Wanna Buy a Brett Favre Jersey?

December 29, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

After last season, the Jets traded away Chad Pennington in order to get the future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre. Favre then spent the latter half of the season leading the Jets out of the playoffs.

Steven Dubner of Freakonomics writes what purports to be a post about “deadweight loss” and the inefficiency of gifts but is really a disappointed fan’s angry kvetch. In between nasty digs at the great QB (all supported by data), Dubner asks the economic question:

So how do all those people who paid $80 for Favre Jets jerseys feel today? Do they wish they’d spent their money elsewhere? How much would they pay for the same jersey today? Did they derive $80 worth of pleasure from it up to this point — i.e., was the thrill of the first two-thirds of the season worth the pain of the last third?

To answer the question, I checked Craig’s List, and apparently the owners of those Favre jerseys are not rushing to unload them at any cost. I looked in Sporting Goods and Clothing. Here are the results
  • Individuals selling Favre jerseys: 2
  • Asking price: $60
(Three other sellers had the Jets #4, but they were commercial dealers not disgruntled fans.)

For comparison, I also checked Eli Manning jerseys. (The Giants are in the playoffs, having won their division handily with a 12-4 record.)
  • Individuals selling Manning jerseys: 2
  • Asking price: $60
(Jets fans note: dealers on Craig’s List in Miami are asking $55 for Chad Pennington jerseys.)

Job Search - Parody Version

December 29, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

The MLA parodists, Aaron Winter and Andy Warren, are worth detour. This year, they’ve done letters of application and recommendation.

(Click on the image for a larger view.)

The allusions are literary, but you don’t have to be an insider to get most of them. (I never took Latin, but I’m guessing that the motto of their Riverdale University,
Ex limoni ut mellitus, is something like, “When you have lemons, make lemonade.”)

The full file, with links to back issues, is here.

Ideological Purity . . . and Danger

December 28, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

Jenn Lena blogged recently about Chip Saltsman, who wants to be head of the Republican National Committee. To woo Republicans, Saltsman released a CD of anti-Democratic song parodies like “Love Client #9” (raise your hand if you remember The Clovers. No, not The Searchers, The Clovers). OK, Spitzer is fair game, and maybe the song is actually funny.

But what’s interesting is how offensive most of the titles are: “The Star-Spanglish Banner,” “Ivory and Ebony,” and (as Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up) “Barack the Magic Negro.”

The CD title is “We Hate the USA.”

I hope the RNC picks Saltsman. It looks like he’s the man to complete the process started by George W. Bush and pushed along briefly by Sarah Palin: turning the Republicans from a majority party into small cult of the self-righteous.

Their message is, “If you don’t agree with us, you must hate the USA.” Or as Sarah Palin implied, you are not a “real American.” That’s a good strategy for solidifying “the base.” The danger is that it drives away potential adherents. What a contrast with Obama’s message of inclusiveness.

Claiming sole ownership of virtue and truth runs against the American grain. We have an ethic of tolerance for diversity. “My way or the highway” may be O.K. for football coaches, but when national politicians start shouting it, a lot of people discover the attractive features of the broad highway with all those different cars and trucks and buses.

Apparently that includes the highway to Heaven. Most Americans, when asked which religions can “lead to eternal life,” say that the gate of Heaven is open to religions other than their own. By more than 2-1, Americans choose, “Many religions can lead to eternal life” over “My religion is the one, true faith leading to eternal life.”

Even among white evangelicals, despite the message their preachers repeat regularly, a majority thought that Jews and Catholics could make it past St. Peter’s velvet rope. And about a third of white evangelicals thought that Heaven was open to Hindus, Muslims, and people with no religious faith.
(For a larger view, click on the image.)

I draw two lessons from this
  • People at the top are more ideologically consistent than are the rank and file.
  • The rank and file are more tolerant of diversity than are the leaders.
I suspect that the first is an axiom of organizational theory. After all, the leaders are in the ideology business. They spend a lot of time thinking about it, so they cannot ignore or deny inconsistencies. But the second may be a particularly American variation.

The data are from a Pew report. The New York Times converted Pew’s tables to graphs (including three in addition to the ones above) to accompany a nice op-ed by Charles M. Blow on the Pew study.

Taking a Mulligan on the Economy

December 27, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

I often use unemployment when I’m trying to explain the difference between social facts and individual facts. To explain why an individual doesn’t have a job, use individual facts – lack of education, bad work habits, etc. But when the unemployment rate rises by a few tenths of a percent, when hundreds of thousands of people who were working a few months ago are now jobless, we think not about individual characteristics but about “the economy.”

Mills uses this example in The Sociological Imagination, and it’s an easy one for intro sociology students to grasp. But maybe Mills and I are wrong.

Are Employers Unwilling to Hire,

or Are Some Workers Unwilling to Work?

By Casey B. Mulligan

Casey B. Mulligan is an economist at the University of Chicago.

The recent decrease in employment may be due less to employers’ unwillingness to hire more workers and more to workers’ unwillingness to work. . . .

Of course, people have not suddenly become lazy, but the experiment gives similar results to the actual situation in which some employees face financial incentives that encourage them not to work and some employers face financial incentives not to create jobs. [Emphasis added.]

Mulligan must be right. After all, the New York Times is publishing this (on Dec. 24, a Christmas gift to workers), and Mulligan is a professor of economics at Chicago. He must know.

Back in October, the Times published another Mulligan piece saying that “the economy doesn’t really need saving. It’s stronger than we think. . . . If you are not employed by the financial industry (94 percent of you are not), don’t worry. The current unemployment rate of 6.1 percent is not alarming.”

The unemployment rate for November was up to 6.7%, also not alarming, I suppose – just another half million people responding to those incentives not to work.

I always thought that the unemployment rate measured only people who were looking for work. Those who had given up and dropped out of the labor force were not officially “unemployed.” So I’m not sure what Mulligan means by “incentives that encourage them not to work.” Whatever. In any case, in the past year, the number of the officially unemployed in the US has risen by nearly 3 million, bringing the total to 10 million.

