The Humidity, Not the Heat

July 28, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Ideology influences how we perceive reality.  That’s most obvious in the way sports fans perceive close calls.  “They Saw a Game” (1954) was really “They Watched a Game, But They Saw Two Different Games.” 

I posted recently (here) on how people’s politics influences whether they think the economy is good or bad (or terrible).  And back in March, at the end of the warm winter, I posted this graph showing that political views influenced people’s perceptions of the weather.  Less surprisingly, ideology played an important role in the reasons people chose in explaining the warm winter.

But apparently when it comes to ideology’s influence, it’s the heat, not the humidity.   A new study in Weather, Climate, and Society (here, gated) looked at surveys from 2008-2011.  The abstract says in part
We test rival hypotheses about the origins of Americans’ perceptions of weather change, and find that actual weather changes are less predictive of perceived changes in local temperatures, but better predictors of perceived flooding and droughts. Cultural biases and political ideology also shape perceptions of changes in local weather. Overall, our analysis indicates that beliefs about changes in local temperatures have been more heavily politicized than is true for beliefs about local precipitation patterns. Therefore risk communications linking changes in local patterns of precipitation to broader changes in the climate are more likely penetrate identity-protective cognitions about climate.

Here’s my shorter version:
People’s perceptions of rainfall are more accurate than are their perception of temperatures.  If you try talk about temperature, you run up against misperception based on ideology.  If you want to convince conservatives that climate change and global warming are real, talk about the drought (or floods), not the heat.

The study is gated, and I was too cheap to pony up the $25, so I have no details.

It’s also possible that this moderately hopeful finding does not carry over to 2012.  Maybe conservatives have convinced themselves that this little dry spell isn’t all that much, certainly not part of a pattern, and that all this talk about drought, like the talk about heat, is the product of a conspiracy among 98% of the world’s climate scientists (and nearly 100% of those not on the payroll of energy behemoths).

Thank You For Guzzling

July 26, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Sociologist Peter Berger is hauling out the strategy he used when he hired himself out to Big Tobacco.  His role then in Tobacco’s fight against regulation and other anti-smoking measures wasn’t to defend smoking as virtuous or healthful.  Instead, he was paid to discredit anti-smoking sentiment and organizations.  Berger’s tactic for this purpose was basically name calling combined with accusations that even if true were irrelevant.

This time, in a longish (2400 word) article at The American Interest, he’s speaking up for the people who bring us sugar water.  Or to be scrupulously accurate, he’s trying to discredit the anti-obesity, anti-diabetes forces trying reduce the amount of the stuff that people drink.

As I said, it’s a page form the same playbook he used when he was working for the folks who bring us cigarettes. He refers to the “vehement passion” of the anti-smoking and anti-obesity campaigns, and he exaggerates their goals (while showing off his erudition):
I suggested that it was in an age-old tradition of the quest of immortality, first described in the ancient Mesopotamian Gilgamesh Epic.
He also accuses them or their supporters of venal motives.
Successful morally inspired movements typically ally themselves with powerful groups motivated by very hard material interests.
This from someone who was being paid by a multi-billion dollar industry to further their material interests. This irony is apparently lost on Berger, who, interestingly, does not even hint that he got penny from Tobacco. Maybe he forgot.

In going after the movement to improve public health, his number one target is Mayor Bloomberg and the proposed ban on the sale of huge-sized sugar-water drinks in theaters, restaurants, and other public places. 

Again, Berger is not arguing that obesity is good for you.  Instead, he dusts off the old “immortality” barb – equating a desire to reduce diabetes and other illnesses with the vain and impossible goal of immortality. Berger does not tell us how he managed to discover this immortality fantasy in the minds of others, a deep motivation the anti-obesity people are themselves are unaware of. He just makes it the title of his article  (“Mayor Bloomberg and the Quest of Immortality”) and asserts it a few times.  We have to take it on faith.

