How Do You Know If You’re Really a Conservative?

October 7, 2015
Posted by Jay Livingston

Are Conservative Republicans a breed apart? And are they getting even farther apart?

A recent Pew survey compared attitudes a year ago and last month on the subject of abortion. The 2015 survey was done in the immediate wake of those now-famous videos of Planned Parenthood officials, videos shot surreptitiously and edited tendentiously. The demographic that showed the largest swing in opinion was Conservative Republicans.*

Among people who identified themselves as Conservative Republicans, opposition to abortion rose from 65% to 79%. Four out of five Conservative Republicans now oppose abortion. No other group in the survey comes in at more than half.

(Click on the image for a slightly larger view.)

The obvious explanation is that in the past year, an additional 14% of Conservative Republicans have become more conservative on abortion. The hardliners are becoming even harder. But there’s another possibility – that many of the Conservative Republicans who did not oppose abortion a year ago no longer call themselves Conservative Republicans.

That’s not as unlikely as it might seem. 

The Gallup poll shows that among Republicans, those who identified themselves as conservative on both economic and social issues – the largest segment of the faithful – dropped from 51 to 42 percent.  What if all the dropouts were abortion moderates?

I did some simple math.  I imagined 100 Republicans in 2014. Of those, 51 were self-identified conservatives, and of those 65% opposed abortion. That makes 33 who thought abortion should be illegal nearly all the time.

Last month, only 42 of those 100 Republicans said they were thoroughly conservative, 9 fewer than a year ago.  Of those left, 79% were anti-abortion. That makes 33. In my scenario, these were the same 33 as a year ago. The 9 who defected to the less-than-fully-conservative camps were the ones who were wishy-washy about making abortion totally illegal. Perhaps this is our old friend social comparison. These nine people looked at the hardcore, and the next time that a pollster asked them about where they stood politically, they thought, “If being a Conservative Republican means wanting all abortions to be illegal, maybe Im not so conservative after all.”

Number Anti-

I’m speculating of course. Besides, the data and calculations here are surely too simplistic; I am not a political scientist. But maybe the party purists are indeed forcing others who used to be close to them politically to rethink their identification as Conservative Republicans.

* The drop in support among those 30-49 and 50-64 does fall just outside the confidence interval of 5.5 points, but is only half as large as the change among conservative Republicans.

Images in the Media vs. Poll Data

October 5, 2015
Posted by Jay Livingston

Sometimes I get the wrong impression from what I hear and see in the media. In the news, Planned Parenthood has been taking it on the chin. A few liberals have come to the defense, but my impression these past few weeks is that this organization has fallen out favor with politicians and the public.

Donald Trump on the other hand seems to have been soaring. He keeps coming out on top in those polls despite all the offensive comments. He is, the pundits tell me, tapping into a rich vein of American populist resentment.

So I was interested to see the results of a recent NBC - Wall Street Journal survey asking people how favorably or unfavorably they viewed people and organizations in the news.  Here is what it shows.

(Click on a chart for a larger view.)

Planned Parenthood did draw some negatives – 31% viewed it unfavorably – but these were more than offset by the numbers of people people whose view was positive. The chart below shows both the Favorable and Unfavorable.

Trump is the opposite of Planned Parenthood. He has his admirers, but while they play an important part in surveys of Republicans, when the survey includes the general population, those supporters are swamped by people less taken with The Donald. The same is true to a lesser extent of Hillary Clinton. Her 39% positive is higher than that of any other presidential candidate. But there are a lot of people out there who do not like Hillary.

Surely there are political scientists who can make better sense of this than I can.

Gun Laws – Paying for False Negatives

October 2, 2015
Posted by Jay Livingston

This video was making the rounds last spring. The video maker wants to make two points:

1.  Cops are racist. They are respectful of the White guy carrying the AR-15. The Black guy gets less comfortable treatment.

2. The police treatment of the White guy is the proper way for police to deal with someone carrying an assault rifle.

I had two somewhat different reactions.

1. This video was made in Oregon. Under Oregon’s open-carry law, what both the White and Black guy are doing is perfectly legal. And when the White guy refuses to provide ID, that’s legal too. If this had happened in Roseburg, and the carrier had been strolling to Umpqua Community College, there was nothing the police could have legally done, other than what is shown in the video, until the guy walked onto campus, opened fire, and started killing people.

2.  Guns are dangerous, and the police know it. In the second video, the cop assumes that the person carrying an AR-15 is potentially dangerous – very dangerous. The officer’s fear is palpable. He prefers to err on the side of caution – the false positive of thinking someone is dangerous when he is really OK.  The false negative – assuming an armed person is harmless when he is in fact dangerous – could well be the last mistake a cop ever makes.

