Umpires and Allegories

May 22, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

Michael Stewart talked about his new podcast “Against the Rules” at the 92nd Street Y with fellow journalist and podcaster Malcolm Gladwell. The seven episodes of the podcast are about “what’s happened to fairness — in financial markets, newsrooms, basketball games, courts of law, and much more. And he asks what’s happening to a world where everyone loves to hate the referee.”  Lewis says that one inspiration for the series was what happened after a close play at home in a softball game played by nine-year old girls. It happened ten years earlier. But it can easily be an allegory for tactics and a tactician of the present moment.


 (If Blogger has deleted this audio clip, you can go here and listen. It's about 2:20.)

The story continues (to hear the rest of it, get the entire episode and push the slider to about 12:40), but the excerpt here is sufficient. It shows a winning-obsessed and angry man using his position of power to bully an impartial judge. I chose to end the clip at the point where the angry bully says, “You’re fired.” (We’re not long on subtlety here at the Socioblog.)

Lewis has another anecdote turned allegory about a man on the far right becoming enraged at impartial judges who threaten his privilege. This time, it’s Curt Schilling.



(Also here)

 Lewis is worried about what happens when influential people (the stars of sports, media, and politics) encourage people to dismiss the refs as partisan agents helping out their side. In sports, says Lewis, as the calls have gotten more accurate, fans and players have become even more outraged at the refs. I’m not sure he’s right, and even if he is right today, attitudes and behavior may soon change. It’s hard to imagine John McEnroe yelling “You cannot be serious!” and other verbal abuse at the Hawk-Eye replay system.*

But that’s sports. Chief Justice Roberts famously said that what he does as a judge is to “call balls and strikes.” But the courts have no pitch-track machine, no Hawk-Eye, no hi-def, slo-mo replay. So Lewis is right to worry that if the independence and authority of courts and other referees dwindles, the biggest bullies will be the winners even more than they already are.

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* In this anecdote about Schilling v. Pitch-Track, Lewis says parenthetically, “Why they even keep the umpires there is another question, ’cause the machine could just do it.”

Today (May 23), Kendall Baker of Axios sports brings this news:

An electronic radar system called TrackMan will soon be calling balls and strikes in the Atlantic League, an independent East Coast league that has emerged as MLB's testing ground for new rules and equipment initiatives. 

In a simple test to make sure that TrackMan data could be successfully transmitted and understood, home plate umpires were fitted with earpieces that relayed calls to them one-tenth of a second after the ball crossed the plate.

What Do Women Want?

May 21, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

Brad Wilcox thinks he knows what makes a woman happy in her marriage — a helpful husband. He also thinks that progressives are wrong to assume that conservative ideology —  religious and political — tells men not to be helpful. His New York Times op-ed  on Sunday has the defensive title, “Religious Dads Can Put Kids to Bed, Too.” As Wilcox puts it, “Both feminism and faith give family men a clear code: They are supposed to play a big role in their kids’ lives.”

Wilcox likes religion, especially Christianity, and he likes conservatism, so he is happy to report that in his survey of wives, religious conservatives are the most likely to say that the quality of their marriage is “above average.” Score one for conservatives, or as Wilcox calls them “traditional.”

(Click for a larger view.)

But among the non-religious, traditionals are much less likely to be happy, and by a lot (33% vs. 55% for secular women). How to explain these unhappy conservative women?  Wilcox has a hunch. It’s the men they married.

We also suspect that these groups are less likely to have husbands who have made the transition to the “new father” ideal that’s gained currency in modern America — and they’re not happy with their partner’s disengagement.

Yet even though traditional husbands have become more evolved as fathers, there’s one area where they may differ from progressive dads. — housework. The progressive egalitarian man doesn’t just take care of the kids; he also does housework, an activity Wilcox does not mention at all. I downloaded the pdf of his report (linked to in the online version of the NYT piece) and searched for “housework,” “cleaning,” and “cooking.” Nothing.

The conservative/religious dad may be involved with the kids, but the marriage hardly egalitarian. Wilcox’s epitome of the traditional wife is Anna, a stay-at-home mom he interviewed for a book on marriage.

I feel so blessed to have Greg as a husband. His involvement as a father and leadership in the family only adds to my level of happiness.”

Father, breadwinner, leader. From his niche in TV history, Ward Cleaver smiles approvingly.

As for those women married to traditional but  non-religious husbands, they may be less happy for another reason, says Wilcox. They don’t have a church.

We suspect that part of their relative unhappiness, compared with religiously conservative women, is that they don’t enjoy the social, emotional and practical support for family life provided by a church, mosque or synagogue.

Note that even Wilcox won’t say that the benefits of religion have anything to do with belief, faith, prayer or anything else explicitly religious. What nonreligious “traditional” wives aren’t getting is “support for family life.”

I confess that I don’t know much about what churches, mosques, and synagogues provide in the way of support for family life.  Wilcox doesn’t mention anything specific. His phrase “we suspect,” here and in the previous quote, is another way of saying, “We have no evidence for this but we hope it’s true.” So I’ll offer my own guess.

I suspect that for the woman in the traditional sex-role-segregated marriage, church makes a difference because it offers her escape from the home.  Her family roles — wife, mother, housekeeper — are solo numbers, performed in isolation and with little moment-to-moment confirmation from others that she is performing these roles and performing them well.  At church she finds others who will giver that confirmation — the “social, emotional support for family life” Wilcox may be referring to.  But church also offers her other roles — friend or member of some church subgroup or committee — that take her outside of the house.

Since the 1950s, sociologists have worried about women in traditional marriages, isolated their homes all day, while their breadwinner/leader husbands are in constant interaction with a variety of other people in the world of work. Betty Draper in the first season of Mad Men is an extreme if fictional example. I’m sure she has her counterparts in far less wealthy households. I just can’t think of an example right now. What church provides is not so much support for those isolated roles but friendship, even community.