Berger makes the same arguments he used against anti-smoking campaigns:
  • The anti-obesity forces will be moralistic (Berger refers to them with religion-based words like crusaders, litany, preaching).  
  • They are elitist. Not only do they see their own lifestyle choices as virtuous, but they try to impose these on the working class. 
  • They ally themselves with people whose material interests are served by anti-obesity or with (shudder) bureaucrats. 
  • They are European, un-American.
I cannot say whether Bloomberg’s quasi-European lifestyle has anything to do with his idea of New York City as a quasi-European welfare state.*
Then there is the “slippery slope” argument – the scare tactic of exaggeration and false equivalency.
There is also an equivalent of the Saudi Arabian police force dedicated to “the promotion of virtue and the suppression of vice”—an army of therapists, coaches, educators, advice columnists, dieticians, and other moral entrepreneurs. To date (still) they mainly rely on persuasion rather than coercion. Wait a little. [Emphasis by Berger.]
Yes, you read that correctly.  If you can’t buy a 30-oz. cup of sugar-water and instead have to buy two 15-ounce cups, the Saudi police are just around the corner. 

I wonder what Berger and libertarians in general were saying back when the good-health forces were trying to get lead removed from gasoline and paint.  Could you pretty much do a find-and-replace for the current article, just as that article is a find-and-replace version of his tobacco work?**

UPDATE:  Baptiste Coulmont tweets a link to a 2006 article (here) by a French sociologist, Robert Castel, which uncannily echoes Berger’s arguments.  Castel uses the same vocabulary of religion in mocking the anti-smokers, and he attributes to them the same desire for  immortality.
Le fumeur d'hier comme le fumeur d'aujourd'hui transgresse le seul sacré que nous soyons désormais capables de reconnaître, le culte du corps, de sa santé, de sa longévité, sur lequel s'est finalement rabattu le désir d'éternité[emphasis added]
He likens anti-smoking policies to Islamic authoritarianism:
ce mélange d'autoritarisme bien-pensant, de suffisance pseudo-savante et de bonne conscience sécuritaire qui caractérise souvent les ayatollahs de la santé. [emphasis added]
And he sees the same slippery slope.
L'interdit du tabac n'est pas la dernière des prohibitions que l'on nous prépare.
The major difference from Berger is that, as far as I know, Castel was not being paid by Gauloises.

*By the way, if you’re looking for an example of paralipsis or apophasis, look no further than that sentence.

** For more on Berger and Tobacco, see Aaron Swartz’s article (here).  (HT: Andrew Gelman).  And yes, this is the same Peter Berger that sociologists of a certain age may remember as the author of that staple of Soc 101, Invitation to Sociology, and also as co-author of The Social Construction of Reality.

12 Very Slightly Annoyed Men and Women

July 24, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

“Jury nullification” – the term wafted out of the radio a few times this morning.  A law professor and after him, a federal judge were on the local NPR broadcast.  The topic was guns and gun laws.  Both men, separately, said that if the defendant in a gun possession trial has the gun for protection, juries are often sympathetic. It’s hard to get a conviction. Even in New York. 

They were talking about me.  I was a juror on a New York gun possession case many years ago.  The prosecutor allowed that the defendant was probably carrying it for protection.  He had been badly mugged just a few months earlier. On the night of the incident, he was riding in a gypsy cab with two friends, going to Harlem to play pool. He was in the front passenger seat. The cops stopped the car and found the pistol under his seat. The defense claimed that it was not his gun. Someone else must have put it under the seat.

We found the defendant not guilty. 

But the verdict was not “jury nullification,” at least not in any overt way. In all our deliberations, which didn’t take very long (the original vote was ten for acquittal),and nobody said anything about self-defense. Nobody even hinted that even if it was his gun, he had a legitimate reason to be carrying. 

Instead, doubts focused on the chief prosecution witness, the gypsy cab driver, who testified that when the cops’ flashing light went on and he pulled his car over to the curb, the defendant, sitting beside him, said, “Oh, shit,” and slid something under the seat. 

The jurors didn’t believe the driver.  Maybe that was because he did not testify in English, so his answers may have seemed evasive. They were in fact less direct since they had to go through an interpreter.  He spoke Wolof, and you know what that’s like. In any case, the nuances of his discourse were lost on us jurors. Several thought he was dissembling or outright lying. 

“He’s a foreigner, he might not have understood,” said one juror, trying to counter the anti-cabbie sentiment.

“Oh these foreigners,” said one woman immediately, “they might pretend not to understand, but they know what’s going on. They know how to work things.”

She had a Greek surname  though she looked quite Anglo.  I asked her later if that was her married name. Yes, she said, and added that she was no longer married. I didn’t ask for details.

