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.”

Grades and Booze and Graphs -- Gee Whiz

October 21, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

Drinking lowers your GPA. So do smoking, spending time on the computer, and probably other forms of moral dissolution. That’s the conclusion of a survey of 10,000 students in Minnesota.

Inside Higher Ed reported it, as did the Minnesota press with titles like “Bad Habits = Bad Grades.” Chris Uggen reprints graphs of some of the “more dramatic results” (that’s the report’s phrase, not Chris’s). Here’s a graph of the effects of the demon rum.

Pretty impressive . . . if you don’t look too closely. But note: the range of the y-axis is from 3.0 to 3.5.

I’ve blogged before about “gee whiz” graphs , and I guess I’ll keep doing so as long as people keep using them. Here are the same numbers, but the graph below scales them on the traditional GPA scale of 0 to 4.0.

The difference is real – the teetotalers have a B+ average, heaviest drinkers a B. But is it dramatic?

I also would like finer distinctions in the independent variable, but maybe that’s because my glass of wine with dinner each night, six or seven a week, puts me in the top category with the big boozers. I suspect that the big differences are not between the one-drink-a-day students and the teetotalers but between the really heavy drinkers – the ones who have six drinks or more in a sitting, not in a week– and everyone else.

If I Were a Rich Man

October 20, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

I’m probably too late here – the timer on Joe the Plumber’s fifteen minutes of fame may have already run out. Still, he was right to be worried about taxes. It turns out that he owes $1182 in back taxes.

But that’s not the concern John McCain used to turn his name into shorthand for the overtaxed worker. No, what Joe and John were worried about was that 3% increase once his income hits $250,000. To reach that level, Joe’s income would have to triple or maybe quadruple. Still, it’s never too soon to start complaining about taxes on the wealthy, and Joe wants to make sure that when he does reach the quarter-million mark, those tax rates won’t have increased.

Joe isn’t alone in his optimism. Over forty percent of men in Joe’s age range think that it’s likely they’ll become “rich.”

The 2003 Gallup poll found that optimism declined with age. And definitions of rich varied with income. Only those with incomes of $50,000 or more thought that to be rich you needed an income of at least $200,000. For middle-income people ($30-50K), $100,000 was rich.

McCain also took Obama to task for suggesting that it might be better to “spread the wealth around.” The right wing is screaming “socialist.” But more recent Gallup polls show that Americans aren’t all that opposed to redistribution.

Click on the graphs to see them large enough that you can read the titles.

If you believe the poll, you also shouldn’t be too worried that Obama’s tax proposal will cost him a lot of votes.

Dig These New Threads

October 15, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

I passed by a fancy men’s store on Columbus Avenue the other day, and to my admittedly non-fashion-trained eye, the new suits looked very much like the ones I’ve been seeing each week on Mad Men.

Mad Men, for those still unfamiliar with this Emmy winner, is set in a New York advertising agency in the early 1960s. Culturally, that’s the tail end of the 1950s.* What the show teaches us about this period is this: Everyone smoked – a lot. Everyone drank – a lot. And an ad agency was a place people went in those odd moments when they were not actively committing adultery.

Here’s the show’s central figure Don Draper. And on the right, a 2008 Hugo available at Bloomingdale’s.

To me, the suits look very similar – two buttons, narrow lapels, unpleated trousers. And although this Boss man leaves his collar open, if you look at the other suits where I found this , you’ll see a few neckties that look a lot like the one Draper is wearing, though perhaps a shade wider.

The similarity isn’t surprising. Clothing makers have to keep changing the styles to get us to feel embarrassed to wear the same suit we’ve been wearing for the last few years and buy a new one. But there are only so many variations on a man’s suit, so old styles have to get recycled.

Language, too, has its fashions, dude, even though nobody makes money from the currency of words and phrases. But language is nearly infinite, so there’s no need to recycle. Then why is Ta-Nehisi Coates writing this:
I don’t ever want to hear anyone complaining about black people and their conspiracy theories. The cat on the corner – or even the Reverend – yelling about the government inventing AIDS is off his rocker. . .
Or this:
There is nothing troubling about one lone racist nut in a crowd. What’s troubling is the crowd. Dig how they just look on and smile uncomfortably.
Cat? Dig?

Coates is black, hip, and thirty-three years old (the age of Don Draper in 1960, when Mad Men begins). Maybe fifties hipster lingo, like those suits, is going to come back in style. Meanwhile, I’ll be listening to my LP of “Kind of Blue,” man, ’cause I like really dig Miles. That Madison Avenue scene is just too square..

