Marrying Out (A Story Goes With It)

July 29, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

Brad Wright posts this chart from a Pew report on marrying outside the faith.

(Click on the chart for a larger, more legible view.)

There’s much to be said, but one thing struck me: for people who marry outside the faith, the most popular other faith is
  • either the religion that’s similar (e.g., Orthodox and Catholic, Buddhist and unaffiliated) or
  • the religion that has the most people – i.e., Protestant.
With one exception: Jews. Jews who marry outside the faith are much more likely to marry a Catholic.

I chalk this up to opportunity and proximity. Jews tend to live in places where there are also a high proportion of Catholics. In New York City, for example, where Jews are about 18% of the population, they are far more likely to meet a Catholic (50%) than a Protestant (10%).

That’s my explanation. Here’s the story.

My friend Robert, who takes his Judaism fairly seriously, sent his son Peter to Trinity, one of the top private schools in the city. (Despite its name, it’s nondenominational, with a strong ethical, though not religious, orientation. It also had the advantage of being only a few blocks from his house.)

One Saturday morning, Robert took Peter, then about seven, to shul. After the service, one of the older men from the congregation was talking with them, pinching the kid’s cheek, saying what a cute boy he was, asking what grade he was in. “First.” And where did he go to school. “Trinity,” said Peter.

“Oy gevalt.”

For the next couple of weeks, little Peter walked around saying, “Oy gevalt, oy gevalt” in a pretty fair imitation of the alte kocker.

I knew that Peter wasn’t the only Jewish kid at Trinity. And when Robert told me this story, I asked him what the Jewish proportion at Trinity was.

“Fifty percent,” he said. “Every kid has one Jewish parent.”

And most likely, the other parent was Catholic.

Fast forward twenty years or so. At the end of next month, Peter is getting married. To a nice Jewish girl.

Arlo and Nostalgia - But For What?

July 26, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

The New York Times Magazine brief interview with Arlo Guthrie today opens with questions about “the fuss that is being made over the 40th anniversary” of Woodstock. But the picture of Arlo that accompanies the interview took me back not to 1969 (or even 1967, the year of Arlo’s recorded performance of Alice’s Restaurant at the Newport Folk Festival), but to another performance thirty years before Woodstock.

(Note: this post has no sociological content or import that I can see. If anybody finds some, please let me know.)9

I Wonder Who's Dissing Who Now?

July 25, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

If Gates had been white . . . . That’s the refrain you keep hearing from the left side of the street. There’s nothing else to suggest that racism was involved. Gates himself says as much:
If I had been white this incident never would have happened. . . .Whether he’s an individual racist? I don’t know—I don’t know him.
I’m not so sure. If Gates and the cab driver who helped force the door had been white, it’s much less likely the neighbor would have called the cops. But once the cop is there, and someone is challenging his authority, the scene may end in handcuffs, disorderly conduct charges, and artful police reports. Even for whites.

The trouble is that these two men managed to turn a misunderstanding into a contest of egos, or as Steve Teles puts it, a matter of “honor.” Honor, respect, dissing, messing with. “You don’t know who you’re messing with,” Gates allegedly yelled at the cop. And Sgt. Crowley showed Gates that he didn’t know who he was messing with – a cop. Each felt that the other was not according him Respect. Rodney Dangerfield as tragedy.

I’m asking a different question – not what if Gates had been white, but what if Gates and Crowley had been women? I think the tendency to turn misunderstandings or disagreements into character contests is largely a guy thing.* And I like to think that women would have behaved far more sensibly.

That’s why I was so impressed with Obama’s impromptu appearance at the daily press briefing. It wasn’t just that he broke protocol – instead of letting the press secretary handle it, he came to the press room himself and addressed the reporters directly (“you guys,” as he calls them). And it wasn’t just that he said he’d made a mistake (though that is a refreshing contrast to his predecessor). It’s that he had phoned Sgt. Crowley and tried to resolve the problem.

Here, and this wasn’t the first time, Obama frames things as “This is a problem; let’s find a solution,” when others (like Gates and Crowley) frame it as “Let’s have a contest – fight, debate, law suit, etc. – to determine who’s right (i.e., who’s morally superior.)”

No doubt, the boys in the blogs and elsewhere will continue to frame this as a zero-sum game. This morning’s New York Post declares, “Obama’s Cop Backdown.” What I see as problem-solving, the Post sees as a fight, a contest, a challenge, with Obama backing down.

* Yes, I’m well aware that the best-known statement on respect, clearly spelling out the concept and its importance, is by a woman. And yes, elsewhere in the culture, Ann Coulter is, as far as I know, a woman. But few generalizations about gender differences apply to all cases.

