Prophetic Umpires

March 30, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

“It ain’t nothin’ till I call it,” said umpire Bill Klem. And if he called it a strike, a strike it was.  As Klem knew, the umpire has something resembling papal infallibility.  That was then. Klem worked behind the plate from 1905 to 1942 and holds the record for throwing players and managers out of the game (the infallibility thing is sometimes a bit much for players to take).  Now, thanks to modern technology, we can know just which calls the umpires miss.

Here’s Matt Holliday taking a called third strike.

Holliday’s body language speaks clearly, and his reaction is understandable. The pitch was wide, even wider than the first two pitches, both of which the umpire miscalled as strikes.* 

The PITCHf/x technology that makes this graphic possible, whatever its value or threat to umpires, has been a boon for sabremetricians  and social scientists.  The big data provided can tell us not just the number of bad calls but the factors that make a bad call more or less likely.  In the New York Times today (here), Brayden King and Jerry Kim report on their study of roughly 780,000 pitches in the 2008-09 season. Umpires erred on about 1 in every 7 pitches – 47,000 pitches over the plate that were called balls, and nearly 69,000 like those three to Matt Holliday.

Here are some of the other findings that King and Kim  report in today’s article.
  •  Umpires gave a slight edge to the home team pitchers, calling 13.3% of their pitches outside the zone as strikes.  Visitors got 12.6%.
  • The count mattered
  •     At 0-0, the error rate was 14.7%.
  •     At 3-0, 18.6% of pitches outside the zone were called as strikes
  •     At 0-2, only 7.3% of pitches outside the zone were called as strikes
  • All-star pitchers were more likely than others to get favorable calls . . .
  • . . . Especially if the pitcher had a reputation as a location pitcher.
  • The importance of the situation (tie game, bottom of the ninth) made no difference in bad calls.
It seems that expectation accounts for a lot of these findings. It’s not that what you see is what you get. It’s that what you expect is what you see. We expect good All-star pitchers to throw more accurately, especially control freaks like Greg Maddux.**  We also expect that a pitcher who is way ahead in the count will throw a waste pitch and that on the 3-0, he’ll put it over the plate.  My guess is that umpires share these expectations. The difference is that the umps can turn their expectations into self-fulfilling prophecies.


* I took the graphics from fangraphs

**The pitcher in the clips is Tyler Clippard, a pretty good closer for the Nationals. He was selected as an All-star once, not nearly enough to meet the King-Kim criterion level of five.

Women’s Magazines – Colors and Numbers

March 29, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

First there was Barbara Stanwyck

And then Kelly LeBrock . . .

. . .  movie history repeating itself, the second time as farce.

According to current evolutionary psychology thinking, the prevalence of women in red is not an accident.  The title of this 2013 article says it all: “Women Use Red in Order to Attract Mates.” Just like Ray Charles said.

I was thinking about this the other day as I walked past the newsstands in Port Authority, and not just because of Philip Cohen’s off-the-cuff research study  lending support. 

(Click on the photo for a larger view. The photo is a composite 
of shots from three different magazine racks. )
The trouble was that on all these magazines in the women’s section, only one of the covers had a lady in red (New You, which is apparently aimed at women with a bit of anxiety about getting older).

The covers also made me think about the idea sometimes put forward by the evol-psych crowd (and sometimes by presidents of Harvard) that women do not have an affinity for math.  Maybe so, but while the women’s magazine racks this month had almost no red, they had a lot of numbers.
  • Seventeen – 328 Fun Hair Ideas
  • More - 12 Rules to Follow and 4 to Skip
  • Style Watch - 728 Spring Looks You’ll Love
  • Lucky - 25 Best Bags of Spring
  • Bazaar – 437 New Looks for Now
  • Elle - 300 Instant Outfit Ideas,
  •     80+ Tips from the World’s Top Makeup, Hair, & Skin Pros
  •     the 14 Books Every Woman Must Read
  • Cosmopolitan – 168 Ways to Kick More Ass
  • Teen Vogue – 273 Looks at Any Price
  • Oprah - 20 Questions Every Woman Should Ask Herself Today!
  • In Style - 378 Amazing Spring Accessories
  • Vogue - 648 pages of Spring Fashion
  • Glamour - 99 Best Bags & Shoes Now
  • Cosmopolitan Latina - 87 Power Moves
  • New You – 250+ Springtime beauty solutions, sexy workouts & dietary musts
I’ve commented on this years ago (here and here). Back then, it was not unusual for a magazine to have more than one number on the cover.  The curious thing is that numbers themselves seem to be a fashion mag fashion.  They go in and out of style.  For a while, numbers almost completely disappeared from the covers of women’s magazines.  But at least for Spring 2014, the numbers are back. 

