Saturday, December 31, 2016

Jane Jacobs is a Model Public Intellectual

I commend the life of Jane Jacobs as a model of thought about civilization, especially as it is made in cities.

She is also a pretty good model of an engaged public intellectual.  She was never an academic, which in her case probably helped her have a broader view than academic specialists can afford.  She was a writer, trained in specialist magazines (Iron Age, Vogue, and Architectural Forum) and in writing war propaganda.  This was excellent training for close observation of reality, and of writing to be understood by the educated lay public.  She was also free from the standard academic models of city design and development, which allowed her to develop paradigm-shifting insights.

I have often thought that I have an advantage as an intellectual because I am a liberal arts college teacher, rather than a research university scholar.  I need to read broadly to teach many subjects, and I have the freedom to do so because my main job is not producing specialist research quickly.

I plan to re-read Jacobs' urban trilogy, beginning with The Death and Life of the Great American Cities, as preparation to write my own book about why people choose their neighborhoods in Louisville.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Obama vs. Coates on the Arc of History

The Atlantic has an important cover story by Ta-Nehisi Coates on the Obama presidency

In the opening editorial of that issue, editor Jeffrey Goldberg contrasts the view of history of the two men.

President Obama often quotes Martin Luther King the "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

Mr. Coates, by contrast, believes that the arc of the universe "bends, in fact, toward chaos." He elaborates that he does not mean history tends toward meaninglessness, but rather that it is open, and subject to disruption.  He regards Obama's election as "a sign of chaos, of disruption."

Still, on this matter I am with Obama, and King, and Theodore Parker, the Unitarian minister from whom the metaphor originally came:  "I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one ... But from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice."

Friday, December 23, 2016

Women Benefit Especially from Mixed-Used Neighborhoods

When the car suburbs were first created, women were reluctant to go.  Being trapped in the house, with kids always in tow, nothing in walking distance, and husband off with the family car, they found the suburbs to be a loss.  The men thought they were protecting their families by isolating them.  They did not think about the social costs of that isolation.

Now, urban designers were deliberately listening to how women use cities.

"And because women in general are more likely to combine work with family commitments, cities like Berlin are trying to break up the division between residential and commercial districts, between suburb and office. That means more mixed-use neighborhoods, with homes, shops, and workplaces all jumbled up—something with numerous other benefits as well, like neighborhood character or being able to walk rather than having to get in a car every time you leave the house."

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Generous Givers Are Happier

This is what we talked about on WKYB this morning.

Habits of generosity make people happier.

These habits flow from a worldview of abundance and generosity.  People who think the world has a point and their lives in it have a purpose are more likely to give their time and money to others - and to give their care to other people in their lives.

People who do not think life has a larger purpose give less, and are less happy as a result.  Fully 45% of the population give no charitable gifts.  At Christmastime, especially, this is so hard to fathom.

The generous portion of the population makes the society go 'round.  And they reap happier lives, as a result.

(I commend The Paradox of Generosity, by Christian Smith and Hillary Davidson, for more details on this research.)

Monday, December 19, 2016

Robots and the Future of Racism

I believe the main point of the invention of racism in this country was to divide the workers, to make it easier to control labor.

If the demand for labor declines, will the demand for racism decline, as well?

Friday, December 16, 2016

Post-Election Culture Wars

This podcast is an interview with me about the culture wars effects of the 2016 election.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Talking to Strangers Fosters Happiness - and Social Trust

When we start conversations with strangers, we usually have a pleasant experience - and so do they.

This is the upshot of experiments conducted by social psychologist Nick Epley.  He asked commuters on buses and trains to initiate conversations with strangers.  They asked both the initiator and the other person how they felt afterwards.  The main effect was that it made them both happy.

We typically do not initiate conversations with strangers because we are anxious about possible negative reactions.  This anxiety is of a piece with the normal human tendency to overestimate costs and underestimate benefits of action. That anxiety, taken to the next level, fills us with fear, which is the greatest enemy of happiness.

What sociology can add to this picture is that most of the strangers we encounter will have quite a bit in common with us, precisely because they have chosen to be in the same social setting we have chosen to be in.  The strangers we run across are not a random assortment of humanity, but are likely to be much more like us than not.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The First Step in Fighting Fascists Is Not to Be One

This is a moment in which fear entrepreneurs are fanning the flames of tribalism all around the world.

The first thing we need to do in the coming fight with fascism is not to become tribalists ourselves.

The great principles of democracy, pluralism, and America are enough to make a decent and happy society with.

These principles are also our greatest weapons against a narrowing and fearful xenophobia.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

"Hacksaw Ridge" is Extremely Bloody, But Seriously Moral

Mel Gibson makes gorefests, and this film is no exception.

However, the true story of Desmond Doss, the conscientious objector in World War II who won the Medal of Honor as a medic for saving many wounded under fire is worth the time.

The core story is about moral courage, as both different than, and inspiring to, physical courage.

As we face a rising tide of fascism around the world, we may need both.

Friday, December 09, 2016

This Moment is What the Electoral College Was Intended For

If I were an elector, I would not vote for Donald Trump.

If Hillary Clinton won the electoral college, that would not be a constitutional crisis.

