Art – Reality and Roth

March 30, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

I don’t know a lot about the sociology of art. But one thing that’s interesting about art is that art is artificial. That means there’s a special relationship between audience and artist. They have an unspoken agreement that it’s all a lie, that it isn’t real. But at the same time, they have to pretend that it is real.

Magicians make a big show of making things disappear or reading minds. They wave their hands in a big flourish or furrow their brows in deep concentration. But we know they’re just pretending. They don’t come right out and say, “This is just a trick – the vase of flowers didn’t really disappear, and I can’t really read your mind.” But we know that’s the deal, the same way we know, without being told, that the actors playing Romeo and Juliet don’t really die.*

Novelists, too, admit that they are telling lies. They make up characters, give them made-up names. Alexander Portnoy (he of the complaint) is a fiction, a character invented by Philip Roth. But in later novels, Roth went on to create a character, Nathan Zuckerman, who was very much like Roth and had even written a book much like Portnoy’s Complaint. Roth was deliberately blurring the line between author and character, between reality and fiction.

In Operation Shylock, he smudged that line even further. The novel is subtitled, “A Confession,” and its narrator is a novelist named Philip Roth. Yet another character in it is a man who goes around claiming to be Philip Roth and propounding political ideas that are at odds with those of the real Philip Roth. Well, not the real Philip Roth the author, but the “real” Philip Roth the narrator of the novel. Or are those two the same?

And now life is imitating art. A fictitious Philip Roth is saying things that the real Philip Roth disagrees with. As Judith Thurman reports in the current New Yorker, a right-wing Italian tabloid published an interview with Roth by freelancer Tomasso Debenedetti in which Roth said he was “disappointed” with President Obama. Asked about this by another Italian journalist (for the respectable and more leftish La Repubblica), Roth said he’d never heard of Debenedetti or the tabloid and that the statement was “completely contrary to what I think. Obama, in my opinion, is fantastic.”

I suppose there’s a satisfying irony here – Roth’s own meta-chickens coming home to roost – but he’s not the only one. Debenedetti also published an interview with John Grisham, whose novels stick closely to the conventions of fiction. That interview too was critical of Obama. And it was entirely made up by Debenedetti.

(I have a personal association between Roth and sociology. I was in grad school when the first chapter of Portnoy’s Complaint was published in the premiere issue of New American Review, a journal formatted as a drugstore paperback – same shape, same size – but with articles and fiction inside. I got a copy at the newsstand and had barely started reading it when it was time for a class with Talcott Parsons. I sat there in the auditorium, keeping the book discreetly below the level of the seat in front me, trying to read the story and listen to the lecture at the same time – an impossible task. It was Portnoy or Parsons. I think I made the right decision, but a few of my classmates wondered just what it was that Parsons was saying that I found so amusing.)**

*Magicians resent performers who claim to have real magical powers but who are, in reality, just doing magic tricks – people like self-proclaimed psychic Uri Geller. In those cases, magicians will do what they would never do otherwise – expose the secrets of the “psychic’s” tricks.

** UPDATE, July 20. Our library has
. New American Review volumes on the shelf, and in checking yesterday, I discovered that it was issue #3, not #1. The excerpt from Portnoy was the first piece in that issue, and it began with this sentence: “Did I mention, Doctor, that when I was fifteen I took it out of my pants and whacked off on the 107 bus from New York?” No wonder Parsons lecturing on Weber lost out.

The Envelope Please . . .

March 27, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

. . . . and please let it be a thick one.

It’s the other collegiate March Madness. Acceptances and rejections are going out to high school seniors.

The Wall Street Journal had an article last week about very successful people who were rejected by their first choice (which was mostly Harvard). It was a feel-good article, or more accurately a don’t-feel-bad article. See, even if you don’t get into your first choice, you can still become fabulously wealthy and famous. Look at Warren Buffett, Meredith Viera, Ted Turner, Tom Brokaw, et. al.

That’s what we social scientists call anecdotal evidence – examples. Examples exemplify, they don’t prove. On the other side, you could just as easily paraphrase Sophie Tucker: “I’ve been accepted, and I’ve been rejected. And believe me, honey, accepted is better.”

There may be actually be some systematic evidence showing that when you control for other success-related factors like ability, it doesn’t much matter which college you go to. But I’m not at all sure about this, and if such evidence exists, the WSJ did not cite it.

