- Antiquated Ideas
- Preaching to the Working Class
- To Wit, I Was a Total Dick
- Another Bungled Apology
- Negative Negativity
- “Whiplash” - The Little Drummer Boy
- Old Folks At Home . . . And Abroad
- Sexting and Gender
- Hope and Bugs, Of Course
- Peter Freund
- As Others See Us – Maybe Not
- Data in the Streets
- Whose Bad Guess is More Bad? Difficult Comparisons
- Shootings and Elephants
- Risk Managers Are Worried About Inequality
- Et in Arcadia Inflation*
- Hazing and Sexual Assault
- Names – The Last Shall Be First
- World Standards and American Exceptionalism
- Author or Economist - Greg Mankiw and the Principal-Agent Problem
- Failed Prophecy and Sunk Costs
- Social Capital and Social Values
- Football Violence - Position or Disposition
- That Isn’t Funny
- Bloggiversary (Now We Are Eight)
DECEMBER 16, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Who’s afraid of Virgina Woolf? The answer seems to be: men. MessyNessyChic (here) has posted some anti-women’s-suffrage posters from the 1890s and early 1900s.* The common theme is fear – fear that allowing women to vote will destroy masculinity.The anti-suffrage logic rests on the assumption that voting is masculine. Therefore women who want to vote are masculine, and men who would allow women to vote are feminine. If women get the vote, it’s the end of masculinity as we know it. Gender roles will not just be more similar, they will be reversed.This masculinity must be very fragile. It cannot survive unless the game is rigged so that men start with all the high cards – economic, social, political, and legal. Anything resembling a fair deal, and masculinity shrivels. Of course today, nearly a century after the Nineteenth Amendment, men’s anxiety about equality is hard to find. Or is it? I live in a politically liberal district, Manhattan’s Upper Left Side, but the other day, I found this message chalked on the sidewalk outside an Irish bar.If you really want to see the revival of the fears animating those anti-suffragette posters, wait till Hillary Clinton gets the nomination in 2016, and watch for the reaction on the right. Republicans seem to infuse many political questions with masculinity-anxiety. In 2009, when Obama ordered the CIA to stop using torture, conservatives argued that he was “emasculating” the CIA. Yes, that’s the word they used. (See my post from September, 2009, here) about Republican) ----------------- * The Nineteenth Amendment was finally ratified in 1920, more than a half-century after the Fifteenth Amendment guaranteed all races the right to vote.
DECEMBER 16, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Can’t these conservatives agree on what’s wrong with liberals? It was only a couple of years ago that Charles Murray was berating successful, upper-middle class liberals for not preaching to the White working class. They had gotten good educations, worked steadily at their jobs, and stayed married. But they didn’t try to inculcate these virtues in others. They didn’t even know those others or their culture. The well-off liberals were keeping poorer Whites in the dark about how to be successful. Now comes Ross Douthat saying that liberals are in fact preaching to the working class to follow their ways. The trouble, as Douthat sees it, is that those ways are not good. In his Sunday column, Douthat considers “arguments about how policy might improve the fortunes of the unemployed and the working class.” He refers specifically to the idea of working class people imitating the lifestyles of the educated and prosperous. Many optimistic liberals believe not only that such imitation is possible, but that what needs to be imitated most are the most socially progressive elements of the new upper class’s way of life: delayed marriage preceded by romantic experimentation, more-interchangeable roles for men and women in breadwinning and child rearing, a more emotionally open and egalitarian approach to marriage and parenting. Have “many liberals” really made this argument? Back in July, I myself was Douthat’s designated “many liberals” (see Douthat’s blog here ), yet I have never said anything like this. Some liberals have argued that working class marriages would be less brittle if husbands and wives were less rigid about gender roles.* But as far as I know, liberals do not see this as the roadmap to prosperity. If you know of any (or many) liberals who make this claim, please let me know. Douthat and fellow conservatives like Brad Wilcox, who Douthat cites favorably, do see a link between marriage patterns and income. And these intellectuals have no problem preaching to the working class about how to get richer, and the sermon is fairly short: marriage and religion. “Oh my working class brethren, they say, imitate us upper-middle class conservatives. Get married, stay married, and go to church. If you do that, prosperity is just around the corner.” As Robert Rector, the Heritage Foundation’s chief poverty guy put it, “Being raised in a married family reduced child’s probability of living in poverty by about 82 percent.” (An earlier post about this deliberate scrambling of cause and effect is here.) Basically, what these conservatives (Douthat, Wilcox, Regnerus,** et. al.) don’t like is sex, or rather sexuality. When Douthat refers to “romantic experimentation” in the quote above, you can almost see him biting his tongue, restraining the impulse to use some more vivid and morally loaded term. Since sexuality is bad, it must have all sorts of bad consequences. That’s the assumption underneath the preaching by the columnists and politicians; the same evil-causes-evil assumption motivates the research by the social scientists. Their sound-bite for the news or their abstract for the journal is this: Unless sexuality is tightly wrapped in marriage, it’s bad for society and bad for individuals. Maybe, but I have serious doubts as to its connection with economic success. As I said (and graphed) in that earlier post, for the last 40 years, marriage rates have been falling and out-of-wedlock childbirth has been rising. But these changes in the family show little connection to changes in the rate of poverty. So if it’s not the decline of marriage that’s eroding the incomes of the working class, what is it? As one of our more successful working-class-to-upper class exemplars put it (perhaps also an exemplar in “romantic experimentation”): it’s the economy, stupid. -------------------------------------- * Stephanie Coontz, I think, makes this argument (HT: Philip Cohen, who knows the literature on marriage far better than I do.) ** Regnerus, you may recall, was the principal researcher in the study that purported to show that children of gay parents have far more problems than do the children of straight parents.
DECEMBER 11, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Sometimes, somebody gets the apology thing right. (See this previous post on how not to apologize. Ben Edelman is the Harvard Business School professor whose e-mail exchanges about being overcharged $4 for Chinese food went viral. Technically, Edelman was in the right. Sichuan Garden charged him their current prices rather than the prices Edelman saw in their online menu when he ordered. But Edelman acted like a total dick. To wit, like a lawyer instead of a person. (He has a law degree from Harvard. In fact, he has several degrees from Harvard – further support for the multiple-intelligences idea. On a PR IQ test, Edelman would score a couple of standard deviations below the mean.) The Sichuan Garden owner, Ran Duan, responding in grammatically challenged English, offers to refund $3. Edelman cites Massachusetts statues verbatim and adds in pure lawyerese. It strikes me that merely providing a refund to a single customer would be an exceptionally light sanction for the violation that has occurred. To wit, your restaurant overcharged all customers who viewed the website and placed a telephone order. . . . You did so knowingly, knowing that your website was out of date and that customers would see it and rely on it. Boston.com ran the story with the e-mails.* It got picked up all over the Internet, and now two days later, Edelman has apologized. He doesn’t say it as bluntly as the title of this post. But to his credit, he doesn’t try to justify or explain. Many people have seen my emails with Ran Duan of Sichuan Garden restaurant in Brookline. Having reflected on my interaction with Ran, including what I said and how I said it, it’s clear that I was very much out of line. I aspire to act with great respect and humility in dealing with others, no matter what the situation. Clearly I failed to do so. I am sorry, and I intend to do better in the future. I have reached out to Ran and will apologize to him personally as well Many of the comments at Boston.com (here) are unforgiving. Haters gonna hate. But at least Edelman had the good sense not to given them more ammo by defending himself. And now, I am imagining a table of lawyers lunching in Chinatown. “I’d like something spicy,” one says to the waiter, “to wit, the Kung Pao chicken.” -------------------------- *The original story, with the e-mails, appeared at Boston.com (here). Unfortunately, the last time I looked, the e-mails did not load. Too bad. The Edelman v. Duan difference in prose style makes for great reading.