It would be a constitutional triumph.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Poor People Spend Money in Socially Useful Ways

A new meta-analysis looked at what poor people spend on if you just give them money.  The worry is that they would waste it on cigarettes and booze.  However, "not one of the 19 studies found that cash grants increase tobacco and alcohol consumption and many of them found that it leads to a reduction."

This is similar to the argument that I find persuasive for raising the minimum wage:  poor people put the money right back into circulation, buying stuff they need.  This employs other people, and is a more likely stimulus to the economy than giving more money to rich people.  Plus, the poor peoples' lives are better.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Country Music on the Right Way to Live

On Tuesday mornings I get to talk on WKYB, Danville's country radio station.

Peter Lewis did a semi-serious analysis of the standard themes of top country songs, from the '60s to today.  He boiled them down to four:  It's all over; It's not working out; Love and devotion (which he originally coded as Sappy love songs); and Right way to live.

The first three categories are primarily about romantic relationships, but include frustrations with jobs and a few other relationships.

The last one is the one I am particularly interested in.  In Lewis' calculation, these songs covered Things were better back then, Me and my rowdy friends (the land of the current bro-country party songs), and Let's get back to basics.  This is the category for analyzing the social structure.

Now, no popular genre addresses the social structure directly - it is too boring as an emotion, too far removed from narrative, and too big for most people to readily grasp.  Instead, these songs tend to call up the wisdom of small towns, farms and factory hard work, marriage and parenthood, and patriotism.  They are, implicitly and sometimes explicitly, against cities, elites, and status-seeking.

Lewis' analysis reveals that the first two categories - the "tears in my beer" songs - have declined, while the latter two have risen.  His conclusion: modern country fans are more interested in healthy relationships, motivational speeches, and having a good time than sadness and misery.

On the whole, this is a good development, I think.  But we do need to keep thinking critically about the macro-processes of the social structure.

Monday, December 05, 2016

A Grump about Trump

I try to stay positive here, but there are a few things about the incoming administration that worry me.

I fear that Mr. Trump so values his business empire, and has so little taste for actually governing the country, that he will constantly use his office to advance his private interests.  This is not a matter of bribery, exactly, but rather of shaping US policy to benefit his business, with the connivance of foreign governments.

I fear that the Trump presidency will be the most corrupt administration ever.

In a related note, I think his daughter Ivanka is really the brains of the operation.  Her recent announcement that she will be moving to Washington confirms my suspicion that she will not only be running the Trump businesses, but will also be de facto First Lady, hosting for and advising the Trump White House.  In fact, she seems more committed to living and working in the capital than her father does.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Culture Wars of a "Change Election"

2016 was a change election.  As often happens, after two terms of one party in the White House, many people vote for the other party, just for a change.

The exit polls show that the people who thought things were going well voted for Clinton, and the people who thought things were going poorly voted for Trump.

The Trump voters were not voting for issues - abortion, guns, immigration, even the economy - in any ordinary sense.

They were, though, mobilized by Trump's polarized, culture war framing of the real struggle: the  "politically correct" educated elite versus ordinary people.  This was a theme that Donald Trump and his surrogates pushed again and again.

The very vagueness of the supposed positions that the politically correct were supposed to embrace made this a useful slogan - globalization for economic nationalists, Muslim terrorism for Christian nationalists, immigration for white nationalists.

And Trump voters were not wrong that the educated elite do support free trade and pluralism.

Nationalism, though, tends to produce very bad consequences for minorities and for international peace.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Good News: Dementia Is Declining

The disease I fear most is dementia.  Like most academics, I suspect, I value my mind over most other aspects of my body.  Losing it is a most disturbing prospect.

Which is why it is so encouraging that the dementia rate has declined significantly since 2000.

Researchers don't know why dementia is declining, because they don't know what causes it in the first place.

They do note, though, two factors that correlate with a lower likelihood of dementia:  being highly educated, and being fat.

I've got this covered.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

On The Passing of Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro overthrew a brutal dictator, improved literacy, and vastly improved health care in Cuba.  For those those things he deserves praise.

He reigned as an oppressive dictator himself, though probably less corrupt than his predecessor, for decades.  For this he should be condemned.

The United States foolishly strengthened Castro's rule by attempting to overthrow him, and then by blockading Cuba for those same decades.  This not only strengthened him as a dictator, but also pushed him into the arms of the Soviets.  Their nuclear missiles in Cuba led to the crisis that almost started a nuclear war.

I believe if we had pressed for commercial relations from the beginning, Cuba would long ago have become democratic. Coca Cola and McDonalds can send ambassadors where mercenaries and the Marines can't go.

I hope that when his brother Raoul passes, as well, President Obama's opening to Cuba can be completed, and in short order we can construct the bases of democracy.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Rising Nationalism Threatens World Peace

The greatest human achievement of the past two generations has been preventing a major war.

Since the end of the Korean War, and really since the end of the Second World War, there has not been a war between major powers.

This is because of the structure of international organizations that we created precisely to prevent another world war, and the web of organic relations of trade and social ties that grew up under that structure.

The most important of these structures, in my estimation, are NATO and the European Union.  Many people take for granted the structure of peace they created.

