Porn This Way

March 31, 2015
Posted by Jay Livingston

If you were gay and getting married, would you go out of your way to hire a homophobic photographer or baker? Would you seek out the florist who, as he delivers your flowers, lets you know that God despises you for your sinful and disgusting ways?

Let’s get real. The uproar over the Indiana law is about something other than a relatively small number of gays prevented from boosting the bottom line of bigots. It’s about something more important – not the practical consequences but the symbolism.  What the law symbolizes is the relative status of different groups. It is an attempt to reassure religious Christian Hoosiers that they still hold sway, that Indiana is still their state. The corollary is that in the state’s official view, gays do not have the same moral standing as Christians.

That reduced status of gays can have real consequences. The more that gays sense that others disapprove of their sexuality, and the more they get the message that their sexuality is not legitimate, then the more likely they will be to stay in the closet, generally not a happy place for them or their loved ones.

Although it seems eminently logical and reasonable to me that gays who live in places where homosexuality is not accepted will be less happy, it would be nice to have some data. Unfortunately, getting information on gays – the number in and out of the closet, and their general happiness – is an inexact science, and we have to turn to sources not usually explored in the undergraduate Methods course.

Over at Sociological Images, Lisa Wade recently posted some data from PornHub on the relative frequency of gay porn use in the 50 states – the percent of all PornHub searches that were for gay porn. They compared states with and without marriage equality.

The gay percentage was slightly higher in states where gay marriage was not legal. 

PornHub’s research report has a couple of problems. For one thing, their map is badly out of date. They posted it only a couple of weeks ago, but they used old information. The number of marriage-equality states is not eighteen (including DC), it’s thirty-eight. Those fuchsia circles on the map are my addition – marriage-equality states that PornHub classified incorrectly. 

Another problem is that PornHub did not take into account basic demographic facts about the states – age and marital status, for example – that might influence the numbers of gay and straight porn consumers.

Still, it’s surprising that the demand for gay porn, relative to straight, is as high in the deep South – Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi – as it is in states with well known gay areas.* That similarity is real, not just an artifact of PornHub’s possibly flawed methods. Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, writing in the New York Times in December 2013 (here) found similar results using different data – Google searches for terms like “gay porn” and “Rocket Tube.” These searches, like those at Pornhub, constituted about 5% of all porn searches.

Stephens-Davidowitz also found that ratios among the states were similar regardless of general attitudes towards homosexuality.

While tolerant states have a slightly higher percentage of these searches, roughly 5 percent of pornographic searches are looking for depictions of gay men in all states. This again suggests that there are just about as many gay men in less tolerant states as there are anywhere else.

Stephens-Davidowitz’s “tolerance” measure is more sophisticated than PornHub’s simple law/no-law variable (even if they’d gotten it right). It was based on Nate Silver’s estimate of support for gay marriage laws.**

(Click on the image for a larger view.)

In 2012, states in the Northeast scored about 50% higher than did states in the South and Southwest. Yet in the ratio of porn searches specifying gay material, differences were very small. But while the proportion of men who are gay may be about the same in Mississippi and Oklahoma as it is in Massachusetts and California, the lives of those men are very different. Men in less tolerant states were, not surprisingly, more likely to be closeted. In the less tolerant states, fewer men identify themselves as gay in their Facebook profiles. In Mississippi, for example, while porn-search data suggests that 5% of the men are gay, only 1% of Facebook gender preferences are for another man. shows similar results.

Of course, it’s possible that gay men in less tolerant states are already matched up with other men and have no need to declare their preferences on Facebook or Possible, but unlikely. Instead, these men are seeking others offline. Or they are married – to women, of course – and surreptitiously searching for gay porn on the Internet. If so, they are not doing such a great job of fooling themselves. Or their wives.

If you Google “Is my husband,” Google will complete the phrase according to the frequency of searches. This is what you’ll see.

Women everywhere, apparently, are more likely to ask “Is my husband gay?” than “Is my husband cheating?” But that ratio is higher in less tolerant states.

Searches questioning a husband’s sexuality are far more common in the least tolerant states. The states with the highest percentage of women asking this question are South Carolina and Louisiana. In fact, in 21 of the 25 states where this question is most frequently asked, support for gay marriage is lower than the national average.

