Steeler Sociology - again

January 31, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

At the Freakonomics blog, Steven Dubner lists “Ten Reasons to Like the Pittsburgh Steelers.” (He doesn’t say anything about liking them minus the six-and-a-half or seven points.) Reasons like
  • they’re a family team (still owned by the Rooneys)
  • they’re a small-market team (Pittsburgh population – 350,000)
  • they’re named for the work the city does (er, did)
  • they had a nutty, lovable radio guy (Myron Cope)*
and so on.

But here, for sociologists, is one more: Head coach Mike Tomlin, when he was an undergrad at William and Mary, majored in sociology.

(Although Dubner is a Steelers fan, he writes, “The Steelers may not be ‘America’s team’ ”; he doesn’t challenge the Cowboys’ claim to that title. I guess Dubner didn’t read this SocioBlog post from two seasons ago.)

*Dubner says Cope’s voice “sounded like gravel and Yiddish tossed in a blender.” But in fact, Cope had the purest Pittsburgh accent you'd ever want to hear (if you ever wanted to hear a Pittsburgh accent).

C. Wright Mills Orders Another Cosmopolitan

January 30, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston
I passed the night crying while he berated me for – of all things – not supporting his quest to play some college drinking game.
So writes Laney, the former girlfriend of a young Wall Streeter after her introduction to F.U.B.A.R. She calls Megan, her best friend, who has a similar tale of woe. Megan had recently learned that her parents were getting divorced.
The news was devastating and I justifiably fell apart a bit.. My FBF (Finance guy Boyfriend) . . . just couldn’t deal. . . .. A deal that he had been working on for the last year had fallen through, so he couldn’t talk about my parents’ divorce. He needed to go home and catch up on Gossip Girl (seriously). . . Fortunately that’s when Megan called to talk me off the ledge.
It’s unlikely that Laney and Megan, crying and on the ledge, respectively, had been reading C. Wright Mills.
The sociological imagination enables its possessor to understand the larger historical scene in terms of its meaning for the inner life and the external career of a variety of individuals.
Nevertheless, the young women get together for “two hours of psycho-analysis and brunch at Market Table,” and emerge with this rather succinct version of the sociological imagination.
Our FBFs’ recent bad behavior and sudden lack of basic manners had nothing to do with us, it was the recession.

Mills: “They sense that within their everyday worlds, they cannot overcome their troubles, and in this feeling, they are often quite correct.”

Laney and Megan: “We felt our relationships were being victimized by the economy and there was nothing we could do to stop it.”

Mills’s response to the crisis he saw was a commitment to political action and “intellectual craftsmanship” (to social science and writing). Laney and Megan take a similar path. According to the story in Tuesday’s Times, they formed a support group, Dating a Banker Anonymous. And. . . .
Not knowing what else to do, we did what enraged yet articulate people have done since the beginning of time. We started a blog.
You can find the blog here.

Drinkikng, Death, Discontinuity

January 29, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

Last summer, some college presidents suggested that legislatures reconsider the drinking age. They didn’t come right out and say, “Let’s lower it to 18,” but that’s the way their statement was interpreted, and they did point out some of the problems that arise when it’s illegal for college student to drink.

But lowering the age may also have some negative effects. Like death.

In an article in the premier issue of American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, Christopher Carpenter and Carlos Dopkin present data on alcohol, age, and death. The article is “The Effect of Alcohol Consumption on Mortality: Regression Discontinuity Evidence from the Minimum Drinking Age.” Their graph shows the discontinuities.
Laws make a difference. There’s a big jump in drinking once kids hit the legal age (the red line in the graph). And drinking makes a difference. The there’s also a jump in death at age 21, and most of those deaths are from automobile accidents, suicide, and other causes likely involving alcohol.