Nationalism is the substitute religion created by modernity.  It has some good uses in creating group solidarity. But it also has a great and obvious danger in promoting international wars.

The rising tide of nationalism that we see in all countries threatens world peace.  But most dangerous is nationalism in the United States and Europe, which undermines the structures of international order that the world's central powers guarantee.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

What is the Civil Religion "Holiday Season" For?

The season from Halloween through New Years contain the High Holy Days of the the American civil religion.  The great melting pot of pagan, Christian, and Roman holidays has been Americanized.  And the keystone of the arch of holidays is Thanksgiving.

Each holiday serves multiple purposes, high and low.  Halloween brings out artistic creativity, and lets us serve cute little neighbor kids coming to the door.  New Years is a time for new starts, the beginning of the year, and the beginning of the great quarter of getting down to work.  Christmas, of course, is a significant religious holiday for the Christian majority, but is also a great family holiday, the start of a week of togetherness with which to end the year.

Thanksgiving is also a great family holiday.  More than that, though, it is the moment of greatest moral depth - of reflecting on all that we have to be thankful for.  Of all the actions tied to our holidays, this is the one most likely to bring enduring happiness.  The happiest people show the thanksgiving habit year-round.

To be sure, each of these holidays is also an important commercial day.  All of our civil religion holidays have elements to encourage no-holds-barred spending. The last quarter of the year drives the consumer economy.   Each of these economic customs has the potential to make us more materialistic in ways that produce dissatisfaction and unhappiness.

Still, each of our civil holidays, if approached correctly, can promote happiness and a better civic spirit.  And the greatest of these is Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Violence is Never in the Interest of Rational Actors

I am not sure this is true.  I am chewing on it.

I know that sometimes rational actors will have to be violent to protect themselves from irrational actors.

But I don't think two rational actors ever need to resort to violence to settle their differences.

I take it as given that long-term survival is a premise of rationality, for societies if not for each individual in it.  So rational societies in a world of rational societies know that violence for short-term gain will not make sense if it leads to retaliatory violence or other sanctions.

In societies as in individuals, "self-interest" and "selfish interest" are not the same thing.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Encourage Black Women to Run

Melissa Harris Perry gave an impassioned speech to the American Anthropological Association that ended with her repeating "Where are my black girl leaders?  Where are my black girl leaders?  Where are my black girl leaders?"

She argued that Donald Trump was elected by white women - most of whom almost always vote Republican.  By contrast, black women turned out for Hillary Clinton, and were the only group to turn out at the same (high) rate for Hillary Clinton as they had for Barack Obama.

She made the point that black women are rarely encouraged to run for office themselves.  The black women in office often came to the role unexpectedly, indirectly, or through a male relative's election.  She argues that we should systematically encourage black women to run for office, at all levels, and in their own right.

This strikes me as a good idea.

Black women among my students, past and present, prepare for a discussion about your social duty and civic capability. :-)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Hope Is a Thing You Have, Not Something You Are Given

Wendell Berry, Kentucky's leading intellectual, spoke at Centre College.

He was asked by an audience member for words of hope.

Berry considered this for a moment.

Then he said: "I don't have any.  Hope is a virtue that you are just supposed to have. So get it up!"

Saturday, November 12, 2016

DC Statehood is a Bad Idea

Before we moved to lovely Danville, Kentucky, Mrs. G. and I lived in the District of Columbia.  "Statehood for DC" was a constant political refrain of local politics.

The citizens of the District just voted overwhelmingly (79%) for a plan to separate out a small federal district for the main government offices and monuments, and turn the rest into a new state of New Columbia.

I like the idea of shrinking the District of Columbia down to a federal core - Capitol and Supreme Court, White House, the mall and its adjacent offices and, in my version, across the river to include the Pentagon.

I do not think, though, that the city of Washington surrounding this core is a state.  I do believe that they should have voting representation in the House of Representatives.  But not their own senators.

SO my proposal:  the federal District of Columbia shrink to the smaller diamond I outlined above.  The rest becomes Washington City, Maryland.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Protesting President Trump's Election is Misguided

I don't care for political street theater.  I am glad that in a free country people who like to do that sort of thing can.  But I think it is counterproductive, and usually self-indulgent.

Which is why I think the protests of President Trump's election are a bad idea.  Just as I thought the protests of President Obama's election eight years ago were a bad idea.

I understand that there are many people who are fearful, my own students included.  And some people have already been treated hatefully by Trump supporters, my own students included.  The right response is for the police to prosecute the assailants.

Donald Trump did, indeed, empower the white nationalists.  But protesting his election is to misdirect the anger at should actually be aimed at the actual wicked people on the ground.

Just wait.  There will be plenty of substantive things to protest later.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Voting to Get Our Old Jobs Back Will Not Repeal Global Capitalism

Two decades ago an economist gave a talk at Centre College in which he predicted that, due to automation and increased efficiencies in delivery, we could "optimistically" expect to eliminate 25 million jobs in the United States.

"You mean 'pessimistically,' don't you?" I asked.

No, he was thinking like an employer - or, really, as a shareholder - who was concerned about increasing profits by reducing costs.

I was thinking like a sociologist, looking at the effect on the entire population.