DECEMBER 1, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Ever since Karen Cerulo’s talk at our AKD honors society event last spring, I’ve become more aware of apologies. The take-away from her research (with Janet Ruane) seems to be this: Don’t explain, don’t elaborate, and for God’s sake, don’t try to justify or get people to understand. Say that you made a mistake, you did something wrong, you’re sorry, and shut up. It seems obvious, but today brings us Elizabeth Lauten’s fifteen minutes of unfortunate fame. Lauten a staffer for a Republican congressman, posted something on Facebook criticizing the demeanor of the Obama daughters at the White House turkey pardoning. Soon, that post was tweeted and retweeted around social media sites, and within a few hours, Lauten posted an apology. It didn’t help. Today she resigned. Here is Lauten’s Facebook post.Telling the First Daughters to show a little class and then telling them that their parents don’t respect their positions or the US – you can see how this might not play well with the general public. So Lauten apologized: After many hours of prayer, talking to my parents, and re-reading my words online I can see more clearly just how hurtful my words were. Please know, those judgmental feelings truly have no place in my heart. This is wrong in so many ways. First, it’s not believable. Did it really take “hours of prayer” and the rest for her to figure out that what she had written was really nasty? Do we believe that she did not see that when she wrote the post? Second, she’s saying that she didn’t mean those judgments that she put in the post. Her heart wasn’t in it. But if not, then why post it? Third, she tries to call attention to her own virtue: Look at me – I pray, I turn to my parents (who by implication are better role models and more respectful of the US than are your parents, Sasha and Malia). Fourth, the prayer-and-parents line wasn’t directed at the Obama girls at all. It was intended for the “family values” audience that Lauten sees as the constituency for her boss (Stephen Fincher, R-TN) and herself. But that’s the problem in the first place. My guess is that Lauten has been living in a reddest-state world where everyone takes for granted that Obama is the anti-American tyrant, the destroyer of the Constitution, and probably Muslim, foreign-born, and gay. So no slur is too outrageous. Outside of that hard core, using the children as a vehicle for vilifying the parents seems too much like a divorced parent saying nasty things to the kids about her ex. Even within the hard-core right, and even when the target is Obama, there might not be much support for trying to poison a daughter’s relation with her father.
NOVEMBER 26, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Negative statements are harder to evaluate than are positive statements, though the difference may be only a microsecond of thought.
1. True or False: Barack Obama is not president. 2. True or False: Barack Obama is president.When multiple negatives keep switching the sign from positive to negative and back, a reader sinks into the mud and struggles to find the meaning of the sentence. In previous posts (here , for example) I’ve made up my own examples (“The Supreme Court today failed to overturn a lower-court ruling that denied a request to reverse . . .”). I thought I was exaggerating. But try this. “BAD ACTS SHOULD NOT LONG REMAIN WITHOUT AN INSUFFICIENT TAX.”Three negatives –_ should not, without, insufficient_. Four if you count _bad_, the negative of _good_. Five if you count_ tax_ as the negative of_ reward_. I am not making this up. It’s a variant on something from Robin Hanson’s blog, Overcoming Bias . Here is the verbatim quote “GOOD ACTS SHOULDN’T LONG REMAIN WITH AN INSUFFICIENT SUBSIDY. OR BAD ACTS WITHOUT AN INSUFFICIENT TAX.” An author shouldn’t refuse to leave unedited a sentence with so many negatives. Or do I mean the opposite?
NOVEMBER 23, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ I played my drum for him Pa rum pum pum pum I played my best for him Pa rum pum pum pum If you’ve seen “Whiplash,” you’ll get the irony. If not, watch the trailer.Like most trailers, it pretty much tells you the whole story, though it inflates the boy-girl theme, which in the actual movie is an afterthought, a bit of romantic relief in lieu of comic relief (the movie has zero laughs). After all, we can’t have 105 minutes of non-stop sadism, intimidation, and humiliation. And blood. There’s a lot of blood. Much more than you’d expect in a movie about jazz drumming. But then, this movie is not really about jazz. Getting back to the Christmas carol, Fletcher (J.K. Simmons – the music teacher as drill sergeant) is no Baby Jesus, but he is a charismatic figure albeit a negative one. He leads the band via charismatic authority. Andrew (Miles Teller) and the other students are in his thrall. They want only to please him and avoid his cruelty. It is for him that they practice, it is for him that they play (“Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum, on my drum?”). “Whiplash” is shot mostly in dim music rooms, and the lighting gives the movie a film noir feel. But the constellation of conflicts and characters too reaches back to film noir. . .That’s from a book published in 1950, _Movies, a Psychological Study,_ by Martha Wolfenstein and Nathan Leites. They sort out the dominant themes in American, Brtish, and French films of the late 1940s. Watching “Whiplash” you get the sense that little has changed. In the “night-time world . . . the hero grapples with a dangerous older man and wards off entanglement with a desirable and yearning woman.” Even from the trailer, you can see that this is a good description of the place of romance in “Whiplash.” The character of Andrew’s father (Paul Reiser) is also foretold by Wolfenstein and Leites. “The hero’s father is usually a sympathetic character, and almost always ineffectual.” As in film noir, the conflicts are largely external. The hero need not admit the possibility of his own dark impulses. That goes for the audience as well. These are all projected onto the bad guy.
. . . a night-time dream world . . . where the hero is involved in a conflict of crime and punishment with the older man, his boss, often the lord of the underworld
It is the hero’s boss who attacks him and who commits numerous crimes for which he frequently tries to inculpate the hero. The violent impulses [of the hero],* acknowledged in much [other] Western tragedy, find a reverse expression here. The [hero] is in the clear because the older man attacks him first. Everything he does is in self-defense. Any bad actions of which the heroes of other dramas may accuse themselves appear as a frame-up against which the hero must fight. He would be amply justified in killing the unfairly attacking older man.Andrew’s motives are pure mostly. He starts off nearly as innocent as the little drummer boy, though with more ambition. He wants to work hard and become a good drummer, maybe the best. But then Fletcher insinuates himself into the boy’s dreams to distort those motives into a self-destructive obsession. It feels like a case of demonic possession, and Fletcher is the demon. Because the conflicts are externalized, because the film dumps all negative impulses into the character of Fletcher, there can be only one resolution. The trailer doesn’t give away the ending, but you can guess. There’s going to be a showdown between Andrew and Fletcher. Why? Because, as I’ve remarked several times in this blog (here for example), American films often hinge on the assumption that all problems can be solved by a climactic confrontation. The problems might be external – politics, crime, etc. – and the good guy and bad guy slug it out to see whose vision of the society will prevail. But even when the conflicts are internal - the hero’s moral and psychological state – they are solved by a contest, often athletic. “Rocky” and “The Karate Kid” find their true inner virtue in the ring. But the arena might just as easily be a chess tournament, a pool hall, a dance floor. Or a band performance. In reality, transposing the film noir set-up to a jazz band is a bit of a stretch. In these movies, the question is who’s going to run this show – the good guy or the bad guy (as in “On the Waterfront,” “High Noon,” and surely many others). But in the real world, jazz students in band class aren’t learning to stand out as leaders. Just the opposite – they’re learning to play as part of a band. Horn players learn to blend with their section. Rhythm section players have more latitude; where horn parts are carefully written note for note, the score for piano, bass, guitar, and drums will have sections that are less specific – chord symbols or general rhythmic indications. But rhythm players too, including drummers, must learn to meld with the ensemble.** Unfortunately, a hero learning to be an integral part of a whole would not make for much of a movie, at least not an American movie. But to repeat, this movie is not about jazz, learning it or playing it. It’s about the conflict between the young hero and the lord of the underworld. -------------------------- * Wolfenstein and Leities, writing in 1950 and much influenced by Freud, put this in Oedipal terms: “the violent impulses of sons toward their fathers.” ** There are one or two exemplary musical moments in “Whiplash” where you hear a well-rehearsed band doing some great ensemble playing. That said, there are real-life drummers who do lead the band, loudly, and let the audience make no mistake as to who is the star of the show. Most notably there was Buddy Rich, who seems to be an inspiration for the characters in “Whiplash” and perhaps for the filmmaker as well. Buddy had more than a touch of Fletcher, as you can hear in some of his rants on the bus, tearing into his young musicians, rants that were surreptitiously taped by the band’s pianist Lee Musiker. Listen here.