As for assuaging the pain, I wonder if stories about Brokaws and Buffetts help as much as does talking with others around you. At the high school my son attended, the kids have a “Wall of Rejection” where they tape their 8 ½ x 11" pieces of bad news. The kids see all the others they know – even the smart ones – who got the same thin envelope. And unless a kid believes strongly that he’s the next Warren Buffett, the news about classmates may be more comforting than knowing about celebs.

I blogged this a couple of years ago – I’m not too ashamed to be recycling my garbage. Go here for the story, some pictures, and a great letter one of the kids wrote.

ΑΚΔ 2010

March 25, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

Seventeen Montclair State sociology students were inducted into ΑΚΔ last night. They are

Viviana Bertaggia
Michael Fichter
Jessica Gomez
Rebecca Helfer
Kyle Hoekstra
Richard Imparato
Elizabeth James
Nicole Joseph
Anthony Marrone

Joseph Molitoris
Nicholas Pampaloni
Heather Posternock
Brittney Price
Jadqueline Price
William Parker Reynolds
Tamara Suvil
Andrea Swinson

Our speaker was Jamie Fader of SUNY Albany, shown here with Faye Allard (they were students together at Penn).

For the past several years, Jamie has been following fifteen inner-city kids from Philadelphia who had been sent to a privately run rural lock-up for juveniles a five-hour drive from home. These were kids the court deems as “serious” in terms of either risk or needs. Jame hung with these kids during and after their incarceration, and she is especially interested in how they fare after release. The short answer is: not so good.

These kids’ lives are something out of the “The Wire.” Many had childhoods devoid of experiences that most of us take for granted. The drug trade is pervasive; most of them were sent away for drug offenses – even possession. When they return, the year or so of coercive “therapy,” based on long discarded psychological ideas about criminals, is usually of minimal help, despite the $80,000 a year price tag. It takes incredible strength to wall yourself off from the pressures of the environment – social, physical, and economic. They get back to the ’hood, they need money, and drug dealing is something they know how to do.

But while Jamie’s talk may not have been so hopeful about juvenile justice, it was inspiring as an example of ethnographic sociology.

(Here are a couple of other pictures from the evening. It’s obvious that the Socioblog needs a better, or at least more persistent, photographer.)

Yasemin, Sangeeta, Janet

Age, Generation, or History?

March 23, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

On questions of interracial dating and homosexuality, older people are generally more conservative than younger people. But is that because people get more conservative as they age, or is it because different generations have different ideas? (The aging effect is also known as “life-cycle”; the generation effect is also referred to as “cohort.”)

When I blogged this last May (here) in connection with a story about segregated high school proms, I forgot to add a third factor – the effects of historical change. Regardless of age or generation, people who experience the same historical changes – the Great Depression, the Civil Rights movement, Vietnam, 9/11 – may be affected in a similar way whether they are in their teens or their seventies.

In that post, I wondered whether today’s kids will get more conservative as they age. Or will they retain the attitudes of their generation? The Pew Foundation has some relevant information. Its report on “Millenials,” has a graph showing changes in attitudes towards interracial dating in each of four cohorts.

Each generation is more accepting of interracial dating than are those that came before. And each generation itself becomes more liberal over time. As the report’s authors, Scott Keeter and Paul Taylor, say, the upward trend of all lines is probably not part of some general liberalization over the life cycle; it is almost certainly a period effect. When it comes to interracial dating, we’ve all become liberals.

(I don’t know what happened in 1991 to make the older generations become suddenly more accepting of interracial dating. A change in the wording of the question? A change in the formula for choosing the sample? Or was it a real change in attitude?)

Hat tip: Lisa at Sociological Images.

Accounting for March Madness

March 21, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

The powers at SUNY Binghamton tried to sell their academic soul to the devil. All they asked in return was a good basketball team. I wondered aloud (here) if, in these hard times of budget cutbacks, they might have thought a top team would bring in the big bucks, and I added my opinion that if that was their view, they were shooting from well beyond the three-point line.

But a story by Chris Isidore at CNN supports the idea that college hoops are a good investment.

it’s clear that men’s basketball is a major source of funding for many colleges, and that profits are still far more common than losses for the major teams in March Madness.
Isidore gives the basic accounting for 342 Division I teams.
  • Total revenues $1.08 billion
  • Total expenses $796 million.
  • The bottom line: a profit of $281 million. (That’s either 26% of revenues, or a 35% return on the expenses.)
The CNN article has the complete list. In the graph below, I’ve grouped the schools according to net profit as reported in the article.

