Happy Birthday, Duke

April 29, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston

Edward Kennedy Ellington, born April 29, 1899.  His work – its quality, quantity, and diversity – is one of the treasures of American music. And he wrote most of it while working full-time as CEO of a touring band. Here is a 1940 recording of “Cottontail” – “modern jazz before there was ever such a term,” according to David Rickert (here)

One early morning years ago, I was driving to work, feeling not especially cheerful about, well, everything. The radio was on – WBGO – and the DJ played this recording, and suddenly the fog lifted. I especially like the saxophone section chorus that starts shortly after the 2:00 mark.

There’s also Ben Webster’s famous solo on the second chorus – “one of Webster's best solos, and also one of the greatest ever recorded,” says Rickert ,adding that it’s a great example of a solo telling a story. But for the full story, listen to the lyric by Jon Hendricks –  Beatrix Potter meets Duke Ellington. It begins,
Way back in my childhood
I heard a story so true
’Bout a funny bunny
Stealing some boo from a garden he knew.
(Hendricks wrote it in around 1960 – it’s on LHR’s 1962 album (listen here). But “boo” is a 1940s term for what we now call weed. )

How the Other 47% Lives

April 25, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston

Remember the 47% – those Americans whose income was so low that they were not required to pay any income tax? Mitt Romney talked about them four years ago when he was running for president. They are generally a concern among conservatives, who have identified them variously as “dependent,” “irresponsible,” “takers,” “lucky duckies,” and probably other unflattering names. 

That number, 47%,  cropped up again about a year ago when the Federal Reserve issued the results of a survey on household economic well-being (here). The Fed asked people what they would do if faced with an unexpected emergency costing $400. Only 53% of Americans said that they had enough cash hand or that they could pay it off on their next month’s credit card bill. The other 47% would have to sell something or go into debt. And some said that they would just be unable to find the money.

The Fed’s question is hardly hypothetical. Nearly a quarter of the households reported at least one financial hardship in the past year. Medical and job setbacks accounted for over half of these.

(Click on an image for a larger view.)

The Fed survey found that even among people earning $40,000 - $100,000, only slightly more than half (56%) could deal with a $400 crisis with either cash on hand or one-month credit card debt. Those with lower incomes, especially Blacks and Hispanics, fare even worse. Only 23% and 31% respectively could handle a $400 setback.

It’s possible that Obamacare will reduce the financial burden of medical emergencies. The survey was done in 2014 before the full effects of Obamacare were felt. Still, even among those with insurance and incomes in the middle category reported foregoing some medical treatment because they couldn’t afford it.

There’s a quote I’ve come across a few times in discussions about these kinds of uncertainties. “I’m just one illness, or one job, or one divorce away from poverty.” I’m not sure who said it – probably many people. The point is that it’s not only the poor whose economic position is precarious.  Middle-class people may just be less likely to admit it. Financial worry and need can be matters of shame, especially for those who seem to be solidly middle class. It’s not something anyone wants to talk about frankly.

Neal Gabler comes out of the financial-fear closet in a recent article in The Atlantic. I remember seeing Gabler on TV in the 1980s as half of the team that replaced Siskel and Ebert chatting about new movies on PBS. I figured he was doing all right. But no. He has not been living extravagantly, but with an income at about the US median, he too has to struggle.

I know what it is like to have liens slapped on me and to have my bank account levied by creditors. I know what it is like to be down to my last $5—literally—while I wait for a paycheck to arrive, and I know what it is like to subsist for days on a diet of eggs. I know what it is like to dread going to the mailbox, because there will always be new bills to pay but seldom a check with which to pay them. I know what it is like to have to tell my daughter that I didn’t know if I would be able to pay for her wedding; it all depended on whether something good happened. And I know what it is like to have to borrow money from my adult daughters because my wife and I ran out of heating oil.

Gabler has social capital (friends, family), and perhaps cultural capital, that he can, in an emergency, convert to financial capital. Most of the others in the 47% are not so lucky.

