Men and Women of the Blogosphere

March 31, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

Talk is cheap. So is blogging, which is pretty much the same thing economically – no fixed costs (unless you have to pay for your own computer and Internet), no variable costs. There are many economist bloggers (some with huge followings), including quite a few heavy hitters – Presidential advisors (like Greg Mankiw), Nobel Prize winners (like Paul Krugman). But they are mostly men.

There are 52 women on the list of the top 1,000 economists. None of them blog.
That was the subhead in a recent Christian Science Monitor article (“Where Are the Female Economist Bloggers?”) by Matthew Kahn.

Economist Diane Lim Rogers responded:
I think we female economists have our own empirical (not just theoretical) reasons why those of us who blog aren’t the same people as those of us who are at the top of the REPEC* list. . . . It’s called we have and care about other things and people in our lives, not just our own individual, introspective views about how the supposed world around us supposedly works (in our own opinion)! And that’s even things and people other than what Matthew counts so endearingly as the “home production” sort of things–you know, “cooking and rearing children.”
Kahn, besides speculating on why female economists don’t blog, also says why they should blog:
The shrewd academic uses his blog to market his ideas and to “amplif” his new academic results. This is a type of branding.
But I think that when it comes to the reasons men blog – the things they care about – Lim Rogers and XKCD are closer to the mark.** It’s about Ego, though it usually marches under the banner of Principle.



Is it gender stereotyping to assume that the figure at the computer is a male and that the out-of-panel voice is a female? Stereotype or not, it is apparently accurate – and not just for economists.

The female sociologist bloggers I know of who have children at home have either joined blogging co-ops or reduced their output to a very occasional post. “Home production” and time-opportunity costs may play a part. But if the rewards of blogging are, as Lim Rogers says, narcissistic (telling everyone how the world works, not to mention the pissing contests that go on between blogs or in the comments sections), fewer women may be interested in these gratifications. I suspect that the region of the blogosphere where the interaction is supportive rather than combative, that’s where you’ll find more women


*RePEc (Research Papers in Economics)) ranks economists by publications, citations, and other criteria. As Kahn says, it “provides an objective measure of who is ‘Royalty’ in the economics profession.”

**Matt Yglesias also included this when he reprinted Lim Rogers’s remarks.

Elijah Is Here Now

March 30, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

Where can you find the following?

Jacob Gabriel
Ethan Nathan
Joshua Isaiah
Noah Isaac
David Caleb
Benjamin Jonathan
Elijah

If you said “in the Old Testament,” give yourself one point. You paid attention in Sunday school.

But these names are also among the 50 most popular names for boys in 2009, according to the US Census. The first four on the list were in the top 10.

Three weeks ago I spent some time with a relative named Noah. He’s two months old. My grandnephew. Twenty years ago, the name Noah was not even in the top 200. Now it’s in the top ten. But why? As I tell students, individual choices add up to social facts. And these fashion trends in names should alert us to the idea that seemingly individual ideas and choices (like whether a name is cool or not) are subject to social influence. The influence is largely invisible and unintentional. Nobody is trying to pressure anyone’s choice of names, and unlike fashions in clothes, nobody is making any money from changes in ideas about what’s cool. I suppose the better question is not Why but How. How do names go in and out of fashion?

In any case, I have no explanation for this flood of Old Testament names, I don’t think that the country is more religious now than in years past. There were only four names I recognized as New Testament (Matthew, Luke, John, James).* I doubt that the nation is becoming more Hebrew and less Christian. Besides, on the girls’ side of the roster OT influence pretty much disappears. Only Sarah (21), Hannah (23), and Leah (28) were in the top 50. Even New Testament names were given short shrift (is anything ever given long shrift?). Only Chloe (1 Corinthians) at #9.**

Some other name trends have continued, notably the final “n” for boys. In addition to the four in the above list, add Jayden, Aiden, and Brayden, Landon and Brandon, Jordan and Justin, Logan and Ryan (but bye-bye Brian), among others for a total of 21 out of the top 50.


