Talking Sophisticated

August 9, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston
It's very important that -- that there be a robust waste, fraud and abuse oversight of health care, not only in the government programs of Medicare and Medicaid, but clearly the duplicity that we find in our health care system. (Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) at a Congressional hearing, June 17, 2009).
A sensible health reform plan that coordinates and simplifies all government health programs like Medicare, Medicaid and the proposed public option with one easy-to-understand set of rules would reduce confusion and duplicity, and save money.
Thomas M. Cassidy Setauket, N.Y., Aug. 3, 2009 (NYT, Aug. 3, 2009) The writer, an economist, is a clinical associate professor in the School of Social Welfare at Stony Brook University and a former senior investigator with the New York State attorney general's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.
I’ve made my peace with solecisms. I don’t even use the word solecism any more. The linguists have converted me. What I used to call “mistakes” I have learned to think of as “interesting.” These interesting word choices call not for correction but for explanation and even appreciation.

If people talking about a lucky break say “fortuitous” instead of the pedestrian “fortunate,” that’s fine with me. If they think characterizing a relationship as “ideal” doesn’t sound sophisticated enough and instead call it “idyllic,” even though the couple live in midtown Manhattan, hey, I can get behind that too. I know what they mean. At dinner I myself no longer use salad “dressing”; chez moi, we pass the dressage.

But sometimes the “interesting” word choice can be confusing. Like duplicity. Rep. Camp seems to be a conservative, linguistically I mean. He even uses the subjunctive. Correctly. And Prof. Cassidy is an educated man, an educator. But by duplicity, does he mean deception or does he mean duplication? No doubt, both are unwanted aspects of Medicare and Medicaid. I just wish I knew which one to be concerned about.

I guess what a good health care system needs is less duplicity and more singularity.

What Are the Chances – Don't Ask.

August 6, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

No doubt others will be blogging today’s NY Times story, “For Today’s Graduate, Just One Word: Statistics .”

I probably shouldn’t be saying this on the eve of the ASA, but there are times when statistical, sociological thinking is, well, not wrong, but not quite appropriate. Several months ago, on This American Life, a man told of something that happened early in a romantic relationship. I don’t remember anything about him, except that he was some sort of scientist, or at least he looked at the world in a scientific way.

He and his girlfriend, were talking about “how great it was that we were in love and that we’d found each other, it felt so ‘fated.’ And she asked, ‘Do you really think we were the only one for each other?’” He did some quick mental calculations and figured that out of the six billion people on the planet, the number of girls that he could have matched up so well with would have to be a fairly small number – a teeny tiny fraction of a percent.

“And I said, ‘I don’t know if you’re the only one for me, but I think that you have to be at least one in a hundred thousand.”*

It was their first big fight.

Or as Tim Minchin sings,
Your love is one in a million
You couldn’t buy it at any price
But of the 9 point 9 hundred thousand other loves,
Statistically some of them would be equally nice.

It's just mathematically unlikely
that at a university in Perth
I happened to stumble on
the one girl on earth
specifically designed for me

It’s from his song “If I Didn’t Have You,” which Kieran posted a couple of months ago. In case you missed it then, here it is.

* For the record, 100,000 out of six billion is 17 one-thousandths of a percent.
Even adjusted for sex and age, it will be a small fraction of a percent.

One More Reason to Hate Microsoft

August 5, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

Bing is Microsoft’s new search engine, their challenge to Google.

David Pogue at the New York Times says, “in many ways, Bing is better.”

But in at least one way, Bing sucks. It refuses to find this blog.

Today, someone got to this blog by searching for “football players with a sociology degree ” in Google, no doubt, where we were the fourth hit on the list. But when I entered those terms in Bing, I clicked through the first ten pages and the SocioBlog still hadn’t turned up. Even adding specific terms that were in the relevant post (“clustering,” “Coulter”) didn’t help.

If you Google “Borat, Milgram, Goffman,” this blog is at or near the top of the list. Try it in Bing, and you get five hits, none of them this blog (and only one in English – the others are in French, Portuguese, or Italian). Bing adds this note at the bottom of the list: “Some results have been removed.” Just in case I wasn’t already feeling paranoid.