Tumult in Harvard Square

July 24, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

“Tumultuous” was the part of the Henry Louis Gates story that seemed most unusual. White cop arrests a black man who has committed no crime except to challenge the cop’s authority – nothing much new here. But I don’t usually think of tumultuous as a word that comes quickly to the tongues of cops on the street, even around Harvard Square. But there it was in the report: Gates had been “exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior.”

I’d forgotten that a police department is a bureaucracy, part of the larger bureaucratic structure of the law. The cop on the street may be just an ordinary male responding to a challenge to his authority. But the cop in the precinct writing up the report is a bureaucrat. And part of bureaucratic work is making cases conform to the regulations as written.*

Here’s one relevant passage from the ruling case in Massachusetts law on disorderly conduct:
to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof, he: (a) engages in fighting or threatening, or in violent or tumultuous behavior;
OK, that accounts for tumultuous. But why did Officer Crowley ask Gates to come out of his own house?
Explaining for the first time why he lured Gates out of his home, Crowley said he sought to protect himself and Gates from a potential intruder as he responded to a call for breaking and entering. (Boston Herald)
The explanation comes a day or two after the fact, or rather, after the facts, including the fact that Gates is a man in his late fifties who walks with a cane, and the fact that he showed the cop his ID.

This post-facto pretext went down well in the conservative press. The Wall Street Journal used it as what it called a “teaching moment”:
one lesson is that it’s usually better to cooperate during encounters with law enforcement so that matters don’t escalate needlessly. And if a cop asks you to step out on the porch, or away from your car, it’s probably because he’s concerned for his own safety.
Maybe the cop is thinking about his own safety. But maybe he’s also thinking about the law on disorderly conduct, which requires that the behavior be public.
`Public' means affecting or likely to affect persons in a place to which the public or a substantial group has access.'. . .
Inside your own house is not “public.” So if you want my name and badge number, step outside here where there are other people, and then . . . . you’re under arrest for disorderly conduct.

*According to one analysis, it was not the arresting officer who wrote up the report. Instead it was left to two officers who were perhaps more versed in the language of the law.

(Note: Much of what I’ve said here, it turns out, was already said by Mark Kleiman on his blog. Mark’s post is more detailed, somewhat more technical, and just generally better.)

No Protest on Protestants

July 24, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

The conservative reaction to the Sotomayor nomination amply illustrated invisibility cloak worn by privilege. When some characteristic is the default setting (like white male for Supreme Court justices), it goes unnoticed, and we never think to ask what its effect might be. Only when someone doesn’t conform to the default do we worry about the influence their experiences might have. (See my earlier post here.)

Andrew Gelman posting at finds another example. The New York Times asked “legal experts” what questions they might like to ask at the hearings. Blogger Ann Althouse summoned up her legal expertise to ask.
If a diverse array of justices is desirable, should we not be concerned that if you are confirmed, six out of the nine justices will be Roman Catholics, or is it somehow wrong to start paying attention to the extreme overrepresentation of Catholicism on the court at the moment when we have our first Hispanic nominee?
Gelman reminds us – and provides a graph, of course, to show – that for nearly all of its history, the Court had an overwhelming majority of Protestants. Yet in all that time, no legal experts seem to have been concerned or even to have noticed.
I can't imagine that, when, say, Charles Evans Hughes was being nominated for his Supreme Court seat, that somebody asked him: “Is it somehow wrong to start paying attention to the extreme overrepresentation of Protestantism on the court at the moment when we have our umpteenth white nominee?”

Faculty Without Students

July 21, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

I’m looking at low enrollments in some courses for the fall. The administration here pays attention to these numbers, and I may even have to cancel some sections.

So I took notice when I saw a recent paper called “Faculty Without Students: Resource Allocation in Higher Education” by William R. Johnson and Sarah Tuner.

The math department at Princeton, they report, has 58 faculty plus 8 visitors. It has 66 undergraduate math majors (a number that is nearly double what it was in 2007).

A student-faculty ratio of 1.0 or less is unusual.* But if you want to find low ratios like that, don’t go to sociology. Or any of the social sciences.

Here are two graphs from Johnson and Turner’s paper.

Click on the images if you want to actually see the graphs.

Student-faculty ratios are higher in the social sciences. They also show greater variation.

Political science is the interesting case here. Generally, the mean ratio increases with the popularity of a major. But in that case, psychology and English should have greater means and ranges than political science.

(Bleg: If anyone knows how to get Blogger to show a jpeg at a viewable size, please tell me.)