I think the margin in this election were the 25 million people who lost their jobs, or the possibility of those jobs.  Those jobs - low education mass employment - is gone forever, and not just to China.  Most have been eliminated altogether.

The governing class of both parties supports globalization of the economy, including automation.  Voting against "elites" in favor of a strongman who promises to bring back those jobs is a hope against hope.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

The Republic Will Survive President Trump

My first presidential election was 1980, when Ronald Reagan unseated Jimmy Carter. Mrs. G. and I were students at a very liberal college, and we and all of our friends were devastated.

The 2000 election was, if anything, worse. President Bush the younger came into office by one vote, and that voter later concluded she had voted wrongly.

On this morning after election day, this one feels like an even harder kick in the gut. The campaign promises made by Donald Trump are far worse than anything his predecessors proposed. On the other hand, the worst are so un-American, un-Constitutional, or even physically impossible, that they will not actually happen. And, as he has made clear many times, he often says things he does not mean and will later deny having said.

Moreover, unlike Ronald Reagan, or George W. Bush, or even the Tea Party, there are no other Trumpian legislators. He will have to rely on regular Republican politicians to govern. This should have a moderating influence, though they will likely enact many things I disagree with.

Still, the Trump campaign has unleashed a white nationalist layer of Americans who normally do not vote or proclaim their positions in public. I do fear that they will feel emboldened to act on their sense of entitlement in dangerous ways.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Happily Voting for Hillary

I have known since election night, 2008, who I would be voting for tomorrow: Hillary Clinton.

I was, and remain, a strong supporter of Barack Obama.  I believe he has been a very good president, and has accomplished a great deal despite colossal obstruction.  I thought Hillary Clinton would make a good president in 2008, but Obama would make a better one.  I have not changed my mind.

Since then she has done all she could to prepare to succeed Obama.  As with the parade of policy wonks who head the lists of Democratic politicians these days, she does her homework.  She is better prepared on foreign policy than Obama was.  She has invaluable experience as a senator.  And she has the unprecedented preparation of having been First Lady.

Like her husband, the first President Clinton, she is a trimmer.  She has cut deals and cut corners.  Nonetheless, on the scale of presidential-level politicians, I would rate her failures about a 2 on a ten-point scale.  Of presidents in the past century, I think only Jimmy Carter and the current incumbent would rate higher on that scale.  That includes some very effective presidents.

And then there is the great historic moment of the first woman president.  Mrs. Gruntled and I will be wearing suffragette colors when we vote, in honor of this new epoch.  And I dearly hope, and expect, that she will win.

Friday, November 04, 2016

How to Change "Locker-room Talk": Harvard Cancels the Men's Soccer Season

The Harvard men's soccer team produced a "scouting report" of the sexual value of each member of the Harvard women's soccer team.  Again.

This time, Harvard responded by cancelling the rest of the men's soccer season (Harvard was leading in the Ivy League).

When Donald Trump was caught bragging about groping women and getting away with it, this was dismissed as "locker room talk."

Many athletes came forward to say that they never talk that way or hear others talk that way, even in the locker room.

But even if you allow that this kind of callous sexual objectification of real women has been common in locker rooms in the past, we can choose to change the norm.

Harvard is leading the way in showing that "locker-room talk" is wrong, has consequences, and is worth changing.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Democrats Can Come Clean About Their Liberal Religious Motivations

My colleague Ben Knoll and I were interviewed by Bill Goodman, of Kentucky Educational Television, for a podcast on religion and politics.

One development in this election that may shape the future of religion and politics: the explicit articulation of liberal Christian positions by the Democratic candidates.  Hillary Clinton has long said that her politics have been shaped by the Methodist Social Creed, which she learned from her youth group leaders as a teenager.  And Tim Kaine has exemplified Catholic Social Teaching, especially as propagated by Jesuits, all his life.  Both have made their faith, and their religious motivations, central to their story in this campaign.

The Christian ethic of "care for the harmed" has long driven liberal political action.  Usually, though, liberals who are religiously motivated don't say so publicly, for fear of "shoving their religion down other people's throats."  Which is, seemingly paradoxically, one of the defining religious beliefs of religious liberals.

I hope after this election that candidates in both parties will feel equally free to talk about their religious motives and religious conclusions in shaping their policies and commitments.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

What "Keep [Here] Weird" Movements Are For

Starting something new.  Every Tuesday morning, 7:30 - 8:00, I am on WKYB in Danville talking with Archer.  On Tuesdays I will post here at the Gruntled Center on the same topic.

I visited Austin, Texas, last week, to explore the "Keep Austin Weird" movement.  This movement began as an appreciation to the public radio station for promoting distinctive local culture.  It was taken up by independent businesses. That movement has inspired other "Keep [place] Weird" movements in other cities, including Louisville, fostered by local independent business associations.

The "Keep it Weird" movements honor the deep human need to be attached to a place, not just a generic location in space.

"Keep [here] Weird" movements, and other "buy local" campaigns, are also part of a class struggle.  This is a struggle within the upper half of the economic structure between what I call the knowledge class and the corporate class.

The knowledge class defines itself by its mastery of distinctive cultural knowledge.  They find the McDonaldization of everything to be soul-sapping.  

The corporate class defines itself by control of material things.  They find brand names and chains to be reassuring.