I checked a few other strings that people have used to get to this blog – “sports prediction market,” “Mary Douglas anomaly,” “gee whiz graph.” In Google, we were on the first page of results; in Bing, I gave up after ten pages.

Nobody outside Google knows what their algorithm is. I certainly don’t know Bing’s algorithm. Truth be told, I’m not sure what an algorithm is, and as others must have said, I find it odd to have the terms “Al Gore” and “rhythm” in the same paragraph let alone in the same word.
But whatever it is, Bing’s algorithm apparently has no place for this blog.

La Topless – Passé?

August 2, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

I’ve been leaving breast-blogging to Sociological Images or other sociology blogs. A year ago, I came across an interview with French sociologist Jean-Claude Kaufmann, whose research interests include topless sunbathing. In 1995 he published Corps de Femmes, Regards d'Hommes, based on 300 interviews supplemented with observational research at the beach.

I was going to blog it with a title like “For this you can get a grant?” But I merely filed it away.

Now, a year later, a French magazine reports that younger women at the beach are leaving their tops on. The story went mostly ignored in France, The US and UK press were much more enthusiastic. They played it up as a trend towards prudishness among the young, as if to say, “See, they've finally come around to our way of doing things.”

Time magazine for example, says,
Younger women disinclined to baring themselves make up the majority of female sunbathers; those still willing to go topless are usually older French women.
Time has no data on this. If they sent some lucky staffer to Cannes for an informal count, they’re not saying. Time did check a recent a IFOP survey of 1000 French women (“Les femmes et la nudité”) which oddly enough did not ask women if they went topless at the beach. The Time article, in a desperate effort to show a cultural shift, does a really bad job of reporting the data. There were some small differences between younger and older. More of the 18-35 women said they felt uncomfortable seeing topless women at the beach than did the over-35s (31 % vs. 20%). But when asked their level of “pudeur personelle,” the youngest women (18-24) were indistinguishable from the over-35s.

(For a slightly larger view, click on the picture. Maybe NSFW – if your co-workers have really good vision.)

In either case – bared or covered – the French frame the decision over female anatomy as a matter of female autonomy. Last year, Kaufmann said of the decision to go topless, “le phénomène de la topless reste un choix qu'il exprime le désir d'être libres et de communiquer cette liberté.”* This year he sees not going topless as a rejection of fashion. “The practice has become common, and therefore less compelling as a fashion.”

It would be interesting to compare the situation of bare breasts in France and in the US. Here, topless beaches are few. Instead, the image of women baring their breasts is that of Girls Gone Wild or Mardi Gras – girls getting drunk and flashing a crowd of shouting boys (does anyone remember Rude Norton?).

How different from the French beach scene Kaufmann describes, the men
avec des yeux pas particulièrement expressifs, qui ne démontrent pas d’intérêt, mais qu’ils coulent rapidement sur le paysage féminin de la plage de manière attentive. . . .. Pour montrer ses seins, une femme doit se sentir à l’aise.**
There may also be French-US differences in the matter of quality vs. quantity. Kaufmann says that the unwritten rules of the beach permit that only “beaux seins” be exposed. Asked to define his terms, he says, “Selon les interviewés, de beaux seins sont ceux des jeunes filles: plutôt petit, dur, bien attaché au thorax.

Plutôt petit. Rather small. In the US, surgeons do nearly three times as many breast augmentations as breast reductions. In France, the numbers are reversed. Maybe that’s why when the IFOP asked women who, among six celebs who had posed nude, represented the most gracious female nudity, Pamela Anderson got only 2% of the vote, behind Kate Moss (6%). Laetitia Casta was the big winner, especially among the 18-24s, followed by Emmanuele Béart. (If you are not familiar with these referenced sources, you're on your own.  We're not that kind of blog.)

* “The topless phenomenon remains a choice that expresses the desire to be free and to communicate this freedom.”

** “with eyes that are not particularly expressive and that show no interest, eyes that flow quickly over the feminine landscape of the beach in an attentive manner. . . . To show her breasts, a woman must feel at ease.”