If the SocioBlog had a cover, it might say

14 Magazines for Spring with Numbers on the Cover

Blessed Are the Assault Rifles

March 24, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

“Righteous Slaughter” was the title I gave a post (here) about the ideas of some people on the gunslinging right. It referred to their glorification of killing so long as the killing could be justified. At the time, I thought that “righteous” might be stretching it just a little since the term implies that the slaughter has a holy, Biblical inspiration and benediction.

Silly me.  Fox News today set me straight.

As the spineless lefties at the Daily News were quick to point out in their lede, the prize this house of worship was offering was
 a high-powered assault rifle similar to the one used to slaughter 26 innocent people at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Nor is this upstate New York church unique. While it was raffling off one piddling assault rifle, Lone Oak First Baptist Church in Kentucky was doing 25 times that amount of God’s work.
roughly 1,300 people crammed into the church hall for a steak dinner and pep talk by gun expert Chuck McAlister, who was hired by Kentucky’s Southern Baptists to grow membership. Twenty-five guns were raffled off during the dinner
The New York church is trying its best to catch up – as the headline says, another church-sanctified AR-15 will go to some lucky Christian tonight.

John 11:35

Families for Deceptive Statistics

March 22, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

If you live in New York City and have a working television set, you’ve seen those heart-wrenching ads accusing Mayor DeBlasio of “taking away the hopes and dreams” of 194 middle school children.  The meanie mayor did this by allowing 14 of 17 charter schools to get free space in public schools.  Unfortunately, at least one of the three that didn’t meet the criteria* is run by Eva Moskowitz, who is closely connected with some heavy hitters.** Hence the multi-million dollar saturation ad campaign.

The ads come from an organization called Families for Excellent Schools. It was bad enough that they took over my television. Now they’ve turned up, unbidden and unfollowed, in my Twitter feed. 

Wow – 79% want to “protect or expand.”  Looks like four out of five New Yorkers are strongly pro-charter.  But just to be sure, I followed the link and arrived at a Quinnipiac poll (here).  It’s Quinnipiac, so I assume that the sampling and questions are OK.  Here’s the relevant item:
30. As you may know, charter schools are operated by private or non-profit organizations. The schools are paid for with public funds and do not charge tuition. Do you think the mayor should increase the number of charter schools, decrease the number of charter schools, or keep the number of charter schools the same?
And here are the results (I’ve left out the demographic breakdowns which you can find by following the link above).

Kid in PS

Keep the same

Notice that the word in the tweet, “protect,” was not one of the choices. The trick is obvious: lump the 39% who said “Keep the same” with the 40% who said the 39% who said “Increase,” and voila – 79%.  But the trick works both ways.  Using the same logic, charter opponents could add the “Keep the same” group to the 14% “Decrease” group and say
Poll finds majority of New Yorkers wants to halt growth of charter schools, 53 - 40.   Among those with kids in public school, they outnumber proponents of charter expansion 49 - 45.
Would that be deceptive? Maybe, but certainly no more so than “protect or expand.”


* Diane Ravitch (here) has more on the criteria for “co-location” of charters in public schools.

** “Jeremiah Kittredge, the executive director of Families for Excellent Schools, said the strength of the movement comes from the bottom.” (From a story on WNYC radio.) Hmm. Do you pay for a multi-million dollar TV ad campaign with money from the bottom?  It turns out that Families for Excellent schools gets its money from ordinary bottom folks like the Walton family and probably a bunch of billionaire hedge-funders and CEOs, though we can’t be sure: “Kittredge declined to discuss his organization’s funding.”