NOVEMBER 22, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ “We need to get rid of Obamacare,” says Ed Gillispie in a NYT op-ed yesterday (here). The reason: Obamacare’s “gravitational pull toward a single-payer system that would essentially supplant private insurance with a government program.” Gillespie, who lays out his credentials at the start of the article – he ran for Senate in Virginia and lost – notes that Obamacare is unpopular. But he omits all mention of a government-run single-payer system that happens to be very popular – Medicare. No Republican dare run on a platform of doing away with it. Gillespie himself accused Obamacare of cutting Medicare, a statement that Politifact found “Mostly False.”So how are seniors doing? Compared to their pre-Medicare counterparts, they are probably healthier, and they’re probably shelling out less for health care. But compared to seniors in other countries, not so well. A Commonwealth Fund survey in eleven countries finds that seniors (age 65 and older) in the US are the least healthy – the most likely to suffer from chronic illnesses.*Over half the the US seniors say that they are taking four or more prescription drugs. (All the other countries were below 50%.)And despite Medicare, money was a problem. Nearly one in five said that in the past year they “did not visit a doctor, skipped a medical test or treatment that a doctor recommended, or did not fill a prescription or skipped doses because of cost.” A slightly higher percent had been hit with $2000 or more in out-of-pocket expenses.In those other countries, with their more socialistic health care systems, seniors seem to be doing better, physically and financially. One reason that American seniors are less healthy is that our universal, socialized medical care doesn’t kick in until age 65. Their health problems may have started long before that. People in those other countries have affordable health care starting in the womb. Critics of more socialized systems claim that patients must wait longer to see a doctor. The survey found some support for that. Does it take more than four weeks to get to see a specialist? US seniors had the highest percentage of those who waited less than that. But when it came to getting an ordinary doctor’s appointment, the US lagged behind seven of the other ten countries.There was one bright spot for US seniors. They were the most likely to have developed a treatment plan that they could carry out in daily life. And their doctors “discussed their main goals and gave instructions on symptoms to watch for” and talked with them about diet and exercise.
Gillespie and many other Republicans want to scrap Obamacare and substitute something else. That’s progress I suppose. Not too long ago, they were quite happy with the pre-Obamacare status quo, even though the US healthcare spending was double that of other countries with little difference in health outcomes. That didn’t stop George Bush from insisting throughout his years in the White House that “America has the best health care system in the world. But at least now, the Republicans want to do something different. Unfortunately, their Republican ideology precludes them from learning from other countries. As Marco Rubio put it, we must avoid “ideas that threaten to make America more like the rest of the world, instead of helping the world become more like America.”But maybe they might learn from their own country by taking a second look at Medicare, a program many of them publicly support. They’ll just have to avoid letting anyone know that it for nearly a half-century it has done what Gillespie should not be done: “supplant private insurance with a government program.” ------------------------ * Includes hypertension or high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, lung problems, mental health problems, cancer, and joint pain/arthritis.
NOVEMBER 18, 2014. _Posted by Jay Livingston_
How do you feel about the girl after she sends it?, I asked.
“Super thots.” [THOT - “that ho over there”]
“You cant love those thots!”
“Thats right, you cant love those hos.”
Whichever the girl does – sext or refuse – the boys find a reason to be contemptuous.
For the boys, the pictures were not about sex or stimulation; they were purely for narcissistic satisfaction and social status.
They gloat inwardly or brag to friends; they store them in special apps or count them. . . . “Guys would pile them up,” one girl who had graduated a year earlier told me, referring to sexts they’d gotten. “It was more of a baseball-card, showing-off kind of thing.” Olivia described it as “like when they were little boys, playing with Pokémon cards.”
The boys saw the sexts as a universalistic and utilitarian currency – something they could trade and use for other goals. That’s why the boys’ promises not to show the picture to anyone else can evaporate so quickly. The picture has use value only if others see it. It has meaning as an object; that meaning is not connected with the particular person in the picture. She could just as easily be Charmander or Snorlax.
The girls, by contrast, were more particularistic. A picture was important for what it said about the relationship between her and a particular boy. Girls have the relationship in mind also in those rarer instances when they ask a boy for a picture
It is kind of a marker that you have reached a certain point in a relationship or you are about to reach a certain point in a relationship. So it can be foreplay. It can be a kind of intimacy.[_Rosin in a Fresh Air interview here._]
That “marker” comment suggests that the girls too had a “base” system in mind, but if so, the bases were the stages in the relationship, the level of intimacy with another person. They did not share the boys’ view of the sext as a bit of capital added to their individual holdings and separate from the person in the photo.
I.Much of Hanna Rosin’s recent Atlantic article “Why Kids Sext” plays on the generational divide. Parents get understandably upset about something that kids see as just another part of social life. Cops and prosecutors have an even more difficult time since a high schooler’s sexy cellphone selfie is a felony in most states. The media too aren’t sure how to play it. “Massive teen sexting ring,” gasped the headline in a local paper in Louisa County, Virginia. A couple of high school kids had created an Instagram page with about 100 photos of girls from the local high school and middle school. They hadn’t taken the pictures; they had merely consolidated the photos that were already circulating on kids’ phones. When Rosin asked kids in the local high school how many people they knew who had sexted, the “ring” turned out to be “everyone.” (The kids overestimated. I think that surveys find that about a third of kids have sexted.) Rosin’s article reveals differences not just of age but of gender, for despite the newest iPhone and Instagram technology, the ideas and attitudes, especially those of the boys, seem like something out of the 1950s. The “maddening, ancient, crude double standard” is, unfortunately, alive and well. So is the idea of sex as conquest. Boys describe how they would sweetly cajole girls to sext. When the photo arrived, the boys felt a kind of egotistical pride (“I’m the man”) – not much different from high school boys of sixty or seventy years ago bragging about “getting to second base” or farther. (I guess a sext is somewhere between second and third – a sort of .jpeg shortstop.) On college campuses, as Lisa Wade has said, the order of the bases has changed. Maybe that’s true in high school too, but the game mentality – with all its attendant attitudes and assumptions – remains the same. If a girl refused, the boys dismissed her as “stuck up” or a “prude.” And if she did send the photo . . .
II.Sex – universal commodity or special relationship? Many years ago, long before cell phones and sexts, I thought I might demonstrate this difference by asking students to imagine a dream date. I was a genii, I said, and I will grant your wish. You can have a date with any person you choose. You can spend an evening doing whatever you want, and if you like, the evening can extend till morning. But you must choose one of two conditions. A. You actually have the date, but nobody will ever know about. B. You don’t have the date, but everybody thinks you did. I had them mark their ballots anonymously but asked them to indicate their gender. Then, as an afterthought – mostly because I wanted to keep up with popular culture – I also asked them to write down who they were thinking of. I thought that more boys would choose B – the date as utilitarian currency. I was wrong. Everybody wanted the actual date. But gender did make difference on the second question. Most of the boys chose women from the media (as I recall, Heather Locklear got several votes – I told you this was a long time ago). The girls’ choices were more along the lines of “this guy I knew in high school” or “this guy I went out with last year but we broke up.” The boys did not want the date as a tradeable commodity. Instead it was an abstracted ideal, a fantasy. They had no idea what it would actually be like to spend a few hours with Heather Locklear the real person. What the girls wanted was a real relationship with a real person.