* Matthew, Luke, John, and . . . .James? Mark, for some reason, hasn’t been in the top 50 since 1994. I did not put Michael on the list; he appears in both testaments, though the mention is brief. Like some other popular names (John, David), it has lost most of its Biblical overtones.

**Mary was #1 or #2 for nearly a century - the Census name site goes back only to 1880; Mary was #1 or #2 from that year till 1966, when she fell to #3, and it was downhill from then on. She dropped out of the top 10 forty years ago, out of the top 50 ten years ago, and now isn’t even the top 100. (Joseph, in that same period has been no higher than #7 but no lower than #16.)

The Art of Taxation

March 27, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

When I saw this,


I knew it had to be one of the New York abstract impressionists. But which one? Frank Stella gone curvy? Morris Louis turned sideways and making clearer line separations? Kenneth Noland?
But it’s a graph of taxpayers (original here). Here it is with title and axis labels:


(Click on the image for a larger view.)

It shows the relative tax burden by income level. Each horizontal line is a year, its width “sized and colored by the tax burden: the amount of tax due relative to the long-term average at each income level. Above-average burdens appear thick and red and below-average thin and blue.” The wedge of blue that begins at $8000 in 1974 is the Carter era changed that excluded low-wage earners from the income tax.

I mentally divided the graph at the $100K vertical and looked at the relative shares since about 1980. The graph shows what everyone knows – the very rich, who had been paying a bit more in the Clinton years, made out like bandits in the Bush years. In the graph, they have recaptured their 1920s position as the thin blue line. But the Bush tax cuts lightened the burden of the poor and even middle-income people. Hence, the deficits that Republicans are now so concerned about.

I leave it to critics like Flâneuse to say what in the graph needs work. What struck me was the similarity between data and art.*

Last year’s version of the same data seemed much harder to read. It also looked very much like some of Clyfford Still’s canvases.



* “The graph is better; at least it has meaning.” That was the reaction of my friend Sol, an actual artist who in his youth studied with the New York School gang, lived down the street from the Cedar Tavern, and even played mandolin with Rothko. So I respect his opinion (I also use his casual sketch of me as my Facebook pic).

The Opinions of Mankind

March 25, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

Thomas Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence, wrote of “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind.” Ed Koch, when he was mayor of New York, used to ask, “How’m I doing?”

A recent Gallup report, based on surveys in more than 100 countries has an answer: Generally, the Obama bump – the huge boost in favorable views of the US leadership – has held.

(Click on an image for a larger view.)
Yes, in 2007 and 2008, the US Bush-Cheney team was trailing a few points behind the authoritarian bureaucrats running China. Now, thanks to the election of Obama, we’re Number One. (See my post-inauguration post.) (In some countries, positive views of the US administration have slipped in the past year, but they are still well above the Bush era ratings.)

Views of America and Americans are much less volatile than views of our leaders. The country remains by far the country people would most like to move to (Gallup does not show data for previous years, but it’s probably not much different).

I also suspect that views of American people have also been steadily positive, even when our government was greatly disliked. They like us, they really like us. Of course, the Americans that go abroad and become de facto PR agents are not a representative sample of the population. They are probably more affluent. They also are much more likely to come from liberal states (in the map below – found here – “blue” states are white or light gray).

Poltical Culture

March 22, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

Keith Humphreys (here) comments on the reactions of the British to Margaret Thatcher’s dementia, first made public in 2008.
When [Ronald Reagan] was revealed to have Alzheimer’s disease, many people who voted against him voiced sincere sympathy for what he and his family were going through. In contrast . . . if Ms. Thatcher’s own dementia is generating sympathy in Brits who hated her policies, they are doing a frightfully good job of hiding it. I don’t even hear much sympathy from people who did vote for her.
Matt Yglesias (here) explains this with some electoral data. Thatcher was never the preference of the majority of voters. Her election wins were all minority: “a three way election in 1979 with 44 percent of the vote. In 1983 her support slipped slightly to more like 43 percent. In 1987 she won again, but her support further dropped to around 42 percent.”