So the fate of a defendant turned in part on the bitterness of a divorcee towards her immigrant ex.  Other jurors too may have been affected by similar feelings of no legal or factual relevance, like a general resentment towards the prosecution (“Why are they wasting our time with this case?” )

 Suddenly, Lee J. Cobb in “12 Angry Men” no longer seemed so fictional and far-fetched.

Master Status

July 23, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Disability is often a “master status.”*  The term was coined by Everett Hughes seventy years ago to indicate a characteristic that, from the perspective of other people, floods out other aspects of a person’s identity.   

Last week’s “This American Life” provided an excellent example.  The story was about an actress and dancer – Mary Archbold - whose left arm ends at the elbow.  She was born that way.   Outside the house, she wears a prosthesis, and though it is hard plastic and cannot do anywhere near what a real arm can do, she is able to keep other people from realizing that she does not have two normal arms. 

And that’s the way she likes it – mostly because she is acutely aware of the master-status problem.  Here is the audio clip (it runs less than two minutes), followed by the transcript.

IRA GLASS: Is that moment [when you reveal to others] a moment of horror or a moment of pride?

MARY ARCHBOLD: Half and half. There’s the horror of: What reaction is it going to be? And then there’s the quiet pride that maybe you saw me as me before you saw me as an actor with a disability.

IRA: You feel like those two things are contradictory?

MARY: [Immediately] Yes.

IRA: I’m not sure I understand that. It’s like you’re saying you want them to see you. But you includes the fact that you have only one full arm.

MARY: True. But it’s not my leading characteristic. And often times when people find it out first, that’s sort of how they describe me. I’m like categorized “one-arm Mary.”

IRA: But everyone when you see them, you see some superficial thing – their hair or the way they’re dressed or their age whatever it is, their race whatever it is, and they get classified . . .

MARY: And I’d be happy to be classified among any other things. You can call me “the short girl,” you can call me “the brunette girl,” you can call me “the blue-eyed girl” – whatever you want to say. Just not “the disabled girl.” . . . . . And because I am a performer, it’s sort of a professional necessity, ’cause otherwise the only role I’ll be called in for is “wounded vet who just came home from Afghanistan.” And this way, I get called in for “housewife,” I get called in for “mom.”

The entire episode of TAL illustrates other sociological and psychological principles as well.  The Mary Archbold segments (one with the title “There’s Something About Mary”) take up only 13 minutes, and they could easily be used as a companion piece if you’re teaching Goffman (especially Stigma).

*Hughes was using the old status/role distinction.  Look in almost any introductory sociology text, and you will read that “status” refers to the position in a social system while “role” refers to the expected behaviors of someone in that position. “Brother” and “sister” are statuses; the behaviors we expect (sharing certain chores, giving Christmas gifts, etc.) are part of the role. 

However, if you listen to sociologists any time except when they are delivering the intro lecture on role, they use role to refer to both the position and the behaviors.  Just as we say that someone is in the role of Lady Macbeth, referring both to her position in the play and the things she will do and say, we refer to  “the role of sister,” not the “status” of sister. 

As for “status,” except for the intro lecture and surviving coinages like “master status,”  sociologists speak of “status” almost exclusively to refer to hierarchical position, usually socio-economic status.

More Auroras?

July 21, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Will Wilkinson blogs (here) “Why Aren’t There More Auroras?”  Why don’t we see mass killings every week?  The Aurora slaughter, he says,  was not “senseless.” Just the opposite.
It is so easy to imagine from the perspective both of the murdered and the murderer . . . that I cannot quite fathom why it doesn't happen all the time. It is our safety that’s mysterious.
His answer is basically human nature.  His view is comfortingly anti-Hobbesian:
We are more thoroughly controlled by our society's norms than we tend to imagine. In a setting of peace, outside the context of war, to perpetrate an act like the Aurora massacre requires an almost superhuman feat of volition. There aren't more Aurora's because we are sociable robots, programmed for peace. To override that programming and act really monstrously requires both an uncommon estrangement and an implausibly free will.
My first reaction when I read Wilkinson’s question was that his starting assumption was wrong:  in fact there are more Auroras – disgruntled or unstable people who walk into an office or public space and start shooting.  There are so many in fact – twenty a year on average (USA Today) – that to be national news, the incident has to be unusual in some way.  Just three days before Aurora, a man in Tuscaloosa who had recently been sacked from his job got his AK-47, stood outside a crowded bar, and opened fire.  Nobody was killed, so the story didn’t get much coverage. 