NOVEMBER 15, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Ever since I read Andrew Gelman’s list of words to avoid, I’ve been more conscious of the simple “of course.” I still use it, but more sparingly and cautiously. (Gelman’s list, here, includes _obviously, clearly, interestingly, note that_, and their variants like “it is interesting to note that.”) But then there’s the ironic “of course,” the one that points to some gem that is far from obvious. Done correctly, the casually tossed in “of course” makes us admire the author for spotting this sparkling insight. Maybe it makes us feel a bit inadequate for not seeing it ourselves, especially since the author is saying, “Aw shucks, anybody would have seen that.” Adam Gopnik’s essay on Bob Hope in a recent New Yorker shows you how it’s done: The real parallel to Hope—the great American comedian whose career most closely resembles his—is, of course, Bugs Bunny. Of course. Even if you’re old enough to remember the “Road” movies with Bing Crosby and the Oscars, the USO tours and the decades of TV appearances, you would not have come up with the Bugs-Bob parallel. Gopnik goes on to explain. Like Hope, he arrived in Hollywood in the late thirties and became a huge star with the war. Like Hope, he was usually paired with a more inward character who loves to sing (Daffy Duck is Bugs’s Bing [Crosby], though blustery rather than cool), and, like Hope, his appeal rises entirely from the limitless brashness and self-confidence with which he approaches even the most threatening circumstances. Together, they are the highest expression of the smart-aleck sensibility in American laughter. Their fame in wartime may have something to do with the way that, as A. J. Liebling documents, the American Army itself was essentially an urban creature dispatched to deserts and jungles: Bugs, with his Bronx-Brooklyn accent, has somehow been sent out there in the countryside, among the hunters, as Hope ends up in the sands of Morocco with no weapon but street-corner sass. Once Gopnik clears away the rough, we see the previously unnoticed diamond. Hope, Bugs – of course.But I wanna tell ya’, the entire essay is worth reading, both for Gopnik’s _aperçus_ and Hope’s funnier lines.
NOVEMBER 11, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Last weekend we honored our colleague Peter Freund, who died in June. Peter and George Martin were the co-founders, in the 1970s, of our New York Walk – an unofficial, informal, and very loosely planned event for faculty, students, friends, anyone who wanted to join us. It started as a one-off in the 1970s but became a semi-annual event. Our route usually took us to places like Grand Central Station (Peter loved showing students the whispering gallery there) and downtown sites (Lower East Side, Chinatown). But for Saturday’s reunion, we walked the High Line. George Martin and Laura Kramer, both retired, were there.Faye Allard, our colleague till last year, came in from Philadelphia. Here she is with Sangeeta Parashar.On Sunday, there was a memorial service. More former Montclair colleagues came – Gil Klajman, Barbara Chasin – and spoke.Anecdotes, admiration, and appreciation and were offered also by Peter’s wife Miriam, his sisters and nephews, and several friends and colleagues who collaborated with him on his research and activism all with the goal of reducing the dominance of automobiles, especially in our cities. (Peter was a founding member of Auto-Free New York, and he never learned to drive a car – a decision that was both ideological and prudent.) Food and beer, travel and cities, generosity and humor – these were the recurrent themes in people’s reminiscences. That plus a deliberate unconventionality, often as a gambit to get others to question their usually unquestioned assumptions. Like tearing up a dollar bill or two on the first day of class, and when students got upset, asking them why. Peter had a wonderful golden retriever and had named her Igor. He said it was in tribute to Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant, but I think it was also so he could delight in the reactions of those who insisted that this male name was just wrong for a female pup or, better yet, that the dog would wind up with a confused gender-identity. In a way I cannot quite articulate, this fits with something else Peter loved – British entertainments like The Goon Show, Monty Python, and Gilbert and Sullivan. A female dog named Igor – Peter’s own Python sketch.
Peter Freund November 14, 1940 - June 12, 2014The _ASA Footnotes_ obituary for Peter is her.
NOVEMBER 9, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ National character has been sliding out of fashion for a long time. Here is the Google nGrams chart for the appearance of that phrase in books since 1800.
(Click on an image for a larger view._)Except for a brief comeback after World War II (there’s something about the Germans), the direction has been downhill, perhaps because it sounds so much like ethnic or cultural stereotyping. Or maybe it was because valid research on it was difficult and unrewarding. Whatever. Ordinary people, though, have no difficulty in attributing personal characteristics to entire nations. But as is often true among individuals, people do not always see themselves as other see them. And in some cases, they view themselves and others with ambivalence. Pew recently asked Europeans what they thought of the EU countries. (The report is here.) Things are not going well economically in the EU, and the three traits Pew asked about have little to do with economic policy; instead they tap into people’s feelings about other nations and nationalities. The Economist suspects a generational divide between “older Poles with memories of war and younger ones who admire its reputation for prudence.” Even more puzzling are the French, who give themselves both the highest and lowest ranking on arrogance. Two other countries agree on the former; but nobody else thinks the French are least arrogant. Finally, while six of the eight countries identified Germany as least compassionate, every country saw itself as the most compassionate. Why Germany? People may see compassion as the opposite of self-interest, with non-Germans thinking that Germany should be willing to do more for other EU countries even at the expense of its own prosperity. At the same time, people in each country, including Germany, are thinking, “We’re being as generous as we can.” So there is a remarkable similarity of responses here. Ask “Who is the most trustworthy, most arrogant, and least compassionate?” “Germany.” Ask “Who is the most compassionate?” “We are.”
NOVEMBER 2, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ I confess, I have little memory for books or articles on methods. I may have learned their content, but the specific documents and authors faded rapidly to gray. And then there’s _Unobtrusive Measures_. It must have been Robert Rosenthal who assigned it. He was, after all, the man who forced social scientists to realize that they were unwittingly affecting the responses of their subjects and respondents, whether those subjects were people or lab rats. The beauty of unobtrusive measures is that they eliminate that possibility.Now that states have started to legalize marijuana, one of the questions they must deal with is how to tax it. Untaxed, weed would be incredibly cheap. “A legal joint would cost (before tax) about what a tea-bag costs” (Mark Kleiman, here). Presumably, states want to tax weed so that the price is high enough to discourage abuse and raise money but not so high that it creates a black market in untaxed weed. The same problem already occurs with cigarettes.The above graph, from a study commissioned by the Tax Foundation, shows that as taxes increase, so does smuggling. (The Tax Foundation does not show the correlation coefficient, but it looks like it might be as high as 0.6, though without that dot in the upper right, surely New York, it might be more like 0.5.) In a high-tax area like New York City, many of the cigarettes sold are smuggled in from other states. But how much is “many cigarettes,” and how can you find out? Most studies of smuggled and counterfeit cigarettes get their estimates by comparing sales figures with smoking rates. The trouble with that method is that rates of smoking come from surveys, and people may not accurately report how much they smoke. That’s why I liked this study by Klaus von Lampe and colleagues.* They selected a sample of South Bronx census tracts and walked around, eyes down, scanning the sidewalks for discarded cigarette packs to see whether the pack had the proper tax stamps. Hat tip to Peter Moskos, who mentioned it on his Cop in the Hood blog.
OCTOBER 29, 2014 _Jay Livingston_ How to compare percentages that are very different? A recent Guardian/Ipsos poll asked people in fourteen wealthy nations to estimate certain demographics. What percent of the population of your country are immigrants? Muslim? Christian? People overestimated the number of immigrants and Muslims, and underestimated the number of Christians. But the size of the error varied. Here is the chart on immigration that the Guardian published (here).Italy, the US, Belgium, and France are way off. The average guess was 18-23 percentage points higher than the true percentage. People in Japan, South Korea, Sweden, and Australia were off by only 7-8 percentage points. But is that a fair comparison? The underlying question is this: which country is better at estimating these demographics? Japan and South Korea have only 2% immigrants. People estimated that it was 10%, a difference of eight percentage points. But looked at another way, their estimate was five times the actual number. The US estimate was only 2½ times higher than the true number. The Guardian ranks Hungary, Poland, and Canada together since they all have errors of 14 points. But I would say that Canada’s 35% vs. 21% is a better estimate than Hungary’s 16% vs. 2%. Yet I do not know a statistic or statistical technique that factors in this difference and allows us to compare countries with very few immigrants and those with far more immigrants.* My brother suggested that the Guardian’s readers could get a better picture of the differences if the chart ordered the countries by the immigrant percentage rather than by the percentage-point gap.------------------------------- * Saying that I know of no such statistic is not saying much. Perhaps others who are more familiar with statistics will know how to solve this problem.