Less for Your Money

March 21, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

What to do about snow days? That was one of the last items on the agenda at the half-day-long meeting of all department chairs. In coming semesters, we’ll probably get more weird weather, so what kind of advance arrangements should make?  Schedule more pre-exam-period reading days that can be converted to class days? Have teachers tockpile a few online classes?

“I don’t know about anyone else,” said one chair, trying to sound puzzled, “but so far none of my students have complained about the two missed classes.”  (OK, it was me.) There was laughter, though not an entirely easy laughter.

I continued:
I had two immediate mental associations when the topic came up. One was my brother. Long ago, I was talking to him about this problem or something similar He took out a blank piece of paper.  “Suppose this is your field, sociology.” Then he drew a square that took up less than half the page.. “And this is how much you know.”

“And this,” he drew a smaller square inside that one, “is what you can cover in a semester.”  It was beginning to look like an Albers print but without color.

“And this,” a still smaller square “is what your students can learn.”

I didn’t have to state the obvious implication:  as long as the what-they-can-learn square was considerably smaller than the what-you-can-cover square, what difference would a couple of snow days make?

“My other association,” I said, “was to Father Guido Sarducci.”

I was surprised by the number of people who seemed to get the reference.* At least they laughed.  And one woman I spoke with later (chair of Nutrition Sciences) did a very credible version of Fr. Sarducci’s accent.  She added that our business was one of the very few where the customers often wanted less for their money.

* The bit became famous after Don Novello did it on SNL in the early 1970s. This version is from 1980, still early enough that the audience gets the Mickey Mouse Club reference.


Motivation and Incentives - Are the Rich and Poor Different?

March 19, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

Economic policies often rest on assumptions about human motivation. 

Rep. Ryan (Republican of Wisconsin): 
The left is making a big mistake here. What they’re offering people is a full stomach and an empty soul. People don’t just want a life of comfort. They want a life of dignity — of self-determination.
Fox News has been hitting the theme of “Entitlement Nation” lately. The Conservative case against things like Food Stamps, Medicare, welfare, unemployment benefits, etc. rests on some easily understood principles of motivation and economics.

1.    Giving money or things to a person creates dependency and saps the desire to work. That’s bad for the person and bad for the country
2.    A person working for money is good for the person and the country.
3.    We want to encourage work
4.    We do not want to encourage dependency
5.    Taxing something discourages it. 

Now that you’ve mastered these, here’s the test question:
1. According to Conservatives, which should be taxed more heavily:
    a.    money a person earns by working
    b.    money a person receives without working, for example because someone else died and left it in their will

If you said “b,” you’d better go back to Conservative class. A good Conservative believes that the money a person gets without working for it should not be taxed at all.*  

Not all such money, of course.  Lottery tickets are bought disproportionately by lower-income people.  If a person gets income by winning the PowerBall or some other lottery, the Federal government taxes the money as income. Conservatives do not object.  But if a person gets income by winning the rich-parent lottery, Conservatives think he or she should not pay any taxes.

What Conservatives are saying to you is this: working for your money is not as good as  inheriting it.** This message seems to contradict the principles listed above. But, as Jon Stewart recently pointed out (here), Conservatives apply those principles of economics and motivational psychology only to the poor, not to wealthy individuals or corporations.

Me, I’m with Rep. Ryan on this one. I think that the children of the wealthy would not at all mind paying considerable taxes on their inheritance. What abolishing inheritance taxes offers people is a full stomach (not to mention a full bank account, stock portfolio, a full house or two, etc.) but an empty soul. To repeat the Wisdom from Wisconsin: “People don’t just want a life of comfort. They want a life of dignity — of self-determination.”

Unfortunately, Conservatives want to take away that dignity and self-determination
* Conservatives like to call the inheritance tax the “death tax” as though a person is being taxed for dying. But it’s not the deceased who is being taxed. It’s the lucky people who are given the money.

** Conservatives also favor lower taxes on other ways of getting money that are available mostly the wealthy and involve little or no work – gambling on stocks and more complicated derivatives for example.