That's a lot of people with no incentive to work. But I’m sticking with Mulligan. Not to worry. No cause for alarm. It’s not the economy, stupid.

“Don’t give me a book. I have a book.”

December 25, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

To all Sociology bloggers and blog readers.
Merry Christmas

(Tree stolen shamelessly from Magda of Ce que tu piques.)

The subject line for this post – I’m pretty sure it’s Mae West’s response when someone asked her what she wanted for Christmas. But Google though I might, I can’t find it.

A Child Is Born

December 24, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

France’s minister of justice is unmarried and very pregnant, yet she still refuses to identify the father of the child. Gossip speculation on the matter includes several prominent Europeans including the former prime minster of Spain.

I’m not sure how that scenario would play in this country, but I do remember that Bush’s first Attorney General, John Ashcroft, an Evangelical Christian, had the DOJ spend $8000 for drapery to cover the bare breast on a statue.

But the Evangelical relation to sex and pregnancy is complicated. At first blush, it seems monolithically puritanical – no unmarried sex, no sex education, abstinence pledges. But as the evangelical reaction to Bristol Palin showed, it is also understanding and forgiving. When it was revealed that Palin, seventeen and unmarried, was pregnant, evangelicals were not the first to cast stones. Instead, they seemed to accept the pregnancy as one of those things that just happen. And since Bristol was not going to have an abortion, and since she was going to marry the father, a difficult situation would be resolved for the best. Difficult, but for evangelicals, not at all unusual. Palin’s mother Sarah seems to have taken a similar path (either that or her eldest child was several weeks premature).
As Marlys Popma, the head of evangelical outreach for the McCain campaign, told National Review, “There hasn’t been one evangelical family that hasn’t gone through some sort of situation.”

That’s from “Red Sex, Blue Sex,” by Margaret Talbot in the New Yorker last month. Evangelicals, especially teenagers, face a large gap between values and beliefs on the one hand and behavior on the other. Compared with other teens, they favor abstinence (by a wide margin), fear that partners will lose respect for them if they have sex, and do not anticipate that sex will be pleasurable. Yet on average, they start sex at an earlier age (16) and get pregnant more often. I’m not sure how they handle the cognitive dissonance.

Talbot cites the work of some sociologists (Peter Bearman and Hannah Brückner, Mark Regnerus) on factors that influence whether virginity pledges work – mostly how embedded a teen is in networks (friends, family) that support abstinence. The basic data on abstinence seem to reinforce what should by now be a sociological truism: situational forces matter far more than personal factors like character or statements of intent.

Oh to be in Finland

December 21, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

This is just a coincidence, right?

Which countries would you rank the highest in terms of education?
Darling Hammond: Finland ranks the highest generally across the board.
(From a Newsweek interview with “Stanford professor Linda Darling-Hammond [who] has been the brains behind Obama's education policy over the past year as a lead education advisor on the campaign and during the transition.”)

The [survey] results were combined into an index of . . .“sociosexuality” . . . a measure of how sexually liberal people are in thought and behaviour. Most individuals scored between 4 and 65.
The country with the highest rating was Finland, with an average of 51.

(The London Times reporting on a survey of 14,000 people in 48 countries, a project headed by David Schmitt of Bradley University. )

Sending a Message - But Who's Listening?

December 20, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

The Republicans tried to run on symbolic issues – Rev. Wright and Bill Ayers. The Republicans cried “country first” and whined that Obama “pals around with terrorists.” You’d have thought that once elected Obama was going to make Al Qaeda his chief of staff.

It didn’t work. People voted for Democrats mostly because the Republicans had done so disastrously on real issues – the war and the economy.

Now it’s the left’s turn. Obama chooses Rick Warren to give the Inauguration invocation, and people on the left are up in arms, as though a 30-second prayer were the equivalent of a cabinet appointment.

Symbolic gestures like this appeal to our emotions; they make a difference in how we feel. Symbols are easy to respond to, and the response is often binary. Us vs. them, good vs. evil. Rev. Warren opposes gay marriage, therefore he’s a bad guy.

Policy is different. It’s about what actually happens on the ground, and it’s far more complex. It doesn’t lend itself to Manichaeanism (that’s one of the reasons the Bushies messed up so badly). It doesn’t require emotion, it requires thought . . . and data.

Still, the moralists must insist that symbolic issues are real. They must also claim not just that evildoers are evil, but that “if we don’t fight them over there, we’ll have to fight them here.” Iraq was no threat to the US, but the invasion would “send a message” to the terroists. War as candy-gram.

Similarly, the anti-Warrenists insist that his half-minute as invocator-in-chief, will “send a message” that anti-gay bigotry is all right. As Andrew Perrin over at Scatterplot puts it, “That message will be heard, loud and clear, and it’s quite reasonable to expect that real people’s real lives will really be affected by it.”

Now, I’ve always thought that when someone says, “It is reasonable to expect,” what they really mean is “I have absolutely no evidence to support this.” But Andrew is an honorable man, and presumably he does know of evidence. Still, I’ve been skeptical about send-a-message arguments ever since my days in the crim biz.

Back then, send-a-message was usually a call for harsh sentences in celebrated cases. The death penalty would “send a message” to potential murderers. Long and mandatory sentences would “send a message” to drug dealers, robbers, Enronistas, or whatever evildoer was currently in the headlines. Whatever this week’s crime of the century was, an acquittal or a sentence less than the maximum would send a message that this crime was O.K., a message which would be heard loud and clear, and nobody would be safe.

The trouble was that evidence of actual deterrence was hard to find, and to the extent that punishment does deter, it’s more a matter of increasing the certainty of arrest, not the severity of sentences.

The symbolic messages of celebrated cases make for good TV – the sorts of things Bill O’Reilly types get all riled up about – and they may be morally satisfying. But they have no impact on what people actually do.

If I were concerned about gay marriage, I’d be much more worried about who’s getting out the vote and who’s getting appointed to the judiciary than about who’s praying at the Inauguration.