(Click on the graph for a larger view.)

Clearly, the winners outnumber the losers. Even SUNY Binghamton is in the black, with a profit of $29,000 on total revues of $1.6 million, about 1.8%.

But what’s up with that very large number of teams that broke exactly even? It suggests that we need to take a closer look at the Revenue column.

Victor Matheson of The Sports Economist and Holy Cross looked at the books at his own school, which had expenses of about $1.5 million and, miraculously, revenues of exactly the same amount. It turns out that $1 million of these “revenues”
came from direct institutional support. The team didn't break even. It lost about $1 million.
The same is probably true of many of these break-even teams. Their “revenues” are what the school shells out to cover their expenses. In this sense, the Sociology Department at Montclair State is a break-even unit.*  Our revenues (entirely in the form of money from the University) exactly matched out expenses.  We do not know just how far to the red-ink side of the graph those break-even schools really are, but it’s clear that the CNN reporter is wrong.  Losses are more common that profits.

Even some of the profitable schools may be using Enron-inspired accounting measures. UNC Chapel Hill, whose $12.3 million basketball profit is second only to Louisville,** counts only revenues from ticket sales, TV, and other legit sources. But on the expense side, as Matheson notes,
the University allocated exactly zero dollars in expenses to the basketball team for things like medical trainers, facilities and maintenence, promotion, or indirect institutional support. Its pretty easy to have a profitable basketball team when all of your revenues count towards the bottom line but many of your expenses dont.

* I’m going to suggest to our president that if the department could just sign a good power forward, we might actually turn a small profit.

** FWIW, UNC didn’t make it to the 65-team NCAA draw, and Louisville lost in the first round.

Australia and Capital Punishment

March 19, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

Australia killed the death penalty. Nobody had been executed in Australia since 1967, but a bill passed last week banned it permanently for all states and territories. It banned torture as well.
(A news story is here.)

In the US, the death penalty debate, when it does get to empirical questions, usually focuses on whether the death penalty has any impact on crime. The effect is probably stronger the other way round. Crime rates push the death penalty. In the US, crime rates began to climb steadily beginning in the early 1960s. Support for the death penalty started increasing about two years later. Crime rates started to decrease about 1991 and continued to fall dramatically. Starting in 1993, support for the death penalty declined from 80% to 65%.

Australia too has seen a decrease in murder.

(Click on the graph for a larger view.)

For some reason the chief government publication gives numbers not rates. Had it used rates, the drop would be somewhat more pronounced since the population during the period increased from about 17 million to about 21 million.

Other crimes have decreased as well.

At the risk of having the gunslingers descend again, I will mention that at one point during this period, Australia passed a stringent gun control law, chiefly in response to a mass shooting, the Port Arthur Massacre. Assault weapons were banned, the government bought back and then destroyed 650,000 guns, and stricter licensing and registration were required. If you don’t know when this happened, look at the graphs and see if you can guess which year.

(For the answer, and much more information on Australia’s gun laws, go here.)

A Shot of Ethnography

March 17, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

(Although this post is partly about drunkenness, its appearing on St. Patrick’s Day is purely coincidental and should not be construed in any way as related to ethnic stereotypes.)

I miss ethnography, an idle pursuit in my academic youth. Survey research results are more frequently cited, in the journals and even in the newspapers (as Contexts Crawler faithfully documents), maybe even a little snazzy graph in USA Today or elsewhere. Ethnographers less so it seems, though they might occasionally turn up on TV.* Or in a New York Times column.

Contexts Crawler missed it, but on Monday, Our Towns, by Peter Applebome reported on the ethnographic fieldwork of James Roberts (Sociology and Criminal Justice department, University of Scranton).

The field for his fieldwork was the bars of Hoboken. Dr. Roberts is a Jersey boy – degrees from Stockton and Rutgers – and he has tended bar down the shore. I haven’t read his work, but from the Times column I gather that it focuses on questions of how bar patrons become excessively drunk and violent. Who is responsible for feeding even more drinks to people who are far beyond three sheets to the wind? Not the bartenders, it turns out. I would also guess that Roberts is watching to see how some interactions escalate to violence, perhaps along lines of Luckenbill’s old research on scenarios that end in homicide.