My second reaction is that the question, stated that way, doesn’t easily direct us towards empirical data.  It does not imply variables – things that can be different in a way that allows comparison.  Instead, the question should be, “Why are there more Auroras at some times and places than at others?”  Why, for instance, does the US have many more Auroras than do other countries?  I doubt that human nature in the UK or Poland or Japan is any different than in the US.  I doubt that we have more people of “uncommon estrangement” and “implausibly free will.”  

But what we do have is guns – lots of them.  And really good ones too.  As in other countries, the uncommonly estranged here are very rare, as Wilkinson says.  But in the US, an uncommonly estranged nutjob can walk into a friendly gun shop and walk out with an 100-round AR-15. 

It’s much easier to be a mass murderer if you can get weapons of mass killing, much harder if you can’t.

In many countries, that AR-15 would be considered an unusual weapon and subject to greater restrictions than other guns.  But here in the US, it’s as normal as blueberry pie.  The Times (here) quotes Eugene Volokh, who is most definitely not a nutjob; he’s a law professor at UCLA, an expert on Constitutional law:
The guy basically had normal guns.
Maybe the Times quoted Volokh out of context.  I hope so, but I fear not.  I would like to think that a military assault rifle with a 100-round clip is not a normal weapon.  But apparently I am out of touch with the realities of American life. 

*     *     *     *     *

(Note to commenters: please keep your remarks civil and relevant.  This post is not about freedom or self-defense or the Constitution.  However, actual evidence on mass shootings, access to weaponry, uncommon estrangement, etc., in the US and elsewhere would be welcome.)

A Book by Its Cover – Children’s Version

July 19, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

What’s this book about?” asks the little girl as her parent browses in the Classics section of the bookstore.  Maybe she’s pointing to Middlemarch. Or Ulysses. What do you say?

Sunnychanel, who blogs at, turned her slight frustration at trying to answer that question into a research opportunity.  If life hands you an inquisitive six year old, do research on book covers and youthful ideation.  Sunnychanel turned the question back on the daughter and asked her what she thought the book was about.Here are the book covers and just below them, the daughter’s synopsis.

Sometimes the kid came close to the mark.  For example, she totally nailed the “magical realism” of Garcia Marquez.

(Click on the image for a larger view that will allow you 
to read the synopsis beneath the book cover.)

On The Great Gatsby she wasn’t very close, but I’d have to blame that one on the graphic designer.

And there are some, like Lord of the Flies, where she hears the basic tune, but the minor sonorities of the original become a bright major upbeat melody, the sort of thing you might skip along to.

And then there’s Jane Eyre, the gold digger.
“Reader, I could really dig him.”

I guess you could turn this exercise into a projective diagnostic instrument – the Rorschach or Thematic Apperception Test, but more fun.

The full post is here.  An earlier SocioBlog post on book covers is here.  And if you haven’t seen BetterBookTitles, browse here.

HT: Shamus Khan

Postal Wisdom

July 18, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Some people are unhappy about the Happy Valley statue of Joe Paterno.  They want it removed, torn down. 

Ta-Nehisi Coates in the Times says let it stand.  Coates, who is African American, also wants to preserve a Columbia, SC statue of Senator Ben Tillman, “who helped found Clemson University and, in his spare time, defended lynching from his august national offices.”

For both statues, Coates applies the same reasoning:  We need to be reminded of our past sins – ours, not just those of the racist or the child-abuse enabler.
Arguing for the [Paterno] statue’s removal, the legendary coach Bobby Bowden said he wouldn’t want Sandusky’s crimes “brought up every time I walked out on the field.” That’s the point. Sandusky’s crimes should never be forgotten . . . .  It is shameful to deify men who put nationalist ritual before children. But it is more shameful to pretend that this elevation was achieved by Joe Paterno’s singular hand.
I’ll pass for the moment on questions about the function of heroes and whether we really need them and what it says about our society that we apparently do need them and who are the people we choose to make our heroes.  But the simple point is that the statue should never have been built.  And if the Happy Valleyans had known then what they know now, it would not have been built. 

What was the hurry? 

The Post Office comes in for a lot of criticism, but on this one they got it right: no commemoratives  until the person has been dead for ten years.* 

That seems like a wise policy other institutions should follow.