 UPDATE, April26:  Scott Winship has a critique of Gabler’s article and of the Fed data.  His article is online at National Review (here). Winship is the Walter B. Wriston fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a right-wing think tank (Walter Wriston was the CEO of Citicorp from 1967 to 1984), and he scoffs at the notion that nearly half of us would be hard pressed to deal with a $400 setback. He parses the language of the Fed’s questionnaire (saying how you would cover the $400 is not the same as saying whether you could cover it). And besides, lots of people don’t save that $400 because of the multitude of people and institutions they have at their back:
“various forms of private insurance, a more general insurance system is constituted by 401(k) loans and distributions, home equity, credit cards, the public safety net and social insurance, bankruptcy courts, legally mandated emergency-room care, marriage, family, and friends.”
No right-wing critique of the economic hardship (and according to Winship the hardship isn’t really that hard or widespread) would be complete without reference to individual virtue, and Winship comes through for the team:
“If too few people have $400 in emergency funds, it might mean that the economy is doing poorly by them. But it might also mean that too few of us have internalized the virtue of thrift.”
He also hints that in his heart of hearts he believes that the impact of the economy on individuals is less important than the impact of individual virtue on the economy.
“We should want to both promote responsible choices and have an effective economy; we cannot simply presume that more economic growth would promote thrift. The reverse could very well be true.”

Reality Trumping Satire

April 23, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston

It’s hard to do political satire when reality keeps catching up with you. I don’t know who first made this observation – Mort Sahl, maybe. Tom Lehrer said that political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In the issue of the The New Yorker that came out earlier this week, all the cartoons were about Donald Trump. Roz Chast imagined the Trump campaign saying that the Trump we’ve been seeing for the last months or perhaps years was just an act.

Two days ago, Trump’s campaign manager announced that the Trump’s performance as a candidate was just what the Chast said – all a big put-on.

Speaking at a private meeting of Republican Party leaders, Paul Manafort, who was recently hired as Trump’s campaign chief, acknowledged the billionaire businessman has been  “projecting an image” in order to energize voters in the primary election campaign.

 “When he’s out on the stage, when he’s talking about the kinds of things he’s talking about on the stump, he's projecting an image that's for that purpose,” Manafort said. [source]

Then it gets really meta. Roz Chast’s cartoon on page 49 anticipated the reality. Later in the magazine, on page 88 Robert Leighton’s cartoon anticipates the anticipation.

Of course, the best example of the reality-overtaking-satire problem remains the Onion headline a day or two before the 2001 inauguration of George W. Bush.

Linda Tischler

Linda Tischler died on April 11. She was a wonderful woman, intelligent and gracious, and an excellent journalist. In January 2007, an evening with her and her husband Henry (a sometime colleague of mine at Montclair) provided me with material for a blogpost in the early months of the Socioblog. As a sort of Flashback Friday, I'm reposting it. The title of the post was “Little Miss Raincloud” (the movie “Little Miss Sunshine” had recently been released, and I had blogged about it.) I still think the post is pretty good, mostly thanks to Linda. (Tributes by her colleagues are here.)

January 31, 2007
Posted by Jay Livingston

Optimism, hard work, success. They’re part of the culture, and we drink it into our consciousness just like Coca-Cola. If you have the right, positive attitude, and you work hard at your idea, you’ll be a winner.

Even if you personally don’t live by these basic American values, they are such a dominant part of the culture that you probably think you should live by them. Values are ideas and principles that are intrinsically good. You can’t argue with them. As my friend Linda Tischler found out.

Linda (wife of sociologist Henry Tischler) is a journalist, and she has been writing about business for a long time. As a senior writer at Fast Company magazine, she was invited to be on a panel at a conference of the N.A.F.E., the National Association for Female Executives. They couldn’t pay her, but they’d cover her expenses. The name Laguna Niguel, California had a nice ring to it. So did the name Ritz Carlton, so she took the offer.

The audience was full of hopeful female entrepreneurs —“momtrepreneurs” as they liked to call themselves— women who had started up a business during naptimes. What they wanted to hear from the journalists was how to get their product into an article in Fast Company, Business Week, or similar magazines.