This makes clearer that the 7-point overestimate in Sweden and Australia is a much different sort of error than the 8-point overestimate in South Korea and Japan. But I’m still uncertain as to the best way to make these comparisons.
OCTOBER 25, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Why would an apparently happy kid shoot several classmates? That seems to be the question that’s getting the attention of the press and perhaps the public. “Struggling to Find Motive,” said one typical headline. That’s the way we think about school shootings these days. It’s unlikely that any of the motives that turn up will be all that strange. Fryberg may have been upset by a racial comment someone had made the day before or by a break-up with a girl. He may have had other conflicts with other kids. Nothing unusual there. But “why” is not the question that first occurs to me. What I always ask is how a 14-year old kid can get his hands on a .40 Beretta handgun (or whatever the weaponry in the shooting of the week* is). For Fryberg it was easy. The pistol belonged to his father. Nothing strange there either. Thirty million homes in the US, maybe forty million, are stocked with guns. Do European countries have school shootings like this? Surely kids in Europe get upset about break-ups; surely they must have conflicts with their classmates; and surely, some of them may become irrationally upset by these setbacks. So surely there must have been school shootings in Europe too. I went to Wikipedia and looked for school shootings since 1980 (here and here). I eliminated shootings by adults (e.g., Lanza in Sandy Hook, Brevik in Norway). I also deleted in-school suicides even though these were done with guns and were terrifying to the other students. I’m sure my numbers are not perfectly accurate, and the population estimate in the graph below is based on current numbers; I didn’t bother to find an average over the last 35 years. Still the differences are so large that I’m sure they are not due to technical problems in the data.
OCTOBER 23, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Who’s worrying about inequality? It’s not just the scraggly bunch that occupied Zucotti Park, and not just the lefty economists and sociologists hefting a copy of_ Capital in the Twenty-First Century._ Professional Risk Managers’ International Association surveyed risk managers, and they too are uneasy about inequality.The majority (62%) said that inequality poses a risk to the economy. Only 14% were like “What, me worry?” I’m not sure what risk managers do, but I’m guessing the profession does not draw many socialists to its ranks. When you see this kind of concern coming from sources other than the usual suspects (I found this graph in a Wall Street Journal banking page – here), you begin to think that the wealth gap is more than just a moral issue about what is right and fair; it’s a threat to general economic well-being.
OCTOBER 22, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ What do you do when your published predictions prove wrong? How do you resolve the dissonance between your ideas and the facts? In a blogpost earlier this month (here), I looked at the responses of twenty-three economists who had written an open letter to Ben Bernanke warning of inflation unless he ended quantitative easing and tightened the Fed’s monetary policies. Bernanke ignored the warning, and inflation didn’t happen. I made the analogy between their responses and those of the religious millenerian cult described in When Prophecy Fails. When asked about their error, none of the economists even considered that their ideas might have been wrong. Instead, their reactions to the reporter’s questions were: * Ignore. Several of them didn’t respond to the query. * Deny. Some said that everything they had predicted had indeed happened. * Equivocate. Some said that they had not issued a prediction but only a “warning.” Others pointed out that they hadn’t specified a date that the inflation would start. * Proselytize. Most are still trying to donvince others that their ideas are correct. I added that for purposes of reducing dissonance, it helps to get others others to confirm your ideas by agreeing with them, publishing them, and especially paying for them. These affirmations from other people seem to be as effective as confirmation from the facts. Now Amity Shlaes, one of the 23 letter-signers, has expanded her reaction, and the National Review has published it.* Well, inflation hasn’t come on a big scale, apparently. Or not yet. Still, a lot of us remain comfortable with that letter, since we figure someone in the world ought always to warn about the possibility of inflation. Even if what the Fed is doing is not inflationary, the arbitrary fashion in which our central bank responds to markets betrays a lack of concern about inflation. And that behavior by monetary authorities is enough to make markets expect inflation in future. [source: NRO] I’m struck by the moralistic overtones, which suggest that this isn’t just a matter of economic theory. It’s about faith, about good and evil. Inflation is sort of like Satan – supremely evil and always lurking even when you can’t see it. Note the “apparently” at the end of the first sentence – a bit like a millenerian saying that _apparently_ the earth had not been destroyed, and _apparently_ the UFO aliens hadn’t landed to save the faithful. But it will still happen (“Or not yet.”) So we must not let our guard down. Bernanke and now Yellen “betray” a lack of concern. The distrust of quantitative easing sounds as much like Puritanical ethos as economic theory. With their policy of “easy money” – as opposed to money we must work hard for – the Fed chiefs are luring us toward sin and ultimately destruction (or at least inflation), much like the governors of Pleasure Island in Disney’s “Pinocchio.”** ------------------------------ * The title of the post is variant of _in arcadia ego_. “‘Even in Arcadia, there am I’. The usual interpretation is that ‘I’ refers to death, and ‘Arcadia’ means a utopian land. It would thus be a _memento mori_,” a reminder of death. [Wikipedia] ** Earlier posts using this Pinocchio-and-political-Puritanism analogy are here and here.
OCTOBER 21, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Random thoughts on the Sayreville hazing. (If you are not familiar with this case, see yesterday’s Times article here.) 1. At least nobody is accusing the freshmen footballers of bring the assaults on themselves by dressing provocatively – those tight, shiny spandex-like pants, their torsos sometimes bare in the locker room. Nor is anyone saying, “if you don’t want seniors shoving their fingers up your butt, avoid being on the football team” the way women are told that if they don’t want to be raped, they shouldn’t drink too much at frat parties. In fact, the freshmen did know that they were at risk in the locker room. First came the shout: “Varsity’s coming in five minutes,” and they knew it was time to move. Some dressed outside the locker room, pulling on their shirts and tying their shoes. Some rushed to finish their showers, if they showered at all. 2. Sexual assault is about power even when it’s also about sex. The seniors might even be confused by the charges of sexual assault since for them, there was nothing sexual about it. They experienced no sexual gratification or even arousal. What they wanted was to humiliate – always the goal in hazing – and for that purpose, genitals and anus are much more effective targets than any other part of the body. More than the punching or kicking, which also happened, groping a boy’s genitals and poking things up his anus demonstrate power. They say, “This is what we can do to you. We can attack the most private parts of your body and self. ” In date-rape and party-rape, the obvious sexual component allows men to ignore its enactment of power. But for the victims, as for the Sayreville victims, the experience is much more about power and humiliation than about sexual pleasure. 3. The law is a clumsy instrument for dealing with much of what goes on among teenagers. These boys may be charged with
aggravated sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexual contact, conspiracy to commit aggravated criminal sexual contact, criminal restraint, and hazing for engaging in an act of sexual penetration. [CNN]These charges do not distinguish between the hazing offenses, which some of the victims shrugged off as trivial, and far more serious crimes. This “one size – the largest – fits all” approach also applies to the 10th-grade girl who has a topless selfie on her iPhone. She is violating kiddie-porn laws that make little distinction between her and a someone who distributes thousands of such images, and these laws come with a hefty prison sentence. (See Hanna Rosin’s recent Atlantic article (here) on teen sexting.) What happens is almost entirely at the discretion of a district attorney. The broader the law, the greater the power of the DA. As Justice Jackson said 75 years ago, “The prosecutor has more control over life, liberty, and reputation than any other person in America.” 4. Racial comparisons are inevitable, though I will evade them here save to note that in the press and in comments from ordinary people, those charged are usually referred to as “boys,” never as “thugs,” certainly not as “criminals.” 5. While nobody blames the victims for their victimization (see #1 above), some people do blame them for the consequences – the cancellation of the football season and the possible legal punishments might happen to the offenders. In Jonathan Haidt’s schema of conservative moral thinking, these people invoke the principle of tribalism, or as Haidt calls it, loyalty. The victims have gone against the group (the team, the school, the town). They should have suffered silently, taking one for the team. In this case, taking one _for_ the team also means taking it _from_ the team.