* I was watching Jay Leno one night back when there were sightings of Elvis in supermarkets and other venues.  Leno mentioned the Elvis commemorative stamp and added, “The Post Office rule is that you have to be dead for ten years . . . and stay dead.” 

The London Games

July 17, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

The Olympics begin in London in less than a fortnight.  Just across the channel, Eurostar, the Paris-London rail link, has an ad campaign encouraging Parisians to make the trip to see how the British do the classical Greek games.  These posters have been springing up around Paris.

(Click on the image for a larger view.)

I’m sure there’s cultural lesson here, aside from the obvious one about levels of prudery – something about cultural differences going back to the Hundred Years War.  There’s no written copy on the posters, but the unwritten copy is all about cultural superiority.  “We French are the keepers of the classical culture of ancient Greece.  Measured against those standards and forms, you Brits look foolish with their silly games and corpulent bodies.”  Or to paraphrase the French soldier in the film says, “I fart in your general direction, but I’m going to take the Eurostar to do so."

Or maybe it’s just about darts and snooker on the one side and babyfoot (i.e, foosball)  on the other.

HT: Rue Rude

Jerry Starr

July 16, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Jerry Starr died on Friday.  He was a good sociologist, a public sociologist.  In the 1960s he worked with Peace Corps volunteers.  In the 1980s he put together a curriculum on the Vietnam War for use in high schools, a curriculum that treated the issues with depth and honesty.  More recently he worked to keep public television in Pittsburgh public and relevant. 

I met Jerry at Brandeis.  He was a grad student, I was an undergrad, but the sociology department did its best to minimize that division, at least for upper-level undergrads who were interested.  We discovered shared interests.  We both liked jazz, and we both had been known to spend an afternoon with the horses (“track trash” was the phrase Jerry used), we knew a lot of the same jokes.  More than that, I appreciated his perspective on the world.  But while his intellectual style was a sort of bemused ironic detachment, but he combined that with a real-world political engagement.

He taught at Penn, then at West Virginia University, and teaching was one of te things we would talk about.  In my classes, I still often use an example I got from him. I think Jerry used this in his Sociology of Youth course, probably as in lead-in to the section on the school as an institution.

He would turn class discussion to the topic of dreams.  What could be more individual, personal, and psychological?  Then he would ask if any of them had ever had a dream where the setting is a school.  Most had.  What were the dreams like, he would ask.  I was two days late to class.  I couldn’t find my classroom.  I was in the wrong building.  I was naked in class.  You get the idea – anxiety dreams. 

Maybe, he would say, maybe these seemingly personal things, dreams, tell us something about the nature of an institution.   The example is about schools.   But it also epitomizes the sociological enterprise – going beyond the personal and individual to see the impact of social institutions.

Four years ago, Jerry was diagnosed with cancer.  He sent a letter to friends saying,
in fairness to the truth, we now know more than enough to know that I am inoperable, incurable and have months to live. As the doctors told me, it is just "bad luck" when a perfectly healthy person with no symptoms is discovered (by accident) to have cancer so advanced that nothing can be done.
He did try chemo and survived both the treatment and the disease.  Those four years are something of a bonus for us.  But this time, he rejected the idea of treatment, preferring, as he said four years ago “to see death as part of life.”

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had an obit on Saturday. 

Brides of Quietness

July 15, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Lisa Wade at Sociological Images  says she can’t wait to see “The Mechanical Bride,” a documentary about artificial females created mostly for sex.*  The fantasy – a man creating the ideal female – is as old as Pygmalion, but over the millennia, the technology has improved.

In 1951, Marshal McCluhan put this fantasy into the general context of advertising – its messages and images – in his first book, The Mechanical Bride

 I wonder if the creators of the film make any mention of McCluhan.  I’m far away from the copy of the McLuhan book on my office bookshelf, so I’ll rely on this excerpt from an essay by Geert Lovink
 According to McLuhan, it is the dominant pattern of visual coverage in the popular press, comprising a fusion of sex and technology: Explore and enlarge the domain of sex by mechanical technique and possess machines in a sexually gratifying way. Long, slender ladies' legs are an expression of our 'replaceable parts' cultural dynamics. The industrial mode of production mechanized sex too. In ads the human body is depicted behavioristically as a sort of love machine capable merely of specific thrill, a view which reduces sex experience to a problem in mechanics and hygiene.   
I wonder if the filmmaker, Allison deFren, makes any explicit reference to McCluhan and his ideas.

