“Those People”

February 26, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

The previous post here discussed Daniel Hamermesh’s observation that the relatively stingy welfare policies of the US stem from two aspects of American culture – optimism and a lack of concern about inequality. But why are Americans so sanguine about inequality when over 40 million of their fellow Americans are so poor that, according to the official definition of poverty, they cannot afford to adequately feed their families?

Maybe it’s because Americans do not consider the poor to be their “fellow Americans,” as part of the same community. Claude Fischer discusses a more general version of this world-view in the central chapter of his recent (and excellent) book Made in America. He calls it “voluntarism” – the idea that the only legitimate groups are the ones that people voluntarily join. While people have strong obligations to others in those groups, they have little or no obligations towards people not in those groups. Under the principle of voluntarism, if I haven’t voluntarily joined a group that provides assistance to poor people, I have no obligations to them, and for the government to use my tax dollars to do so is tantamount to robbery.

The voluntarism ideology may exist in varying degrees in many other societies. Still, some countries have more generous welfare than others, and within the US, some states have more generous policies than others. These differences may reflect the social distance that the majority feel from the poor. If we perceive the poor as similar to us, as part of our community, we will be more generous. If the poor are a different type of person, we will not want our taxpayer dollars going to “those people.”

What might be influencing those perceptions of similarity or difference?

Ten years ago, economists Alberto Alesina, Edward Glaeser, and Bruce Sacerdote put the question bluntly in the title of their paper, “Why Doesn't the United States Have a European-Style Welfare State?” (A pdf of the paper is here.) Is there something else going on besides voluntarism, optimism, and concern about inequality? Their answer was yes, and that something else is race.

They compared measures of welfare spending among countries and within the US among states. In both cases, racial homogeneity was a strong predictor of welfare generosity. Here is a scatterplot of countries.

(Click on the chart for a larger view that will allow you to read the country names.)

The less homogenous the population of the country, the less generous are its welfare policies.

In the US, as anybody who has been here for more than about five minutes knows, the welfare/poverty issue is not just about income and nutrition and inequality. It’s about race. So Alesina, et. al. plotted welfare against percent African American in the fifty states.

The greater a state’s black population, the stingier are its welfare benefits
There is a strong negative relationship between the generosity of a state’s program and the share of the state’s population that is black: the raw correlation is 49 percent.
True, state revenue is also a factor – the states with lower welfare and more blacks are also states that are poorer, and those lower state budgets may affect welfare payments. But it’s not just the lack of funds.
When we regress the maximum AFDC payment on both state median income and the share of the state population that is black, our primary result is still significant. The estimated regression is (standard errors are in parentheses)

maximum AFDC payment = –149 (72)– 692* (131) percent black + 0.017* (0.002) median income N = 50, R2 = 0.71.
As the authors summarize this aspect of their study:

Americans think of the poor as members of some different group than themselves, while Europeans think of the poor as members of their group.

Views of Poverty – Optimism and Stinginess

February 25, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

Ask Americans how much income a family needs to “just get by” – to be not poor – and the answers will generally be a number that’s 50-55% of the median income. That’s not how we compute the official poverty line, though. That number is based the price of food. The poverty line is three times the amount a family would need to spend to provide the minimum adequate nutrition.

In European countries, as Daniel Hamemersh at Freakonomics has learned, the poverty line is based on relative income, usually about 50% of the median. (When the US poverty formula was created, that three-times-food formula did work out to about 55% of the national median. Now it’s closer to 40% of the national median. The family at the poverty line can still feed itself, just as it could fifty years ago. But it’s much farther away from the average US family.)

Hamemersh says that this choice of how to calculate poverty reflects two American characteristics:
  • optimism – if low incomes go up just a little, and food prices remain stable, nobody will be “poor.”
  • lack of concern about inequality
Hamermesh contrasts this with the view from across the pond.
In Europe, even with income growth, unless inequality decreases, the fraction of households in poverty won’t change. How pessimistic, yet how concerned about equality!
Optimism goes with stinginess towards the poor; pessimism with generosity.

Here are some charts that I used in a post last month about the belief in the the efficacy of work (the first two bars). But the last two questions support Hamermesh’s ideas about the difference between the US and other countries on the question of inequality and welfare. (The data come from a Brookings survey.)