Poverty – Race, Ryan, and Rhetoric

March 18, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

Poor Paul Ryan – he said what he really thought. That’s not always dangerous, but this time it was about why Black men don’t work, and Rep. Ryan’s explanation was that there’s something wrong with the men, their families, and their culture.

You can’t blame Ryan for his statement. His guard was down. He was among friends, being interviewed by William Bennett, a whale of a conservative. Bennett set the ball on the tee:
We’re setting records in terms of people not working. . . . There’s a cultural aspect to this . . . Boys particularly learn how to work. Who teaches boys how to work. . . . A boy has to see a man working, doesn’t he?
And Ryan took a swing:
Absolutely. . . . We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.
When a reporter (lauren victoria burke of Crew of 42 - here) later asked Ryan about the racial implications in his statement, Ryan first tried the standard dodge” “it was taken out of context.” Then he went for total denial:
This has nothing to do whatsoever with race. It never even occurred to me. This has nothing to do with race whatsoever.
Rep. Ryan was using here a rhetorical device known as “a lie.”

The context for the Bennett interview was Ryan’s recent report on poverty programs, particularly those that encourage “dependency” rather than work.  Nor did Ryan embellish or add relevant ideas that were left out of the quote. So the statement was perfectly in context. As for race, the term “inner city” is so often to mean Black that it can’t even be considered a code word; it’s a synonym.

When burke (in a West-Wing-like walk-and-talk) pointed out the racial implications, Ryan suddenly remembered that poverty and unemployment were not purely inner city problems
This isn’t a race based comment. It’s a breakdown of families, it’s rural poverty in rural areas, and talking about where poverty exists — there are no jobs and we have a breakdown of the family.
Ryan’s second thoughts are accurate.  In fact, rates of poverty are higher in rural areas than in metro areas.  The difference is slight in most regions, probably because metro areas have so many people who are not poor. But in the South, the rural-urban difference is unmistakable.

(Click on the graph for a larger view.)

As several others have pointed out, it was only when Ryan’s image of poverty expanded to include rural Whites that his explanation expanded to include what should be obvious – the lack of jobs.  We can't really know the implicit associations in Rep. Ryan’s mind.  But it certainly looks as though they go like this:  Why are inner-city Black people poor? Because of their culture – they haven’t learned the value of work. Why are Whites in Appalachia poor? Because there are no jobs.

HT: Eric Volsky at ThinkProgress for the graph.

(An earlier version of this post had Ryan as a Senator. He is in fact a Representative. What could I have been thinking.?)

Jazz and Rap, White and Black

March 16, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

“Dave Brubeck Was The Macklemore Of 1954,” wrote Patrick Jarenwattananon, NPR’s jazz blogger (here), after Macklemore’s post-Grammy text apologizing to Kendrick Lamar.

Sixty years earlier, Time magazine put Dave Brubeck on the cover, and in 1954 being on the cover of Time was a big deal. Brubeck’s quartet  was on tour with the Duke Ellington orchestra at the time, and Brubeck felt, as did many others, that if any jazzer was going to be on the cover of Time, it should be Duke. (Time put Ellington on the cover two years later.)

Jarenwattananon hears in these stories a recurrent motif in American popular music:
Both also fit into a longstanding narrative in American popular music. White musicians play music of black community origin. Then, buoyed by systemic privilege, they enjoy mainstream success prior to the black artists they were initially inspired by. And they attempt to allay the guilt by deferring to said black trailblazers.
That’s almost certainly true of Brubeck. His popularity owed much to Whiteness. It wasn’t just that Brubeck himself was White. His music was White. (The frequent criticism of Brubeck among jazzers was that he didn’t swing – a valid criticism.*) In the early 50s, he set out to popularize his music by touring colleges, and in that era, college campuses were nearly all White. That success enabled him to move from a small label (Fantasy, with its translucent wine-colored records) to Columbia. His first record for that label was  “Jazz Goes to College.”