* The 2007 movie  “Lars and the Real Girl” features one of these females – she had a title role but no Oscar nominations.  That movie was not so much about sex as about the social construction of reality.

Acts of Kindness

July 13, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Reward often works better than punishment.*  

Two examples came my way recently from very different sources  – one of those coincidences that are increasingly possible, especially if you spend way too much time on the Internet. 

The Monkey Cage linked to a Harvard Business Review blog (here) about reducing juvenile crime with a policy of  “Positive Tickets.”  Instead of nailing kids for bad behavior, the cops (the Mounties in Richmond, Canada)  gave rewards to kids when they came upon them doing the right thing.
The ticket granted the recipient free entry to the movies or to a local youth center. They gave out an average of 40,000 tickets per year. . . .
Youth recidivism was reduced from 60% to 8%. Overall crime was reduced by 40%. Youth crime was cut in half. And it cost one-tenth of the traditional judicial system.
Just the day before I saw this item, my sister-in-law had sent around a link to this video of an Australian bank doing something similar.   The difference is that the bank’s dependent variable is not clearly defined or measured, and its method is over the top.

*Not always.  In psychology, especially with animals, there are all sorts of specifications and parameters that make this less than a categorical truth.

Kumar Goes to Sociology Class

July 11, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Add Kalpen Modi (Kal Penn) to the list* of inspiring sociology majors.
Gabriel Rossman posted a video of Modi’s commencement address to sociology students at UCLA.
A degree in sociology is far from useless.  The opposite is true. My sociology degree helped prepare me for every job I’ve ever had, and for life in general.

The above frame  is just a screen grab.  Gabriel (Princeton orange accenting the black gown)  is occasionally visible right behind Modi.  Watch the entire video on Gabriel’s blog or here.  It’s worth listening to, especially if you’re a Sociology undergrad.  

* Regis Philbin, Michelle Obama, Ronald Reagan, Dr. Ruth, et. al.

Bitter Tea?

July 10, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston
A less snarky version of this post is at Sociological Images.

In Sunday’s New York Times (here), Arthur Brooks explained  “Why Conservatives Are Happier Than Liberals.”

Brooks pretends to be surprised at the happiness of conservatives.  In the first paragraph, he artfully constructs his straw man:
Barack Obama in 2008 . . . infamously labeled blue-collar voters “bitter,” as they “cling to guns or religion.”
Besides Obama’s perception (or as Brooks sees it, misperception)
there is an entire academic literature in the social sciences dedicated to showing conservatives as naturally authoritarian, dogmatic, intolerant of ambiguity, fearful of threat and loss, low in self-esteem and uncomfortable with complex modes of thinking.
(Note that Brooks is careful not to say that the research actually shows this, though it does.  Instead, the research – most of it by those unhappy liberals – is “dedicated to showing” conservatives in a bad light. Sort of like the research “dedicated to showing” that planet Earth is getting warmer – another liberal conspiracy.*)
Obviously, liberals must be happier, right?
Wrong, says Brooks. 

I’m not sure why he assumes that those characteristics of conservatives found in the scientific literature should make them less happy than liberals. But Brooks is not really interested in conservative traits that are uncorrelated to happiness.  He wants to explain what makes conservatives happy, and he finds two important factors: marriage (with children) and religion.
Religious participants are nearly twice as likely to say they are very happy about their lives as are secularists (43 percent to 23 percent). The differences don’t depend on education, race, sex or age; the happiness difference exists even when you account for income.
That’s a bit misleading. Happiness is in fact related to income, race, and education in exactly the ways you would expect, though for some reason Brooks does not include those variables in his analysis. What Brooks means is that the religion effect holds even when you control for those variables. 

What about the image of the “bitter” conservative?  Nonsense, says Brooks.  Obama, couldn’t have been more wrong. When you look across the political spectrum,
none, it seems, are happier than the Tea Partiers, many of whom cling to guns and faith with great tenacity.
This does not square with the image of Tea Partiers as bitter and angry.  But maybe that’s because until recently, they didn’t have much to be bitter about.  The US was their country, and they knew it.   That’s why ever since November 2008 they have kept talking about “taking back our country.” (See my “Repo Men” post  from two years ago.)