Linda told them frankly that the odds were very much against them. “I get seventy-five e-mails every day pitching story ideas like that, plus the phone calls and snail mail. And a lot of those pitches are from well-paid PR people at GE, Apple, etc.” She was telling them, in effect, it’s very unlikely that we’re going to do a story about you.

This was definitely not what the audience wanted to hear, and from the comments and reactions, she thought the momtrepreneurs at Laguna Niguel might wind up dumping her in the laguna. After all, these were women who had paid $400 for a conference that promised
Featured business sessions include “A View From the Top” with the country's leading female CEOs; building your brand; effective networking; balancing work, relationships and family; conversation with leading journalists. Attendees will be able to connect with Fortune 500 companies and present their products and services through exclusive invitation-only matchmaking event.

They wanted a pep talk, a “motivational speaker,” someone who would tell them how they could get on the cover of Fortune. And she gave them reality.

She also told them how she screens the pitches. “If your e-mail is bigger than two megabytes, it’s going to get deleted unread. If it doesn’t tell me in the first short paragraph or two what the idea is, out it goes,” and so on. I think her mistake was that she put her advice in the negative, what not to do. That along with her basic message made her a raincloud spoiling the sunny clime of Laguna Niguel.

Linda and Henry recounted her sad tale at dinner last night. It’s not all we talked about. Conversation turned, as it often does, to Iraq. And now I wonder if there isn’t a parallel. The Bush administration sold the invasion on fear (remember those WMDs), but they also sold it on American optimism. We would oust Saddam, and all the Iraqis, just like the Munchkins when Dorothy liquidates the witch, would be free and happy and forever grateful to their liberators.

Of course, it didn’t work out that way— the optimism was more based on neo-conservative fantasies in the US rather than realities in Iraq— but Bush still frames the war in terms of winning and losing, as though international politics is some kind of game with only two outcomes— victory and defeat, success and failure. Since, in another phrase much beloved among motivational speakers, failure is not an option, he’s throwing in another 20,000 troops.

As I walked home after dinner, I passed the building of an acquaintance, Allen Seiden. Allen is a good poker player, and he’d been playing long before the current poker boom — a boom that has allowed him to go from smoky house games to lecturing and teaching. “The first thing you have to learn if you want to win money in poker,” he tells his audience, “is a four-letter word that begins with F. The word is fold. Use it early, use it often.”

The audience nods, but the chances are that most of them don’t really learn the lesson. Most poker players, the average pigeons, will call the bet just to see one more card rather than admit that the hand is a loser, optimistically hoping for the card that will fill their straight and bring them success  Which is why Allen has been able to make money playing poker. And which may also be why Bush just sent more troops to Baghdad.

Image or Brand

April 22, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston

One word in today’s headlines seemed like a throwback to an earlier era: image.

It was in the 1960s that politicians, their handlers, and the people who write about them discovered image. The word carries the cynical implication that voters, like shoppers, respond to the surface image rather than the substance – the picture on the box rather than what’s inside.  A presidential campaign was based on the same thing as an advertising campaign – image.  You sold a candidate the same way you sold cigarettes, at least according to the title and book jacket of Joe McGinnis’s book.

 (That pack of Nixon’s should have carried the Surgeon General’s warning.) 
Then, sometime around 1980, image began to fade. In its place we now have brand. I went to Google N-grams and looked at the ratio of image to brand in both the corporate and the political realm. The pattern is nearly identical.

The ratio rises steeply from 1960 to 1980 – lots more talk about image, no increase in brand. Then the trend reverses. Sightings of image were still rising, but nowhere nearly as rapidly as brand, which doubled from 1980 to 2000 in politics and quadrupled in the corporate world.

Image sounds too deceptive and manipulative; you can change it quickly according to the needs of the moment. Brand implies permanence and substance (not to mention Marlboro-man-like rugged independence and integrity.) No wonder people in the biz prefer brand.