But the Brubeck and Macklemore stories are different in some important ways.  Jazz, unlike rap, has never had widespread appeal, especially among Whites.  So the audience for jazz à la Brubeck was a lot bigger than the audience for what Black jazz musicians, including Ellington, were playing. If Time was looking for someone emblematic of the surge (tiny though it was) in the popularity of jazz, Brubeck was the likely candidate.  Besides that, Time is a news magazine, and in 1954, Ellington  was not new; Brubeck was.

Does any of this apply to Macklemore?** He works in a genre that, even in its least White forms, is already popular among Whites. The White audience for rap is huge.*** Also, it’s not as though the White media have been ignoring Black rappers. Many a Grammy had been awarded to Black rappers before Macklemore. But in 1954, only one other jazz musician of any color had been honored with a Time cover. That honoree was Louis Armstrong.

Others who know more about rap and the Grammys than I do can correct me, and obviously it depends on who votes.  But my impression is that Macklemore’s Grammy did not have so much to do with “systemic privilege.”  Nor do I think he won because he “enjoy[ed] mainstream success prior to the black artists [he was] initially inspired by.”

Hat tip to a regular reader and erstwhile copy editor of this blog for referring me to the NPR story.

* To swing is a term that defies precise definition – perhaps the difference between swinging and not swinging amounts to a matter of microseconds in the length of notes and perhaps the choice of tonalities – but jazzers know it when they hear it. And when they don’t.

** I know almost nothing about Macklemore and his music – only that our sartorial preferences run to similar sources. Fuckin’ awesome.

*** You frequently hear the claim that the rap audience is  70-75% White.  The  WSJ’s “numbers guy” Carl Bialik checks it out as best he can (here) and concludes, “Conventional wisdom, for once, turns out to be mostly correct – with the caveat that theres a lot we don't know about race and rap sales.” 

Losing Their Religion - And So . . .?

March 13, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

“Kids, I don’t know what’s wrong with these kids today,” sang Paul Lynde in “Bye-Bye Birdie.” That was 54 years ago.

Paul Lynde is gone, but we now have N. Bradley Wilcox (here) fretting about the Millenials.  Kids . . .
[their]ties to the core human institutions that have sustained the American experiment — work, marriage, and civil society — are worryingly weak.
Not as tuneful, but it’s the thought that counts.

Wilcox is professor of Sociology and the University of Virginia, also, according to the bio on the NRO article, director of the Home Economics Project at the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for Family Studies, so he ought to know.  He looks at data from the Pew Survey and the General Social Survey and concludes that the Millenials unless they change their ways as they grow older, will lead the country to political and economic disaster.*

Philip Cohen, on his Family Inequality blog (here), has already pointed some of the problems with Wilcox’s interpretation of the data on work and trust. Philip also provides a link to his earlier criticisms of Wilcox’s assertions about family.

It’s the “civil society” part that interests me. But how to measure engagement in civil society? Voter turnout among the young?  That was slightly higher in 2012 than it was a quarter-century earlier.  Wilcox does not use that. Nor does he use rates of volunteering. Instead he uses a measure of how religious a person is. Here is the graph he borrows from the Pew Survey.

Wilcox puts faith on a par with work and family.  But what benefits does personal religious conviction bring to the society?  Wilcox suggests that a willingness to trust others is a general social good.  And among younger people, the very religious are more trusting, though even among the Very Religious, those distrustful outnumber the trusting by more than two to one.

(Click on a graph for a slightly larger view.)

Interestingly, the Not Religious are more trusting than are the two middle categories, Moderate and Slight.  (The differences, with 900 people in the sample, are not quite statistically significant at the .05 level. The differences between Very Religious and Not Religious do not come close to significance.)

The religious dimension produces its largest difference in rates of marriage.

The Very Religious are the most likely to be married, the Not Religious the least. Wilcox and other conservatives see marriage as good for society and for the individual, and it is . . . in some ways.  Married people are more likely to say that they’re happy. But on other measures, like work, education and income, being religious seems to lose its advantage. 

Work: Wilcox says “full-time work remains the best way to avoid poverty and to chart a path into the middle class.” It also brings “an important sense of dignity and meaning.”  But according to GSS data, religiousness is unrelated to full-time work.