Anti-gay sentiment in a state, a sentiment that takes the concrete form of laws, forces gay people into unhappy and unfulfilled life in the closet, including marriages that are unfulfilling for wives as well. Maybe that’s what the supporters of these laws intend. The laws are their response to the feeling that their position of dominance is slipping. That same fear motivates proposals to make English the official language of a state or the country, or to make Christianity the official religion.***

In its symbolic message, Indiana’s “OK to Say Nay to Gays” law makes hetero the official sexuality of Indiana. The law is a reassurance to conservative, anti-gay Christians that Indiana is still their state. And the nationwide reaction against the law is no more about wedding cakes than the sit-ins of the 1960s were about the delicious hamburgers that Woolworths was serving to its White customers. What’s at issue is the moral legitimacy of an entire category of people.

* In Maira Kalman’s famous December 2011 “New Yorkistan” cover for the New Yorker, Chelsea appears as Gaymenistan.

**You can find more on Silver’s method here.

*** An earlier post on the wish for Christianity as the official religion is here. I have also argued (here) that the reaction against Obamacare is more about status politics than it is about health care.

Clogged Traffic at the Gateway

March 26, 2015
Posted by Jay Livingston

All politicians lie, said I.F. Stone. But they don’t all lie as blatantly as Chris Christie did yesterday in repeating his vow not to legalize marijuana in New Jersey.

Every bit of objective data we have tells us that it’s a gateway drug to other drugs.
Maybe the governor was trying to show what a good Republican he is when it comes to the findings of science, because that statement simply is not true. The evidence on marijuana as a gateway drug is at best mixed, as the governor or any journalist interested in fact-checking his speech could have discovered by looking up “gateway” on Wikipedia.

If the governor meant that smoking marijuana in and of itself created a craving for stronger drugs, he’s just plain wrong. Mark Kleiman, a policy analyst who knows a lot about drugs, says bluntly (here)

The strong gateway model, which is that somehow marijuana causes fundamental changes in the brain and therefore people inevitably go on from marijuana to cocaine or heroin, is false, as shown by the fact that most people who smoke marijuana don’t. That’s easy. But of course nobody really believes the strong version.

Nobody? Prof. Kleiman, meet Gov. Christie

Or maybe Christie meant a softer version – that the kid who starts smoking weed gets used to doing illegal things, and he makes connections with the kinds of people who use stronger drugs. He gets drawn into their world. It’s not the weed itself that leads to cocaine or heroin, it’s the social world.

That social gateway version, though, offers support for legalization.  Legalization takes weed out of the drug underworld. If you want some weed, you no longer have to consort with criminals and serious druggies.

There are several other reasons to doubt the gateway idea. Much of the evidence comes from studies of individuals. But now, thanks to medical legalization, we also have state-level data, and the results are the same. Legalizing medical marijuana did not lead to an increase in the use of harder drugs, especially among kids. Just the opposite.

(The graph is from Vox.)

First, note the small percents. Perhaps 1.6% of adults used cocaine in the pre-medical-pot years. That percent fell slightly post-legalization. Of course, those older people had long since passed through the gateway, so we wouldn’t expect legalization to make much difference for them. But for younger people, cocaine use was cut in half. Instead of an open gateway with traffic flowing rapidly from marijuana through to the world of hard drugs, it was more like, oh, I don’t know, maybe a bridge with several of its lanes closed clogging traffic.

Higher Ed as Cheerios

March 25, 2015
Posted by Jay Livingston

How embarrassing. The University of North Georgia used this stock photo for the cover of their course catalogue. 

Two White men in suit, white shirt, and tie crossing the finish line triumphantly well ahead of a White woman (dressed more casually). Staggering in last place is a Black man (no suit jacket).

What were they thinking, the people who chose this photo? More accurately, what were they seeing, or still more accurately, what were they not seeing? One of the privileges of being in the dominant group is that you don’t have to worry about how members of your group are portrayed. You don’t even have to notice it. You don’t even have to notice that people like you are in fact dominant. You’re the default setting.

Those in the minority do not have this luxury of cluelessness. When one of “theirs” is portrayed, they notice.