Matt concludes,
the ability of a prime minister to wield extraordinary power based on a parliamentary majority obtained with an electoral minority seems likely to engender a lot of bitterness.
Political culture may also have something to do with it. In the US, the President is also the symbolic head of the nation. In the UK, that function belongs to the Queen. The President, even after he leaves office, is still addressed as Mr. President. The Prime Minister is just a politician. (See an earlier post on this here.)

Matt’s post, especially that last comment, took me back to a personal incident that suggests other differences in political cultures. In August of 2005, we rented a flat in London – Vauxhall, just south of the river – for a few days. The woman we rented from met us Victoria station in her Toyota and gave us a motor tour of London before taking us to the flat. (She had been in the travel business and was now retired, which is why she could rent out her flat while she removed to a family house in Sussex.) “There’s no Brits in London any more,” she said pointing to the pedestrians as we passed. And indeed, there were many who looked to be Asian, Arab, or African. She also complained about the “queers” in her neighborhood.

In the US, a person who talked like that would surely have voted for Bush and other Republicans. So I quickly pegged her as a hardline Thatcherite Conservative. But as we drove through Westminster, she slowed a bit and pointed up at a bronze statue.

“That’s Oliver Cromwell,” she said, “the only dictator Britain’s ever had. Except for Maggie Thatcher.”

Weber Fails B-School (or the Other Way Round)

March 21, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

Having written a textbook, I know that textbooks dont get everything right, but cmon guys.

From Peter Klein at Organizations and Markets
Focusing on Max Weber, Cummings and Bridgman document a series of whoppers that appear consistently in leading management texts, such as the belief that “ideal type” means best or optimal; that Weber did his major work in the 1940s (Parsons’s translation of Wirtschaft and Gesellschaft appeared in 1947, 27 years after Weber’s death); that Weber personally admired bureaucracy (In Search of Excellence avers that Weber “pooh-poohed charismatic leadership and doted on bureaucracy”); and other gross misunderstandings. FAIL
(I'm surprised that the OrgTheorists didnt pick this up.)

Ethnocentrism and Family Values

March 20, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

When Alexandra Wallace’s video – the epiphanus interruptus* complaint about Asians at UCLA using their cell phones in the library – went viral, most of the reactions were accusations of racism. I'm not sure where the line between racism and ethnocentrism lies, but I was struck more by the underlying ethnocentric assumptions about family, assumptions that are widely shared here and by people who would never be accused of racism.

We Americans all agree that we value family. When I begin the unit on culture, I ask students to jot down three American values. The one that appears most frequently is family. If I asked students what things they themselves value, I’m sure many of them would say family. So, I suspect, would Ms. Wallace.

But here’s how she begins her rant, after a brief disclaimer:
It used to really bug me but it doesn't bother me anymore the fact that all the Asian people that live in all the apartments around me – their moms and their brothers and their sisters and their grandmas and their grandpas and their cousins and everybody that they know that they've brought along from Asia with them – comes here on the weekends to do their laundry, buy their groceries, and cook their food for the week. It's seriously, without fail. You will always see old Asian people running around this apartment complex every weekend. That's what they do.
(The transcript does not quite do justice to Ms. Wallace’s presentation. To hear the original, go here and move the slider to about 0:37).

These Asian families, in Ms. Wallace’s view, include too many peripheral members (grandparents, cousins). And family members spend too much time together and do entirely too much for one another.

The trouble apparently is that Asians really do value family.

The too-much-family motif runs through her objections about cell phones as well She obviously doesn’t know what the callers are saying or who they’re talking to, but she suspects that it’s family back in Asia:
I swear they're going through their whole families, just checking on everybody from the tsunami thing.**
Many international students in the US have noted this same contradiction between Americans’ proclaimed value on family in the abstract and what to the international students seems like a fairly thin and compartmentalized connection to family in the real world. As Rebekah Nathan says in My Freshman Year,
Americans, they felt, sharply distinguished their family from their friends and schoolmates; more than one international student remarked about the dearth of family photos on student doors,*** as if family didn’t exist at school. . . .Peter [a student from Germany] told me . . . “No one here says, “come on and meet my family.”
Do, do Americans value family? Yes, but. . . . The ‘but’ is a competing value that pervades American culture, including the family – Independence.**** As Ms. Wallace says in the conclusion to her complaint about Asian families, “They don't teach their kids to fend for themselves.”