Decades ago, when my son was in grade school, I met another parent who worked in the general area of public relations. On seeing him at the next school function a few weeks later, I said, “Oh right, you work in corporate image-mongering.” I thought I said it jokingly, but he seemed offended. He was, I quickly learned, a brand consultant. Image bad; brand good.

In later communications, he also said that a company’s attempt to brand itself as something it’s not will inevitably fail.  The same thing supposedly goes for politics

“One thing you learn very quickly in political consulting is the fruitlessness of trying to get a candidate to change who he or she fundamentally is at their core,” said Republican strategist Whit Ayres, who did polling for Rubio’s presidential campaign before he dropped out of the race. “So, is the snide, insulting, misogynistic guy we’ve seen really who Donald Trump is? Or is it the disciplined, respectful, unifying Trump we saw for seven minutes after the New York primary?

These consultants are saying what another Republican said a century and a half ago: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

This seems to argue that political image-mongers have to be honest about who their candidate really is. But there’s another way of reading Lincoln’s famous line: You only need to fool half the people every four years.

Miles Ahead

April 21, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston

Don Cheadle didn’t want to do a biopic, and how can you blame him? As a person, Miles was not an attractive or sympathetic character. What he cared about was himself – his music, his painting, his drugs. He treated the women in his his life as though they were possessions, like his stylish clothes and cars, except that as far as we know he did not beat his suits or Ferraris. Besides, Cheadle probably wanted to avoid the biopic cliches – the significant childhood scene where the boy’s talent first becomes apparent, the early struggles, the success (fast montage of club posters with the hero’s name rising in the billing), the downfall, the redemption.

“I was born, I moved to New York, met some cats, made some music, did some dope, made some more music, then you showed up at my house.” Miles delivers this line, along with a right hook to the face, to a journalist who shows up at his door wanting to do a story. It’s as though Cheadle is saying to the audience, “You want biography? Here’s your biography.”

But the movie avoids only some of the biopic cliches. It keeps others.  That journalist who wants to track down the “real” person, for example, is a familiar movie device (“Citizen Kane”). At least the movie doesn’t end with him rolling a sheet of paper into his typewriter and tapping out the “The Real Miles” or some such.

Instead of biopic, Cheadle gives us a completely made-up story, complete with guns and high-speed
car chases – not exactly what comes to mind when you hear the name Miles Davis. The trailer, as usual, gives you the plot such as it is.

It’s another venerable plot line – the artist preserving his art from the  vultures who want it only because they can turn it into filthy lucre. The art in this case is that tape that Miles recorded privately and keeps locked in a drawer. (There may have been such a tape, but on it Miles plays organ, and from all reports, not very well. And nobody stole it.)

There’s even a song-origins scene hokey enough to be in a 1940s songwriting team “and then we wrote” movie. Miles, at home watching his wife Frances Taylor dance, picks up his horn and starts to play a melody that sounds like the children’s song “Put Your Little Foot.” Jazzers will get the reference: that melody turned up as “Fran-Dance” on the 1958 album “Jazz Track.”

Music was the best and most important thing about Miles, so the big disappointment (for me at least) is that so little of the film is about the making of music. The secondary role is logical given that Cheadle chose to set the film in the late 1970s when Miles stopped playing and disappeared from public view for five years. So it’s mostly in the flashbacks that we hear Miles’s music. Cheadle apparently learned to play trumpet, and he fingers accurately to Miles’s recorded solos from well-known albums like “Kind of Blue.” But these snatches rarely last more than about 15 seconds. There is one music-making scene: Miles and Gil Evans discuss some details in the arrangement of “Gone” during the recording session of “Porgy and Bess.”

Still, Cheadle carries the film. He captures an essential part of Miles’s character – the absolute confidence and the apparent indifference to what anyone else thinks. Miles, who, even in the 50s when jazz was struggling to be respectable, walked  off the set during his sidemen’s solos and literally turned his back on his audience, who then to the dismay of many turned his back on bebop for electric and rock (there’s a parallel here with Dylan and his audience). That’s the Miles we see. I just wish that we got to hear more of his music.   

Who’s Smarter?