But what strikes me most about the choice of this photo is not that the catalogue-makers did not notice categories of race and gender. It’s the basic assumption about what a university is and what education is. The view of education underlying the clueless cover is much different from that of the people who actually create and teach the courses described inside that catalogue.  Surely you are familiar with these course descriptions, all stamped out from the same template – the questions a course will raise, the ideas and topics it will probe.  For example.

SOCI 3510 - Sociology of Religion
This course examines religious theory and comparative religions, investigates contemporary American religions, and explores personal religiosities with sociological insight and imagination. Course readings and fieldwork underscore religion’s role as a pivotal institution that influences and shapes societal discourse

(I have resisted the temptation to use SOCI 2100 Constructions of Difference, (“focusing on race, class, gender and sexuality”), a course the catalogue makers surely had not taken.)

Even the courses in business rest on similar assumptions.

BUSA 2108 - Business Communication
A management-oriented course emphasizing theories and channels on communication, semantic problems, and other barriers to effective communication with emphasis on both oral and written communications.

The cover photo promotes a much different perspective on education. The cover reminds me of magazine ads for children’s food. These would typically show an exuberantly cheerful child doing something incredibly active, while off to the side, mom smiled in warm satisfaction, the food she had given her child having endowed him with energy for success. “Go Power,” as Cheerios used to say.

What the University of North Georgia says it is really offering is not learning or ideas. It’s Go Power. Those courses in the catalogue are power-packed Cheerios that will allow you to triumph over other people and to come in first in the corporate Hunger Games.

This utilitarian view of education is so widespread and unquestioned as to go unnoticed, more so than rankings of race and gender. But those of us in the minority – the people who write the course descriptions, the people who in our caps and gowns at the end of the year think about medieval scholars and the students who followed them just to hear what they had to say – we notice.

To Kindle a Fire

March 21, 2015
Posted by Jay Livingston

“Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day” (Exodus 35:3).  Orthodox Jews extend this prohibition to electricity. No flipping that wall switch or pushing the start button. But Jews have figured out ways of getting around this restriction – keeping to the letter of the law without having to endure the least inconvenience.

Last June, I blogged (here) about the shabbos goy – the gentile you pay to come in and light the oven. (“Hey, God only said that I couldn’t start the oven. He didn’t say anything about hiring someone else to do it.”) This last shabbat, an orthodox woman in Brooklyn had another way to to get around the restriction. She turned her hotplate on before sundown Friday and left it on. That way she could use it all day Saturday. (“See, God didn’t say we couldn’t cook on shabbat. He only said that we couldn’t kindle a fire.”)

The hotplate sparked a fire, and seven children in the house died.

The authorities attributed the fire to an unknown malfunction in the electric hot plate, a device often used by observant Jewish families to keep food warm from sundown on Friday, the start of the Sabbath, until its end on Saturday night.   (NYT)

“Observant.”  But what are they observing? In that earlier post, I said that what bothered me about these legalistic interpretations was the tone that often accompanied the hypocrisy – “at worst a smug satisfaction, more typically an amiable chuckle – as though there were virtue in putting one over on God.”

But it’s worse than that. How clever to seize on the narrowest interpretation of God’s words, “you” and “kindle a fire,” (much like the Republicans currently in King v. Burwell seizing on a single word in the healthcare law as justification for destroying Obamacare). And how utterly stupid to elevate that linguistic technicality above the spirit of the words and above ordinary safety and sense.

We’ve been here before. Some years ago a religious leader pointed out (mostly to Jews) this mistake of keeping the letter of the law while ignoring its spirit. He frequently put it this way: “You have heard that it is written . . . but I say unto you.”  Eventually he developed a fairly large following.

Freedom and Freeloaders

March 11, 2015
Posted by Jay Livingston
A Wall Street Journal op-ed heralded Wisconsin’s “right to work” (RTW) law that Gov. Walker signed earlier this week. The column carried the byline of  Luke Hilgemann and David Fladeboe of Americans for Prosperity, which gets a ton of money from the Koch brothers, so their support of the anti-union measure is no surprise.

One of their arguments is that RTW states see a greater growth in jobs and income. Or put another way, capital will move to where labor costs are low. If a corporation shifts its work to a low-wage country like Mexico or a low-wage state like Arkansas, Mexico or Arkansas will see a growth in jobs. The wealthier and non-RTW country or state will see a decrease. Mexico or Arkansas will also see an increase in wages since the corporation, to attract good workers, may have to offer higher-than-average wages.