* The “decade” we call “The Sixties” doesn’t begin until late 1963, with LBJ, Vietnam, and the Beatles.

AV Educational Tools - Oh, the Cost

October 14, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston
[Sen. Obama] voted for nearly a billion dollars in pork barrel earmark projects, including, by the way, $3 million for an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Illinois. My friends, do we need to spend that kind of money?
I knew there had to be something wrong with this when McCain said it in the debate. I was pretty sure that the planetarium wasn’t buying the overhead projector I used to use for showing my transparencies.* I was right. The overhead projector the planetarium wants looks like a character out of Star Wars.

And by the way, the project was never funded. (Full story here.)

McCain’s complaint would be like mocking NASA for wanting $3 million dollar for a radio. “My friends, I can get one from Radio Shack for $8.95, and it picks up Rush Limbaugh perfectly.” No matter that NASA wants one that will beam signals back from Mars.

*We don’t have those any more, of course. Now, I have to schlepp my laptop to “smart room,” connect the VGA cable to the video port, reset the CRT/LCD display option, select the User Laptop function from the projector menu, and wait for the projector to warm up.

Ressentiment, Baby, Ressentiment

October 11, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

Sen. Biden: John McCain . . .thinks . . . the only answer is drill, drill, drill.
Gov. Palin: The chant is “drill, baby, drill.”
That missing “baby” was important enough for Palin to correct Biden.

But why? How is “drill, drill, drill,” importantly different from “drill, baby, drill”?

I guess this is really one for the Language Log, but here’s my take:

For one thing, the three drills imply that someone is ritualistically repeating an action without any realistic hope of reaching a goal. “That’s all you do – [fill in your own favorite verb repeated three times: talk, eat, complain, work, etc.]”*

Replacing the middle verb with baby switches the mood from ritualism to defiance. Like “Burn, baby, burn,” in the ghetto riots of the sixties, that middle baby makes the chant the cry of those who feel oppressed as they hit back. They realize that their action may be ultimately destructive, but they are not interested in rational goal-attainment. They want to drill or burn because it feels good now. . . .and because “They” don’t want you to.

It’s ressentiment, the nasty part of our populist stripe that goes back to the nineteenth century. It’s the resentment of the Know-nothings of the 1850s and of Nixon’s hardhats in the Vietnam era, beating up anti-war demonstrators. For much of the current campaign, the feeling had been silent. Was it because Joe Six-Pack had little to feel angry about? After all, his team has owned the White House for the last eight years and all but twelve of the last forty years. They’ve controlled Congress for most of the last 15 years. But resentment is about perception, not real power, and the feeling remained, frustrated and just barely below the surface.

Then Sarah Palin came along. She, much more than McCain, spoke to those frustrations. Paul Krugman, watching her acceptance speech and the response of the Republican convention, saw it clearly.
What the G.O.P. is selling . . . is the pure politics of resentment; you’re supposed to vote Republican to stick it to an elite that thinks it’s better than you.

(That is, it’s resentment against the kind of people who use the word ressentiment.)

I wonder if any of the Palinistas realize that their chant derives from the black rioters of the sixties, people for whom they probably feel no kinship at all.

I was also trying to think of other instances of this grammatical construction “[Verb], Baby, [Verb].” I couldn’t. Can you?

Then on 72nd Street this afternoon, I saw this.

The call to Shine, Baby, Shine and to get “freaky, funky, and crazy” isn’t exactly like the resentment of Burn and Drill. But it’s close enough.

*How can I get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. The joke ends there, but as every musician knows, even if you do practice, practice, practice, you still probably won’t be one of the few who make it.

The Distriubtion of Tea

(or Drawing the Line)

October 8, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

In 1760, the Mason-Dixon line divided North from South. Since then, the line between Northernness and Southernness has shifted. In 1860, Maryland remained in the Union, and West Virginia seceded from Virginia to do likewise, curving the North-South dividing line and moving it lower.

Today, the line can be drawn in sweet tea. That’s heavily sugared iced tea, a Southern concoction going back to the 19th century. The people (person?) at Eight Over Five, a graphic design studio, mapped McDonald’s outlets in Virginia according to whether they served sweet tea. The map looks like this (gold dots serve sweet tea, black dots don’t):

Here’s another map showing the shift in the Democratic vote in 2006 compared with 2004. The redder the county, the more it shifted Republican, the bluer the county, the greater the shift towards the Democrats.