"Keep [This Place] Weird" is an assertion by the knowledge class that our distinctive culture is what makes this place worth loving and meaningful out of all the spaces in the world.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

South Korea Shows Women's Rarity Does Not Entail More Respectful Treatment

Some economists think that if women are rare, they will be treated with greater respect.

South Korea tests this hypothesis.  They have an unusual combination of a gross excess of men due to widespread sex-selection abortions twenty and thirty years ago and a very low fertility rate.  This should be the ideal circumstance for men, hoping to marry the rarer women and have children, treating them with greater respect.

Instead, South Korea has among the ugliest gender wars in the world.  The nascent feminist movement has generated an intense and open backlash among men.  This is especially true of unemployed men, as the South Korean economy has been slow to recover at the very time that women are significantly increasing their education and job-seeking.

South Korea - along with similarly situated Japan and Hong Kong - are the rare developed countries in which the female murder rate exceeds the male.  (For comparison, in the U.S. men are murdered more than three times as often as women.) This is because the South Korean domestic violence rate is very high.  Women are safe on the streets from strangers, but at much more risk from boyfriends and (ex-) husbands at home.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Democratic Doctors Deal With People, Republican Doctors Deal With Bodies

An interesting new Yale study measured the partisanship of doctors in different medical specialties.  Many specialities split close to evenly between Democrats and Republicans.  Overall, doctors who have a party are slightly more Democratic than Republican, 54% to 46%.

At the extremes, though, there are significant differences in partisan alignment by medical specialty.

The two most Republican specialties are Surgery, at 67%, and Anesthesiology, at 65%.  The two most Democratic specialties are Infectious Diseases, at 77%, and Psychiatry, at 76%.

The thing that stands out to me is that the doctors who most have to deal with conscious people who talk about lives quite different from the doctor's own are likely to be Democrats.  The doctors who deal with unconscious bodies whose lives they need to know the least about are likely to be Republicans.

Some have speculated that Republicans go into the highest paying specialties for the money.  I think, though, that is is more likely that Democrats are more likely to chose to deal with patients most harmed by the way they live and have been acted on.  Care for the Harmed is a core liberal value.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Can Dictators Be Leaders? Authoritarians Say Yes, Democrats Say No

One battle in the vice-presidential debate between Tim Kaine and Mike Pence was over Pence's claim that Vladimir Putin was a stronger leader than Barack Obama.

Kaine said a dictator could not be a "leader."  Pence said Putin had a bigger impact on world affairs than Obama, so therefore was the stronger leader.

Authoritarians fear that their world is threatened.  They see the options as black and white, want a muscular response, and reject contrasting information.  Political scientists have noted that, in past generations, the authoritarian fraction of the population was split between the two parties more evenly.  Since the Civil Rights Movement, however, the Republican Party has been courting them. Authoritarians are the core of the Trump base.

To authoritarians, the strong man is what it means to be a "leader."

To a (small d) democrat, by contrast, a leader is someone who can work a compromise among opposing interests to create a functioning consensus.  A good leader is one who can see the way forward that serves the varied groups in society, and who has the skill to work the compromise.

Trump and Pence praise dictators as strong leaders, regardless of which policies they impose.  Clinton and Kaine reject the idea that dictators can be leaders, because imposing policies is oppressive to parts of society, and undemocratic.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

The Nobel Prize Shows Mrs. Thatcher's Continuing Gift to American Academia

When Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of Great Britain, she drastically cut support for higher education, and reduced the security that academics there had in their jobs.

The result was a mass exodus of academic talent to the United States.

Today the Nobel Prize in Physics was announced.  It went to three British scientists.  And where did they do their prize winning work?  The University of Washington, Princeton University, and Brown University.

Thank you, Mrs. Thatcher.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

The Just Grievances of Trump Supporters

The Democratic Party aims to "care for the harmed", especially those harmed by the government itself. Trump appeals to those who believe that they have been harmed by the government because the government helps those who have been harmed by previous government policies. The Trump people - working class white men, in particular - believe they were in line for the American Dream, and that Democratic "care for the harmed" policies amount to letting other people - women, people of color, gays and lesbians, the handicapped, immigrants - jump the line ahead of them for no good reason. The Trump people are right that they are losing a benefit (a privilege) they used to have. But on this point I think the Democratic Party policy is fundamentally right.

The best Democrats can do to address this real grievance is the plan to reduce the cost of college, especially community college, for the ambitious part of the white working class. I would trumpet that policy right at the Trump supporters.

The harder issue to address is about the effects of globalization. The leaders of both parties are internationalists, for good reason. The world is safer with a free-trade regimen, our national economy benefits, all consumers benefit, and many workers benefit. But not all. Here the Trump supporters have a real grievance, which cannot be easily addressed by either party. Low-skilled manufacturing jobs are not going to come back in sufficient number to re-employ them at family-supporting wages. They refuse to take farmworker jobs, which can fill that gap for people willing to do very hard work (as the immigrants show).

Friday, September 30, 2016

Sovereign Immunity Protects the United States the Most

Congress passed a law to allow U.S. citizens to sue foreign governments - specifically, Saudia Arabia, for their possible role in the 9/11 attacks.