There’s a methodological problem here, for Wisconsin is not Mexico nor is it Arkansas. Because of its history, a history which includes unions, Wisconsin's workers are fairly well paid. Will RTW laws mean greater incomes for Wisconsin workers? Hilgemann and Fladeboe don’t say. They compare states - those with and without RTW laws. They do not compare workers  - those represented by unions and those who are on their own.

Currently, states with RTW laws have lower per capita incomes, not a great prima facie case for busting unions, but Hilgemann and Fladeboe say that taking cost of living into account reduces and reverses this difference. But with or without the cost-of-living adjustment, state per-capita income may not be such a great measure of workers’ wages.*

The better comparison would be between workers’ wages before and after the passage of anti-union laws. Wisconsin’s RTW law is only a few days old, and it will mostly affect workers in the private sector. Public sector employees have already lost their unions. A 2010 law known as Act 10 prohibited public sector unions from collective bargaining for their members. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages , the 2010-2013 increase in the average weekly wages for local government employees (which, I think, includes most of Wisconsin’s teachers) was about 2.6%.  I compared this with the figures for neighboring state Minnesota, whose public employees still had the right to be represented by unions, and with the national average.  Those increases were higher – 3.8% and 4.7% respectively. 

For state employees, US and Wisconsin salaries increased by about 7.2%, Minnesota by 5.4%, though Minnesota salaries started from a higher point, remain higher, and show a larger increase in the most recent year in the BLS database. As the chart shows, the dollar gap between Wisconsin and Minnesota has widened since Wisconsin Republicans disenfranchised public sector unions.  

Hilgemann and Fladeboe find their own evidence on the economic benefits of of RTW laws very convincing. Your mileage may vary. But it’s not really the money that makes RTW laws so glorious, they say. It’s Freedom. “these economic benefits . . .  pale in comparison with the individual freedom that right-to-work laws provide.”
Their evidence that workers want to be free of unions comes mostly from Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s government employees similarly left unions when given the opportunity in 2011. Nearly 70% of the state’s 70,000-member state employees union have since chosen to leave. The powerful American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association saw their ranks decline by more than 50% and 30%, respectively.

This is just a tad disingenuous. If the state passes a law that says your union cannot represent you, would you continue to pay dues? That’s what happened in Wisconsin. The decline in membership (and Hilgemann and Fladeboe’s numbers are probably inflated) surely is much less a matter of workers seeking freedom from unions than their sensible decision not to join an organization that by law can bring no benefits. If a law were passed forbidding corporations to pay dividends and forbidding shareholders to sell at a higher price than they bought, many people would exercise their freedom to get out of the stock market.

Union dues are often compared to taxes. Everyone pays dues, everyone gets the benefits. Under RTW laws, you still get the benefits, but you don’t have to pay. Basically, you’re a freeloader. If there’s a union where you work, and you don’t pay dues, not only to you get the wages and other benefits that union members get, but the union is legally obligated to represent you if you have a grievance.  The freedom so beloved of RTW advocates does not include the freedom of the union to represent only its members and to ignore freeloaders.

It’s like making taxes optional.  If that happened, many Americans would no doubt seize the freedom not to pay. Those who continued to pay their taxes would feel like schmucks and would sooner or later (probably sooner) defect, with the result that government would be unable to provide the things that governments in advanced societies provide. No doubt, economic conservatives would herald this change. What is government after all but coerced collectivism? But people who send their kids to public schools, who prefer to drive on roads with few potholes, who enroll in Medicare, who pay lower tuition at state universities rather than private ones, etc., might be less enthusiastic about this increase in their freedom.


* For their statistics the authors round up numbers from right-wing sources like  ALEC, Arthur Laffer, and Stephen Moore. It’s possible that less partisan sources (e.g., BLS) have other statistics to measure differences between states and between workers.

Homo Promo

March 9, 2015
Posted by Jay Livingston

Moslem clerics and Christian evangelicals are often united in their opposition to sex ed, as Roger Zimmerman notes in today’s New York Times (here). These religious types are not such strange bedfellows. They share the idea that sex ed will “promote homosexuality,” a phrase which has acquired a certain currency. Google it, and you'll see this.