Deflationary Psycholoogy

December 19, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

Are lower prices bad? In Monday’s Times, David Leonhardt explains the dangers of consumer thinking.
There is good reason to fear deflation. Once prices start to fall, many consumers may decide to reduce their spending even more than they already have. Why buy a minivan today, after all, if it’s going to be cheaper in a few months? Multiplied by millions, such decisions weaken the economy further, forcing companies to reduce prices even more.”
This seemed reasonable to me. Then I thought about all those digital cameras and flat-screen TVs and computers and flash drives and all other electronic gadgetry. People buy this stuff even though they know that in a few months they’ll be able to get either the same thing for less money or a better version for the same money.

With all the doubt cast recently on economic rationality, it would be nice to have some evidence on what really happens during deflation. Do economists have such evidence, and if so, where did they get that evidence? How many deflationary periods are there for us to sample?

Does consumer spending rise in tandem with inflation? And even if it does, there are two possible explanations. One is the flip side of the deflation mentality Leonhardt mentions: buy it now before the price goes up. The other is that inflation means higher wages, and people with increased incomes feel they have more money to spend.

I should know this, but I don't. Economic sociologists, please speak up.

Fifties Food

December 17, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

Jenn Lena has a link to the Gallery of Regrettable Food, a site which looks back at US food a half century ago and asks, “What were they thinking?”

At Sociological Images, eallen has a more thoughtful take. She looks at the ads with recipes for baked bean pizza or broiled spam on canned peaches and chalks up the reliance on canned or prepared food to “the Atomic Age’s fascination with technologically advanced cookery.”

We look back, and we laugh – “Spiffy Then, Hilarious Now” is the title of eallen’s post. Ah yes, we are so superior in what we eat today.

The trouble with this sort of smugness is that its ethnocentrism stops any further sociological thinking. Fifties food was laughably bad. The end. It’s like watching Mad Men and chuckling at the hair styles and habits (smoking, drinking) and boat-like automobiles, and not looking for the less visible structures that shaped work, family, gender, and consumer choices.

A little cultural relativism and conflict theory might be more helpful. Food is fashion, just like clothing. What tastes good, like what looks good, is what’s in fashion. In a few decades, we may look back at Ugg boots and chicken Caesar wraps the way we now look back on poodle skirts and Jello everything.

Also, like fashions in clothing, fashions in food don’t just happen. They are part of history, and they have an industry behind them. The fifties were the post-War era. The Spam and canned peaches were leftovers, left over from the War. More importantly, so was the industrial set-up producing them. These ads are part of the food industry’s effort to create “a peacetime market for wartime foods. . . . factories were ready to keep right on canning, freezing, and dehydrating food as if the nation’s life still depended on it.”

“What the industry had to do was persuade millions of Americans to develop a lasting taste for meals that were a lot like field rations.”

Both quotes are from Something From the Oven, by Laura Shapiro, who also has more than a few words to say about how these food fashions relate to the social constraints on the role of women. It’s kind of embarrassing when the best sociology on a topic is done by a dance critic.

Music and Violence

December 15, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast. Or enrage it.

At Gitmo, “harsh interrogations” include Heavy Metal. We’ve known that for a while. Here’s the latest twist:
Musicians are banding together to demand the U.S. military stop using their songs as weapons. . . . groups including Massive Attack and musicians such as Tom Morello, who played with Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave.

For many Afghan detainees - where music was prohibited under Taliban rule - interrogations by U.S. forces marked their first exposure to the rhythms, played at top volume. (New York Newsday, Dec. 10)

Music as torture –good ideas like this are hard to stop from spreading.
A Colorado judge who noticed that many of the people who showed up in his courtroom for violating noise ordinances were repeat offenders has decided to quit fooling around: new offenders may find themselves sentenced to an hour of listening to Barry Manilow or the theme tune from the children's TV show ''Barney and Friends.'' (New York Times, Nov. 28)
(The judge’s cruel and unusual list also included The Platters and The Carpenters.)

In the US the music-and-violence flap has been mostly about rap. But in some places, even easy listening isn’t so easy.
International: Karaoke singer killed after hogging mic

A Malaysian karaoke enthusiast hogged the microphone for so long that he was set upon and stabbed to death.

Karaoke rage is not uncommon, especially in Asia. There have been several reported instances of singers being assaulted, shot or stabbed mid-performance, usually over how songs are sung.

In Seattle last year, a woman with an apparent aversion for Coldplay attacked a singer who had just embarked on a rendition of Yellow.

Frank Sinatra's My Way has reportedly generated such outbursts of hostility that some bars in the Philippines now no longer serve it up on the karaoke menu.

In Thailand this year, a gunman killed eight people after tiring of endless renditions of a John Denver tune.
(The Guardian)

Billy Elliot -- That Was Newcastle, This Is Flint

December 13, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

I saw the musical Billy Elliot last night. It sets the world of dance – joyful, hopeful, not quite real – against the grim reality of the 1984 coal strike in northern England. As the program notes say, Thatcher was “determined to crush the unions.” And she did.

At the end of the show, as the strike and the strikers have been broken, Billy’s brother, a miner, tells Billy that when he comes back from Royal Ballet School in London, there will be no more work in the mines up here in the North. In village after village, men will be without work.
“We’re dinosaurs,” he says.

He was right. Before Thatcher, the coal industry employed 300,000. Today, less than 1,000, and almost all coal burned in Britain is imported.

Despite the magic of theater, I couldn’t quite suspend my thoughts about reality (maybe because I was far away from the stage – next-to-last row, rear mezz). I kept thinking about Detroit and wondering if it was now like Yorkshire, with the US auto industry, now apparently on the brink of extinction thanks to bad decisions and high costs. It’s hard to imagine a world without Ford and Chevy, but then again, in Yorkshire in 1983 it was probably impossible to imagine an England without coal. I wonder if the people who work in the GM plants – Michael Moore’s friends in Flint – are saying to their children, “We’re dinosaurs.”