It’s not a perfect match, but it’s not bad. The closest resemblance I could find was the 2006 Democratic Senatorial primary race between Harris Miller (dark to light green in the map below) and Jim Webb (purple to pink). Webb, the sweet tea candidate, won and went on to win the general election that November.
As Brillat-Savarin almost said, “Tell me what you drink, and I will tell you how you vote.”

Shake . . . Or Not

October 8, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

It was on YouTube minutes after the debate ended, and liberal bloggers all over the Internet were linking to it. It appears that McCain refuses to shake hands with Obama. In the video, McCain taps Obama on the back, Obama turns and offers his hand, but McCain, rather than shaking hands, points to his wife, and Obama shakes hands with Cindy. Just at that moment Wolf Blitzer is saying, “It’s apparent that Senator McCain has some disdain . . . for Senator Obama.”

The clip is misleading. It’s taken out of context. The candidates had already shaken hands, and McCain was trying to get Obama to shake hands with Cindy as well, not instead of.

But the canard reminded me of another interracial failure to shake. This one was real, and it had consequences for winning and losing.

In the NIT basketball tournament in 1950 at Madison Square Garden, the University Kentucky Wildcats played the team from City College. Kentucky, under legendary coach Adolf Rupp, was the number three ranked team in the nation. It was also all white. In fact, Rupp had been quoted as saying that a black would never play on one of his teams.

The CCNY team was made up mostly of blacks and Jews. The coach, Nat Holman, was Jewish. As Marvin Kalb later characterized it, “It was not a basketball game. It was a cultural war.”

CCNY wasn’t given much of a chance to win. Kentucky had just taken the SEC championship, beating Tennessee 95 - 58. But after the warm-up, as the teams gathered at their benches, Coach Holman had an idea. He told his team that, you know, fellas, just for the sake of sportsmanship, why don’t you go over to the Kentucky bench and shake hands with their guys. Holman knew what was going to happen, but apparently his players didn’t. As Kalb tells it,
I watched as Floyd Lane put his hand out and this tall, blonde, gorgeous giant turned away from Floyd, which is exactly what Holman wanted...... to get Floyd very upset..... to get all of the other players upset. And Floyd hissed out at the guy, “You gonna be picking cotton in the morning, man!”
Nobody on the Kentucky team would shake hands with the black CCNY players.

Holman’s strategy worked. At halftime, CCNY led 45 - 20 and went on to win the game 89 - 50.

Hat tip: I myself was not at the Garden that night – I’m old, but not that old. This story was first told to me by my friend Dave Fleischner, a grandnephew of Nat Holman.

Whose Line Is It Anyway?

October 6, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

In a thread over at Scatterplot, Jenn Lena said à propos of Sarah Palin in the televised debate, “I really loathe this ‘folksy’ thing. I wish someone would help me to understand what it means–specifically, why it is viewed as a desirable affect/quality by some voters.”

So I did my hair up Tina Fey style, put on my Kazuo Kawasaki glasses, and responded:
Doncha think that just havin’ a plain ol’ mom with good ol’-fashioned commonsense in office is the best way to run the government? We’re in this big economic mess right now, but if we can just get rid of the people who’ve been in Washington for so long, except for mavericks like John McCain, and get some more new people in there, well, gosh, I betcha those mavericks will fix up this economy in no time. ‘Cuz those mavericks, they’re not interested in politics or winnin’ elections the way politicans are, they’re just interested in what’s good for our country. Jeez, I don’t know why you guys can’t see that.
That was Friday. The next night, SNL led with a send-up of the debate. Fey/Palin’s opening lines are so similar to my comment that I suspect Scatterplot may have a lurking reader among the SNL writing staff.

Fey’s part begins at about two minutes into the clip.

Here's the transcript:
FEY AS PALIN: Well first of all, let me say how nice it is to meet Joe Biden. And may I say, up close your hair plugs don’t look nearly as bad as everyone says. You know, John McCain and I, we’re a couple of mavericks. And gosh darnit, we’re gonna take that maverick energy right to Washington and we’re gonna use it to fix this financial crisis and everything else that’s plaguin’ this great country of ours.

LATIFAH AS IFILL: How will you solve the financial crisis by being a maverick?

FEY AS PALIN: You know, we’re gonna take every aspect of the crisis and look at it and then we’re gonna ask ourselves, “what would a maverick do in this situation?” And then, you know, we’ll do that.” (SHEwinks.)