President Obama vetoed that bill, on the grounds that the doctrine of "sovereign immunity" - foreign governments are immune from suit in our courts for their government actions - protects us.  If we allow U.S. citizens to sue foreign governments for their acts, that opens the door for foreign citizens to sue the U.S. government.

The United States invades, bombs, and intervenes in more countries than any other - probably more, these days, than all others combined.

Congress overrode President Obama's veto - the first time they have done so.  And immediately the Republican leadership regretted what they had done.

The President is right.  Our self-interest, rightly understood, should lead us to preserve sovereign immunity.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Irony of Suburban "Covenants, Codes, and Restrictions" Is That Private Government Is More Intrusive Than Real Government

Many suburban subdivisions are minutely regulated by Covenants, Codes, and Restrictions.  These can cover just about anything that is visible from outside your house.  Legally, it is like living in a shopping mall.

Suburban homeowners give up a great deal of their freedom in the interests of keeping up the property values of the whole neighborhood. The task, and bane, of Homeowners Associations is enforcing these rules.

The irony is that these same suburbs are also more likely to be home to the kind of conservatives who resent government regulation of their lives and property.

There is no logical contradiction here - choosing to enter into a private contract to give up your liberty is different from being subject to regulation whether you personally chose it or not.  But in practice the homeowners association restricts many "small government" conservatives much more than the government does.

And the people who live in the super-liberal bohemian neighborhoods in the city have, in practice, much more freedom about what they do with their property.

Monday, September 19, 2016

A Revealing Dialogue About What Trump Supporters Think is Not Great About America

A friend posted a Statista poll on Facebook. The lead finding was in response to this question: "Compared to 50 years ago, life in America today is ...".  Clinton supporters said "better" by a margin of 59 - 19%; Trump supporters said "worse" by a margin of 81 to 11%.

In the comment thread, I asked "What is it that Trump supporters think is worse today?" My friend, humorously, responded "Apparently everything and it is all Obama's fault?" 

The dialogue that interests me today is what happened next.  A guy I don't know, who uses the "Don't Tread on Me" flag as his profile picture, entered the discussion.  I will call him "Tread".  I have edited the discussion that followed for concision, but not changed Tread's responses.

Tread: it actually isn't ALL Obama's fault. He had help. LOTS of help

Me: To do what, exactly?

Tread: nothing good

Me: But, specifically, what is worse now than in the early '60s? By nearly every measure of social development, with a couple of exceptions, things are much better now, especially for black people, women, handicapped people, gay and lesbian people, immigrants, youth, and educated people. The core Trump constituency - less educated white men - seems to think that making America better for all of those people (the majority of Americans) somehow has made America as a whole worse. Is that what you think?

Tread: and you are blue and I am not. there's no use arguing with you or trying to proove ANY point that is contrary to your view. So now, I stop. ... I do not want to go down the rabbit hole "to do what" 

Buck [another friend who uses "Buck the NRA" as a profile picture]:  I will venture a few guesses for you on what Trump supporters believe was better before:
1) Jobs for those who are uneducated paid a living wage ... 2) Women were more likely to stay home with kids ... 3) Being white was not a liability in any sense. ... 4) More children were born within wedlock and more of those who weren't were put up for adoption into heterosexual married homes.

Tread:  "Family Values" was a thing & so was being raised. Respect for others....and things. Traditions. [Note: the ellipses were in the original.]

Buck: I consider "political correctness" respect for others. That was most definitely NOT a thing in the 1950s.  I consider family values, valuing all families of all shapes sizes, religions, and make-ups. Not judging children on the perceived sins of their parents- in fact not judging others sinners at all.

Tread: "political correctness"... in my opinion, the single largest detriment to the continued existance to this country. It allows an encroachment of values which are opposite to the good order and continued existance of this country. That encroachment will not cease until this country mirrors certain other less desirable locales.

Buck: When I hear you complain about "encroachment", I hear equality. You are unhappy with being required to treat people you look down your nose at as if they are worthy of equal respect.

Tread: if "equal respect" means changing the values this country has held since long before you and I were born, then yes. I live in Christian country. We can coexist peacefully together, untill you try to change the values of this country from that of a Christian view to that of a value set that is directly contrary to the Christian founding principles, then yes, absolutely I find fault in it.

Friday, September 16, 2016

America's Mottoes Unite Liberal and Conservative Views of Hierarchy

I previously wrote about the finding that conservatives tend to see difference as hierarchical (better or worse), whereas liberals tend to see difference as equally valuable diversity.

I think the original motto of the United States starts from this more liberal view, then tends toward the  center.  E Pluribus Unum - Out of Many, One - starts from the great positive value of diversity.  It heads toward unity, true.  But it is not a unity of an imagined purity of the nation, but rather the hybrid vigor that comes from joining different, but equally valuable, components.

The new motto of the United States, by contrast, draws from a more hierarchical view.  In God We Trust names the most important thing.  It does not even name the alternatives.  They are not worth exploring.

The actual United States believes both.  At the human level, we are diverse and equally valuable in our origins.  At the transcendent level, we trust the one who really is hierarchically better - and Other - than the rest.

