense that it tried to cast Zimmerman as victim. After two sentences describing the event, the story continues:
Fox 35 met up with him to talk about why he was at the store and what life has been like after his acquittal. Fox 35s Valerie Boey: "Youve always been concerned about your safety. Are you concerned about your safety today?"
MARCH 8, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Many people in the US are concerned about the great increase in economic inequality. They point out, for example, that 95% of all income gains since 2008 have gone to the 1%. Are they motivated by envy? Arthur Brooks thinks so. His latest op-ed in the Times is “The Downside of Inciting Envy.” Claiming to know what a person is feeling when the person himself denies that feeling is always a tricky business. When you’re attributing emotions to others, you ought to have pretty solid evidence Undoubtedly, inequality has gotten much more attention lately. But is that attention borne on a rising tide of envy in the US? Here’s Brooks’sevidence: * the percentage of Americans who feel strongly that “government ought to reduce the income differences between the rich and the poor” is at its highest since the 1970s. (GSS data) * 43 percent of Americans told the Pew Research Center that government should do “a lot” to “reduce the gap between the rich and everyone else.” (Pew data) * the percentage of Americans who feel that “most people who want to get ahead” can do so through hard work has dropped by 14 points since about 2000. (Pew) * In 2007, Gallup found that 70 percent were satisfied with their opportunities to get ahead by working hard; only 29 percent were dissatisfied. Today, that gap has shrunk to 54 percent satisfied, and 45 percent dissatisfied. First, Brooks’s reading of the GSS data is barely true. Respondents mark their opinion on a 7-point scale. In 2012, 24.3% chose #1, the most redistributionist option. That was only slightly higher than 1990 (22.6%) and 1986 (22.7%). (Using #1 and #2 combined puts 1990 highest.)
(Click on the graph for a larger view_.)It’s understandable that in the Great Recession years, economic hardship would inspire more people to look to government to assuage inequality. But before then, the average redistributionst sentiment in Republican years (Reagan-Bush41, Bush43) is higher than in Democratic years (Clinton). This might be relevant for Brooks’s assertion
we must recognize that fomenting bitterness over income differences may be powerful politics, but it injures our nation.Do Republicans foment bitterness for their own political ends? Do Democratic presidents reduce envy? More to the point, so any of Brooks’s indicators really measure envy? Two of the items are not about envy, they’re about policy. Two others are about economic reality. (Technically, one is about satisfaction with economic reality.) That too is not envy. Suppose Brooks had sampled attitudes about poverty and low income. * Should the government reduce spending on food stamps, unemployment insurance, and welfare? * Do safety-net programs encourage people to avoid work and become dependent on government? Some people will say that those programs encourage sloth and that we should cut those programs. Are these people envious of the poor (“they’re getting government handouts, and I’m not”)? Or rather, do these questions merely tap beliefs about the effects of government policy? In my hypothetical questions and in Brooks’s real ones, it’s probably some combination – emotion (anger, envy, resentment) – and beliefs about what policy would be best for the country as a whole. Dissatisfaction and even anger are not envy. Teabaggers and others on the far right are very dissatisfied, and they vent a ton of anger at Obama. Does that mean they are envious of Obama’s political power? No, they just think that they and the country would be better off if one of their own were president. Are the Occupy people envious of the wealth of the Wall Street oligarchs? I doubt that any of the Occupiers in Zucotti Park wanted a bank account with gazillions of dollars. They just wanted what they see as a fairer tax structure and more government action to create jobs. Nevertheless, Brooks and many others automatically assume that those who are concerned about increasing inequality are motivated by personal envy. Meanwhile, inside the Wall Street buildings, those who occupy the trading desks and offices have been known to complain (here, for example) about their mere $3 million bonus because someone else got $5 million. Now _that’s_ envy. (An Esquire article based on their own highly unscientific sampling of Wall Street workers had this graphic on satisfaction with the year-end bonus.)
MARCH 2, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Here’s my Oscar story, relevant here only because it happened in a sociology class. File it under Pedagogy, or Test Construction, or better yet Teachers’ Misperceptions of Students. In the Spring 1992 semester, I had a Monday night criminal justice class (SOCI 323). The night of the midterm turned out to be Oscar night, which was always a Monday back then. Exams aren’t much fun, so I put the following as the last question in the multiple-choice section of the exam:
Tonight, the Academy Award for best picture will go toI thought students might find it faintly amusing, a break from the real questions. Boy was I wrong. Hands were raised, as were voices. “That’s not fair.” “How can you expect us to know the answer to that?” and so on. These lambs were not silent. I apologized and assured them that the question was just for fun and that I would not count it in their scores. It was the only question on the exam that everyone got right. Now, two decades later, I find it of interest in light of Gabriel Rossman and Oscar Schilke’s recent article on Oscar bait. “The Silence of the Lambs” would probably not score high on their Oscar algorithm. The director had no previous nominations. Its keywords do not include “family tragedy,” “whistleblower,” “Pulitzer Prize source,” “physical therapy,” “domestic servant.” It does, however, come close to “zombie,” which eats away Oscar-worthiness as does the genre classification “horror” (“thriller” too, I would guess, though I’m not sure.) And it was released in February. But “The Silence of the Lambs” won everything – picture, director, actor, actress, screenplay, sound, editing, gourmandise – in short, the works. I still can’t figure out why there hasn’t yet been a Broadway musical version. Maybe I should get to work. I feel a song coming on.a. Beauty and the Beast b. Bugsy c. JFK d. The Prince of Tides e. The Silence of the Lambs
FEBRUARY 28, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Five Montclair undergraduates had posters accepted for the ESS meetings in Baltimore last weekend. Here they are.