-------------

*

I'll be in like deep into my studying . . . getting it all down, like typing away furiously, blah blah, blah, and then all of a sudden when I’m about to like reach an epiphany... Over here from somewhere, “Ooooh Ching Chong Ling Long Ting Tong, Ooohhhhh.”
** Adding “thing” to “the tsunami” makes Wallace seem especially callous. Linguists must have looked into this, but for some reason, “thing” here implies, “I don’t know or care much about this because it’s not very important.”

I vividly recall a scene in the 1993 film “Searching for Bobby Fischer,” where Joe Mantegna, as the competitive chess father, is at a parent-teacher conference. The teacher is concerned that Mantegna’s chess-prodigy son (age 8 or so) is falling behind academically and socially. She adds,

I'm sure he's very good at this chess thing,
but that isn't really the issue.
Mantegna loses it.
My son has a gift. He has a gift, and once you
acknowledge that, then maybe we'll have something
to talk about. Chess is what it’s called.
Not the “chess thing.”
*** If you watch the Wallace video, look at the board of photos behind her and try to find parents.

**** See my earlier post on the family-vs,-independence conflict as it appears on American television, especially in sitcoms that have pretensions of seriousness.

March Wisdom

March 18, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

I’m skeptical about the Wisdom of Crowds, at least when it comes to sports betting. I’ve blogged as much occasionally (the occasion usually being a big NFL game – see this post, for example).

Now Mark McClusky at Wired has taken up the fight in the arena of March Madness. The crowd whose wisdom he’s challenging is the ESPN online pool. Against them he pits “two top college basketball analysts.” Here’s a reduced spreadsheet with the large Crowd-Expert discrepancies highlighted. If you’re betting, it’s red for bad, green for good.

(Click on the chart for a larger view. The full spreadsheet is here.)

As McClusky notes, “most of the top seeds are highly inflated, especially Kansas.” Also, “Mountain West pair of San Diego State and Brigham Young are two of the best values out there.” He also said – and this article was posted Wednesday –

The single biggest gap between the two sets of picks? Utah State vs. Kansas State in the first round. According to the numbers, Utah State has a 57 percent likelihood of knocking off the higher-seeded Wildcats, but 73 percent of ESPN users have picked Kansas State.
Kansas State opened as 1 ½-point favorites. That line was bet up to 2. The Crowd was wise this time, both in their brackets and their bets. Kansas State 73, Utah State 68.

We’ll see how the rest of the tournament goes.

h/t Max

UPDATE, March 22: Never too late, the master of brackets Ted McCagg has finally posted his March Madness drawing (here).

Foul!

March 18, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

Philip Cohen says (though not in his Family Inequality blog) that of the players in the NCAA tournament, sociology majors have the highest average (game points, not grade point). He links to an article by Justin Peters in Slate about “student athletes.”

Sociology is nowhere near the most popular major on the floor. Business, Communications, Humanities, and Sports Science beat us out. Nevertheless, Peters delivers this bit of trash talk
Forty-two players study sociology, that tried-and-true slackers' major. While it’s possible that UCLA players are disproportionately drawn to the sociology department for the chance to study with famed Marxist theorist Perry Anderson, it's more likely that a shooting guard would choose it because, as one of the largest majors at UCLA, nobody will notice if you don't come to class.
Hey, ref, how ’bout a T for that?

Athletes do tend to cluster in certain majors. Which major it is depends on the school and the team. For UCLA hoops, it may be sociology, for Georgia Tech football, it’s business. But the reasons for these learning communities are not the ones Perry mentions. More likely, coaches direct their players to jock-friendly majors. Different coaches have different ideas about what a good major is (and perhaps different friends on the faculty).