Still, Brooks insists that the extreme right are the happiest kids on the block.  The trouble is that Brooks is looking at pre-Obama data on happiness.  The most recent survey he cites is from 2006.  So Brooks is correct when he says, “This pattern has persisted for decades.”  Here for example is the GSS cumulative data since 1972. 

By about 10 percentage points, more conservatives identify themselves as “very happy” than do liberals.  The difference is even higher among the extreme conservatives. 

But what if we look at the data from the Obama years?

The GSS does not offer “bitter” as a choice on its Happiness measure or “Tea Party” as a political preference, but extreme conservatives are nearly three times as likely as others to be “not too happy.”**  And overall, the happiness gap between conservatives and liberals is hard to find.


* The radio announcer for Celtics games when I was in Boston was Johnny Most, a considerable homer.  On radio, the Celtics never actually committed a foul.  Instead, Most would say, after some bit of shoving on the floor that ended with a 76er crashing into the seats, “and they call a foul on Havlicek.”  Or as Brooks would have it, the refs were “dedicated to showing” that the Celtics committed a foul.

 ** I suppose some caution is in order.  The GSS sample for the table is about 2000, but only 80 of those were Extreme Conservative.  Still, any other 2-year period with similar sample size would show Brooks’s happy-conservative tilt.  Only in the Obama years does the graph look like this.

Brooks v. Brooks (Self-control v. Rambunctious)

July 9, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

David Brooks is the New York Times’s conservative columnist, the guy who extols social skills and the ability of people to work within institutions, the guy who disdains efforts to change institutions and insists that change is personal – a matter of character.  David Brooks is the guy who sees  “The Book of Mormon” and unlike the Times’s theater critic (“blasphemous, scurrilous and more foul-mouthed than David Mamet on a blue streak”) finds a parable of character and self-control:
Rigorous codes of conduct allow people to build their character. Changes in behavior change the mind, so small acts of ritual reinforce networks in the brain. A Mormon denying herself coffee may seem like a silly thing, but regular acts of discipline can lay the foundation for extraordinary acts of self-control when it counts the most.
 “The Book of Mormon” was then (April of last year).  “Henry V” is now. Self-control might have been nice, but now let’s give it up for rambunctiousness.
Henry V is one of Shakespeare's most appealing characters. He was rambunctious when young and courageous when older.
How did Hal become so appealing and courageous?  Not through self-control taught by church or school, says Brooks.  Those confining institutions are the bad guys.  They don’t know how “to educate a fiercely rambunctious” kid.
But the big story here is cultural and moral. If schools want to re-engage Henry, they can't pretend they can turn him into a reflective Hamlet just by feeding him his meds and hoping he'll sit quietly at story time.
That stuff about people changing themselves – self-control to work within institutions – that was so 2011 Brooks.
Schools have to engage people as they are. . .   not just teachers who celebrate cooperation, but other teachers who celebrate competition; not just teachers who honor environmental virtues, but teachers who honor military virtues; not just curriculums that teach how to share, but curriculums that teach how to win and how to lose; not just programs that work like friendship circles, but programs that work like boot camp.
I’m not sure which part of Brooks’s column is more fatuous. That paean to boot camp (see Charles Pierce’s commentary here ) is pretty good.  But Brooks also implies that the gender imbalance in disciplinary problems in schools (mostly boys) is recent:
Boys are much more likely to have discipline problems. An article as far back as 2004 in the magazine Educational Leadership found that boys accounted for nearly three-quarters of the D's and F's.
That “far back” date conveniently puts it in the contemporary era.  Was this imbalance any different in 1894?  In some ways, schools haven’t really changed all that much.  The first lesson kids have to learn is still the same:  sit still.

Surveys and Sequence

July 8, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Push polls are an extreme example of the problems inherent in surveys, even surveys that are not apparently tendentious.  You ask a seemingly straightforward questions, but respondents may not be answering the question you think you asked.  That’s why I tend to distrust one-shot surveys with questions that have never been used before.  (Earlier posts on this are here and here).

Good surveys also vary the sequence of questions since Question #1 may set the framework a person then uses to think about Question #2. 

“Yes, Prime Minister” offers a useful example – exaggerated, but useful in the research methods course nevertheless.