We don’t know exactly why the real dinosaurs disappeared. It certainly wasn’t because of government policy. But the NUM had Maggie Thatcher and the Conservative Party, willing to destroy an industry to crush a union. But of course that wouldn’t happen here.

I turned out my computer this morning, and the top story on Google News was a link to the LA Times.
Auto bailout's death seen as a Republican blow at unions
For some Senate Republicans, a vote against the bailout was a vote against the United Auto Workers, and against organized labor in general.

Clearance Rates - Bad News?

December 11, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

Crime is news only when it’s bad. Most crime stories are reports of individual crimes, the worse the better. But even when the media report on general trends and statistics, they look for trouble. Good news is no news.

This week, it was the clearance rate for homicide – the percentage of murders where the police made an arrest. “More Getting Away With Murder,” was a typical headline.
Despite the rise of DNA fingerprinting and other "CSI"-style crimefighting wizardry, more and more people are getting away with murder.

FBI figures show that the homicide clearance rate, as detectives call it, dropped from 91% in 1963 - the first year records were kept in the manner they are now - to 61% in 2007. (From the Chicago Sun-Times)
The big decrease in clearance rates accompanied a big increase in murder that began, coincidentally, in 1963.

It wasn’t that a tide of incompetence was washing over homicide bureaus nationwide. The problem was that more of the murders were the kind where it’s hard to know who to arrest. The easy ones are the arguments and fights between family members and acquaintances. But much of the increase in homicide came from killings committed during robberies or between rival drug dealers, and those murders are much harder to solve.

Clearance rates fell from 91% in 1963 to 67% in 1991, the peak year for homicide. Since then, murder rates have declined dramatically. Clearance rates, too, still continued to slide, though less steeply, from 67% to 61%.

That’s the bad news. If you want the good news, look at the actual numbers of cases.

From 1991 to 2006, the number of uncleared murders declined. In 1991, about 8000 people “got away with murder.” By 2006, that number had decreased to about 6,300. The number of cleared murders also decreased. The real news is that Americans are killing one another far less frequently than they did fifteen or twenty years ago. The clearance rate has decreased because the murders that are easy to solve have decreased more rapidly than the kind that are hard to solve.

So while “More Getting Away With Murder” has the virtue of appealing to our sense of moral outrage, it has the disadvantage of being untrue.

Dumbing Down

December 6, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

Quiz shows on early TV combined big brains and big money. “The $64 Question” of 1940s radio became “The $64,000* Question” of 1950s television. And the questions were difficult – questions you couldn’t possibly know the answer to. Questions that people could get only if they were incredibly smart. Or if the show was rigged, which it was.

“Jeopardy” goes more for questions that many viewers can get. Even the higher-priced questions are the kind that when the contestant gives the answer, you might snap your fingers and think: right, I knew that, and I would have remembered it, too, given a little more time.

Now there’s “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” With “$64,000 Question,” you were far below the level of the players. With “Jeopardy,” you’re in the same neighborhood, though probably on a different street.** But Fifth Grader can give you that Jerry Springer sense of superiority (the show is on Fox, not surprisingly).

See more funny videos at Funny or Die

(When I first read that Sarah Palin had thought Africa was a country, I dismissed it as a canard launched out by the snarky, dissatisfied guys in the McCain campaign. Now, I’m not so sure.)

One final thought. Fifth Grader also rests on the idea that children are superior to adults, a theme that suffuses most American movies and TV shows that have children in them (think “Home Alone”). On Fifth Grader, adults cheat off the kids, peeking at their answers or copying them outright.

I got the clip from Funny or Die, thanks to a tip from Wesleying.

* About a half million in 2008 dollars

** Full disclosure: I was a contestant on Jeopardy many, many years ago.

Would It Be Funny in Japan?

December 4, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

Chris Uggen posted this New Yorker cartoon on Monday.
The funny thing is, in Japan, nobody would get the joke. To begin with, a Japanese cartoonist probably wouldn’t even consider the idea of choice. So Chris’s “I’m in” comment on the cartoon, which I smiled at, wouldn’t be amusing in Japan. Of course you’re in.

Besides that, in Japan, the idea of work after work isn’t a comic possibility. It’s reality. The distinction between work and after work is much fuzzier, mainly one of setting. You leave the office and go out to a bar, but you’re with the same group of people that you work with. There’s more liquor and less formality, but it’s still the same work group.

The Japanese equivalent of the office party is the nomikai (飲み会), though it’s rarely held in the office. Kai is a general term for get-together, and nomikai is usually translated as “drinking party” But “drink meeting” might better convey the idea that the drinkers are also co-workers. More to the point, co-workers often go for drinks together as a group though not at the level of an official nomikai. It’s more like the situation in the cartoon.

Thanksgiving – False Consciousness vs. Solidarity

December 2, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

I guess professors at Harvard Law don’t have to read Durkheim.

Jon Hanson, Alfred Smart Professor in Law at Harvard, has a post on “Thanksgiving as System Justification.” I didn’t come across this post till after Thanksgiving, and Hanson posted it for Thanksgiving 2007 (The Situationist reposted it). Still, it’s worth mentioning.

Hanson sees Thanksgiving as an exercise in false consciousness. He doesn’t use that term, but he’s arguing that the message of Thanksgiving is, “Don’t complain, be thankful.” And when people are justifying and giving thanks for a system that’s basically screwing them, that’s false consciousness. By giving thanks for what we have, we are supporting the status quo.

Hanson quotes stuff he’s found on the Internet (I have boldfaced the key phrases) :
  • your goal should be to move the spirit of Thanksgiving from a one-day event to a basic life attitude. . . . This means being thankful no matter what our situation in life.. . . Are you thankful for your job even when you feel overworked and underpaid? [implying that if you’re not thankful for your exploitative job, you should be]

  • The Pilgrims recognized that everything we have is a gift from God – even our sorrows.