(I blogged this a couple of years ago – here ,with a link to an interactive graphic which I think is still working.)

Tax Expenditures

March 16, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

“To spend is to tax.” Milton Friedman’s dictum means that spending and taxing eventually have to be in balance. No free lunch. If the government spends money on something, eventually the government has to pay for it, and the government gets its money from taxes.* This is the basis of Republicans shouting about deficits and trying to outdo one another on cutting spending.

At the individual level, people feel that government spending is like robbery. Because the government has to tax in order to spend, the government is taking money out of your pocket and spending it on someone else (the military, medicare, etc.).

There are two ways to increase deficits – spending more or taxing less. So not to tax is also like spending. If the government leaves more money in my pocket by taxing me less, it has to make it up by taxing you more. Taxing me less has the same effect as spending more. They both take money out of your pocket. That’s why tax breaks are “tax expenditures.”

Which costs more – tax expenditures or spending?


The chart is from Senate Budget Committee testimony by Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The tax breaks cost us more than even our biggest of big-ticket items.

No surprise, tax breaks work mostly to the benefit of the wealthy. The mortgage deduction on a couple of million dollar homes (yes, second homes also get the tax break) costs the government more than the deduction on $150,000 home (or the $0 deduction on a rental). The lower tax rate on money made in the stock market benefits people who own a lot of stock. Guess who that is.

(Click on the chart for a larger view.)

In the graph, the tax expenditure bar stands way above Medicare and Social Security. And those bars are 100 times larger than Head Start. So if you’re wondering who is taking money out of your pocket, drive through the nice neighborhoods and look at the big houses. Maybe even stop, knock on a door or two, and ask to see their Schedules A and D.

*The government can also borrow, but debts must be repaid. The governemnt can print money, but the subsequen inflation is also a tax since it decreases the value of the money in your pocket.

Politics and Negative Results

March 15, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

Social scientists often end their reports and articles with suggestions for further research. Politicians, not so much. They want action. (Didn't Weber say something about this?)

There’s a government program for kids that is very popular among the low-income parents, but a recent large-scale government study shows that it produces no lasting educational benefits. What to do? If you’re a conservative, you get rid of it – all in the name of cutting costs of course. The program is Head Start, and funding for it is under heavy attack from the right.* (NYT story here).

Charter schools have a similar profile.. Low-income parents want them, but the broadest research shows that on average, compared with public schools, charters do no better and probably worse. Yet conservatives can’t fund enough of them.

Liberals may be almost as inconsistent, backing Head Start while opposing charters. I say “almost” because Head Start does produce some benefits. As the Times article reported,
Research on the program has shown that children who complete it do better socially and academically than children not enrolled in the program, and that they tend to have lower high school dropout rates. But the initial test score benefits tend to fade out by first grade.
So the “doesn’t work” mantra being repeated on the right is not quite accurate.

In both cases, what seems like a reasonable idea hasn’t worked out in practice. True, some charter schools and some Head Start programs do produce positive results. The trouble is that there’s no evidence of consistent, broad success. You’d think, especially if you are a social scientist, that the next step would be further research to figure out what the effective ones are doing that the ineffective ones are not (and vice versa). Maybe such research does exist, but if so, it’s not getting much press.

Instead, politicians to take a baby-with-the-bathwater approach. If a program fits with your ideology, fund it, no questions asked. If not, get rid of it.


* The first post on this blog (including an apt joke borrowed from Kieran Healy) was about the scant attention given to negative findings . I had not realized then that when the findings are in the interests of those with easy access to the media, the noise level can rise considerably.

Weakly Standards

March 11, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

File this under “Things that people at the Weekly Standard are delighted about.” It’s from last Sunday’s Weekend Edition with Lynn Neary on (dare I say it?) NPR.

NEARY: And your son did in fact get into a school that he was happy about.