By the way, for those of us who can’t quite give up the quaint and antiquated notion that economics is about money, the journal also has the following articles:
  • “Many Children Left Behind? Textbooks and Test Scores in Kenya”
  • “Sticking with Your Vote: Cognitive Dissonance and Political Attitudes”
  • “Separated at Girth: US Twin Estimates of the Effects of Birth Weight”
That still leaves a majority of the articles (six of ten) that involve what we used to call economic factors.

Hat tip to Harold Pollack at The American Prospect.

Lit Fans Bid Updike Adieu

January 27, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

(A completely non-sociological post.)

Here’s my story about John Updike. It’s just a rumor, and I probably shouldn’t be repeating it (nil nisi bonum and all that). But here it is.

One of Updike’s most famous essays is “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,” about Ted Williams’s last game. It begins, “Fenway Park, in Boston, is a lyric little bandbox of a ballpark.” It ends nearly 6000 words later with Williams, in the last at bat of his career, hitting a home run.
He ran as he always ran out home runs—hurriedly, unsmiling, head down, as if our praise were a storm of rain to get out of. He didn't tip his cap. Though we thumped, wept, and chanted “We want Ted” for minutes after he hid in the dugout, he did not come back. . . . the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he never had and did not now. Gods do not answer letters.
Famous line, that last sentence. The essay is anthologized everywhere– sports books, literature books, Boston books.

“I arrived early.” That’s the first line of the second paragraph, and that’s where the rumor I heard begins. Updike had been living for years in Ipswich, north of Boston, with his wife and children. But in 1960 (and perhaps other years) he was having an affair with a woman who lived on Beacon Hill in Boston. Updike had come down to Boston that day for a tryst, but when he went to her home, she wasn’t in and apparently wasn’t going to be back for a while. With time on his hands and nothing else to do, Updike decided to go to Fenway. He arrived early.

Had he not been cheating on his wife, had his mistress been at home, we would never have this essay.

Is the story true? I don’t know. I heard it maybe twenty years ago, though I can’t remember where or from whom. I had forgotten it completely until my wife was converting some of our old family videotapes to DVDs, and I heard myself on tape telling it to my cousins. I’ve searched for confirmation on the Internet, but I can’t find anything.

Is it possible that it was that easy to get last-minute seats to a Redsox game? There’s nothing in the essay about it, of course. But as I was looking at it just now, this one sentence took on added meaning.
The affair between Boston and Ted Williams has been no mere summer romance; it has been a marriage, composed of spats, mutual disappointments, and, toward the end, a mellowing hoard of shared memories.

I did meet Updike once. He was walking across Harvard Yard, carrying one of those dark green canvas book bags that were popular with students then, though he was well into his thirties at the time. None of the few people in the yard seemed to notice him. I caught up with him on the steps of a library. I didn’t know what to say. If I had said that I liked and admired his fiction, I’d have been lying. So I said that I very much liked his lighter poems and wished he’d write more of them. We talked for a minute – I can’t remember what either of us said – and as he turned to go in, he said he’d try to write more of the light verse. I think both of us knew that he didn’t really mean it.
Here’s an example of what I meant (I’m doing this from memory, so I might have the punctuation wrong. Roger Bobo was a tuba virtuoso.)

– headline in the Times

Eskimos in Manitoba
Barracuda off Aruba
Cock an ear when Roger Bobo
Starts to solo on the tuba.

Men of every station – pooh-bah
Nabob, bozo, toff, and hobo
Cry in unison, “Indubi-
Tably there is simply nobo-

Dy who oom-pahs on the tubo
Solo quite like Roger Bubo.

Update: A article from September 2008 says that Updike himself, in a 1977 epilogue to the essay, recounted the missed connections that took him to Fenway that day.
I took a taxi to Beacon Hill and knocked on a door and there was nothing, just a basket for mail temporarily hung on the door. A bright brown basket. So I went, as promised, to the game and my virtue was rewarded.
Those last five words seem quintessentially Updike – the combination of being oh-so-pleased with himself and yet being able to look at himself with irony.