April 17, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston

I was not optimistic when I tried a version of the old Quizmaster-Contestant-Observer game* that illustrates the fundamental attribution error. This is the error that occurs when we explain someone else’s behavior mostly in terms of their personal traits and ignore the effects of the situation. My attempts to replicate well-known effects usually fail. My students and I are just bad replicators I guess. But this time it worked.

Here’s the set-up: I asked students to come to class with seven trivia questions – challenging but not impossible, the kind that even when you can’t think of the answer, and then someone tells you, you say, “Oh, of course.” I gave them some samples and added, “This is not a graded assignment. You can get help from your friends. You can use the internet (I did).”

In class, I divided them into groups of three and told them to choose** roles. They could be the Questioner, the Contestant, or the Observer. Then the Questioner asked the seven questions, the Contestant tried to answer and was told if the answer was right or wrong, the Observer observed. They then returned to their regular seats and got this form.

We assume that most Contestants will get a few wrong. We also can be sure that the Questioner knows all the answers. But what are we to conclude from that? That the Questioner knows more than the Contestant? Of course not. It’s easy to ace the quiz if you’re the one who makes up the questions. If the roles had been reversed, if the Contestant had been the one to ask the questions she thought up, she would be the one with more answers.

But we just cannot resist the temptation to draw conclusions about the persons themselves and to ignore the advantages and disadvantages of the positions. The chart shows how participants in the different roles rated the Questioners and Contestants.

As attribution theory predicts, Observers were quick to make judgments about the relative knowledge of the Questioner and Contestant. They ignored the role differences and concluded that if the Questioner knew more answers, that’s who must know more trivia.

Attribution theory also says that when we look at our own behavior, we are more likely to make “situational attributions.” Accordingly, Questioners and Contestants may have taken the constraints of role into consideration. In any case, they did not see so large a difference, though even they could not escape the conclusion that the Questioner was better informed. Contestants were impressed by the knowledge that the Questioner supposedly possessed, even though they knew that the Questioner could have gotten the questions from the Internet.

Sometimes the fundamental attribution error extends beyond what might be suggested by the specific tasks – in this case, knowledge in a trivia game – and gets to more permanent qualities. We see someone trip and stumble. Why? Because he’s clumsy, we say. We have assigned him a more or less permanent trait on the basis of one brief event. And similarly, if we see a rigged trivia game where the person who wrote the questions knows all the answers . . .


* See Ross, Amabilie, and Steinmetz,1977 (here).

** The roles should be assigned randomly. That was not the only way in which my experimental design was deeply flawed, and I report the results here not because they are convincing, but merely because I was so pleased that in at least one way they turned out the way the theory says they should.


April 13, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston

Does anyone remember what Charles Murray said about Black political choices in his 1984 book Losing Ground – the part where he says that African Americans had been “screwed”?

Call it “Jesse Jackson-ism” – the willingness of Blacks to support demagogues like Jackson and Louis Farrakhan. It goes along with a general attitude of resignation and alienation. These are expressions of a lot of legitimate grievances that Blacks have with the ruling class in this country. Those grievances include  the cultural disdain that the White ruling class has for Blacks. Those grievances include the nature of the labor market for Blacks – the loss of manufacturing jobs, the relegation to the least secure and lowest paying sectors, and, as has been shown in study after study about hiring and promotion, employers’ preference for Whites. Basically, it’s all the ways in which, if you’re Black and working class, you’ve been screwed.

Of course you don’t remember that passage. I made it up. I based it on what what Murray actually did say recently about Whites who support Trump

Trumpism is the expression by the White working class of a lot of legitimate grievances that it has with the ruling class – everything from the cultural disdain that the elite holds the working class in to the loss of all kinds of manufacturing jobs, the importation of low-skilled labor – all the ways in which, if you’re a member of the working class, you have, over the last thirty forty years, been screwed. [from a walk-and-talk interview with Paul Solman on PBS].

What Murray actually did say in 1984 about Blacks was that while “discouragement” might explain the alienation, unemployment, and decreasing labor force participation of rural populations, “it is not possible to use discouragement as an explanation for the long-term trend [in Black labor force participation].”