  • The deeper meaning is that we have the capacity to produce such wealth and that we live in a country that affords us our right to exercise the virtue of productivity and to reap its rewards. So let’s celebrate wealth and the power in us to produce it; let’s welcome this most wonderful time of the year and partake without guilt of the bounty we each have earned.
That last one is a bit political – telling the wealthy and powerful they need not feel any guilt – and obviously written for Republicans. But Thanksgiving is inherently conservative. Its message that we should be thankful for what we have is another way of saying, “Whatever is is right.”

It’s right, as these formulations tell us, because it is the work of God. Or as President Bush said in last year’s Thanksgiving declaration, “We give thanks to the Author of Life . . . who watches over our nation every day.” If God is watching over us every day, things must be O.K.

But Hanson misses the larger, Durkheimian insight: Rituals exist for the benefit of the society (or whatever group that stages them). The goal of any ritual is social solidarity, solidarity among all members of the society. Your basic religious ritual, for example, exalts God. But God, as Durkheim showed, functions as a representation of the society. So all rituals are inherently conservative; they idealize and uphold the society as a whole and promote the attachment of individuals to that whole.

The sacred world of ritual may be conservative in this sense, but elsewhere, in the profane world, change happens – change we can be thankful for. I just wonder whether godly conservatives, those who “recognize that everything we have is a gift from God” included the election of Obama as one of those gifts . . . and gave thanks for it last Thursday.

Summers School

November 29, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

I don’t know Larry Summers (though my father was a very good friend of his uncle), but I always sensed he was the kind of guy I wouldn’t like even when I agreed with him. And that was before I read this:

Over lunch not long after Summers took over the presidency in 2001, Ellison said, Summers suggested that some funds should be moved from a sociology program to the Kennedy School, home to many economists and political scientists. “President Summers asked me, didn’t I agree that, in general, economists are smarter than political scientists, and political scientists are smarter than sociologists?” Ellison said. “To which I laughed nervously and didn't reply.”

A major critique of Summers by faculty has been that he plays favorites with subject areas.

It’s from a Boston Globe piece in 2006, when Summers, as president of Harvard, was busy alienating much of the faculty.

Hat tip to Henry at The Monkey Cage, who is, I suppose, smarter than the average sociologist Boo Boo.

Vegans to the Moon

November 26, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

One of those strange coincidences. For some reason, Monday morning I was sitting in my office thinking about Jackie Gleason in the Honeymooners, his Ralph Kramden character stomping about the kitchen in anger and frustration. “One of these days, Alice, one of these days . . . . POW. Right in the kisser.” Or he would threaten to hit her so hard, she would go “to the moon.” These were regular laugh-getters.

Here's a collection of these threats; the first “pow” comes at 6:55 into the clip. [T"his clip is no longer available. But if you are not familiar with this trope, search for “Honeymooners to the moon.”

We knew he didn’t mean it. So did Alice, who would respond – unfazed, arms akimbo, scornful – “Sure, Ralph.” (It was the fifties. “Yeah, right” didn’t yet exist.)

Even so, you couldn’t use that “joke” today, I thought. ’Taint funny, McGee.

The coincidence is that the next day, bellelettre at Scatterplot posted a link to a blogpost by a law professor, Michael Dorf Neil Buchanan*, who asks, “How quickly can norms change?” Here’s his first example of norms that have changed:
I recently watched a rerun of the 60's sitcom "The Dick Van Dyke Show." The story revolved around a woman who was drawn to a man because he was a mean drunk, bringing out her "maternal" side. The final line of the episode had one character saying to another: "You know what we should do? Go home and hit our wives." Raucous laughter, upbeat theme music, roll credits. It goes without saying that this is shocking to us today.
Dorf’s Buchanan's other examples, besides domestic violence, are smoking, the environment, and alcohol use / drunk driving. But what’s interesting is that in Dorf Buchananf’s version, these attitudes change seemingly by themselves. People just change their minds. Here’s his take on smoking:
The driving force in this social change seems to have been more a matter of deciding who had the right to force other people to do what they wanted. This may have been caused by concerns about suffering, but from my perspective it seemed to be more about attitudes toward public cleanliness. Smoking came to be seen as ugly, not dangerous (which people had known even before the surgeon general's report in the 60's).

Dorf Buchanan presents change as a strangely passive phenomenon. There’s no human action/agency involved. Smoking “came to be seen as.” You can’t do “to the moon” jokes anymore “because of a rapid and widespread public acceptance of a new norm.”

Dorf Buchanan, who is now a vegan, wants attitudes on veganism to change, and he frames the issue as a matter of the awareness of harm. Attitudes on smoking, domestic violence, and the rest changed because of a similar awareness of harm.

But how do people become aware? I guess law professors don’t know about “moral entrepreneurs.” Anti-smoking groups, MADD, NOW, etc. If veganism becomes more accepted, it will have more to do with the actions of PETA and other groups than with the outcome of Talmudic debates about the certainty of suffering.

*SocProf at Global Sociology pointed out that I incorrectly attributed the post to Dorf when in fact it was written by Buchanan posting on Dorf's blog.

Mirror, Mirror

November 24, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

I’m skipping the “Self and Socialization” unit this semester. The real reason is that time thieves have been at work, and the term is about two weeks too short this year. But beyond that, I’ve lost my faith. I realize how wrong I’ve been about some basic ideas. Taking the role of other, seeing ourselves as other see us, the looking-glass self – what a crock. In fact, people don’t see themselves as others see them, and I’m not just talking about people who are clearly delusional.

A few months ago, I was interviewed for a TV show – a show you’ve never heard of for a network you’ve never heard of, unless you’ve heard of Ebru TV. Weeks later, they sent me a DVD of the show. It was painful to watch myself. Not because I said things that were wrong (though there was some of that too), but because the person in that real video looked and sounded so different from the person in the imaginary video of myself that I carry around in my head.

A looking-glass self? Maybe, but that looking-glass is flat and flattering. That’s why it’s so distressing to look in those triptych mirrors in the fitting rooms. Or to watch yourself on TV. Who was this stiff-looking guy with the ungraceful walk and a much higher forehead than I remember, this guy who looked like my brother (what’s Jack doing in this video?) and not at all like Gregory Peck?