Ian Callahan, Noel Rozier, Luis Bernal, Rachel Druker, Lisa KaiserThere were 130 posters presented in five sessions (the MSU five were all in the Friday afternoon session). Of those 130, five students were selected for awards. One of those was Ian Callahan.
Looking to study education and attitudes, I turned to the General Social Survey (1972-2006) for some data and some inspiration. I stumbled upon a series of questions that measured respondents attitudes towards non-traditional educators, namely militarists, homosexuals, anti-religionists, and communists.I like “stumbled upon.” It’s another example of research serendipity. The problem that becomes the focus of research is a path that branches off from the road you set out on. But you never would have found it had you not started walking and looking. The focal question was this:
How have attitudes toward non-traditional university educators (anti-religionists, communists, militarists, and homosexuals) changed in America from 1972-2006.(If negative attitudes towards those groups carried the day, not many of our department would still be around, though I don’t think that was on Ian’s mind.) The trend was what you’d expect – generally liberalizing trend – as were the demographic correlates – education, gender, political views, region, marital status. What made the research awardworthy was its sophisticated method – a stepwise model that untangled simultaneously occurring predictors – and its integration with theory (e.g. “cohort replacement”) . The puzzling part was that religiosity did not make the cut – no statistical significance to confirm the obvious. Were the measures of “religiosity” flawed? Was the regression model not up to the task? Or were the deeply religious equally tolerant of “non-traditional” professors? Back in New Jersey, in their capstone seminar on Thursday, some other students organized a party in honor of the Fab Five. What a great bunch of student we have. Asked to say a few words, the department chair cited the Yiddish phrase “shep naches” – to derive pleasure or pride from the accomplishments of someone else’ (usually your children). “We’re pleased and proud,” he said, “but you’re the ones who did it.” (Photo credit: Janet Ruane)
FEBRUARY 18, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ “How could we get evidence for this?” I often ask students. And the answer, almost always is, “Do a survey.” The word _survey_ has magical power; anything designated by that name wears a cloak of infallibility. “ Survey just means asking a bunch of people a bunch of questions,” I’ll say. “Whether it has any value depends on how good the bunch of people is and how good the questions are.” My hope is that a few examples of bad sampling and bad questions will demystify. For example, VarietyHere’s the lede:
Despite its Biblical inspiration, Paramount’s upcoming “Noah” may face some rough seas with religious audiences, according to a new survey by Faith Driven Consumers.The data to confirm that idea:
The religious organization found in a survey that 98% of its supporters were not “satisfied” with Hollywood’s take on religious stories such as “Noah,” which focuses on Biblical figure Noah.The sample:
Faith Driven Consumers surveyed its supporters over several days and based the results on a collected 5,000+ responses.And (I’m saving the best till last) here’s the crucial survey question:
As a Faith Driven Consumer, are you satisfied with a Biblically themed movie – designed to appeal to you – which replaces the Bible’s core message with one created by Hollywood?As if the part about “replacing the Bible’s core message” weren’t enough, the item reminds the respondent of her or his identity as a Faith Driven Consumer. It does make you wonder about that 2% who either were fine with the Hollywood* message or didn’t know. You can’t really fault Faith Driven Consumer too much for this shoddy “research.” They’re not in business to find the sociological facts. What’s appalling is that Variety accepts it at face value and without comment. ---------------------- * The director of “Noah” is Daniel Aronofsky; the script is credited to him and Ari Handel. For the Faith Driven Consumer, “Hollywood” may carry connotations in addition to that of industry and location – perhaps something similar to “New York sense of humor” in this clip from “The West Wing” (the whole six minutes is worth watching, but you’ll get the idea if you push the pointer to 2:20 or so and watch for the next 45 seconds). (HT: @BrendanNyhan retweeted by Gabriel Rossman)
FEBRUARY 16, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Valentine’s Day was Friday – that is like so last week.Because I used to love her, but it’s all over now, baby blue. Still,, we have to ask what becomes of the broken-hearted? When they’re down and troubled and need a helping hand, have they got a friend? The answer seems to be yes, but only for a couple of days. Facebook has been publishing some research they’ve done on their big data, particularly on relationships. The day after Valentine’s day, they published a graph showing the change in FB interactions* that people have in the month before and after a break-up.** (The full post is here.)The baseline (1.0) is the average interaction activity for an individual. For some, that 1.0 might mean 2 interactions per day, for others 20 or 200. What the graph shows is the change relative to that baseline. Most obviously, a breakup is the occasion for a huge increase in FB activity – more than triple the usual amount. Presumably, these are heartfelt expressions of support and sympathy from FB friends. But the sentiment, or at least its expression on Facebook, is short-lived – a huge dropoff after the first day. Apparently FB friends think anyone can have another you by tomorrow. Or maybe these were not the “desert-island, all time, top five most memorable split-ups” of _High Fidelity_. Whatever. In a few days, the interaction level is back to what it was the day before the breakup. How come u don’t message me any more? The other interesting pattern is the slight increase in the two days before the break up and the generally elevated level – about 50% higher – in the month after. The Facebook researchers do not provide any specific content (they are using anonymous, aggregate data – damn), so we don’t know whether the newly decoupled are looking to start new romances or whether they just have more time for general online sociability. -------------------------------- * Interactions included the “number of messages they sent and received, the number of posts from others on their timeline and the number of comments from others on their own content.” ** To be in the breakup sample, people had to have been “in a relationship” for at least for weeks and then changed that relationship status.