This unity, I believe, is a good centrist point.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Math is Not Racist, But Big Data Cannot Predict Individuals

Under the provocative title "Math is Racist," CNN Money reports on the work of mathematician Cathy O'Neil.  She is distressed with the way mathematical models about groups are then used to hurt individuals.  For example, the fact that the relatives of prisoners are themselves more likely to commit crimes can be used in sentencing a specific relative of a prisoner.

O'Neil is right that this is wrong, and is an injustice spurred by the increasing availability of Big Data.

The problem is one we face in sociology all the time.  I have for years made my students repeat Rule #1 of Sociology (according to me):  We make generalizations about groups, which do not necessarily apply to each individual in the group.  So, for example, it is true that the relatives of prisoners are more likely to commit crimes.  Finding that fact has been a great and important achievement of sociology.  But it would be wrong to conclude that this particular relative of a prisoner is, therefore, more likely to commit crimes.  Sociology cannot provide that fine-grained a solution.

Or, to use the simplified rule that I now teach students, sociologists are the people who understand the difference between most and all.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Is "Alt Right" the Same as "Fascist"?

I am using the term fascist advisedly, not as a general term of political abuse.

Wikipedia says alt right is "associated with white nationalism,[1][2][7] white supremacism,[3][8][9] antisemitism,[1][2][10] right-wing populism,[7] nativism,[11] and the neoreactionary movement.[8][12]"

Is that not the summary of fascism?

I do not think Donald Trump is a fascist, because I do not think he has many specific ideological convictions.  But he certainly has mobilized and encouraged white nationalist nativists in a way they have not had a public voice since the George Wallace campaign.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Republicans See Difference As Hierarchical

Republicans see the world as Hierarchical - that difference entails ranking into better and worse.  Democrats, by contrast, are more likely to see difference as just -- difference.

This is the finding of Jer Clifton, a doctoral student in positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

This is very helpful in addressing a puzzle in my own research on why people choose the neighborhoods that they do.  People who live in the dense, walkable, mixed-use streetcar suburbs close to the city love to talk about why they chose to live there, and are curious about why others choose otherwise.  They value the vibrant diversity of their neighborhoods.

Following Clifton's finding, it is not surprising that such places tend to be strongly Democratic.  But I have found that even the Republicans in the streetcar suburbs like to talk about and think about why they live there. They are usually conservative on one or two issues - pro-life Catholics predominating in the place I study - but otherwise they are like their neighbors in appreciating difference.

Likewise, Democrats in the spread-out, car-based, residential-only, one-class outer suburbs are an easy interview to get and conduct.

The bottleneck has been in getting Republicans in the car suburbs to even agree to an interview.  When they do agree, these interviews tend to be a little more tense than the others.  The clue that Clifton's finding gives is helpful:  suburban Republicans regard the question "why do you choose to Iive where you do, while others choose to live in a different kind of place?" as implicitly a question of whether their place, and their choice, is better or worse than the choices that other people make.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Right-Wing Media Are Now the "Useful Idiots" of Russian Disinformation

Lenin described pro-Soviet liberals of his day as "useful idiots".

The Soviet Union is gone, but the Russian policy of using disinformation to unsettle democratic governments continues in full force.

Today, though, it is the right-wing media who are the most useful, and most credulous, spreaders of Russian falsehoods. In the words of Patrick Oksanen, a Swedish editorial writer after an especially virulent campaign against the Western alliance, the central idea is that “liberal democracy is corrupt, inefficient, chaotic and, ultimately, not democratic.”

The Trump campaign could not be more useful to the Kremlin if they tried.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Religious People Give More - To All Causes

The annual Burk Survey of philanthropy has come out, and once again religious involvement is one of the biggest factors in who gives to all causes, religious and otherwise.  Likewise, religious people are more likely to volunteer.

The survey did not ask how involved in a religious community the givers were, but it is a reasonable guess (and conforms to previous research) that people people who give to religious institutions and volunteer their time to one are active in that community.

The survey also has some interesting comparisons of givers and non-givers to their undergraduate college. This, recall, is a survey of donors, so these non-givers do give to some other causes, just not to their own colleges if they have one.  The main reason for non-giving:  they didn't think the college needed it as much as other causes did.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Which Entangle You - People, or Things?

I am studying cultural differences among different fractions of the middle class.  This is a class that has some choice about how it interacts with the world, and what kind of things it buys to live with.

I think one subculture regards other people, especially acquaintances and strangers who live nearby, as potential sources of unwanted entanglement.  They prefer if people keep to themselves.  The places we live and the things we own, by contrast, are valued because they enable us to do what we want.

Another subculture, though, sees other people, including acquaintances and neighbors, as the greatest source of interest and action in life.  The things we must own, by contrast, are a constant source of upkeep and a necessary burden.

I would welcome thoughts on this contrast, and what else it might map on to in social life.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Westboro Baptist Church is Like the Joker - They Just Want to Watch It Burn

I just read an interesting book, God Hates, about Westboro Baptist Church.  WBC has a hyper-Calvinist, double-predestination, antelapsarian theology.  This means that they think God damns - even hates - all sinners, and saves only a few for God's own inscrutable reason.

Westboro is not trying to change the world.  They are, at most, trying to convince the damned that they are damned, but should repent anyway.