Education: Wilcox says almost nothing about education. Most Americans assume that it’s a good thing for both the individual and the society. School is also one of the important institutions of our society, so presumably staying in school indicates a commitment to civil society.  But it is the Not Religious who get higher degrees, while the Very Religious are more likely to drop out.

Income: Money is obviously a good thing for the individual. But it also matters for civil society.  Most measures of civic engagement (voting, participation in organizations) rise with income. Again, the Not Religious come out on the positive end of the scale.

The Not Religious are more than twice as likely as the Very Religious to have incomes of $80,000 or more. Or as Sen. Marco Rubio might interpret the data, losing your religion increases your chances of being rich by 116%.

In sum, except for being married, religiousness is either not related to the “core human institutions that have sustained the American experiment,”or the direction of the relation contradicts the way Wilcox would like the variables to align.

My point is not that Wilcox is wrong about a lack of civic engagement among the young. When my questions in class about current front-page political issues or important events in US history meet blank stares, I too have my Paul Lynde moments. I wonder: did students a generation or two ago know more about such things? I don’t trust my memory on that.

But whatever civic engagement is, and whether the Millenials have less of it, I don’t think we find that out by asking people about their religious convictions.

* “a generation of young adults ‘unmoored’ from the institutions of work, family, and civil society, and distrustful of their fellow citizens, can end up succumbing to the siren song of demagogues, especially if the economy dips into a depression.”

Pryor Convictions

March 12, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

Yesterday, I posted about the conservatives’ tendency to celebrate killing – so long as the killing is, in their view, justifiable.  When the moderator at a Republican primary debate cited the record number of people executed in Texas under Governor Perry, the audience cheered.


We don’t know how long the applause would have continued if Brian Williams hadn’t interrupted.

I’m now reminded of a similar audience reaction – the inmates at Folsom Prison listening to Johnny Cash and cheering at this line in “Folsom Prison Blues”

To paraphrase the journalist I quoted asking about the people lining up for George Zimmeman’s autograph:  Who are these people cheering when Cash sings “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die”?” The answer is simple. They’re criminals; some of them are killers.  That’s why they’re in prison.

And to quote Richard Pryor, “Thank God we got penitentiaries.”

(The line comes early in the clip from “Live on the Sunset Strip” (1982) . (If it doesn't load, go here). But if you have forgotten, as I had, just how good Pryor was, watch the whole thing.)

I imagine how Pryor might react these days:
Y’know, but there’s a difference. Them motherfuckers yelling about shootin’ a man in Reno – they was in the joint.  They get out, they can’t even vote. Motherfuckers cheering for killing more people with executions and stand your ground and shit – they run half the states in the country.

Righteous Slaughter

March 11, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

George Zimmerman was signing autographs at a gun show in Orlando this week. Liberal blogs are all over it. Conservative bloggers seem not to have noticed.* (Google “George Zimmerman autograph” and see if any red staters turn up.) 

Zimmerman is not the issue. It’s his supporters. Only 200 showed up for the meet-and-greet or SigSauer-and-Signature or whatever it was called.  But Zimmerman has many supporters around the country, and, as Jonathan Capeheart says:
This leads to what should be an inevitable question: Who are these people glorifying the killer of an unarmed teenager in one of the most racially polarized incidents in recent history?
I keep wondering how Jonathan Haidt would explain this conservative embrace of Zimmerman. The liberal reaction presents no problems. Haidt says that liberal morality rests on two principles (he calls them “foundations”)
  • Care/Harm
  • Fairness/Cheating. 
Killing someone certainly qualifies as Harm, and, almost literally, getting away with murder is not Fair.

The Zimmerman side is that he shot in self-defense. That argument persuaded the jury, or at least created sufficient reasonable doubt. But it doesn’t explain why some people on the right see him as a hero. What moral principle does he represent? 

In Haidt’s schema, conservatives take Harm and Fairness into account but balance them with three others:
  • Loyalty/betrayal
  • Authority/subversion
  • Sanctity/degradation
(A sixth foundation - Liberty/oppression – underlies both the liberal and conservative side.)