OCTOBER 16, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ What to name the baby has become more and more of a problem. A few generations ago, you could give a boy a name that had always been in the family. When is the last time your heard a parent call, “Junior, come here”? Parents in a high-status family could give a son a family name as a first name. Calvin Trillin used to say that his upper-class Yale classmates in the 1950s were named things like Thatcher Baxter Hatcher, III (and had nicknames like Mutt and Biff). In more recent generations, parents have been choosing names the way they might choose a work of art for the living room. It has to be different – you don’t want the same thing that everyone else has – but not so different that it’s weird. And if you are a college-educated person of some taste, an enlightened person, you don’t want a name that’s the equivalent of those cottage-and-stream cliches or Elvis on black velvet.Hence, the proliferation of books with advice on what to name the baby. The graph from Google nGrams shows the number of mentions of the phrases “what to name the baby” and “baby names” in books since 1900.Even during the baby boom (1946-1964), interest in baby names did not increase. That boom didn’t start until the late 1970s. My favorite baby-name book was _Beyond Jennifer & Jason : The New Enlightened Guide to Naming Your Baby_. As the title says, you want to get beyond the currently popular names – the book was first published in the 1980s – and note also that word Enlightened. The title of the most recent edition is_ Beyond Jennifer & Jason, Madison & Montana: What to Name Your Baby Now. _ As the lede in a Huffington post (here) put it, “We’re always looking for baby names that are wonderful but also unusual.” It then offered a list of “100 great names given to fewer than 100 babies in the U.S. last year.” The names on the 100 under 100 are not so unusual as to be weird. Many are revivals (Winifred and Mamie, Roscoe and Chester), some are foreign transplants (Pilar and Romy, Laszlo and Aurelio), some are borrowed from other things – flora and fauna mostly. Then are the last names that have become first names * Baker * Baxter * Mercer * Shepherd * Slater These follow others that have already become widely popular, though they first started out as names that enlightened, upscale parents chose – like Carter as in Burden (b. 1942), identified by the Times as a “progressive patrician”). Last year, Carter was the 32nd most popular name for boys. Here are others in the top 100: * Mason (4th) * Hunter (36th) * Taylor (59th for girls) * Tyler (63rd) * Parker (74th) * Cooper (84th) Like Thatcher Baxter Hatcher, these names suggest ancestry going back to the Mayflower and before that to landed English gentry. But only to our American ears. No upper-class British parent would have given a kid these names. Like Thatcher and Baxter and Hatcher, they are the names of commoners whose family names come from an occupation. These are ordinary tradespeople. (Hatcher is topographical – like Hill or Forest – rather than occupational. It denotes someone who lived near the gate or hatch. Baxter is a variant of Baker.) Parker et. al are not so popular across the pond. Only two of these trade-names made the UK top 100 last year – Mason (27th) and Tyler (37th) – and I suspect that neither of these will turn up very often on the rolls of Eton. In Britain, if you want to suggest good family, you don’t give your kid a name like Baxter or Cooper. George, Harry, William, and James will do nicely, thank you, especially if they are prefaced by something like Prince.
OCTOBER 14, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Today is World Standards Day. “The aim of World Standards Day is to raise awareness among regulators, industry and consumers as to the importance of standardization to the global economy.” It seems like a good idea, everyone using the same standards and measurements. It makes stuff like the Internet possible. It’s sort of like the metric system. Everything from machine parts to scientific reports made in one country can be used in any other country. Almost. MAP OF COUNTRIES OFFICIALLY NOT USING THE METRIC SYSTEMAt least we’re in good company – Myanmar and Liberia. The map reminded me of Ann Coulter’s rant against soccer back during the World Cup. It was, I hope, her attempt to be funny à la Stephen Colbert – which made her a conservative imitating a liberal imitating a conservative. The Colbert ploy allowed her to be more outrageous than usual in her xenophobia and flaunting of American exceptionalism. The increased popularity of soccer in the US, she said, is” a sign of the nation’s moral decay.” Among her supporting theses was this:
Soccer is like the metric system, which liberals also adore because its European. . . .
Liberals get angry and tell us that the metric system is more “rational” than the measurements everyone understands. This is ridiculous. An inch is the width of a mans thumb, a foot the length of his foot, a yard the length of his belt. Thats easy to visualize. How do you visualize 147.2 centimeters?
American exceptionalism is, at least in part, the idea that the rules everyone else plays by do not and should not apply to the US. The underlying assumption is that our ways are better. It follows therefore that we should pay no attention to anything outside our shores, and the rest of the world should be like us.*
As for World Standards Day, we do celebrate it – just not today. In the US, World Standards Day will be October 23, a day when no other country will be celebrating it.
* Often mixed in with this arrogance is a resentment of foreigners who do not follow our example and do not do what we tell them to. The Coulter and Colbert oeuvre must have many examples, but the one that comes to mind readily is Randy Newman’s “Political Science” (this version is from 1972, when the song was new and Newman was young – or do I mean when the song was young and Newman was new?)
_HT: Shankar Vedantam_
OCTOBER 7, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Greg Mankiw regularly comes to the moral and economic defense of the very, very, very rich (here for but one example). He himself is also rich (though without the _very_s) thanks in part to his best-selling economics textbook.(If you haven’t been a student for a while, that $286.36 is not a misprint.) Planet Money recently asked why college textbooks were so expensive (the $286 for Mankiw’s 7th edition at Amazon is actually $17 less than the price on the 6th edition). Their answer: the principal-agent problem. The student (i.e., the principal) shells out the $286, but the decision as to which book the student must buy is made by the professor (the agent). The agent need not care so much about price; it’s not his own money that’s paying for the book. The result is that textbooks cost much more than they would in a market where students were free to make their own consumer decisions or where the agent paid attention to price.* So Planet Money asks bluntly if a textbook author is “making more money than he should.” It’s an economics question, and since Mankiw’s is the best selling economics textbook, Planet Money called Greg Mankiw. But it seems that the person they reached was not Greg Mankiw the Economist. It was Greg Mankiw the Author. Mankiw the Economist might have answered that yes, in a market that operated according to ideal principles, textbook prices would be lower. Under the current system, authors, publishers, and bookstores are getting “rents.” They are making more money than they should. Instead, the answer came from Mankiw the Author, who justified his royalties in two ways: 1. Hey, lots of people get away with this. It’s “not unusual” said Mankiw. When our doctor recommends a procedure, when our auto mechanic picks out the replacement parts, when our contractor buys materials – in all these areas and others, we “rely on someone else to look out for our best interest and . . . help us make an informed decision.” The Planet Money reporter pointed out that health care, car repair, and home contracting are precisely the areas where people complain about getting screwed by their agents. So yes, it’s not unusual (as economist Tom Jones might have said, “It’s not unusual to be screwed by anyone”). But it’s still an economic and moral problem. Mankiw does admit that “there’s a risk” that the agent will not “do due diligence.” “But a good professor would do that.” Economist Mankiw would, I hope, point out that the principal-agent problem is a distortion of the market. It puts the agent in a position of inherent conflict of economic interest, and conflicts of interest make it harder for people to be virtuous. Mankiw the Economist might even recommend a free market that does not rely on the virtue of the agent (“a good professor”). But Mankiw the Author has no problem with the current system. 2. Hey, no big deal – it’s just a few bucks. For students, Mankiw says, “the biggest expenditure is not money, it’s time. Giving them the best book. . . is far more important than saving them a few dollars.” Mankiw the Economist might have said that those “few dollars” are excess profits. Whose pocket those dollars should wind up in is, of course, a moral question, not an economic one. But in his writing in defense of huge salaries and low taxes for CEOs and hedge-funders, Mankiw blends the moral into the economic, so it’s interesting that he omits it from his discussion of textbook prices. The Planet Money reporters, to their credit, turned to other economists (who are not also textbook authors), and they looked at a different textbook market – high school. In college, the student is not the one who decides which book to buy, the professor is, and profs don’t have to worry about price. In any case the student is buying only one book. Not a lot of leverage there. But with high school texts, the school district is both decider and buyer. Unlike the professor-as-decider (agent), the school district as decider-and-buyer (agent and principal) does care about the price. A lot. It is also buying those books by the carload, so it can exert some pressure on price. Consequently, publishers’ profit margins on high school books are only 5-10%. On college textbooks, profits are closer to 20-25%. I’m sure that Mankiw’s book is a very good book, and Mankiw himself sounds like a nice man. But if you want to know about who wins and who loses in the principal-agent problem, maybe your primary source of information shouldn’t be the agent. --------------------- * If the professor is the author of the book, his economic interest runs directly opposite to the interests of the student. The more money he can make the students pay for the book, the more money he makes, so we have the principal-vs.-agent problem. Some schools, including Montclair State, have policies aimed at preventing professors from making money in this way. I think it’s a New Jersey state law. I do not know if Harvard requires Mankiw to give up the royalties that come from sales to students in his courses.