FEBRUARY 16, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Horace Miner’s “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema” was published in 1956 (here) and is still widely reprinted. It’s a classic, a golden oldie – the “Stairway to Heaven” of intro anthologies. It does a wonderful job of making the familiar seem strange – a useful exercise in social science. It forces us to question our taken-for-granted behaviors and ideas.People and societies have quirky ideas about the body, but we notice that strangeness only in others. Miner does us a service by making our own taken-for-granted body practices and ideas seem bizarre. He makes us question them and the norms, beliefs, and values that go along with them. We see that some of those ideas are purely cultural. For example, Miner says of the “shrine” found in each house, “the rituals associated with it are not family ceremonies but are private and secret.” Right. There’s no rational, scientific basis for this segregation. It’s the use of the term ritual that I have trouble with. That may be why, in a recent class discussion of ritual, Miner completely slipped my mind, even though the examples students brought up included brushing your teeth and brushing your hair. In Miner’s essay, these are all rituals. My students weren’t so sure. “But could they be ritualistic?” I asked. “What’s the difference between brushing your hair ritualistically and doing it non-ritualistically?” That finally got us to the main idea: If you’re doing it non-ritualistically, what matters is the result – attractive hair (or, if you’re rushing to class, acceptable, hair). But if you’re doing it ritualistically, what matters is that you do it correctly – exactly 50 strokes of the brush through your hair. Rituals, whether personal or social, are not about rational goal-attainment. That’s the part that always bothered me about the Nacirema essay.------------------- * My cousin Powers, when his kids were young, used to ask them before bed, “Have you finished your ablues?” (short for ablutions).
The daily body ritual performed by everyone includes a mouth-rite [which] involves a practice which strikes the uninitiated stranger as revolting. It was reported to me that the ritual consists of inserting a small bundle of hog hairs into the mouth, along with certain magical powders, and then moving the bundle in a highly formalized series of gestures.If we brush our teeth ritualistically, as Miner suggests, then we stress the process, not the results. But I think that most Americans (oops, Nacirema) brush their teeth in order to make their mouths “feel fresh and clean” (or whatever the ads say) and to prevent tooth decay. We don’t ask “did I brush correctly?” but “does my mouth still feel and smell like a chicken slept in it?” The same goes for Miner’s account of dentistry
The holy-mouth-man opens the client’s mouth and, using the above mentioned tools, enlarges any holes which decay may have created in the teeth. Magical materials are put into these holes. If there are no naturally occurring holes in the teeth, large sections of one or more teeth are gouged out so that the supernatural substance can be applied. In the clients view, the purpose of these ministrations is to arrest decay and to draw friends. The extremely sacred and traditional character of the rite is evident in the fact that the natives return to the holy-mouth-men year after year, despite the fact that their teeth continue to decay.Ritual? magic? If the same tooth still hurt or was still sensitive to cold, we’d judge the filling a failure, even though the dentist followed all the right procedures. And we might seek out a different holy-mouth-man. In part, Miner’s essay is about language. It shows what you can do by choosing language usually reserved for unfamiliar peoples and practices. But calling a bathroom a “shrine” does not make it one. Nor does calling pharmaceuticals “magic” mean that their effectiveness is caused by magic rather than rational, scientifically verifiable processes. (Miner uses magic or magical a dozen times in an essay of 2300 words, lightly longer than 4 journal pages.) True, most of us may not really know how a medication works, and in this sense our belief in its efficacy can resemble the belief in non-scientific cures. Let’s face it, most people’s understanding of germ theory isn’t much different from a third-grader’s theory of cooties. Miner is making an “as if” observation. We behave _as if _we had these ideas. What we call hygiene may share elements with non-scientific and religious body ritual.* We may even act_ as if_ we believed in magical causes and effects. But we know that our important beliefs do have a basis in real science, not magic.