* In a post a couple of years ago, I told of my disillusionment at finding out that some “professors” never taught courses at all.

Everett Hughes at the Pump

July 20, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

“I don’t know how to do this. I’m from New Jersey.” The fortyish woman had gotten out of her SUV and was standing there by the gas pump looking befuddled. *

It was a small, two-pump Mobil station just off Rte. 84 in Connecticut, and my wife and I had stopped for gas on our way to Boston for my niece’s wedding.** The Jersey woman was also on her way to Boston, taking her teenage daughter to see Rent. She was a law-abiding woman, and in New Jersey, it’s illegal to pump your own gas. The Garden State does not trust its citizens to perform this delicate operation that is better left to professionals. Gas station attendants must take eight hours of training, and no doubt some of that time is devoted to nozzle technique. (On the other hand, if you want a clean windshield, do it yourself, buddy. The squeegee’s over there.)

My wife showed our fellow traveler how to unscrew the gas cap, dip her credit card, lift the nozzle, and so on. I thought about Everett Hughes.

In his course on work and professions, Hughes reflected on who was allowed to do what in an occupation. The rationale was always about the training and expertise necessary for the protection of the public. But when you looked at changes in the distribution of these tasks, you began to see an effort retain control and limit access.

To become a pharmacist required a two-year course of study. But in World War II, when the military needed druggists – and fast – the army started turning out 90-day wonders. For a long time, only MDs were allowed to give injections. Only when doctors had more complicated tasks that filled their time did the AMA change its mind and agree that on second thought maybe handling a hypodermic syringe was something a nurse might be capable of. There must be many more examples in medicine and in other professions.

Someday, even drivers in New Jersey and Oregon may be allowed to pump their own gas.

* No, the woman was not Mischa Barton. I just grabbed this pic from Google Images.

**A wonderful wedding, by the way. Pictures available on request.

Sotomayor and "Master Status"

July 15, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

In the Sotomayor confirmation hearings, Republicans have swarmed on Ricci v. DeStefano, the New Haven firefighters case. To hear them tell it, Sotomayor flung the law aside in upholding the lower court decision. She, the majority of the Second Circuit Court, the Federal judge who wrote the original opinion, and the four dissenting Supreme Court justices all based their opinions entirely on a preference for blacks and Hispanics and an animus towards whites. They didn’t consider the law.

By contrast, the five males (four of them white) on the Supreme Court who sided with the white male plaintiffs based their decision wholly and impartially on the law. Their race had nothing to do with it.

The Republican strategy depends on the tendency for privilege to remain invisible. I’ve commented on this before, here and more recently in a post called “White Is Not a Race” White is the default setting, the one we take for granted. Because it’s usually invisible, we can’t see how it could affect the way we think.

For the Republicans, Sotomayor’s race and gender are what Everett Hughes called “master status” – the dominating fact about her. So they assume that these characteristics control everything she does, including her legal opinions. Unfortunately for their argument, they can find nothing in those opinions that confirms this idea, except perhaps her brief statement in Ricci. Instead, they must ignore the large volume of opinions she has written (more than those of recent Court nominees) and focus on speeches in nonlegal venues.

In any case, the hearings have only ritualistic value and are without real consequence. The Senate will confirm Sotomayor, and the Court will have its first Latina, wise or otherwise.

NY ♥ France

Le 14 juillet 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

The anti-French campaign by the Cheney-Bush administration and friends never had much success in New York. Elsewhere in America, people were dumping Bordeaux and serving “freedom fries,” but not here. A Stuff New Yorkers Like blog would have to have France near the top of the list.

So Sunday’s French street fair was packed.

(Click on a picture for a larger version.)

Food, of course, was much in evidence.

(Maybe you make crème brulée, but you probably don’t brown the top using an acetylene torch.)

There were macarons, but they were not from Ladurée, the only macarons source for true Parisians. As the snarky Stuff Parisians Like put it in their first post:
Parisians lack imagination. Baby Shower? Macarons Ladurée. Birthday party ? Macarons Ladurée. Thank you note? Macarons Ladurée. Dinner party? Macarons Ladurée. Weekend in Normandy? Macarons Ladurée.
Le macaron has become a key social lubricant in Paris. While most Parisians have given up on ancestral guilty pleasures (sex, drugs, alcohol), very few will say no to the modern form of socially acceptable vice: Le Macaron Ladurée.
There was even boules game.

From the improvised sign, I’d guess that this was a last minute addition. And because they call it pétanque rather than boules, I’d also guess that the people involved are from the South. It took me back to Laurence Wylie’s classic ethnography Village in the Vaucluse, which taught me the difference between pointer and tirer.