Survey research shows the relation between variables. Ethnography tells you how things work. Ethnography is about knowing who the players are and how they think. I remember Robert Weiss saying that if you’re a survey researcher and you want to know about cars, you get a sample of cars, and you discover that a car has an average of 5.38 cylinders, 164.7 horsepower, etc. (this was so long ago that he also included something about carburetors). But if you’re an ethnographer, you get a car, you open the hood, and you try to figure out how all those parts fit together.

There are other differences, notably control of the data and the demands that the data make on the researcher. You can’t do ethnography on your own terms. If you want to do research on drunkenness in Hoboken bars, you have to go to Hoboken, even if you live in Scranton. And you have to do your research when people are going to be getting drunk, even if you usually go to bed after the 11:00 news.

*I myself was once on a morning show called “For Women Only” or maybe its later incarnation “Not For Women Only,” both distant ancestors of The View.


March 15, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

Everyone knows it’s NCAA time. The brackets have just been posted.

And everyone knows XKCD. Or as Luke Surl says:
A note to those who haven’t heard of xkcd: Hello. We call this planet “Earth”
But Ted McCagg does some great Internet cartoons, and one of his favorite themes is brackets.

(Click on the chart for a version large enough to actually read.)

That’s just the West Regional. Check out the full draw.

I wonder what sociology brackets would look like.

Marginally Revolting

March 15, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

This was posted a while ago at Marginal Revolution with the subject line “The Auction Begins.”

Marginal Revolution is an economics blog, but what the picture really illustrates is the limit of purely economic assumptions. Does anyone, even a classical economist, really believe that someone who found the iPod Touch would call the $51 number? Does anyone, even a classical economist, really believe that this is the start of an auction and that the author of the original sign will raise her offer?

Some of the comments at MR speculated on the marginal effects of offering different rewards. Elsewhere, the few comments that thought the $51 was serious found it revolting. Most people took the sign as a joke, though they did not specfically mention that it was poking fun at economics.

My thinking ran much more to wondering what characteristics of the rightful owner and of the finder would affect whether the finder returned the iPod Touch, and if so, whether he or she initially refused the reward.

How Much is Three Percent?

March 11, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

The Freakonomics blog today assures us that emergency room overutilization is a “myth.” All that talk about the uninsured doing what George W. Bush suggested and using the emergency rooms as primary care, that’s just baseless scare tactics. Citing a Slate article, they give the data
E.R. care represents less than 3 percent of healthcare spending, only 12 percent of E.R. visits are non-urgent, and the majority of E.R. patients are insured U.S. citizens, not uninsured, illegal immigrants.
That “majority” might be 99.9% or it might be 50.1%. It turns out that the uninsured account for about 20% of E.R. visits.

My trouble is that I never know if those percents are a lot or a little. Take that 3% of spending. I’m not an economist, and although I haven't done the math, I figure that 3% of $2.3 trillion might still be a significant chunk of change. So just to make sure that 3% was in fact a pittance, a part of the “emergency room myth,” I looked for other Freakonomics articles with a similar number.

  • foreclosure rates began a steady rise from 1.7 percent in 2005 to 2.8 percent in 2007. [Three percent of healthcare spending is a little; 2.8% of mortgages is a lot.]
  • I was surprised at how high the fees were. . . . Even on big-ticket items like airline tickets, the credit-card company collects nearly 3 percent. [Three percent of healthcare spending is a little; 3% of an airline ticket is a lot.]
  • The homeownership rate in the U.S. increased by 3 percentage points over the past decade — a clear break from the two previous decades of stagnation. [Three percent of healthcare spending is a little; 3% of homeownership is a lot.]

You get the idea. Maybe whether 3% is a lot or a little depends on its political use. I don’t follow the Freaknomics political views closely, but I’m guessing that they don’t like Hugo Chavez down in Venezuela.
opposition voters [those who opposed Chavez] experienced a 5 percent drop in earnings and a 1.5 percent drop in employment rates after their names were released. The authors also conclude that the retaliatory measures may have cost Venezuela up to 3 percent of G.D.P. due to misallocation of workers across jobs.
Chavez “may have” cost his country a whopping 3% of GDP, i.e, $9.4 billion (or possibly less -- note that up to). E.R. visits cost the US only a negligible 3% of healthcare spending. And the uninsured are only one-fifth of that, a mere $14 billion.