It’s hard to see how any of these describe the autograph-seekers.  What else might explain that reaction?

The obvious candidate is racism. If the races had been reversed – if a Black man had confronted a White teenager, killed him, and then been acquitted on self-defense grounds – would the left have hailed him as a hero? I doubt it. Would those same autograph hounds in Orlando have sought him out? I doubt it.  And if Black people had then turned out to get his autograph, can you imagine what the reaction on the right would have been?

But it’s not just racism. It’s a more general willingness to do harm, great harm, to those who “deserve” it.  The liberal view (Harm/Care) is that while in some circumstances killing may be necessary or inevitable, it is still unfortunate.  But over on the right, killing, torture, and perhaps other forms of harm are cause for celebration, so long as these can be justified. In 2008, Republicans cheered Sarah Palin when she stood up for torture. (See this post from 2008.) In 2011, they cheered Rick Perry for signing death warrants for record numbers of executions (here). When Wolf Blitzer hypothsized a young man who had decided not to buy medical insurance but now lay in the ICU, and Blitzer asked “Should we let him die?” several people in the Republican audience enthusiastically shouted out, “Yes.” (here)

My guess as to the common thread here is a dimension Haidt doesn’t include as a foundation of morality – boundary rigidity. In those earlier posts, I referred to this, or something similar, as “tribalism.”
Morality is not some abstract universal that applies to all people.  Tribal morality divides the world into Us and Them.  What's moral is what's good for Us.  This morality does not extend to Them.
Could it be that as you get farther out on the right, you find more people whose boundaries are more rigid?  They are the hard liners who draw hard lines. Once those lines are drawn, it’s impossible to have sympathy – to extend Care – to someone on the other side. If you imagine that you live in a world where an attack by Them is always imminent, defending those boundaries becomes very important.

That seems to be the world of gun-rights crowd lionizing Zimmerman.  Their cherished scenario is the defense of boundaries against those who are clearly Not Us.  They stand their ground and defend themselves, their families, their houses and property, even their towns and communities against those from the other side of the boundary (including Obama’s jack-booted thugs).  It is a story they never tire of, repeated time after time in NRA publications.  Zimmerman is a hero because his story, in their view, embodies the narrative of righteous slaughter. 

* A local Fox outlet did a sympathetic interview with Zimmerman (here)– sympathetic in the sense that it tried to cast Zimmerman as victim. After two sentences describing the event, the story continues:
Fox 35 met up with him to talk about why he was at the store and what life has been like after his acquittal.

Fox 35's Valerie Boey: "You've always been concerned about your safety. Are you concerned about your safety today?"

Envy, Anger, Greed, Sloth - (4 Out of 7 Ain’t Bad)

March 8, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

Many people in the US are concerned about the great increase in economic inequality. They point out, for example, that 95% of all income gains since 2008 have gone to the 1%.  Are they motivated by envy?

Arthur Brooks thinks so. His latest op-ed in the Times is “The Downside of Inciting Envy.”

Claiming to know what a person is feeling when the person himself denies that feeling is always a tricky business. When you’re attributing emotions to others, you ought to have pretty solid evidence

Undoubtedly, inequality has gotten much more attention lately. But is that attention borne on a rising tide of envy in the US? Here’s Brooks’s evidence:
  • the percentage of Americans who feel strongly that “government ought to reduce the income differences between the rich and the poor” is at its highest since the 1970s. (GSS data)
  • 43 percent of Americans told the Pew Research Center that government should do “a lot” to “reduce the gap between the rich and everyone else.” (Pew data)
  • the percentage of Americans who feel that “most people who want to get ahead” can do so through hard work has dropped by 14 points since about 2000. (Pew)
  • In 2007, Gallup found that 70 percent were satisfied with their opportunities to get ahead by working hard; only 29 percent were dissatisfied. Today, that gap has shrunk to 54 percent satisfied, and 45 percent dissatisfied.
First, Brooks’s reading of the GSS data is barely true. Respondents mark their opinion on a 7-point scale.  In 2012, 24.3% chose #1, the most redistributionist option. That was only slightly higher than in 1990 (22.6%) and 1986 (22.7%). (Using #1 and #2 combined puts 1990 highest.)