Last but not least, the Deux Chevaux.

Certain cars stand as icons for their country; they embody important cultural themes. The Rolls Royce, the Ferrari, the Mercedes, the Volvo. But it’s hard to know what to say about the 2 CV.

Data? We Don't Need No Stinking Data.

July 13, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

There it was again, the phrase that makes me cringe. This time it was in a letter to the New York Times Magazine in response to a column by Rob Walker on a marketing strategy the Hyatt Hotel chain was using to increase customer loyalty. The hotel would give “random acts of generosity” (like picking up your bar tab) in hopes of generating gratitude.

Walker also cited some supporting research from a management journal. That was his mistake. The letter writer knew better.
Well, we finally know why the American economy is in trouble. The Journal of Marketing accepted an academic paper exploring whether gratitude kindles a feeling of obligation. Could anything be more patently obvious without any research? John Milton knew this 400 years ago: “The debt immense of endless gratitude.”
-- Bob House, Phoenix [emphasis added]
Mr. House did not use the customary phrase, “we don’t need research to tell us,” though he did say flatly that such research is not only unnecessary but harmful to the economy. Who needs data when you have Paradise Lost?

Week one in my course I tell students that even when an idea is obvious, we still need to get evidence to confirm it. I don’t mention gratitude, though I do cite other obvious facts, like the fact that far more people die in fires each year than by drowning, a fact well supported by logic and common sense, though unfortunately not by the evidence.

Sometimes speakers use “we don’t need statistics” after they’ve cited the statistics. More often, when someone says, “We don’t need statistics to tell us. . . .” it’s a pretty good bet that there are no data to support the statement, or worse, that the evidence supports an opposite conclusion. Here are a couple of samples from my files:

Does watching porn or listening rap make kids more promiscuous? Why waste time figuring out how to get data on the question? Just take it from Irving Kristol (William’s dad) from some years back writing in the Wall Street Journal:
is it not reasonable to think that there may also be such a connection between our popular culture and the plagues of sexual promiscuity among teenagers, teenage illegitimacy, and, yes, the increasing number of rapes committed by teenagers? Here again, we don’t really need social science to confirm what common sense and common observations tell us to be the case.
Can anyone really believe that soft porn in our Hollywood movies, hard porn in our cable movies, and violent porn in our “rap” music is without effect?
By “here again,” he apparently means that there are several other areas where we are better off not trying to get evidence.

Is the death penalty more of a deterrent than long prison terms? No point in doing all those regressions. Just take it from Charles Rice, a law professor at Notre Dame, writing in The New American
The best evidence that the death penalty has a uniquely deterrent impact . . . is not based on statistics but is rather based on common sense and experience. Death is an awesome and awful penalty, qualitatively different from a prison term . . . Common sense can sufficiently verify that the prospect of punishment by death does exert a restraining effect on some criminals who would otherwise commit a capital crime.

For what it’s worth, I did a quick Internet search. Here are the results.
  • “We don’t need studies” - Google - 791; Bing - 605
  • “We don’t need statistics” Google - 329, Bing - 262
Of course, we don’t really need statistics to tell us that these phrases are a refuge for those who have no evidence.

Are Drugs Still Trumps?

July 8, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

For decades, drug policy in the US was based on a kind of hysteria, with lawmakers trying to outdo one another in dreaming up harsher and harsher punishments. Slowly but surely, drug laws are becoming more rational. But there are still people who think they can win an argument by shouting “drugs!” in a crowded-prison debate. They toss “drugs” out like a high trump card to sweep everything else off the table.

A few days ago, the Times ran an article by reporter Erik Ekholm on the children of parents who are incarcerated. Ekholm cited research, by sociologists such as the redoubtable Sara Wakefield, showing that having a parent sent away to prison does not generally contribute greatly to a kid’s well-being.

In the spirit of fair and balanced journalism, Ekholm was required to give space to the lock-’em-up folks, so he gives us “Heather MacDonald, a legal expert at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative research group.”
“A large portion of fathers were imprisoned on violence or drug-trafficking charges,” she said. “What would be the effects on other children in the neighborhood if those men are out there?”
Note Ms. MacDonald’s equation of violence and “drug-trafficking,” as though the person selling crack or heroin to willing customers were indistinguishable from an armed robber. I guess Ms. MacDonald has been watching reruns of Al Pacino’s Scarface rather than reading Sudhir Vankatesh (or the Montclair SocioBlog).

Nor, apparently, has she been talking with conservative economists down the hall at the Manhattan Institute, for she also seems to think that locking up drug sellers reduces the total number of drug sellers in the neighborhood. This fantasy is not only contradicted by empirical research (and by common knowledge); it also runs counter to what would be predicted by principles free-market economics. Market forces bring new dealers to replace the ones the police have just swept off the street.