Whether 3% is a lot or a little seems to depend on your politics and what the issue is.

Unions too are bad, at least for business.
a successful unionization vote significantly decreases the market value of the company even absent changes in organizational performance. Lee and Mas run a policy simulation and conclude that, “ … a policy-induced doubling of unionization would lead to a 4.3 percent decrease in the equity value of all firms at risk of unionization.”
For a paltry increase of 100% in the number of workers getting the benefits of unionization compaines would suffer on overwhelming decrease of 4.3% decrease in equity.

Now about those 20 people in front of you in line at the emergency room. Only four of them (20%) are there because they don’t have insurance. They are part of what Freakonomics calls a “rosier picture.” I wonder if Freakonomics maybe has one or two posts where 20% is pretty big amount, something to worry about, instead of being the equivalent of a bunch of roses in the hospital.

Have I Got Dissonance? Don’t Ask

March 10, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

Want a good explanation or example of cognitive dissonance? Look no further than last night’s Colbert Report.

Stephen didn’t use the phrase “cognitive dissonance,” but he did explain why he opposed allowing gays in the military: he categorically supports the military and categorically condemns homosexuality.

As long as the two are kept separate, no problem. But if the two are allowed to overlap . . .

(Apologies for the fuzziness of the picture. It's a screen grab expanded to match the first picture.)

. . . he’ll either have to support some homosexuals or oppose some of the militray. Cognitive dissonance. Or as Colbert puts it, “Repealing don’t-ask-don’t-tell would threaten the miliatry, and more important, it would threaten my beliefs.”

The entire clip is here. The relevant part begins at about 1:40.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Tip/Wag - Joe Lieberman, the Pope & Sharks
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorSkate Expectations

There is no evidence that allowing gays to serve openly in the military has any negative effects. So Colbert’s rant makes it clear what this is all about. Opposition to repealing DADT isn’t about preserving “the mission”; it’s not about preserving morale or cohesion. It’s about preserving the beliefs.

(An earlier SocioBlog post on cognitive dissonance is here .)

No Harm, No Norm-Violation?

March 9, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

I should spend more time in the supermarket check-out line.

Lisa at Sociological Images has a nice post about a magazine cover I’d missed.

Lisa focuses on the social-control angle, or as she calls it “policing.” For most of us, the pressure to follow norms comes from friends, family, and others we interact with. For celebs, it comes from the media.

More interesting, at least to me, was the implication that violating a norm must be harmful, not just to the general society but to the norm violator. Life&Style phrases it as a question – “Is it harming the 3-year old?” Like other such questions (“Is Martha cheating on George?”) the actual answer, on the story inside, is less important than the implied answer contained question on the cover. The real answer, after all, is probably either “no” or “we don’t know.”

But with just the question, “Is it harmful?” of course it is. It’s our old friend, Lindesmith’s evil-causes-evil assumption: If something is wrong, it must have negative consequences. It’s wrong to give a girl a “boy’s haircut.” Nothing good will come of this, and probably something bad will.

But the other thing in the photo that struck me was how much Shiloh, especially in her girl haircut, looks like her grandfather.*

Maybe the real danger isn’t that she’ll grow up confused about gender roles, but that she’ll be a right-wing nutter.

*In the pictures above, Voight is a 30-year-old man; Shiloh is a 3-year-old girl. I chose it because it shows Voight in his best-known role. There must be other pictures of Voight where the resemblance is even clearer, but this is the best picture I could find for current purposes in a quick search.

Psycho Killers

March 6, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

When a sociology professor joked on her Facebook page about wanting to kill her students, her university put her, temporarily for now, on its no-teach list. A comment on my previous post agreed: even a joking reference to wanting to kill someone should be taken literally, and all such instances should be examined and investigated.

I wondered how big a job that might be, so I Googled a few phrases to see if there were perhaps one or two other potential killers out there. Here are the results.

(Click on the chart for a larger view.)

I also tried these using Bing, which returned huge numbers – more than 50 million for each of these.

Some of the hits were serious, taken from statements by real killers. And some of them were from novels or songs (though if jokes reflect a person’s inner reality, so do fiction and lyrics). But many of them were the kind of “killing” that most of us have heard in everyday discourse.

A Yankee fan said of manager Joe Girardi,
I gotta admit there was a time last year when we weren’t hitting I just wanted to kill him.
(How many umpires have actually been killed?)