Like the Joker in Batman, they are not trying to save the world.  Some churches just like to watch it burn.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

My "Thank You, Lord, I Don't Have to ..." List Begins with "Drink"

For years I have had a mental list of things I am grateful that I do not have to do.  I always begin it with "Thank you, Lord, I don't have to own a boat" or "go skiing."

I do not think those things are bad.  I just don't want to do them, and am grateful that I do not have to.

My wife and I just read J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy, about escaping his Appalachian upbringing of drinking, yelling, fighting, and running away - even while he appreciated the virtues of the fierce family loyalties of Appalachian honor culture.  I know many family trees with branches ruined by heavy drinking - my own included.

From my teen years I have been grateful for the freedom to not take part in drinking culture.  Don't get me wrong, I am not against alcohol as such.  Jesus made wine - it can't be all bad.

But I have realized that the invisible first item on my "Thank you, Lord, I don't have to ..." list has always been "drink or take drugs."

This is a great freedom of a free society.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Good News: Federal Court Invalidates NC Voter Suppression Law

As soon as the Supreme Court ended the federal supervision of voting laws enacted in the Voting Rights Act in states that used to prevent voting by African Americans, North Carolina proposed a raft of voter suppression provisions.

A federal panel reviewed the history of how the law was made, and concluded that the legislature blatantly sought to suppress those, and only those, methods of voting and voter identification most favored by African Americans.

Before enacting that law, moreover, “the legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices.” After receiving that data, “the General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration in five different ways, all of which disproportionately affected African Americans.” Indeed, this data appears to have guided the state’s lawmakers in drafting a law that would have maximal impact on African-Americans.

This decision is good for democracy in itself.  It is also a good step in restoring the wisdom behind the Voting Rights Act that our country has had a pernicious pattern of suppressing black voting.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Strongmen Want a Conflagration

Howe and Strauss' theory of generations has long predicted the "Crisis of 2020."  The cycle of generations is now ripe for aging Baby Boomers to launch a crusade about something, which compliant Millennials will fight.

The theory does not predict that a bad thing will automatically happen in 2020.  Rather, it says that bad things happen all the time, but only when we have leaders looking for a fight and young people willing to take orders do we have the conditions that, time and again, have led to the major crises of U.S. history.

The rise of strongmen around the world is the first precondition.  Putin is the scariest, but Erdogan follows the pattern, too.  And Trump is the most likely American strongman - long on aggressive rhetoric, short on any actual plan to do something.  And to each provocation, his response is bellicose.  In response to a single man driving a truck through a crowd in France, Trump said he would declare world war.

The strongmen, and the angry base behind them, want a big fight - whether it actually addresses their problem or not.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Super Delegates are a Good Idea. The Republicans Wish They Had Had Some This Time.

Political parties in a democratic society do not themselves have to be democratic.

There is no contradiction in this claim.  The party is a private membership organization designed to win elections and pass legislation.  Anyone can join.  But only those who have joined have a legitimate claim to voice in its choices, especially of candidates.  And the wise leaders of that private organization sometimes need to overrule the choice of many voters if that choice would lose elections or make it impossible to pass legislation.

Democrats learned this the hard way in 1972.

Republicans have been so establishment-driven for, well, forever, that it never occurred to them than an insurgent could come in from outside the party to take over their under-protected candidate-selection procedure.

The same thing might have happened to Democrats this year, but the wise and timely invention of super-delegates kept a non-Democrat from seriously threatening to take the party's nomination.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Methodist Social Creed and the Catholic Social Teaching

The choice of Tim Kaine to be Hillary Clinton's vice-president joins two active proponents of two of mainstream Christendom's most active social uplift doctrines.

The Methodist Church has always been active against social evils, from the days of John and Charles Wesley's opposition to slavery.  A core principle of the current United Methodist Social Creed is

We believe in the right and duty of persons to work for the glory of God and the good of themselves and others and in the protection of their welfare in so doing; in the rights to property as a trust from God, collective bargaining, and responsible consumption; and in the elimination of economic and social distress.

Catholic Social Teaching is an even more developed theory and practice of the just order of society, organized around a "preferential option for the poor."

Using the power of government to lift up "the least of these" is what Methodist and Catholic politicians have been doing for all of American history.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Ban on Non-Profits Endorsing Candidates is Good for the Church

Donald Trump says that "an amendment, pushed by Lyndon Johnson, many years ago, threatens religious institutions with a loss of their tax-exempt status if they openly advocated their political views."

Trump's claim is mostly false - religious institutions often advocate their political views.  What they can't do is advocate voting for specific candidates. Moreover, the law that Johnson pushed was not aimed at religious institutions, but rather at red-baiting McCarthyite organizations.  Since the law covered all tax-exempt non-profits, it also covered religious institutions. 

I think this law is actually very good for the churches.  I expect my church and pastor to promote decency and justice, which sometimes mean taking a side in a political argument.  However, that is different from endorsing or opposing specific candidates.  Candidates are people with a mix of vices and virtues - some of which will only be revealed in the future.  The potential for corruption in the short run, and embarrassment in the long run, of allying the church with specific candidates, is very great.  

The current law, which was not made for or about religious institutions, has worked to our advantage.