The problem was not in the kinds of jobs available to working-class Blacks.

The problem with this new form of unemployment was . . . that young black males – or young poor males . . . moved in and out of the labor force at precisely that point in their lives when it was most important that they acquire skills, work habits, and a work record. [p. 82.]

In Murray’s view, everything in the US was fine. The trouble was not that people had been screwed by forces they had no control over. The trouble was that these Black guys turned their backs and refused to seize opportunities – skills, work habits, a work record.

Murray’s divining rod for finding dysfunction used to point to poor people themselves. Now, it hovers over more abstract sources – the culture, the economy. Some see this change as evidence of Murray’s racism – one kind of explanation for Black poverty, another for Whites. But there are geographic differences – urban, non-urban – and maybe the economy is different in important ways than it was thirty years ago.

Not all Murray’s conservative brethren shift their attention to these broader forces to explain Trumpism. For readers who might be getting nostalgic for “It’s their own damn fault”  – the idea that poor people and their culture are to blame for poverty and its attendant miseries – I close with an excerpt from Kevin Williamson’s recent fire-and-brimstone sermon in The National Review :

The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap. Forget your sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns and your conspiracy theories about the wily Orientals stealing our jobs. . . .  The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin.

Sins and Solutions

April 9, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston

Where Americans see sin that should be punished, Europeans often see a problem that needs a solution. Drug policy is the obvious and important example. Our forty-year prison-bulging moral panic contrasts with policies in the Netherlands, for example, which focused less on righteous punishment for offenders and more on reducing harm.

The same rational, non-moralistic approach applied to sex was the topic of a recent “Friday Flashback” post by Lisa Wade at Sociological Images (here), posted originally in 2010. Lisa mentioned Dutch government policies on prostitution – Amsterdam’s red-light districts for legal and regulated prostitution may be more famous even than the cannabis-selling coffee shops. But her example was from Scotland

Julieta R. sent in this picture, shot by her friend at the Aberdeen Pub in Edinburgh, Scotland. Sex in the bathroom, it appears, had begun to inconvenience customers. But, instead of trying to eradicate the behavior, the Pub just said: “Ok, fine, but just keep it to cubicle no. 4.”

This flashed me back to post (here) from 2007. I’m not too proud to recycle my garbage, especially since our moralistic approach to problems came up in class last week. So here is that post again in slightly altered form.
*          *          *         *         *          *         *

Men can be slobs, especially at the urinal.

At airports, for example, jet lagged travelers, men at least, tended to be, how shall we put it, careless? aimless?

What to do?

Americans tend to frame problems in moralistic terms. If something is wrong, drug use for example, punish the wrongdoers.  And if that doesn’t work, make the penalties even harsher.  Applied to the problem of spillage and splash in the men’s room, we might expect to see signs warning: “No Spillage or Spraying. Penalty $500 fine.”

The Dutch have a more practical approach, more focused on solving a problem than on punishing evil.  The Dutch also have a reputation for cleanliness.  Around 1970, when the men’s rooms at the Amsterdam airport were looking and smelling like, well, like men’s rooms, Schiphol, the company that runs the Amsterdam airport, looked into the problem. And the problem was  that most men weren’t looking.  They simply didn’t watch where they were going.  So Schiphol came up with a simple and non-punitive solution:

It’s that black spot (I’ve added the red outline).  Click on the photo for a larger view, and you will see that it’s a fly.  Or rather, it’s a realistic picture of a fly.  The idea was that men would aim for the fly – the stream would go from one fly to another (I’m sure this pun doesn’t translate to Dutch) – and the men’s room would stay cleaner.

It worked.  A study by Schiphol’s social science team found that fly urinals had an 80% reduction in spillage.  Some years after that, JFK hired Schiphol to run the International Arrivals Building there.  So now at JFK too, the urinals have the target flies.  At the Newark airport, I saw urinals with a cartoon-like bee (a realistic bee might have might have triggered a counterproductive startle and flinch). [This post is from years ago. Things at these airports may have changed.]