I didn’t sound like Gregory Peck either. I knew that already, but even so, I certainly didn’t hear myself as others hear me. It wasn’t just my voice, which sounds so much more resonant from inside my head than from outside. It was all those verbal tics – “y’know” and “I mean.” I had no idea how often and how unwittingly I utter them.

Maybe the proper question is not how socialization works. The interesting questions are about the discrepancy between the image we have of ourselves and the image others have of us. Why do we so seldom become aware of the discrepancy? And given this discrepancy, how do we manage to sustain social life?

Taylorism – Ann Taylorism

November 20, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

I had thought that Taylorism was a quaint bit of early twentieth century history. You remember Frederick Taylor, the father of “scientific management,” the guy who reduced each job to its smallest component motions, timing out exactly the one best way a worker could do each step.

Taylor wrote The Principles of Scientific Management in 1911. As early as the 1950s, those principles were already the subject of some disdain. In the 1954 musical The Pajama Game, the principle comic role is Hinesy, the “time study man,” who sings “Think of the Time I Save.”

Taylorism might have been appropriate for work in factories, even pajama factories. From working with a machine, it’s only a small step to working like a machine. But in the service sector, workers deal with actual human beings (customers), so it makes little sense to try to impose the dehumanizing style of Taylorism.

Or so I thought. Earlier this season, the Wall Street Journal reported on another Taylor – Ann – which had installed the Ann Taylor Labor Allocation System, ATLAS.
Ann Taylor spent a year studying labor efficiencies. It established standards for how long it should take for employees to complete certain tasks: three seconds to greet a shopper; two minutes to help someone trying on clothing; 32 seconds to fold a sweater; and most importantly, five minutes to clinch a sale.
The computerized system clocks sales per hour for each employee so that managers can cut back on the hours of less “productive” employees. “Each Wednesday, the new system generates the following week’s schedules, broken into 15-minute increments for maximum efficiency.” Some employees wound up with only a three-hour shift, a ten-hour week.

The consequences were predictable. Labor costs went down, employee dissatisfaction went up. Some workers quit, but that was before the current economic debacle. Strange, but for some reason the workers didn’t like their every minute being measured for efficiency. As John Gibbons, a sort of twenty-first century Taylor, says. “There’s been a natural resistance to thinking about human beings as pieces in a puzzle rather than individuals,” but he adds that when it comes to “clear methods of measurement [i.e. Taylorism], it’s a natural transition to apply it to human resources as well.” Natural somehow isn’t the word I would have chosen for this transition.

It’s not that Ann Taylor wasn’t thinking about employee reactions. That’s why they gave the system that cute name ATLAS. It “was important because it gave a personality to the system, so [employees] hate the system and not us.”

Ann isn’t alone. This week, the Journal reported on similar applications of Taylorism in retail – operating the cash register, folding clothes, making sales.

(Click on the chart to see a larger version.)

So the next time you’re shopping at Ann Taylor, the Gap, Wal-Mart, or any other retail chain store, remember, as Hinesy in The Pajama Game says, seconds are ticking, girls, seconds are ticking.

Hondling with the Bureaucracy

November 17, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

The Department of Motor Vehicles – the epitome of bureaucracy. I suspect I’m not the only sociology teacher who uses it as an example in the unit on bureaucracy. In an intro text, a picture of an office carries this caption: “Bureaucracies, such as this Department of Motor Vehicles, are organized according to hierarchical and rule-driven forms of social organization.” Hierarchy of authority and universalism, just as Weber says.

A few weeks ago, I found a ticket on my windshield: improper display of registration sticker. The glue holding my sticker to the windshield had proven not up to the task, and one side of the sticker had curled away from the windshield.

I didn’t know that the Parking Violations Bureau was so offended by impropriety. Nor did I think that the iron cage of a rule-driven bureaucracy would stretch the rules for me. But I was pissed. So I took some pictures, typed a very brief objection, and checked the box marked “Not Guilty.”

I was pretty sure that their response would be to quote the relevant passage in the law and tell me to pay the $65. Or maybe, just maybe, they’d uphold my plea. I figured that in the rules, these were the only two possibilities – guilty or not guilty.

Instead, the PVB has a deal for me.

(Click on the image to see a larger version.)

So the bureaucracy wants to hondle. They’re saying in effect, “The fine is sixty-five dollars . . . . but for you, forty-three.” And I thought plea bargaining was just for criminal court.

I wonder if Weber is turning over in his iron cage. I’m also wondering what happens if I make a counter-proposal. I offer them $20, and we finally settle at $30 or so. Oh, I know what the paragraph below the offer says – take it or risk an all-or-nothing decision. But what the hell – if they’re willing to knock off a third of the price just because I sent in a couple of photos, maybe they’ll come down a little further.

Food As Medicine

November 13, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

Food as medicine. That was the dismissive phrase David G. used. David has been in the food biz in one way or another for decades, and he has little use for the idea of health-conscious eating. He has nothing against health. He just doesn’t make it his primary criterion in deciding what to eat. It’s like people who go to the race track and base their bets on the jockey’s silks. Yes, the silks are pretty, and some are more attractive than others, and it’s a good thing to wear nice clothes. But that’s not what horse racing is all about.

Food, like sex, is one of those items that gets slathered with layers of cultural meaning. A British friend, decades ago, pointed out to me that in the US, advertisements for food, especially children’s foods, were often all about the energy that food gives you so that you can go out and achieve.

If there really is a culture war, food may be one of the important battlegrounds, except that in the food-culture war, there are several different flags. What’s in a meal? Love, togetherness, Cartesian logic, propriety, health, efficiency? Are we having a healthy meal or a happy meal?

Lisa at Sociological Images showed how different themes got packaged into different TV dinners. It was a great post. Lisa called attention to the fonts, the names, the colors – things you see but don’t consciously notice. Health, it seemed, was a feminine concern.

So I was a bit surprised to see this ad on the commuter train this morning. And I remembered David G.