OCTOBER 3, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Four years ago, twenty-three economists (mostly conservative) signed a letter to Ben Bernanke warning that the Fed’s quantitative easing policy – adding billions of dollars to the economy – would be disastrous. It would “debase the currency,” create high inflation, distort financial markets, and do nothing to reduce unemployment. Four years later, it’s clear that they were wrong (as Paul Krugman never tires of reminding us). Have they changed their beliefs? Of course not. Bloomberg (here) asked the letter-signers what they now thought about their prophecy. Here’s the headline:
FED CRITICS SAY ’10 LETTER WARNING INFLATION STILL RIGHTThis despite the actual low inflation. “All of us, I think, who signed the letter have never seen anything like what’s happened here.” Most of the others preferred denial: “The letter was correct as stated.” (David Malpass. He worked in Treasury under Reagan and Bush I) “The letter mentioned several things . . and all have happened.” (John Taylor, Stanford) “I think there’s plenty of inflation -- not at the checkout counter, necessarily, but on Wall Street.” (Jim Grant of “Grant’s Interest Rate Observer.” Kinda makes you wonder how closely he’s been observing interest rates.) Then there was equivocation. After Thursday night’s debacle – Giants 8, Pirates 0, knocking Pittsburgh out of the playoffs– someone reminded me, “Hey, didn’t you tell me that the Pirates would win the World Series?” “Yes, but I didn’t say when.” Some of the letter-signers used this same tactic, and just about as convincingly. “Note that word ‘risk.’ And note the absence of a date.” (Niall Ferguson, Harvard) “Inflation could come . . .” (Amity Shlaes, Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation) The 1954 sociology classic _When Prophecy Fails_ describes a group built around a prediction that the world would soon be destroyed and that they, the believers, would be saved by flying saucers from outer space. When it didn’t happen, they too faced the problem of cognitive dissonance – dissonance between belief and fact.* But because they had been very specific about what would happen and when it would happen, they could not very well use the denial and equivocation favored by the economists. Instead, they first by claimed that what had averted the disaster was their own faith. By meeting and planning and believing so strongly in their extraterrestrial rescuers, they had literally saved the world. The economists, by contrast, could not claim that their warnings saved us from inflation, for their warning – their predictions and prescriptions – had been ignored by Fed. So instead they argue that there actually is, or will be, serious inflation. The other tactic that the millenarian group seized on was to start proselytizing – trying to convert others and to bring new members into the fold. For the conservative economists, this tactic is practically a given, but it is not necessarily a change. They had already been spreading their faith, as professors and as advisors (to policy makers, political candidates, wealthy investors, et al.). They haven’t necessarily redoubled their efforts, but the evidence has not given them pause. They continue to publish their unreconstructed views to as wide an audience as possible. That’s the curious thing about cognitive dissonance. The goal is to reduce the dissonance, and it really doesn’t matter how. Of course, you could change your ideas, but letting go of long and deeply held ideas when the facts no longer co-operate is difficult. Apparently it’s easier to change the facts (by denial, equivocation, etc.). Or, equally effective in reducing the dissonance, you can convince others that you are right. That validation is just as effective as a friendly set of facts, especially if it comes from powerful and important people and comes with rewards both social and financial. ------------------------ * This blog has had previous posts on cognitive dissonance: * You loudly preach the dangers of vaccine. Then it turns out that the one scientific paper supporting your views used faked data. Do you change your beliefs? (here) * You rail against “gun-free zones” as evil and dangerous. Then your son smuggles a .357 into his officially gun-free university dorm, making his room considerably less gun-free. He uses the gun to commit suicide. Do you change your beliefs? (here) * You predict that the Republicans will win the presidential elections because they’ve secretly rigged the electronic voting machines in key states. When the Democrat wins those states, do you change your beliefs? (here)
OCTOBER 1, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ In the previous post, I offered data showing that among professional footballers, wide receivers and cornerbacks, compared with other positions, were more likely to have been arrested. By coincidence, shortly after posting that I listened to a recent interview on WNYC’s “Death, Sex, Money” (here) with former cornerback Dominique Foxworth. Googling Foxworth led me to an April 2014 video from the Harvard Business School. Given the representation – two cornerbacks, one wide receiver, and a running back – I figured that the famous HBS case method was now including cases involving sociopaths. Here is a brief excerpt. The speaker is cornerback and media-certified thug* Richard Sherman.So it turns out the athletes are there not as examples of social pathology but for their particular expertise on social capital, though the discussion winds through many other topics. The other panelists are Foxworth, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, and running back Arian Foster. They are bright, informative, and frequently funny. If you have an hour, listen to the whole thing. If you watch from the beginning, you will also hear the moderator’s introduction of the panel members, which is worth noting for what it says about HBS values. In addition to listing some statistics about their athletic records, Prof. Elberse is careful to specify how much money each of them is making. In the football stadium, what matters most is the final score. At the Harvard Business School it’s income. What’s surprising is not the implicit value itself; it’s that Prof. Elberse makes it so blatant.** ------------------------ * In the wake of his comments after the most recent Superbowl, Sherman was widely labeled a “thug.” The word was used about him at least 600 times on television. For more, go here , or just Google “Richard Sherman thug” and check out any of the 112,000 pages. ** For more on money as the ultimate value, and how this value emerges in ordinary conversation, see this earlier post.