But the default setting for gun laws in the US is just the opposite – better a false negative. This is especially true in Oregon and states with similar gun laws. These laws asssume that people with guns are harmless. In fact, they assume that all people, with a few exceptions, are harmless. Let them buy and carry as much weaponry and ammunition as they like.

Most of the time, that assumption is valid. Most gun owners, at least those who got their guns legitimately, are responsible people. The trouble is that the cost of the rare false negative is very, very high. Lawmakers in these states and in Congress are saying in effect that they are willing to pay that price. Or rather, they are willing to have other people – the students at Umpqua, or Newtown, or Santa Monica, or scores of other places, and their parents – pay that price.

UPDATE October, 6You have to forgive the hyperbole in that last paragraph, written so shortly after the massacre at Umpqua. I mean, those politicians don’t really think that it’s better to have dead bodies than to pass regulations on guns, do they?

Or was it hyperbole? Today, Dr. Ben Carson, the surgeon who wants to be the next president of the US, stated even more clearly this preference for guns even at the price of death.  “I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away.” (The story is in the New York Times and elsewhere.)

Phil Woods, 1931-2015

October 1, 2015
Posted by Jay Livingston

The great alto player (and sometimes clarinetist) Phil Woods died on Tuesday. Here’s my favorite Phil Woods story. I’ve edited it down slightly from an interview he did at JazzWax.

I had just graduated from Juilliard in 1952 and was playing at the Nut Club on Seventh Ave. and Sheridan Square in the Village. After all of that great education, here I was playing “Harlem Nocturne” ten times a night. [The Nut Club, as the patrons’ preference in music shows, was a touristy joint. It sometimes featured cockroach races.] I was saying to myself: My god, I’m a Juilliard graduate, and I can play great jazz, and here I am playing “Night Train” and “Harlem Nocturne.” I didn’t like my mouthpiece. I didn’t like my reed. I didn’t like my horn. I didn’t even like the strap.

One night somebody came into the club and “Hey, Charlie Parker’s playing across the street. He’s jamming.” The guy was referring to Arthur’s Tavern, which is still there on Grove Street across Sheridan Square. It was a little tiny hole in the wall with a little bar.

When I walked in, there was this 90-year old guy playing a piano that was only three octaves long. His father was on drums using a tiny snare and little tiny pie plates for cymbals. And there was the great Charlie Parker—playing the baritone sax. It belonged to Larry Rivers, the painter. Parker knew me. He knew all the kids who were coming up.

I said, “Mr. Parker, perhaps you’d like to play my alto?” He said, “Phil, that would be great. This baritone’s kicking my butt.” So I ran back across the street to the Nut Club and grabbed the alto sax that I hated. I came back and got on the bandstand, which was about as big as a coffee table. I handed my horn to Bird and he played “Long Ago and Far Away.”

As I’m listening to him play my horn, I’m realizing there’s nothing wrong with it. Nothing was wrong with the reed, nothing was wrong with the mouthpiece—even the strap sounded good. Then Parker says to me, “Now you play.” I said to myself, “My God.” So I did. I played a chorus for him. When I was done, Bird leaned over and said, “Sounds real good, Phil.”

I levitated over Seventh Avenue to the Nut Club. And when I got back on the bandstand there, I played the shit out of “Harlem Nocturne.” That’s when I stopped complaining and started practicing. That was quite a lesson.

He is often compared to Cannonball Adderly, and although I can hear the similarity, Woods was always one of my favorites while I never had all that much use for Cannonball. I first listened, really listened, to Woods when I bought the 1959 LP “The Jazz Soul of Porgy and Bess” – a big band playing arrangements by Bill Potts. The Otto Preminger movie had appeared that year, and lots of people wanted to ride its wake – Miles, Ella and Louis, and others. The Potts album was a fancy production with pages of photos of the musicians in the studio.

“Bess You Is My Woman” belongs to Phil Woods, from his section work in the intro to the final cadenza.

His sound is unmistakable. If you see the 1961 moive“The Hustler,” as the opening credits roll over a big band soundtrack, even though there is no alto solo, you hear the ensemble work and know that it’s Phil on lead alto.

His best-known solo, as I’ve noted before (here) is not in jazz. It’s the alto break in Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are.” I imagine all the people who have heard that track countless times since 1977. They know all the notes but have no idea that they are hearing one of the greatest alto players of the post-Bird era.