Sex ed, along with media forces like Ellen DeGeneres and “Modern Family,” promotes homosexuality by showing homosexuals as nice, normal, endearing people.

[It] will convince many school children that engaging in homosexual behavior is perfectly normal and thus creating [sic] a self-fulfilling prophecy of developing more homosexuals.(source here)

Powerful stuff that. What’s puzzling is that these jihadis and crusaders attribute to homosexuality such great powers of attraction. Even letting kids know that it exists creates a nearly irresistible temptation.

The obvious Freudian explanation is that the anti-gay extremists are responding to their own repressed homosexual impulses, but I would guess that only a handful of them answer to that description.

The other curious leg of the religionist anti-gay argument is that homosexuality is “unnatural.” If homosexuality is not in our nature, why must we be so careful to make sure that all evidence of it remains out of sight? The argument embraces both the “essentialist” and the “constructionist” take on sexuality. On the one hand, if homosexuality is unnatural, then heterosexuality is ordained by Nature. Nature (or God) created most of us as heterosexuals, and it is not in our nature to be otherwise. But if homosexuality is a constant temptation that must be conquered or kept hidden, then sexuality is infinitely open to construction and reconstruction. Just a few words from schools or celebrities can alter a kid’s sexual path in the same way that nutrition courses and Wheaties endorsements might change his choice of breakfast foods.

“Have you triiiied Wheaties?” asked the old jingle and then added “Won’t you tryyyyy Wheaties?” – an irresistible invitation. I mean, I found it irresistible and wound up eating a lot of Wheaties when I was a kid. But then again, my classmates were not beating me up or otherwise humiliating me on account of my cereal preference.

Private Troubles and Public Op-eds

March 7, 2015
Posted by Jay Livingston

The previous post was about an op-ed by criminologist James Alan Fox that suffered from lack of data. That’s an occupational hazard for op-ed writers, though social scientists writing op-eds should know better. At least Fox didn’t try to pass his own views off as those of “the country” as some editorialists do. A post I did back in 2010 (here) showed David Brooks projecting his own concerns onto “the public” and “the country.” Brooks is far from alone in that. Many columnists conflate their own views with those of “America.”

When the topic is politics and policy, the lack of data just means that the author might be wrong. But when a writer does the same thing about less political and more personal matters, it can feel downright embarrassing. 

David Brooks opened his Monday column with this: “So much of life is about leave-taking: moving from home to college, from love to love, from city to city and from life stage to life stage.”

The rest of the column was about the leaver and the left behind.  It featured “facts”  without evidence
to be around college students these days is to observe how many parents have failed to successfully start their child’s transition into adulthood
 moral prescriptions
The person being left has to grant the leaver the dignity of her own mind, has to respect her ability to make her own choices about how to live and whom to be close to
and thoughts about how technology has changed break-ups
Communications technology encourages us to express whatever is on our minds in that instant. It makes self-restraint harder. But sometimes healthy relationships require self-restraint and self-quieting, deference and respect.
If you knew nothing about Brooks, you could shrug it off or take it to heart, whatever your personal experiences, opinions, and situation might warrant. But if you knew even a little about Brooks’s personal life, you might have wondered if you really should be reading this.  As cartoonist Tom Tomorrow tweeted:

Tomorrow could have tweeted the same thing in late January when Brooks wrote (here) about the difficulties people who meet online face in their transition to in-person relationships.

I found myself reconsidering a Brooks column from 2009 that I sometimes use for teaching. The class exercise is to turn data-less assertions into testable hypotheses. The Brooks column, about online dating, was good source material. But the content now suggests something in addition, not just theorizing about technology but personal hopes and experiences. Online dating, Brooks says, can impose “structure” and “courtship” on romance – exactly the sort of things an old-fashioned, values-oriented conservative guy might be looking for. The pronoun “I” does not appear even once in that column. But now I wonder whether that column too was autobiographical.

Any good therapist, listening to a client talking in generalities about “people” will hear the unvoiced first-person pronoun. That’s the therapist’s job. But as an op-ed reader, I’d rather have at least a thin layer of actual data between me and the writer’s personal problems.