Incidentally, the show did very well in the ratings.

Who's Famous?

October 3, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

These two women embracing – you don’t recognize either of them, right?

Yet they are two of the this country’s greatest sopranos of the twentieth century (or the second half of that century), stars of the Met – Roberta Peters and Teresa Stratas.

They are both now retired – Stratas (the one wearing the cap) is 70, Peters 78 – but even in their prime they could have walked down the street together and nobody would have noticed them.

I was thinking about fame as I snapped photos of them.* Actors in film and television, a handful of rock performers, and a few athletes – those are the only people famous enough to be generally noticed. Some of them need bodyguards. But people who are “famous” in other fields go out in public wearing a cloak of anonymity.

That’s certainly true of people not in the performing arts (writers, sociologists), but it holds even for performers outside of those few favored fields. Someone might be the greatest stage actor in the world, but unless she’s starred in movies or TV, not too many people will recognize her.** Great musicians – classical, jazz, folk – have their fans, but the paparazzi will never bother them. (The photogs in the picture abover were all people who had been invited to the reception.)

Randy Newman tells this story. When he goes to restaurants, he likes to sit with his back to the room. One evening he went out to eat with his wife and three kids, and his fifteen-year-old daughter, first to the table, took the seat he would have taken. His wife quietly said to the girl, “You know, that’s the seat your father likes to sit in.” Newman’s daughter looked at him, paused, and said, “You’re not that famous.”

The hard truth is that the kid was probably right.

* I took this snapshot at a reception following a New York Opera Society tribute to Stratas. My presence had nothing to do with any involvement in opera (I have none). It was just one of those accidents of New York geography.

** Once in the local grocery store, I turned, and there was Broadway star Bernadette Peters (no relation to Roberta) standing two feet from me. Nobody else seemed to notice her, and it wasn
t just New Yorkers trying to be blasé. They didnt recognize her.

Women Demanding Answers

Oct. 1, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

A month ago, I commented that US journalists seem reluctant to press politicians for answers. They ask a question, the politician gives an evasive response, and on to the next question. Or they will allow the politician to speak in generalities rather than insist on specifics.

During the Obama-McCain debate, poor Jim Lehrer couldn’t get either candidate to say how he’d scale back his proposals given the straitened economic circumstances he was sure to inherit. Lehrer was too polite to say point blank, “Here’s the question. Are you going to answer it or not?”

For some reason, it seems to be mostly women who are willing to speak bluntly and demand answers. It took a stand-up comic on a chat show for women (Joy Behar on The View) to tell McCain to his face that some of his ads were lies. And it was Campbell Brown, questioning a McCain adviser, who demanded specific examples of Sarah Palin's commander-in-chief decisions.

Here’s Katie Couric trying to get Palin to say whether human activities are the cause of global warming.

Here’s a transcript in case the video doesn’t play:
Couric: What’s your position on global warming? Do you believe it’s man-made or not?
Palin: Well, we’re the only Arctic state, of course, Alaska. So we feel the impacts more than any other state, up there with the changes in climates. And certainly, it is apparent. We have erosion issues. And we have melting sea ice, of course. So, what I’ve done up there is form a sub-cabinet to focus solely on climate change. Understanding that it is real. And …
Couric: Is it man-made, though in your view?
Palin: You know there are - there are man’s activities that can be contributed to the issues that we’re dealing with now, these impacts. I’m not going to solely blame all of man’s activities on changes in climate. Because the world’s weather patterns are cyclical. And over history we have seen change there. But kind of doesn’t matter at this point, as we debate what caused it. The point is: it’s real; we need to do something about it.
At another point, Couric asks her which newspapers and magazines she reads. Palin is deliberately vague, but Couric asks twice for specifics.

Couric: And when it comes to establishing your world view, I was curious, what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this to stay informed and to understand the world?
Palin: I’ve read most of them, again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media.
Couric: What, specifically?
Palin: Um, all of them, any of them that have been in front of me all these years.
Couric: Can you name a few?
Palin: I have a vast variety of sources where we get our news, too. Alaska isn’t a foreign country, where it’s kind of suggested, “Wow, how could you keep in touch with what the rest of Washington, D.C., may be thinking when you live up there in Alaska?” Believe me, Alaska is like a microcosm of America.
Palin’s supporters have been claiming that the press is out to get her. If they are, asking her questions and letting her speak for herself may be the best strategy.