Hockey elicits murder scenarios that are even more specific :
When the Sharks were playing Calgary in the ‘04 WCF, I wanted nothing more than to choke the life out of Nieminen because he was running around, kicking ass all over the place with that stupid perma-grin on his face (I once read that his nickname is “the joker”). I just wanted to kill him!
Also, to nobody’s surprise, the teacher-student homicidal urge runs both ways.
I agree with Mr. _____ being the worst! I had him for 2 years and I just wanted to kill him. I even shouted at him because he was making me retake an exam I didn't want too. [Posted on a Facebook page]
Thousands, tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of potential killers are out there. And if Prof. Gadsden’s Facebook entries are cause for concern, someone should be checking up on these potential killers as well. They are lurking at sports, school, work (bosses, customers – be very afraid), even friends:
I took my friend to see [District 9] the other day . . he was bitching about it so much I just wanted to kill him >:| [Note to investigators: ignore the smiley face.]
But most of the death threats, as you probably guessed, were all in the family. Husbands, it seems, are especially at risk.
I made a BEAUTIFUL Chateau Briand and my husband put KETCHUP on it. I just wanted to kill him!
Ketchup on Chateaubriand?? Not guilty, your honor.

(What I find most interesting in these quotes is that the word “just” functions much the same as the smiley face to indicate that the words are not to be taken literally.)

Lagging Behind the Internet

March 3, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

“I’m gonna kill you,” the woman next door used to scream at her kids loud enough for anyone in the neighborhood to hear.

“Ah, but she never does,” sighed my mother.

This was a long time ago in an upper-middle class suburb. The neighbors who heard the yelling knew what she meant and what she didn’t mean. Nobody called the cops or the child protection agencies.

That was then.
had a good day today, DIDN'T want to kill even one student :-). Now Friday was a different story.
The professor, Gloria Gadsden, who posted this on her Facebook page has been suspended. She was joking – note the smiley face – but administrators at her university (East Stroudsburg) found a similar remark on her Facebook page a month earlier:
Does anyone know where I can find a very discrete* hitman? Yes, it's been that kind of day . . .
Here’s the school’s justification for suspending her:
“Given the climate of security concerns in academia, the university has an obligation to take all threats seriously and act accordingly,” Marilyn Wells, East Stroudsburg’s interim provost and vice president for academic affairs, said in a written statement. “The university’s knowledge of the online statements comes with a responsibility to act in a manner that ensures the safety of our students, employees and our campus community.”
That “climate” includes several multiple killings on campuses in the past few years, especially the very recent one by a professor. The East Stroudsburg administrators probably feared that if Prof. Gadsden had shot a student or hired someone to do the hit, the university would be liable and be accused of not connecting Prof. Gadsden’s Facebook dots.

The “university’s knowledge of online statements” is the part that seem problematic. The Internet is changing our definitions of public and private in ways that are still not clear. The provost’s statement seems to treat all online statements alike. But most of us make distinctions. What is a Facebook post anyway? A diary entry that you show to a few friends? Or to hundreds of of Facebook friends? A public statement like a blog post that anyone can read, the more the better?

Several comments on blogs about this story blame Prof. Gadsden for not knowing how to change her Facebook settings. These comments assume that statements made under one privacy setting should not be treated the same as those made under another setting. We also make a distinction among online sites. Another comment (at the Althouse blog as I recall), said that if Prof. Gadsden had posted her question about a hitman on Craig’s List rather than Facebook, there might have been more cause for concern.

Even the status of one-to-one electronic communication isn’t clear – e-mail, IM, text messages, pictures sent from one cell phone to another. Yes, people could violate others’ expectations of privacy with pre-electronic communication as well. You could repeat something told to you in confidence, someone might show your letters to others. But the Internet multiplies the number of people who can violate this privacy and the number of people who they can reach. It also greatly multiplies the number of people who can misunderstand a facetious comment and misattribute all kinds of intent.

As I said in the previous post, the Internet is bringing changes that we are still trying to get a handle on. Nobody pays much attention to William Ogburn, and you don't hear the phrase “cultural lag” much these days. But maybe it’s time to reconsider.

* Many comments on the blogs had fun with this mistake (better a discrete hitman than a continuous hitman) and noted with some glee that Prof. Gadsden is a sociologist – as though the Facebook postings of other academics are exemplary in their grammar, spelling, and diction.