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

Your Money's Worth

February 24, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

My grandfather was in the retail business – furniture. When he and my grandmother went shopping – for other things, not furniture – she was sometimes stunned by the prices. “What makes this so expensive?” she would ask. My grandfather, pretending a careful examination of the item, would nod his head thoughtfully and say, “Profit.”

I remembered Grandpa Jack when I saw this graph posted by Aaron Carroll at The Incidental Economist. It shows healthcare expenditures per capita plotted against GDP per capita.

As you would expect, the richer a nation is, the more it spends on healthcare, just as it spends more on food, entertainment, or anything else.

Carroll adds:

Notice two things however. The first is that Norway and Luxembourg (the two countries farthest to the right), fall below the line. This is because – presumably – at some point you can spend more money, but what’s the point? The drugs won’t work better,* the advice is still the same, and the doctors can’t do any more. At some point, spending more is just waste, because the outcomes don’t get any better.

    The second thing to notice is the US. You can’t miss it. It’s the big red dot that’s way at the top. We’ve chosen to ignore what I just said.

It may be “waste,” but that money has to be going somewhere.

* A while ago I posted (here) some charts comparing the US and several other countries on the costs of various aspects of healthcare – standard procedures, office visits, widely-used drugs. I included the line, “Since . . . you get what you pay for, our Lipitor must be four to ten times as good as the Lipitor that Canadians take.” It was my only post ever to get Boinged, and for a day the number of visits here climbed to about 2600, doing my heart much more good than would any prescription meds.

Race to the Bottom?

February 23, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

Scott Lemieux passes along this information from his friend Ken Sherrill:
Only 5 states do not have collective bargaining for educators and have deemed it illegal. Those states and their ranking on ACT/SAT scores are as follows:
  • South Carolina – 50th
  • North Carolina – 49th
  • Georgia – 48th
  • Texas – 47th
  • Virginia – 44th
If you are wondering, Wisconsin, with its collective bargaining for teachers, is ranked 2nd in the country. Let’s keep it that way.
A convincing study of the effects of unionization on student performance would have to take into account a host of variables – demographic, budgetary, etc. – and their interactions. It should also have more sensitive measures of union strength and perhaps of outcome variables as well. But this is a start.

The message seems to be that if you are going to argue that the absence of teachers’ unions brings educational benefits to schoolchildren, you’re starting out down by about five runs in the first inning.

A complete list of the states is here. (And what’s up with South Carolina? It seems to be intent on making itself the punch line to a variety of jokes. See this previous post, for example.)

Lies and “Defacto Truth”

February 22, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

Some wacko Teabagger (is that a redundancy?), one Mark Williams, posted an appeal encouraging his comrades to pose as union members at a Wisconsin SEIU rally and act outrageously so as to discredit the union. They would have signs ‘that say things like “screw the taxpayer!”’ Then “we will echo those slogans in angry sounding tones to the cameras and the reporters.” (After the post went viral, Williams took it down, but you can still see a cached version here.)

Williams added
Even if it becomes known that we are plants the quotes and pictures will linger as defacto truth.
Has Williams been searching the PoliSci literature? A couple of years ago, Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler published their research about the effect of responses to political lies. What should you do when a poltician says something that is just not true? Providing accurate information would seem like the logical way to go. But Nyhan and Reifler did experiments showing that providing the relevant facts doesn’t work. It can have even a “backfire” effect. Those whose political views are in tune with the lie become even stronger in their beliefs. (Links to the paper and to a WaPo article about it are on Brendan’s blog – here.)

The examples Nyhan used were conservative lies (e.g., Bush saying that his tax cuts increased revenues), so we don’t know whether liberals might be more rational about facts. Also, Nyhan’s sample was hardly random – 130 students at a Midwest, Catholic university. But given the tenacity of the belief, especially among conservatives, that Obama is a Muslim born outside the US, these 130 might not be all that different from the general population.

It doesn’t matter if the “defacto truth” is not factual. What this research shows (and what Williams intuitively senses) is the futility of refudiation.

HT: The Political Carnival.

Tattoo Who?

February 19, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

When I saw this*

I immediately thought about the problem of cognitive consistency. (Earlier posts on cognitive dissonance and consistency are here and here.)