(Hat tip: Todd Krohn at The Power Elite and SocProf at Global Sociology.)

If You Don't Know, Guess - But Sound as Though You're Certain

July 6, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

Does anybody really know why Palin resigned? Maybe Palin herself knows – and I emphasize the maybe. But that didn't stop the media from printing pure speculation almost as if it were solid fact. Here are some headlines typical of the first stories:

Palin prepping for a run for president?
Palin hints at White House bid by quitting as governor of Alaska
(The Times - London)
News fuels rumors of a 2012 run
(Boston Globe)

Not much later, we got headlines like this:

Alaska's governor Sarah Palin to resign, dooming her presidential pipe dream.
(New York Daily News)
Sarah Palin’s Lame Duck Resignation Logic Eliminates a 2012 Run for President
(US News and World Report)

You might as well be reading blogs.

Civility or Mindless Compliance?

July 3, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

Suppose you were about to walk into a campus building, and you saw this sign.

Would you take the door indicated? If you were headed for one door when you saw the sign, would you change your course, even if it meant adding a full three steps to your journey?

If so, according to the people at The Situationist, you are guilty of “gender conformity” and “mindless compliance.”

Here’s the full video. (Note: it’s silent. Don’t bother, as I did, trying to figure out what’s wrong with your computer’s sound.)

The Situationist lists “related” posts on the Zimbardo prison, the Milgram obedience experiments, and the Asch conformity experiments.

Why didn’t they link to something about civility?

Suppose you’re walking into a building, and a stranger says, “Excuse me, would you mind walking through this other door?” would you stop and demand that he explain the rationale for his request? Or would you say, “Sure,” and go on your way?

The experimenter, Sarah Lisenbe, frames this as a gender issue. But would the results have been different if the sign had indicated different doors for first-year students and sophomores and above? Or students and faculty?

The video ends with a sigh (a signed sigh). But it left me with a question: what about the people who saw the sign but deliberately ignored it? What kind of person would disregard such a simple request?

Yes, I know there’s a counter-argument – that mindless conformity to signs based on gender only serves to reinforce gender inequality. It’s like obeying the Jim Crow signs for colored and white drinking fountains. (Is it relevant that this video was apparently taken at Mississippi State?)
So I guess the question is this: do you see the sign as an intrinsic part of a system of sex segregation and male domination; or do you see it as another request, like a traffic arrow, that’s so minor you don’t even bother to wonder about its rationale?

Mainstream vs. Bloggers

July 1, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

The Socioblog is pleased that the New York Times picked up on yesterday’s blog post and ran with its own horror story about private health insurance (in this case, Aetna). The Times also quotes from Wendell Potter, the former Cigna exec who testified before Congress a week ago about private health care insurance.

How do the mainstream media decide what is news and what isn’t? The Times did not see fit to cover Potter’s testimony when it was news. But why was it not fit to print? Potter was a former insider telling several inconvenient truths about insurance companies. He was making accusations in point-blank terms. Yet when I searched Lexis-Nexis, I found only two newspapers that gave ink to the story – the Washington Post and the Philadelphia Inquirer. A few others (e.g., WSJ, Hartford Courant) had the story on line. The AP put Potter at the end of a short item (621 words) about insurers using a “flawed database.” No TV networks covered it.

But several blogs had the story.

The disparity reminded me of the old days and I.F. Stone’s Newsletter.* After he was blacklisted, and most Washington insiders avoided him, Stone made a virtue of necessity. While most reporters avoided the boring stuff of actual legislation and got their stories from government insiders, Stone made a careful reading of transcripts of Congressional hearings. When it came to foreign affairs, especially the Vietnam war, he didn’t much bother with the press briefings from the White House or Pentagon, but he did look closely at non-US sources like Agence France Presse. It was like finding out inconvenient truths by going through the garbage people threw out. It was out there and public, though most reporters ignored it, and it often didn't smell very good.

I know that a lot of dubious material floats around the blogosphere, but the medium has allowed a thousand I.F. Stones to blossom. (Well, maybe not a thousand, but there are dozens of good ones.)

* Update, July 2: I am, it turns out, far from alone noticing the resemblance. According to a recent article in the L.A. Times by Stone’s biographer D.D. Guttenplan, “many contemporary observers” have dubbed Stone “the first blogger.”

There may be at least one difference between Stone and contemporary bloggers. Stone was meticulous about copy. His daughter says that he once told her, “Typos are worse than fascism.”