Mr. FERGUSON: Yes, absolutely. Our first meeting with his college counselor at high school involved him telling the counselor what kind of school he wanted, and my son being my son said, look, I want to go to a school where I can go to a football game, take off my shirt, paint my chest in the school colors and major in beer. And you should have seen the look on that college - this was the guy who was going to write him his recommendation. I was just delighted that my son was like that.

But as it turns out, that’s where he went. He hasn’t painted his chest yet, but pretty close I think. And he's definitely majoring in beer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: Andrew Ferguson is a senior editor at the Weekly Standard. His new book is Crazy U: One Dad's Crash Course in Getting His Kid into College.

Assimilation and Rejection

March 11, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

On July 31, 1997, a six-man Emergency Services Unit (ESU) [of the NYPD] raided the apartment of two Middle Eastern terrorists who were in possession of bombs that they planned to detonate in the New York subway that morning.
So begins Seven Shots, An NYPD Raid on a Terrorist Cell and its Aftermath by my colleague Jennifer Hunt and recently published by U. of Chicago Press.

The police had been tipped off by a Pakistani immigrant, Mohammed Chindluri. Had he not said anything, it’s very likely that scores of New Yorkers, hundreds perhaps, would have been killed during the morning rush hour.

Why did Chindluri inform on the men who had been his roommates? It seems only natural. You know that someone is planning to bomb a subway station, you go to the police.

That was in 1997. But here is what I worry about now. I imagine a Mohammed Chindluri today. He has seen and heard the demonstrations in New York saying that his religion does not have a right to construct a house of worship on Park Place in lower Manhattan. He has heard that a New York congressman is holding hearings to show how Muslims are a terrorist threat to the US. Will this Mohammed Chindluri feel the same human impulse to save Americans whose lives are in danger? Or might he think, “They have drawn a line and put me on the other side; I owe them nothing”?

I wish I knew of some good research on what happens to people who find themselves vilified because they share some characteristic (ethnicity, religion) with a few people who are a real danger. My concern is not just academic. The people who are stirring up the fear and hatred against Muslims may be making themselves feel virtuous (patriots defending their country), but they may also be raising the actual risk of terrorism. But those unintended consequences will not be borne by the demonstrators. Most of the people riding the Muslims-are-terrorists bandwagon don’t take the subway. They live in places that are unlikely to be targets. No, the risks will be borne by those of us who live in cities and use public transportation. Thanks, guys.

Of course, Rep. King’s hearings could persuade American Muslims to be even more vigilant and to root out and inform on all possible terrorist recruits. But maybe not.

Suppose that Rep. King held hearings on other groups who rank far above Muslims on the FBI’s list of terrorist threats: militia/patriot groups, freemen/sovereign citizen, extreme anti-tax, and extreme anti-immigrant. How about Christian Identity?

Congress to Hold Hearings on Terrorist Threat Posed by Christian Identity

How would Christians react, especially those who knew people in the movement and perhaps even had some sympathy for some of their ideas? Would they assimilate to mainstream views, turning on (and turning in) their Christian Identity friends? Or might they reject the accusers? Might they even have a new respect for their movement acquaintances (“Maybe that stuff about the government being out to get us wasn't so nutty after all”)?

UPDATE: 9 a.m.: The Democracy in America blog at The Economist made a similar point yesterday about right-wing parties here and in the Netherlands. (I think the blogger is Will Wilkinson, but I can’t find a by-line on the page.) Calling Tea Partiers racists or comparing the Dutch PVV to Nazis (a comparison that Wilkinson (?) says is “not a wholly absurd rhetorical exercise”) serves only to rally the troops. Solidarity thrives on perceived injustice.

Musical Clusters

March 9, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston


I took the Jeopardy test two weekends ago. They were giving it during the New York Times Travel Expo at the Javits Center. This was one of the questions, and definitely not my category. I guessed Jay-Z. Go ahead, laugh.

That guess, as I later discovered, was off. But I didn’t realize how far off. Now I know.

(Click on the image for a larger, legible view.)