Our anti-gay friends, some of them, base their position on the Bible. Not the New Testament – Jesus didn’t have much to say on the topic. Instead, they go back to Levticus (18:22). The guy above is using the New American Standard translation: “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.”

The trouble with Leviticus is that you have to be very selective about your abominations. The famous “Letter to Laura” skewered radio talker Laura Schlessinger on this problem of consistency when she cited this same verse. Here’s a sample:
When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odour for the Lord – Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbours. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?
(Snopes has the whole letter and much more.)

Aaron Sorkin turned letter into a scene on The West Wing complete with a version of Dr. Laura.

As for the righteous fellow in the first picture, I wonder if he felt any cognitive dissonance when he turned the page in his Bible, read the next chapter, and found this (Lev. 19:28):
You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD.

*HT: Chad Crawford  via a Tweet from Incurable Hippie.

Lumet – First and Last

February 18, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

“12 Angry Men” (1957) was Sidney Lumet’s first film, “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” his last, a half century later. “Devil” had gotten good reviews, so I recorded it a while ago. I intended to watch it last night. But when I turned on the TV, “12 Angry Men” was just starting on TCM. I’ve seen it a few times, maybe more, but I had a hard time turning it off. After a half hour or so, I switched on the DVD and went for “The Devil.”

Things change in 50 years.

In “12 Angry Men,” jurors deliberate, exploring the details of a murder case. In the room, personality, emotion, and position affect reason, memory, and perception. We see the group dynamics, the interaction and persuasion. The film is in black and white and has essentially one set, the jury room. There is no “action” (except a moment when one angry man threatens to hit someone but is easily restrained). Characters occasionally stand up and walk to another spot in the room or to the window. That’s the action

[Spoiler Alert]

“Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” centers on a jewelry store robbery. The store proprietor, a seventyish woman shoots the robber. Then he shoots her. Later, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke (they are brothers) beat a heroin dealer in his apartment, Hoffman shoots the heroin dealer’s customer (nodded out on a bed in the apartment) and then shoots the dealer. They go to the house of a man who is blackmailing Hawke. Hoffman shoots the man, then points the gun at Hawke’s head. While the two brothers are trying to decide whether Hoffman will shoot Hawke, the blackmailer’s wife shoots Hoffman. Later, Hoffman lies in a hospital (the shooting was bad but not fatal). Albert Finney (Hoffman’s father) kills him by suffocating him with a pillow.

Six shootings, one asphyxiation, mostly all in the family, and all shown explicitly on the screen.

Both are good movies, but what a difference. And oddly enough, even though the Angry Men are confined to a single room for nearly the whole film, it’s “Devil” that has more an air of claustrophobia. The characters are trapped in their lives, trapped by their own decisions.

Simplicity Patterns

February 17, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

“Moral clarity” always seemed to me like a self-flattering way of saying “My mind’s made up, don’t confuse me with facts.” Moral clarity turns the complicated into the simple. It reduces a complex issue into a choice between good and evil. William Bennett popularized the phrase in his arguments supporting the Iraq invasion. Terrorism is evil, therefore invading Iraq is good. Unfortunately, reality turned out to be a lot more complicated.

The call for “Moral Clarity” comes mostly from the right, and not just on fighting terrorism. Go to the “Center for Moral Clarity,” click on “Key National Issues,” and you’ll find support for “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act” (be warned however that this page does not spell out the moral clarity of leaving 40 million Americans without health insurance).

Does this preference for the simple over the complex generally distinguish the political right wing from the left? (See an earlier post on this and tolerance for ambiguity here.) And does it carry over into other areas? Is the political also the personal?

OK Cupid is a dating site. It isn’t about terrorism or health care. But the people who run it (Harvard math grads who turn dating into data) have looked at the correlations and discovered some non-obvious connections. Looking to get lucky? Ask your prospective date if they like the taste of beer. Those who do, both men and women, are 60% more likely to say they would consider sleeping with someone on the first date.

The same sorts of questions fit with the idea that conservatives prefer simplicity both in politics and people.
(Click on the image for a larger view.)

Here were the political questions that these were based on.
On the surface, liking your peeps to be simple or complex shouldn’t have much to do with your position on gay marriage or creationism. But it does.

Blogging for Dollars?