HT: Keith Humphrey

Au Canada

July 5, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

After the Supreme Court’s Obamacare decision, some conservatives announced Twitterers joked that they were so fed up they were moving to Canada (Buzzfeed story here.)

Maybe they were doctors thinking about administrative costs:
A 2010 Health Affairs study found that doctors in Ontario, a Canadian province, spent $22,205 each year dealing with the single-payer agency, compared to the $82,975 American doctors spend dealing with private insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid.
Or maybe they were patients in need of costly tests:
An MRI that costs, on average, $1,200 in the United States comes in at $824 north of the border.
(from a WaPo blog by Sarah Kliff.)

The Flag

July 4, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Five years ago, Pew Research did a survey on patriotism.  The study was released with this title:
Who Flies the Flag? Not Always Who You Might Think
A Closer Look at Patriotism
Pew asked people if they displayed the flag at home, at work, or on their cars. Most of the demographic breakdowns were what you and Pew would expect.  Flag flying was more common among Whites, males, and Republicans. Apparently what surprised Pew (or its headline writer) was the regional breakdown.

As Pew says, “Notably, significantly more Northeasterners and Midwesterners fly the flag than do residents of the South or the West.”

Not to get to Clintonesque here, but maybe it depends on what  “the flag” means.  People in the South are in fact more likely to display a national flag. But the flag these patriots display is not the one in the picture above, the flag of the USA.  It is the flag of a country that fought a war against the USA – a war that killed a greater proportion of the population of the USA than has any other war in our history. (Even the absolute number of USA dead and wounded is second only to World War II.)

UPDATE:  A 2011 Pew survey found that 8% of the total sample said they displayed the Confederate flag.  If we assume that all these were in the South and add them to the 58% of Southerners in the 2007 survey who said they displayed “the flag,” the South still trails the Northeast in flagwaving, though the 3-point difference is within the margin of error. (HT: @ConradHackett)

Name, Race, and Class

July 3, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

The protagonist of Max Shulman’s 1957 novel Rally Round the Flag, Boys is Lt. Guido DiMaggio. He never had andy particular talent for baseball, but practically since he could walk, people were certain that any boy named DiMaggio must have baseball in his blood, so he was encouraged to play and play often.  As a result, he turned into a pretty good outfielder.*

Do names make for destiny because of the way people respond to them?  Freakonomics (2005) says it ain’t so, Joe.  Levitt and Dubner, writing about Black names, conclude that once you control for social class, names make no difference.  In the Freakonomist world, teachers, landlords, and employers are like Steven Colbert – they don’t see race. 
On average, a person with a distinctively black name . . .does have a worse life outcome . . . . But it isn't the fault of his or her name. . . .  The kind of parents who name their son Jake don't tend to live in the same neighborhoods or share economic circumstances with the kind of parents who name their son DeShawn. And that's why, on average, a boy named Jake will tend to earn more money and get more education than a boy named DeShawn. DeShawn's name is an indicator–but not a cause–of his life path.
I was skeptical about this when I read it years ago.  What about all those field tests for civil rights groups?  What about those black college grads who finally wise up and send out their resumes as D. William Green after DeShawn W. Green gets nothing but rejections? 

The problem is that we don’t know whether people are responding to “DeShawn” as a marker of race or marker of class or both. 

Now, S. Michael Gaddis has taken a step towards untangling the race and class in names.  He finds that some Black names are associated with more education, some with less. The same goes for some distinctively white names.  Nearly four out of five Jalens, for example, are Black, but 61% of Jalens have gone to college.  Ronny is mostly white and mostly dropout.

Gaddis went job hunting over the Internet using these names.  He looked at who was offered an interview and at what salary range.  On both outcome variables, race and class both made a difference. 
Moreover, the race- and class- based penalties compound for low-SES black males.  In other words, Jalen and DaQuan are both disadvantaged on the job market compared to Caleb and Ronny, but DaQuan is by far the most severely disadvantaged.  Worse yet:  the situation between white and black candidates does not change whether they are graduates from less selective schools like UMass and UC Riverside or highly selective schools like Harvard and Stanford.
Gaddis has a brief write-up of his research here.

HT: A tweet from Philip Cohen.

* Readers of the first chapter of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers may hear an echo in this story.  Gladwell is writing non-fiction about hockey and age; Shulman is writing fiction about baseball and names.  But the “culling” effect  is similar.