Why I Am Not in Business

November 10, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

Dave was looking for shoelaces when I ran into him on the street yesterday. He can certainly afford them. After a successful career as a bond trader, Dave formed his own small investment company, and even in these hard times in the financial industry, with jobs, companies, and banks disappearing, he hasn’t had to lay anybody off.

He’d been walking for fifteen blocks and still hadn’t found shoelaces for his sneakers. Now he was on his way to Tip Top Shoes on West 72nd St., which would surely have them. I would have been annoyed; I might even have been curious as to why shoelaces had become so hard to find. That’s why I’m in academics and not business.

“I figure in this economic climate, people will be buying shoelaces,” Dave said. “They won’t be buying new shoes. It’ll be shoelaces. And Shoe-GOO, remember that?” I nodded, and he went on, “I should be looking for shoelace companies to invest in.”

It sounded like he was kidding. Maybe not. But that thought wouldn’t even have crossed my mind.

A Sign of Change

November 7, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

It’s not that I don’t get sentimental and emotional and teary sometimes about political events (like recent ones). I do. It’s just that I don’t care for emotionality as a political tool. I especially dislike the use of little kids in politics – by candidates or supporters. I cringe when I see kids marching carrying signs their parents have persuaded or forced them to carry – even when I agree with what the signs say.

But this is different.

It’s by Ezra Klein at The American Prospect, and you must absolutely go here and see the full photo-story.

It’s spontaneous and not exploitative. And it’s something you would never have seen at a McCain or Palin celebration.

Take a Tip from Me

November 7, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

There’s a new blogger on the block - Brooke Harrington at Economic Sociology. Most recently, she wonders why tip jars don’t get stolen more often. The tip jar is an easy target, often unwatched. Brooke sees the survival of tip jars as evidence of trust.

Yes, but there are also laws against stealing, even when you can probably get away with it.

Economists are puzzled by seemingly irrational behavior, especially when it doesn’t violate the law – like standing in line to vote when it’s almost certain that your vote won’t affect the outcome of the election. Even worse is irrationality that’s explicitly economic. When a person or organization fails to maximize its gain, say charging less than what the market would bear, economists refer to it as “leaving money on the table.”

That’s also a pretty accurate description of tipping, which is another puzzle to economists. But here’s a puzzle for lawyers or ethicists: If you sit down at a restaurant table that still hasn’t been cleared and you pocket the tip someone left, that’s stealing. But what about this: you take half the money, and when you finish your meal, you add it to the tip you leave. The server comes out no worse, but the previous diner looks like a piker, and you look like a very generous tipper.

My father claimed that this hypothetical was a question on an exam when he was a law student.

Two Years Ago - Illinois, DC, Hawaii

November 4, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

The news kept reminding me that this campaign had been going on for two years. True, and things can change a lot in two years. Here's a map, apparently legit, from SurveyUSA.

Exactly two years ago, SurveyUSA completed interviews with 600 voters in every state (30,000 total interviews), asking them how they would vote in a 2008 Presidential Election between John McCain and Barack Obama.

Hat tip to Wesleying, where I first saw this.

Is Realignment Real?

November 4, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

What will the Democratic victory today mean for political alignment?*

At our one-week-to-go colloquium on the election last Tuesday, political scientist Dan Cassino talked about realignment. Some Presidential elections seem to turn the political map inside out. When Dan flashed from the election map of 1928 to the map of 1932, it looked almost like a magic trick. Watch closely – with a click of a mouse, the country goes from nearly all red to nearly all blue.

He repeated the effect with 1964 and 1968.

Did these elections crystallize a long-term realignment in US politics? The 1932 election was the first of five straight Presidential victories for the Democrats. The Republicans, starting in 1968 won five out of six.

But is realignment real? Certainly the realignment Karl Rove predicted – a permanent Republican majority – didn’t happen, despite the efforts of the Bush administration to turn every government department and agency into a wholly owned subsidiary of the RNC.

Now, in reading around in Brendan Nyhan’s blog , I discover that realignment itself may be a myth, existing more in the eye of the beholder than in political reality.
David Mayhews Electoral Realignments: A Critique of an American Genre . . . argues convincingly that so-called realignments are a product of statistical naivete and the human penchant for hyperactive pattern detection rather than a real phenomenon of American politics.
Those periods of Democratic and Republican dominance might just be the result of random variation.
In the sequence of presidential elections from 1856 through 1980, the distribution of victory “runs” by party . . . did not differ significantly from the runs of heads and tails that would be expected from coin flips. Also, in the absence of repeat major-party candidates (such as Reagan in 1984 or Bryan in 1900), a presidential election four years ago holds virtually zero predictive value for this year's election—either in predicting this year’s victorious party or this year’s party shares of the vote
Why do I find this idea so hard to accept? In sports, I’ve always scoffed at the idea “momentum.” The sports announcer saying that “after that interception in the third quarter, the Jets had the momentum” is like a roulette player talking about red gaining the momentum from black.

But voting is not a random event. Voters aren’t flipping coins. They are making choices based on their perceptions of the candidates and the current situation. People may change their ideas when circumstances change. And newer generations of voters may see the world and politics differently from older voters.

So realignment may be real, just not as sudden as the maps make it appear. Our two-party system and winner-take-all allocation of each state’s electoral vote magnify differences. Two states may differ by a fraction of a percentage point, but one will be all blue and the other all red. Maps that allowed for shades of purple would show a much more gradual shift.

*Im writing this well before the votes have been tallied, in fact before most votes have been cast.

The Bars of a Cell

November 3, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight has some information on a question I’ve been wondering about for some time:
  • What are pollsters doing about sampling cell phone users
  • Does it make a difference whether they are sampled?
The answers:
  • It depends on the pollster
  • Yes
The polls in the Cingular-y orange color include cellphones in their samples; the polls in gray do not. The cellphone polls have Obama ahead by an average of 9.4 points; the landline-only polls, 5.1 points.