February 15, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

I got religion. Or more accurately, religion’s got me. The Bulletin for the Study of Religion, is cross-posting my “When Prophecy’s Faked” entry of a couple of weeks ago, a liaison I never expected. The lord works in mysterious ways.

I’m flattered. But unfortunately, this is no way to get rich. It wouldn’t be even if Arianna Huffington had been the one spreading my prose across the cybersphere. HuffPo pays its bloggers, even sociologist worthies like the redoubtable Philip Cohen, exactly the same sum as does ReligBull – $0.

That sum, it turns out, is not much less than a blog post’s true worth, even at the Huffington Post with its 15 million page views a day. Nate Silver does the math (here):

Of those 15 million views at the HuffPo main page, only a small fraction come to the blogs housed at HuffPo. Silver estimates that the median blog post got about 550 page views. How much is that in American money? Silver calculates it as $3.44.

Ms. Huffington just sold her Post to AOL for $315 million. But if you were thinking about retiring to the Bahamas by monetizing your blog, maybe you should reconsider. (My friend Michael says he thought that to “monetize” something meant to turn it into water lilies. Maybe that’s the better idea.)

Skill Transfer - Quote of the Day

February 11, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

People who made a ton of money in the business world sometimes run for public office. Their entry level aims are usually somewhere near the top – governor, senator, even president. And they often tout their business success as evidence that they’ll be excellent public servants or that they “know how to create jobs.”

It reminds me of high school – the student government elections and Assembly Day when the jock’s speech always centered on the idea that his experience on the football team qualified him to be president of the student body.

I was thinking about this again when I read Sudhir Vankatesh’s piece in Wired about prostitution. He notes that the Internet has not been kind to the pimp role. Hookers have become much more independent.
I met 11 pimps working out of midtown Manhattan in 1999, and all were out of work within four years. One enlisted in the military; two have been homeless. Only one now has a full-time job, working as a janitor in a charter school.*
I imagined a pimp speechifying about his administrative role, his vast experience dealing with people, bringing buyers and sellers together – making a market really. All these qualified him for a leadership position in business or government. It’s the same kind of bullshit peddled by the quarterback in high school or the former CEO running for governor. The difference is that the pimps know it and take a more realistic view of their job history.
I asked one of them how pimping experience helps him in the legit economy: “You learn one thing,” he said. “For a good blow job, a man will do just about anything. What can I do with that knowledge? I have no idea.”

* Charter-school advocates often argue that these schools, freed from the union stranglehold over hiring and firing, can be much more effective in their personnel selection. I guess they have a point.

Seaward with the C-word

February 9, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

(Warning: this post is about language, and it contains some very bad words. When we talk about language, if we can’t use the actual words that we’re talking about, then the terrorists have won.)

It’s fun to notice the differences between American and British English, especially profanity – probably because in most respects the languages are so similar. Sure, it’s “ass” here and “arse” there, but the meaning is the same. Some words, like “wanker,” have crossed the Atlantic (maybe because we didn’t really have a good word for it).

Then there’s the C-word.

A BBC presenter,* Jeremy Paxman, slipped in referring to the budget “cuts,” and it came out as “the C-word” (story and video here). A month earlier, another presenter made a similar mistake when referring to culture secretary Jeremy Hunt. (The presenter’s name: James Naughtie. Enough said.)

We’re a bit more prudish about language. In the US, inadvertent or spontaneous profanity on TV has brought heavy fines. In the UK, it’s been merely a giggle. In the US, “The King’s Speech” is rated R for language. In the UK, it’s 12A (under 12 years must be accompanied by an adult).

And in the New Statesman last week, Laurie Penny spoke up for the C-word. She finds it “empowering,” especially when uttered by a woman.