(Click on the graph for a larger view.)

It’s understandable that in the Great Recession years, economic hardship would inspire more people to look to government to assuage inequality.  But before then, the average redistributionst sentiment in Republican years (Reagan-Bush41, Bush43) is higher than in Democratic years (Clinton). This might be relevant for Brooks’s assertion
we must recognize that fomenting bitterness over income differences may be powerful politics, but it injures our nation.
Do Republicans foment bitterness for their own political ends? Do Democratic presidents reduce envy? More to the point, do any of Brooks’s indicators really measure envy?

Two of the items are not about envy, they’re about policy. Two others are about economic reality. (Technically, one is about satisfaction with economic reality.) That too is not envy. 

Suppose Brooks had sampled attitudes about poverty and low income.
  • Should the government reduce spending on food stamps, unemployment insurance, and welfare? 
  • Do safety-net programs encourage people to avoid work and become dependent on government?
Some people will say that those programs encourage sloth and that we should cut those programs. Are these people envious of the poor (“they’re getting government handouts, and I’m not”)?  Or rather, do these questions merely tap beliefs about the effects of government policy? In my hypothetical questions and in Brooks’s real ones, it’s probably some combination – emotion (anger, envy, resentment), and beliefs about what policy would be best for the country as a whole.

Dissatisfaction and even anger are not envy. Teabaggers and others on the far right are very dissatisfied, and they vent a ton of anger at Obama. Does that mean they are envious of Obama’s political power? No, they just think that they and the country would be better off if one of their own were president. Are the Occupy people envious of the wealth of the Wall Street oligarchs? I doubt that any of the Occupiers in Zucotti Park wanted a bank account with gazillions of dollars. They just wanted what they see as a fairer tax structure and more government action to create jobs. Nevertheless, Brooks and many others automatically assume that those who are concerned about increasing inequality are motivated by personal envy.

Meanwhile, inside the Wall Street buildings, those who occupy the trading desks and offices have been known to complain (here, for example) about their mere $3 million bonus because someone else got $5 million. Now that’s envy. And greed.

(An Esquire article based on their own highly unscientific sampling of Wall Street workers had this graphic on satisfaction with the year-end bonus.)

Mixing Oscars and Exams

March 2, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

Here’s my Oscar story, relevant here only because it happened in a sociology class.  File it under Pedagogy, or Test Construction, or better yet Teachers’ Misperceptions of Students.

In the Spring 1992 semester, I had a Monday night criminal justice class (SOCI 323). The night of the midterm turned out to be Oscar night, which was always a Monday back then.  Exams aren’t much fun, so I put the following as the last question in the multiple-choice section of the exam:
Tonight, the Academy Award for best picture will go to
a. Beauty and the Beast
b. Bugsy
c.  JFK
d.  The Prince of Tides
e.  The Silence of the Lambs
 I thought students might find it faintly amusing, a break from the real questions. Boy was I wrong.  Hands were raised, as were voices. “That’s not fair.” “How can you expect us to know the answer to that?” and so on. These lambs were not silent. I apologized and assured them that the question was just for fun and that I would not count it in their scores.

It was the only question on the exam that everyone got right.

Now, two decades later, I find it of interest in light of Gabriel Rossman and Oscar Schilke’s recent article on Oscar bait. “The Silence of the Lambs” would probably not score high on their Oscar algorithm. The director had no previous nominations. Its keywords do not include “family tragedy,” “whistleblower,” “Pulitzer Prize source,” “physical therapy,” “domestic servant.”  It does, however, come close to “zombie,” which eats away Oscar-worthiness as does the genre classification “horror” (“thriller” too, I would guess, though I’m not sure.) And it was released in February. 

But “The Silence of the Lambs” won everything – picture, director, actor, actress, screenplay, sound, editing, gourmandise – in short, the works. I still can’t figure out why there hasn’t yet been a Broadway musical version. Maybe I should get to work. I feel a song coming on.