You are looking at a section of a map of clustering created by Emden Gansner, Yifan Hu, Stephen Kobourov, and Chris Volinsky of AT&T Labs. It’s based on data from last.fm, a website that allows you to create, in effect, your own radio station, one that plays only the music you like. The clustering and connecting lines are based on the data set of listener preferences (the equivalent of Amazon’s “people who liked X also liked Y”). Jay-Z clusters near Kanye and OutKast, with links to several other rappers as well. No surprises there. But Eminem is something of a loner, down near the Jazzland border, divorced not just from Kim but from everyone except D12.

The entire map looks like this.


That gray archiplelago in the southeast corner is Classical (mostly composers rather than performers). The island in the Northeast is international, mostly Reggae. Neither has a link to the mainland.

Last July, I posted graphic of music performers arrayed on the London Underground map (here). That one was fun but idiosyncratic. This one is based on data. Some of the results are curious – Eminem’s isolation, or Solange apparently a more nodal figure than Beyoncé.

The full map is here. It’s a pdf, and you can search for a musician the way you would search for text in a document. You can also expand the map without losing resolution. But be warned, you can spend a lot more time there than you might have intended.

Scandal for School

March 8, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

Two headlines about candidate Jim Doyle:
  • Doyle Calls for City to “Get Tough on Illegal Immigration”
  • Doyle Admits to Extra-Marital Affair with One Time Aide
Which story are you going to read first? And which one are you likely to remember?

If you do want to read them, they are here. But you should know first that Jim Doyle is a fictional candidate, created by Beth Miller for an experimental study. The control group read five news stories on Jim’s policy positions. For the experimentals, Miller ditched a homeland security story and switched in a story about the affair (the story omitted any mention of positions that might have been involved).


John Sides summarized the results over at The Monkey Cage.

Unsurprisingly, subjects who read about the affair were more likely to remember the story -- 47% did so, compared to 32% of those who read the fourth policy-related story.

Perhaps more surprisingly, subjects who read about the affair were, at the end of the experiment, better able to recall what issues the candidate talked about and what positions the candidate took on these issues.
I wasn’t surprised. And I don’t think that what really matters is the scandal. Instead, what’s important about the scandal story is that it humanizes Jim Doyle. It makes him a real person rather than a purveyor of policies. And for some reason, we assimilate ideas more easily when they come from people. (I wish Miller had included a third condition – with Story #4 something humanizing but not scandalous.)

I wasn’t surprised because in teaching, it has long seemed to me that students were better able to understand a book or article once I could convince them that it was written by a real human being, a person. As I blogged two years ago, my students seem to think that all readings assigned in college are written by some anonymous consortium created for the sole purpose of making their lives difficult. In the students’ minds, the author of all these readings is They.

Here’s how I put it in that post (apologies for recycling my garbage here, but I do like this anecdote).
I was teaching criminology, using the textbook I myself had written. It was listed on the syllabus that way, and the book had my name on the cover. Several weeks into the semester, a student had a question about some point I was making in class or some data I was presenting. I don’t remember the topic or the issue. All I remember is that the student said, “But didn’t they say . . .” and she went on to offer some bit of information.

“They?” I asked, “What they?”

“In the book. Didn’t they say that . . . .” she started to repeat her question.

“They is me,” I said. “I wrote that book.”

She seemed genuinely stunned, and I sensed that many in the class shared her confusion. The book was a school textbook; therefore it must have been written by the same “They” that churned out all textbooks. Yet here was someone they knew, a very ordinary person they saw two or three days a week, claiming to have written the book, and the evidence on the cover seemed to support his claim.
Once students see that these readings are not handed down like sacred texts from a distant oracle, they can more easily engage themselves with the ideas. If I were teaching theory, I would try to knock the big guys off their pedestals – Weber, Marx, Durkheim, and the others. If it takes scandal to do it, fine. But I would use any stories that make them fallible human beings

Tally's Corner - Then and Now

March 3, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

EXTERIOR, GHETTO NEIGHBORHOOD, MORNING. Long shot from above. The film is in black and white, sepia toned. We hear nothing except the music soundtrack, a muted trumpet. Small clusters of men stand at the corners talking. A truck crawls up the street and stops. We see the truck driver, a white man, lean his head out the window and say something. The men shake their heads, and the truck moves on, stopping at each corner with the same result. The truck moves away growing smaller till it’s almost out of the frame.