I did a radio hit the other afternoon with Mark DeCamillo of California's vaunted Field Poll, which does include cellphones in their samples. He suggested to me that it was much easier to get the cooperation of cellphone users on the weekend than during the week. How come? Because most cellphone plans include free weekend minutes. Conversely, one might expect that young people are particularly difficult to reach on their landlines over the weekend, since they tend to be away from home more (especially on a weekend when some nontrivial number of them are out volunteering for Obama). So, while I haven't tried to verify this, it wouldn't surprise me if the "cellphone gap" expands over the weekend, and contracts during the week.

Subprime Wine

November 2, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

If life gives you lemons, make lemonade. If Wall Street gives you a recession, take the subprime cabernet you wouldn’t dare sell under your usual label, call it Recession Red, and price it so that retailers can sell it for four dollars.

They also have a Recession White (chardonnay) and of course, in honor of Miles Raymond, a Merlot.

Racism Without Racists (LAPD version)

October 31, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

Can you have racially discriminatory outcomes without racist motives or intent?

Los Angeles police are much more likely to stop blacks and Latinos than they are to stop whites. And when they stop someone, they are more likely to frisk or search minorities than whites. Here’s a graph from the ACLU report that collected the data. The principle author is Ian Ayres. (The full report and data set are here.)

William Bratton, chief of the LAPD says flatly, “This department does not engage in racial profiling, has not. We have significant safeguards built in to protect against that.”

I believe him. But then how do you explain the data?

One commenter at the Freakonomics blog, where Ayres aired his findings, suggests that the crucial variable is not the racism of the police but the demeanor of the suspect. Maybe minorities, especially young males, act in a way that sets off the warning bells. That’s also what the police union president seems to mean when he says that the ACLU study is “an exercise that might work on a spreadsheet at Yale, but doesn’t work on the streets of Los Angeles.”

Ah yes, the streets.  The standard cop argument is that number-crunchers don’t know what’s really going down on the street. Cops know. Cops have that sixth sense, born out of years of street experience. It tells them whether someone is “clean” or “dirty.” Maybe they can’t put it into words, maybe they can’t lay it out so that lawyers in expensive three-piece suits and judges in black robes will recognize it as probable cause. But the cops know. They know who to stop, and they know who to search.

At least, that is the conventional wisdom . . . in the precinct and to a great extent in the media. (Do we ever see a movie where a cop’s strong but intuitive suspicions are wrong?) If cops are stopping and searching more minorities, it must be because minorities are more likely to be carrying illegal drugs and weapons. And the cops can tell.

Or can they? The data also show that the police searched a lot more innocent minorities than innocent whites. Cops searching blacks were about 40% less likely to find weapons than when searching whites.

This discrepancy certainly suggests that cops, wittingly or not, are discriminating against minorities. Ayres himself seems to favor that explanation.
The department should require that all existing and new officers take the Implicit Association Test (IAT) . . It produces a measure of unconscious bias . . . . For example, the black/white IAT produces a measure of whether an individual has unconscious negative associations with photographs of African-Americans relative to photographs of whites.
But I have different explanation. Mine is also race-based, but it doesn’t assume that police are racists or that they are, consciously or unconsciously, biased against blacks and Latinos. It’s just that the cops’ street sense, their ability to read people, doesn’t work so well across racial lines. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. We know that eyewitnesses are far more reliable in identifying people of their own race than people of another race. And just as we have trouble reading faces across race lines, we may also have trouble reading behavior.

If I’m right, then same-race searches should have a higher “hit rate.” And they do, regardless of the race of the suspect.
the racial disparities in the likelihood of arrest were substantially lower when at least one of the stopping officers was the same race as the suspect.
I picture a scene where a pair of cops, one black, one white, stop a young black suspect. They question him briefly. The white cop wants to throw the kid up against the car and search him, but the black cop restrains him. If I’m writing the dialogue, I don’t have the black cop warn about racism (“Watch it, Harry. We don’t want any Rodney Kings here,”). I have him say calmly but assuredly, “Take it easy, Harry. This kid’s clean.”

Autumn In New York

October 29, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

No sociological content. Just a couple of pictures I took in Central Park two weeks ago.

Conservatory Water

Kerbs Boat House and Reflections of Fifth Avenue

Hold That Headline and Get Me Rewrite

October 25, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

Here’s a headline and first two paragraphs from a Reuter’s story today.

Obama lead on McCain
slips to 9 points

Sat Oct 25, 2008 1:05am EDT

By Andrew Quinn

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrat Barack Obama's lead over Republican rival John McCain fell slightly to 9 points, according to a Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll released Saturday, the second consecutive day the race has narrowed.

Obama leads McCain by 51 percent to 42 percent in the rolling three-day tracking poll, which has a margin of error of 2.9 points. Obama led by 10 points Friday and 12 points on Thursday.

Does the press really know so little about statistics? Or is it just that they work on the assumption that change is more newsworthy than stability.

Here, thanks to Pollster, are several polls all taken in the same two or three days this week. You could pick any two and claim an ominious slip or optimistic gain for either candidate.

The trouble is, your story won’t get noticed as much if it has a headline like this.

Latest Polls Show Usual
Variation Due to Sampling Error

To Spite Its Face

October 24, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

The Virginia GOP sent out a mailer with the application for an absentee ballot. As you’d expect, the messages were all about the threat of terror, the only issue that might help McCain. To make it especially persuasive, they finished with this scary photo.

I guess we’d better look evil in the eye because apparently we’ve already cut off its nose. As the saying goes, you can pick your friends, and you can pick your terrorists, but you can’t pick your terrorist’s nose, at least not if you've Photoshopped it away.

TalkingPointsMemo has all five pages of the mailer. Hat tip also to Photoshop Disasters.

McCain - GI Specialist?

October 23, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

Frankly, I’m puzzled. Here’s a guy at a McCain rally in North Carolina holding up a homemade sign that says, “McCain – The Best Cure for Your Colon.”

I must be hopelessly out of touch, but I’m clueless.

Any ideas?

I found the picture at the website of the Fayetteville Observer a few days ago. The same issue reported that at an Obama rally, several cars had their tires slashed, presumably by people Sarah Palin would refer to as “real Americans.”