On this side of the Atlantic as well, it’s the word that carries the strongest taboo. Probably more so than in Britain. I think we use also it differently. We do not use it to refer to men. My first inkling of this came thanks to the Monty Python travel agent sketch. The Tourist cannot pronounce the letter C. The travel agent, Bounder, asks, “Can you say the letter 'K'?”
Tourist: Oh yes, Khaki, king, kettle, Kuwait, Keble Bollege Oxford
Bounder: Why don't you say the letter 'K' instead of the letter 'C'?
Tourist: what you mean.....spell bolour with a K
Bounder: Yes
Tourist: Kolour. Oh that's very good, I never thought of that. What a silly bunt.**
No American, whether in anger or in a comedy sketch, would call a man (including himself) a cunt. But here’s Laurie Penny:
The first time I ever used it, I was 12 years old, and being hounded by a group of sixth-form boys who just loved to corner me on the stairs and make hilarious sexy comments. One day, one of them decided it would be funny to pick me up by the waist and shake me. I spat out the words “put me down, you utter cunt,” and the boy was so shocked that he dropped me instantly.
Manliness isn’t the issue. It’s not like when we call a guy a “pussy.” When the Brits call a man a cunt, it apparently means merely that he is completely inept, perhaps contemptible In the US, she would have called him “asshole.” Cunt just carries too much gender denotation, at least to my American ears.

It reminds me of something I heard long ago in college. A bunch of guys were talking, and one said that some girl was “a schmuck.”

“You should never call a girl a schmuck,” said another guy, pausing before finishing the thought, “unless she’s a real schmuck.”

* A non-profane difference. American TV doesn’t have “presenters” or “newsreaders.”

** In the only YouTube versions I could find, this punchline has been edited out.

Oobleck and the Gulf Disaster

February 7, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

Oobleck is not high-tech chemistry. The name comes from Dr. Seuss, and making the stuff is child’s play – mix cornflour and water – which is why grade-school kids are familiar with it. Also why YouTube has lots of videos of people running on water. (Mythbusters got in the act too.)

Now it turns out that Oobleck might have stopped the BP underwater gusher in the Gulf. Mud, the usual “top kill” substance, was useless because the flow of oil was so rapid. But oobleck’s “non-Newtonian” (Seussian?) properties might have done the trick. (Wired has the story here.)

Jonathan Katz, a physicist, apparently suggested oobleck to the Department of Energy team that was assembled three weeks into the disaster.
Katz did some quick math and saw that a half-cornstarch drilling mud would suppress the turbulence and sink in one coherent slug. Unfortunately, no one listened.
“I have no idea why they didn’t pay attention,” said Richard Garwin, a retired IBM physicist who was also part of the DOE-convened team.
In 1986, the mystery of the Challenger disaster stopped being mysterious and became instantly understandable when Richard Feynman dropped a rubber O-ring into a glass of ice water. This wasn’t rocket science. Or rather, it was rocket science, but it was the part that a third-grader could understand.

These weren’t failures of science (let’s assume that the oobleck theory is correct). Maybe they weren’t even failures of scientists. More likely they were failures of organization. We need to know more about how the structure and culture of organizations keeps some ideas from getting very far, or from getting in the door at all . . . until it’s too late.

The Wisdom of Crowds XLV

February 5, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

It’s become almost a tradition here at the SocioBlog: A big football game that generates widespread betting, and we once again consider “the wisdom of crowds” – the idea that the collective guess of the crowd (those people interested enough to take a stand) will be superior to the that of any one expert or group of experts.

I’ve been skeptical about this idea, at least with regards to football betting. This blog was only a few months old when I first posted about it (here), and readers who took the hint and went against the crowd won a sweet bet on the Bears. I’ve revisited the hypothesis a few times (here and here), including last year’s Superbowl (here), when the crowd was heavily backing the favorites, the Colts, driving the line from 3½ points up to 6. But the Saints won the game outright.

This year, the line opened with the Packers favored by 2½ or 3 points* and has not budged. The betting is equally divided, which is good news for the bookies. They’ll make their 5-10% no matter which side wins.

The only movement has been on the under/over line – the combined total points by both teams. That line opened at about 46, and went down to 44½. My guess is that this early shift represented “the smart money.” Now the line is gradually going back up, and may be as high as 46 by game time. Apparently the public is looking for a high-scoring game.

If you’re a contrarian, if you lean towards the wisdom of bookmakers rather than the wisdom of crowds, you’ll take the under and be happy with a 23-21 final score. It’s not a bet I would be eager to make however. The trouble with betting the under, as a gambler explained to me long ago, is that you sit there watching the game rooting for nothing to happen.

Go Steelers.**

UPDATE: The under/over line did not move much. Apparently, there was no strong crowd consensus, though if there was an imbalance, it was towards the over, which turned out to be the right choice. Final score: Packers 31, Steelers 25. The Packers played well; the Steelers made some costly errors.