SEPTEMBER 27, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ When sports stories wind up in the headlines and network news, something’s usually very wrong. The news biz, whether print or TV, usually keeps athletes confined in the sports section. So now we have the network anchors talking about Adrian Peterson leaving welts on the flesh of his son, age four, or showing us the video of Ray Rice coldcocking his fiancee in the elevator. Other NFL domestic violence stories, previously ignored (no superstar players, no video), are now mentioned since they fit the news theme. These incidents all suggest that maybe football players are just violent people – men with a streak of violence in their dispositions. This personality trait that allows them to flourish on the field, but too often it gets them in trouble after they leave the stadium. This is the kind of psychological “kinds of people” explanation that I ask students to avoid or at least question, and to question it with data. Conveniently, we have some data. USA Today has the entire NFL rap sheet (here), and it looks like a long one – more than 700 arrests since 2000. Nearly 100 arrests for assault, another 85 or so for domestic violence. And those are just the arrests. No doubt many battered wives or girlfriends and many bruised bodies in bars didn’t make it into these statistics. Are football players simply violent people – violent off the field as well as on? Well, no. The largest category of arrests is drunk driving – potentially very harmful, but not what most people would call violent. And besides, NFL players are arrested at a lower rate than are their uncleated counterparts – men in their late twenties.*Second, some positions have a disproportionate number of offenders. The graphs below show the percent of all arrests accounted for by each position and also the percent the position represents of the total NFL roster. For example, cornerbacks make up about 10% of all players, but they accounted for about 14% of all arrests. (The difference is not huge, but it’s something; there would be a very slight overlap in the error bars if my version of Excel made it easy to include them.)The positions disproportionately likely to be arrested are wide receivers and defensive tackles. Those most under-represented in arrests are the offensive linemen. This fits with my own image of these positions. The wide-outs seem to have more than their share of free-spirits – players who care little for convention or rules. Some are just oddball amusing, like Chad Ochocinco formerly of the Bengals.** Others are trouble and get traded from team to team despite their abilities, like Terrell Owens of the 49ers, Eagles, Cowboys, Bills, and Bengals. As for the linemen, the arrest differential down in the trenches also might be expected. Back in the 1970s, a psychiatrist hired by the San Diego Chargers noted this difference on his first visit to the locker room. It wasn’t the players - the offensive and defensive lineman themselves looked about the same (huge, strong guys) – it was their lockers. They were a metaphor for on-the-field play. Defensive linemen charge, push, pull, slap – whatever they can do to knock over opponents, especially the one holding the ball. Their lockers were messy, clothes and equipment thrown about carelessly. Offensive lineman, by contrast, are more restricted. Even on a run play, their movements are carefully co-ordinated, almost choreographed. Watch a slo-mo of the offensive line on a sweep, and you’ll see legs moving in chorus-line unison. Correspondingly, their lockers were models of organization and restraint. Maybe these same personal qualities prevail off the field as well. Those offensive lineman get arrested at a rate only half of what we would expect from their numbers in the NFL population. Arrests of defensive linemen and wide receivers are 50% more likely than their proportion on the rosters. That can’t be the entire explanation of course. Running counter to this “kinds of people” approach are the other hard-hitting defensive players – defensive ends and linebackers. According to the principle of violent people in violent positions, they should be over-represented in arrest figures just like the defensive tackles and cornerbacks. But they are not. If this were a real article, a journal article, this final paragraph would be where the author calls for more data. But the trend in NFL arrests has been downward, and if fewer arrests means less data but also less domestic violence, that’s fine with me. ----------------------- * Some critics have questioned this comparison since it does not take income into account. Of course, arrest is a fairly rare event, and it would be kind of hard to find a large enough sample to allow for estimates among men 25-29 with incomes over $500,000. ** Changing his name to match his uniform number is one example. For another, once during an official video review of his catch of a pass to determine if he was in bounds, Ochocinco borrowed a dollar bill from an assistant on the sideline, went up to one of the refs on the field, and offered the dollar as a “bribe” to rule in his favor. Everyone who saw the gag found it funny – everyone except the NFL brass, who fined him $20,000.
(Click to enlarge. The graph comes from Benjamin Morris at FiveThirtyEight._ )This suggests that the violence we see in the stadiums on Sunday is situational (perhaps like the piety and moral rectitude we encounter elsewhere on Sunday). The violence resides not in the players but in the game. On every down, players must be willing to use violence against another person. Few off-the-field situations call for violence, so we shouldn’t be surprised that these same men have a relatively _low_ rate of arrest (low relative to other young men). But lets not discard the personal angle completely. If we look at arrests within the NFL, we see two things that suggest there might be something to this idea that violence, or at least a lack of restraint, might have an individual component as well. First, although NFL arrests are lower for all crimes, they are much, much lower for non-violent offenses like theft. But for domestic violence, the rate is closer that of non-footballers. The NFL rate for domestic violence is still substantially lower than the national average – 55 NFL arrests for every 100 among non-NFL men. But for theft, the ratio is one-tenth of that – 5.5 NFL arrests per 100 non-NFL. Also on the higher side are other offenses against a person (murder, sex offenses) and offenses that might indicate a careless attitude toward danger – DUI, guns.
SEPTEMBER 24, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Most of the time, when people talk about humor – TV sitcoms, movie romcoms, comedians, jokes, etc. – they’ll say things like, “That show is so funny,” or conversely, “That show is definitely not funny.” They assume that the funniness resides completely in the joke or show or comedian and that they themselves are objective observers. But as any comedian knows, the funniness depends on the interaction between the joke and the audience. If everyone in the room is laughing, it doesn’t make much sense for you to say that the joke wasn’t funny. The funniness depends not just on the joke but on the ideas, assumptions, values, and knowledge that we bring to it. Some of that background knowledge is knowledge of other jokes. Here’s a cartoon from the current New Yorker.It stands on its own, I guess, but it’s funnier if you know the joke it’s referring to, which goes something like this.* A grandmother (she doesn’t have to be Jewish, but she probably is, and she certainly was in the version that I first heard, and besides, it’s Rosh Hashanah, so we’ll say she is). A Jewish grandmother is standing at the edge of the ocean pointing out at the crashing waves and screaming for help. “My grandson, my grandson.” A lifeguard hears her, runs into the surf, swims out through the rough water, dives under, comes up with the boy, carries him back to shore, performs every kind of artificial respiration until finally the kid coughs and sputters and comes back to consciousness. The lifeguard, exhausted looks up at the grandmother. She looks down at him and says accusingly, “He had a _hat_.” OK, maybe it’s not so funny on the page. If you heard me tell it in person . . . or maybe not even then. Some guys know how to tell ’em (and that’s a punch line to another joke). Anyway, the New Yorker cartoon is a meta-joke, a joke about a joke. But the other cartoons too, I realized as I paged through the magazine, require background knowledge. If someone from a distant culture, or a member of our own society who has not acquired that cultural knowledge (i.e., a child), looked at any of those cartoons, we would have to fill in that missing background. Without it, the joke would not be funny. Of course, then we’d be explaining the joke, and it wouldn’t be funny anyway. You can’t win. But the larger point is that despite our sense that the funniness is in the joke or that the “wonderfulnesss” of a poem** lies completely within the joke or poem, we would be more accurate if we said, “That joke is not funny to me and to people like me.” ---------------------- * Like many other teachers, I’m often disappointed and frustrated by students’ lack of cultural and historical knowledge. On the other hand, when I say, “It’s like the old joke . . .” I realize that most of them don’t know that joke. And if I tell it right, I get a laugh. ** Andrew Gelman and his commenters had a discussion about this recently (his blog post is here).
SEPTEMBER 20, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ This blog began in September 2006, eight years and 1341 posts ago. As I’ve said before, around this season I hear the CarGuys-like voice in my head saying, “Well, you’ve wasted another perfectly good year blogging.” Anyway, here are a few from the past year that I’ve sort of liked. 1. Separate Ways Sociology falls out of love with Malcolm Gladwell. 2. It’s Not About Obamacare and the companion piece Fearing Democracy Anti-Obamacare as symbolic politics, again. 3. The Revenge Fantasy - “Django Unchained” and “12 Years a Slave” This one got noticed at other places, including a website for screenwriters. 4. The Wars on Christmas A Dec. 25 post. “Happy Holidays” goes back farther than I (or Bill O’Reilly) thought. 5. Losing Their Religion - And So . . .? Brad Wilcox says that the decline in religion the cause of less civic engagement. Some data suggests otherwise. 6. Game. Set, Match.com Louis CK and assortative mating. The embedded video clip is from the “Louie” episode that won an Emmy. 7. LOL The many meanings of laughter. Includes a clip of Terry Gross and her apologetic laugh. 8. How to Misread a Graph (It’s Not Easy, but The Heritage Foundation Finds a Way) The title is neither succinct nor elegant, but it conveys the idea.