At least, that’s what I suspect.

Ethnic Slaughter, Gang Rape, and Jil Sander Pants, $1,120

May 18, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

What is the right word for this?

(Click on an image for a larger view.)

It’s a page from the Sunday New York Times Style Magazine, which the Times calls “T,” (for Travel, I think.)  This issue is “Everything Old Is New Again: Adventures in Ancient Lands.” It has articles on the Draa Valley in Morocco, the Greek island of Ithaca. The fashion section is embedded in an article about Myanmar.  The text that appears on the page under the photo:

effectively pushing out about 300,000 citizens. Streets and cities were renamed. A law was established in 1982 that rendered many ethnic minorities, including the Rohingya Muslims — an ancient tribe descended from Arab traders, sailors and migrants who had lived in the Rakhine province of the country for generations before the British arrived — as ineligible for full citizenship. Just as the Burmese had been made British subjects by fiat, so, too, were the Rohingya Muslims rendered not Burmese by decree.

In August 2017, Myanmar initiated a round of ethnic slaughter, mass gang rape and the burning and razing of hundreds of villages. Despite the installation of a nominally democratic government headed by the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi the previous year, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims were driven from their homes by Myanmar’s military forces and Buddhist mobs. This latest conflict began when security posts and an army base were attacked by Rohingya insurgents, killing 12 officers. It was apparently reason enough for the military to initiate a massive genocidal campaign. Aung San Suu Kyi, who is the country’s de facto leader but does not control the military, has been criticized for her inaction during the crisis and for her refusal to call it ethnic cleansing. That is Myanmar’s truth, and everyone from the military to government officials has doggedly stuck

Here is a better view of the photo and the caption that on the page appears in the middle of the text.



When The New Yorker in 1963 published Dwight MacDonald’s four-part series “Our Invisible Poor,” based on Michael Harrington’s The Other America, critics were quick to note that MacDonald’s words about dire poverty amid affluence shared the magazine’s pages with advertisements for expensive perfumes, watches, and other baubles for well-heeled consumers. I’m sure that others have called out this same irony in many other places in the decades since. So yes, this blog post is something of a cliche of culture critiques, but I found the juxtaposition just too striking to ignore.

It’s the sort of thing that might be tagged with keywords like neocolonialism or cultural appropriation or exploitation. But is there a word that embodies not only the idea that the commerce of wealthy nations is exploiting poor nations but also that wealthy consumers fail to see that exploitation, even when the contradictions stare back at them in black and white print and color photos on the pages of T?

Stay In Your Lane

May 7, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

Chris Cillizza at CNN pretends to be baffled by Donald Trump’s tweet about the Kentucky Derby. In case you missed it, the horse that crossed the finish line first, Maximum Security, drifted out at the quarter pole, bumping into another horse and impeding another.

Here is the crucial ten seconds showing Maximum Security (in the lead, pink silks) moving out and then back in.



The jockeys of the two horses to his right claimed a foul, and the stewards upheld the claim. They disqualified Maximum Security* and awarded first place to Country House.**

Our Handicapper-in-Chief objected.


(The original tweet had the first mention of the race as “the Kentuky Derby.”)

“Donald Trump’s ‘Kentuky Derby’ tweet makes literally no sense,” says the Cillizza headline. It’s referring to the part about political correctness.

The PC-DQ connection makes perfect sense to Trump, also to his followers, and to me. Political correctness is all about rules, specifically rules that aim to protect the less powerful against those with more power. These rules that limit what the powerful can do and say. Trump likes “rough and tumble.” He decries rules that limit how rough cops can be with people they arrest. He’s upset that police have to be “too nice.” He scoffs at NFL enforcement of rules that protect players. “Too soft.” I could imagine that in an earlier era, he would have had a similar macho reaction against batting helmets or rules against beanballs and spitballs.

It’s not that Trump is against rules and their enforcement. If he owned (or had bet on) the horse that Maximum Security impeded, he would have been screaming for a DQ. But Trump treats rules not as abstract principles to be applied in a universalistic way. For him, rules are just another tool. If they help, use them. If they hinder, break them and denigrate those whose job it is to enforce them —  the courts, the FBI, even Bob Mueller, the straightest of arrows. Trump accuses them all of using their position in a personalized, biased, and self-serving way —  that is, of sharing his own transactional attitude towards rules.

Have Trump’s attacks on these institutions undermined the public’s confidence? The General Social Survey shows no obvious trend in that direction.



Nevertheless, journalist Michael Lewis, in his new podcast series, sees the Trumpian view of rules and their enforcement as a more general trend in the US. His podcast “Against the Rules” argues story by story that Americans have become less willing to stay in their lane and accept the authority of traditional rule enforcers. The initial episode, which Lewis reports mostly from the NBA,  is called, “Ref, You Suck,” a more succinct version of what our president said about the stewards at Churchill Downs.

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 * Trump has consistently argued that the US is in grave danger from outsiders — Muslims, Central Americans, immigrants generally — and that we must increase our spending hugely to defend against these dangers. Still, I’m sure that it’s purely coincidence that the horse he thinks should have gotten the roses is named Maximum Security.

** Sondheim lovers should have been backing Country House, which is also the title of a song cut from the original version of Follies, put back in for some later versions. It’s a husband-wife dialogue about the kinds of problems that don’t usually make an appearance in Broadway songs. (A good version — Julie Andrews, Stephen Collins — is here.) The horse paid $156 for a $2 win ticket. My mother, whose handicapping system gave much weight to names, would have had her money on the winner. Of course, since “Country House” is a show tune, she probably would have be it to show.