* As of this writing (Saturday night), if you want to bet the Steelers plus the three points, you have to give up odds of 120-100 (i.e., you get $100 if you win; you pay $120 if you lose). If you take only 2½ points, you can get odds as low as 105-100. And conversely, if you bet the Packers, you pay more to give only the 2½. But it looks as though the line is inching up. By game time, I expect most bookmakers will have the line at 3.

** It is a bit more difficult to root for Pittsburgh this year – not-so-gentle Ben and his deserved rating among fans as the Superbowl’s most disliked player, James Harrison as #1 in being fined by the NFL. And according to yesterday’s New York Times, the Steelers are even on the wrong side of the concussion issue while the Packers are on the side of the angels.

Graphing Ideas about Marriage (Me vs. USA Today)

February 3, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

As someone with the visual aptitude of gravel, I shouldn’t be edging into Flâneuse territory. But when I saw this graph in USA Today this morning, I was frustrated.

(Click on the image for a larger view.)
Responses, by age group, when asked if they want to marry:
SOURCES: Match.com/MarketTools survey of 5,199 men and women who either have never been married or are widowed, divorced or separated.

I found it hard to make comparisons from one age group to another. In the online edition, the layout was better – all in a row – and the addition of even a single color helped. (Odd that USA Today, the newspaper that led the way in using color, gave its print readers the graph in only black-and-white, or more accurately gray-and-gray.)

(Click on the image for a larger view.)

I thought I’d try my own hand with my rudimentary knowledge of Excel.

(Click on the image for a larger view.)

What do you think?


February 1, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

I feel like the eighth guy in the Asch line-length experiment (video here .) since on one central issue I find myself siding with Glenn Beck and against the ASA.

For those who were out of the room and missed the commotion, Beck has been vilifying Frances Fox Piven, a 78-year-old sociologist who for decades has written and spoken about poverty and welfare. She has been a target of Beck’s before. This time, after she suggested that the unemployed take to the streets to demand government action that creates jobs, Beck called her an “enemy of the Constitution.” (more here)

Piven received hate mail and some death threats, presumably from Beck’s followers, who also posted truly vicious comments directed at Piven on Beck’s website The Blaze. The ASA called on the Fox network
to control the encouragement of violence that has run rampant in recent months. . . . . The right to free speech does not ever include rhetoric that encourages violence against one’s opponents.
It’s the free speech part that bothers me. I guess I’m more ACLU than ASA. Yes, the world would be a better place if Beck weren’t Beck. His faux-naïf, just-a-guy act barely hides the reality that he’s a nasty piece of work. And some of his fans are even nastier. What he says is often wrong – inaccurate, illogical, even nutty. But Beck didn’t call for violence. He just said that Piven is a terrible person who has dangerous ideas and says bad things.

If what Beck said “encourages violence” and is therefore not protected speech, then nobody can be allowed to say that someone has done something really bad (let alone being “the worst person in the world”). You could probably find equally venomous name-calling directed at academics like John Yoo. I mean, calling someone a war criminal is a fairly serious accusation. Possibly, those accusations made some readers so angry that they sent Yoo death threats. (If so, it would be altogether fitting, given his rather tolerant position on death threats.) Were those articles about Yoo at Salon, the Atlantic, and elsewhere “encouraging violence”? Were they therefore not protected free speech?

As someone said, you can’t blame an idea for the people who believe in it. After the Arizona shooting, people went scurrying around trying to show that the shooter had been inspired by books from the opposite side. Marx, Ayn Rand, and possibly Hitler were on Loughner’s reading list (so were Peter Pan and The Phantom Tollbooth). But even if we could pinpoint a particular book or TV show, even if Loughner had said, “The Manifesto made me do it,” the book and its writer still have the protection of the First Amendment. And that’s a good thing.

So the ASA is right to ask Beck to tone it down (not that it will have any impact on Beck even in the unlikely that he is listening). But they are wrong to imply that his rhetoric is not included as protected free speech.

In the Asch experiment, the subject – the eighth guy to offer his opinion – always felt uncomfortable when the other seven people saw things differently from what he saw. That’s how I feel, and it’s which is why I’ve hesitated to post this.