More recently, urinal targets have gotten even more playful.  For the Europeans, there’s soccer.

This was still before soccer was at all popular in the US. So an American company, not to be outdone, encouraged men to piss a field goal through the uprights.

Good clean fun.


Update, April 10: Language Log had a post yesterday not exactly on the same topic  – it’s really about the perils of translation  – but it does focus on signs intended to improve the aura of men’s rooms, and it’s too good to pass up. 

For more information on the mis-translation go here.

AKD 2016

April 8, 2016 
Posted by Jay Livingston

On Monday, April 4, we had our annual induction for students joining AKD, the sociology honor society.  These are our best – the students who, when they’re in your class, make you think that maybe this teaching thing is a pretty good gig.

We were lucky to get Syed Ali as our speaker. Syed is co-editor of Contexts, the sociology journal whose valiant and successful efforts make sociological knowledge accessible to people outside of the academy. No “contextualization of the instersectional nuances of multiple discourses.”

Accordingly, Syed’s talk “Life Hacks From Sociology” told students and their parents what practical advice can be gleaned from research findings. For example, peers matter a lot more than parents, which translates to, “Don’t hang out with those kids; hang out with these kids.” Similarly, when Syed cited the strength of weak ties, one of the most frequently cited articles and phrases, he added, “that’s another way of saying ‘networking.’”

And since we had a roomful of sociology majors, we also used the occasion to salute our wonderful secretary Susan O’Neil, who is retiring at the end of this semester. She has done so much for all of us – faculty and students.

Here is the complete list of inductees. Not all of them could be there for the ceremony.

Taulant Asani
Cheyenne Borkowski
Christina Castillo
Scarlett Cruz
David Falleni
Dion Glover
Kevin Ha
Shanna-Gay Lewin
Tara Mahady
Briana Matthews
Valerie Neuhaus
Claudia Rodriguez
Erika Rodriguez
Taylor Smith
Jessica Soares
Janet Vichkulwrapan
Johnathan Zipf

NCAA — Hoops and Hopes

April 3, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston

March Madness ends tomorrow night when the student-athletes from the University of North Carolina match up against the student-athletes from Villanova. I’m being ironic about the “student” part, UNC providing one of the most recent and egregious cases. These players are different from most other students. When they were making their choices about higher education, scholarliness had little to do with it. The crucial variables was the quality of the basketball team.

When I ask my students why they came to college, the answer is usually, “To get an education.” When I ask why they would want an education, the answer is, “So I can get a good job.” When I ask what makes a job good, the first response is “money.” My students are student-earners.

How much will they earn? Take a look at the scorecard – the Obama administration’s recently created College Scorecard  (here). It shows median yearly earnings ten years after a student first enrolls. Here’s how the NCAA final four stack up.

(Click on a chart for a larger view.)

Villanova wins handily. But it’s a small private school. Its students come from better-off families, and when its graduates look for jobs nearby, the salary scale is going to be much higher than in Oklahoma. We need something like the Sabermetrics WPA (win probablity added). Fortunately, over at Brookings, Siddharth Kulkarni and Jonathan Rothwell rated the teams in the NCAA bracket on a sort of $PA that adjusts for family income, location, test scores, and other factors that might affect the income of graduates.

Now the NCAA final four look not so evenly matched,and UNC, only a 2½-point underdog on the floor tomorrow night, trails Villanova in the earnings-added tournament by a considerable margin.

College basketball is not life. It’s not even earnings ten years after freshman year. Kulkarni and Rothwell played through the brackets as drawn for the basketball tournament, using the earnings scores rather than basketball scores.  Only Villanova made it to the final four in both tournaments.

These four were not necessarily the highest-rated schools. Southern University, for example, scored a 95 – higher than Utah’s 94 – but the luck of the draw put them up against Duke in the Sweet Sixteen round. Here is the entire tournament.


The Kulkarni-Rothwell article is here with links to the scores of lots of schools, both 2-year and 4-year.  Not all schools appear in the interactive function. If your school does not appear there, download the spreadsheet data and go to column CW.