Cut to: INT. TRUCK CAB

TRUCK DRIVER
Lazy bastards. They wouldn’t take a job
if it was handed to ’em on a
platter.

It’s the opening of Tally’s Corner, by Elliot Liebow. I loved teaching that book, and each semester, when I would reread it, I would imagine that opening scene as a movie. The sepia tone must have seeped into my imagination from the cover photo.

Last week, the Washington Post (here) finally revealed where Tally’s Corner was – 11th and M Streets NW, Washington, DC. Less than a mile from the White House.


Liebow went to the corner every day for a year and a half in 1962-63. He came home every evening and wrote up his field notes. And in 1967, he published one of the great books in sociology.

He knew the men and their lives in a way the truck driver never could or would. After that opening scene, Liebow takes us back to the corner for a closer look. Most of the men have reasons for turning down a day’s work, reasons that even the truck driver would consider legitimate.

But then Liebow turns his and our attention to those few that might fit with the truck driver’s views. They are the ones we have to understand if we are to understand this world.
Despite their small numbers, the don’t-work-and-don’t-want-to-work minority is especially significant in that they represent the strongest and clearest expression of those values and attitudes associated with making a living which, to varying degrees, are found throughout the streetcorner world. These men . . . are carrying out the implications of their values and experiences to their logical, inevitable conclusions. In this sense, the others have yet to come to terms with themselves and the world they live in.
The book is about the realities of that world, realities (“experiences”) that make not wanting to work logical and inevitable. But it’s also about the men as individuals and as part of the streetcorner culture that attenuates their relation to conventional work and family roles. As Liebow says about the problem of work,
Some of the [reasons for not working] are objective and reside principally in the job; some are subjective and reside principally in the man. The line between them, however, is not a clear one.
That was then, nearly a half century ago. Now, Tally’s Corner looks like this.


The book is about race and income and poverty and social class and labor markets. How much those have changed is still an open question. But even if they had been completely transformed, I would still use and reread Tally’s Corner because it is also about the self and identity and micro-cultures, about how we construct these out of the ephemeral materials of social interaction, and how these intersect with the dominant social institutions of work and family.

UPDATE (March 4, 8 a.m.): If I were a college teacher, I would certainly have busted the above post as plagiarism. As Baptiste’s comment says, Mike3550 at Scatterplot posted about Tally’s Corner a day before I posted this. I unwittingly used exactly the same title for my post, and I used a photo from the same Google view that Mike links to. But honest, professor, I had not looked at Scatterplot when I wrote this. I got the idea from some other blog (which one I don’t remember, but it wasn’t Scatterplot) that had the link to the WaPo article.

Mike’s post is much better – more thorough and informative. Unlike my post, he provides real data – about the corner itself and about the gentrification of that whole neighborhood. Read it here.

Tom Hanks - “Toddlers & Tiaras”

March 1, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

“Look at this.” I was on the train to work, and a colleague in the Education department was tapping his finger on this picture on the front page of the New York Times “Styles” section.



The Times had printed the picture so large that it did not completely fit above the fold.

The article was not about the sexualization of pre-teen girls. It was about kids who are fashion designers. Still, as my colleague pointed out, this 11-year-old seems to be going for a look that is far from kid innocence.

How do we respond to the sexualization of children, especially girls? It seems like a particularly American idea, though I’m not familiar enough with other cultures to know. Do other countries have beauty pageants for girls who still count their ages in single digits?

“Little Miss Sunshine” was one response, though it seems more a satire of the American success ethic than of kiddie beauty contests (my post on it is here). Those contests seem like parodies or satires of themselves. But in case not, here’s Tom Hanks (on Jimmy Kimmel’s show Sunday night after the Oscars) with his home movie.