Archive for the ‘current events’ Category

rational romney

Remember a few months ago when a Romney staffer compared election campaigns to an Etch-a-Sketch? Each time, you shake things up and start over. People were appalled, but Romney’s staffer was correct. The reason is that elections are not driven by high information voters with strong opinions. They are driven by low information voters with no opinions. The reason is that people who know politics tend to know what they want. To get 50%, you need to focus on the weakly committed, low information voter. The person who still isn’t sure what they think of an incumbent – after four years!

The result? Once you win the party’s nomination, you can say more or less anything you want. The people who actually remember what you said won’t change their vote, unless you say something that directly and violently attacks a core belief of your base. The people who can be influenced don’t remember much and have a relatively limited knowledge of politics. Say what you want. They won’t remember.

While people may view politicians as evil, I say they are responding to the incentives given to them. If your job depended on pandering to amnesiacs, wouldn’t you keep fishing until you found something they liked?

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Written by fabiorojas

October 24, 2012 at 12:01 am

Posted in current events, fabio

it’s the south, stupid!!

The polls are ambiguous these days. First, after trailing by about 2-3% during the entire election cycle, Mitt Romney has now gained a consistent 1/2% to 1% lead in the polls. Second, the Obama campaign is still on track to win the election because he has retained leads in a lot of swing states, including Ohio. The only big swing state to switch to Romney is Florida.

How do we reconcile this split? Here’s my theory of the 2012 election: the South hates Obama a lot, but the rest of the nation is relatively satisfied with a modest economic recovery.  Consider the following cross-tab from a recent mid-October 2012 Gallup poll:

% Obama
East 52
Midwest 52
South 39
West 53

This chart explains why Obama is trailing in the polls right now. The South really, really hates Obama and the lopsided polls cancel out modest Obama leads in the rest of the country. Also, it explains why Obama is doing well (for now) in the Electoral College. Florida is the only swing state in the South. In other words, if it weren’t for the South, Obama would be cruising to a modest, but easy, victory due to a slowly recovering economy.

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Written by fabiorojas

October 23, 2012 at 12:01 am

america needs a great republican party

RNC delegates heckling a Puerto Rican speaker. This is unacceptable.

The Republican party has often been a force for good in history. In the 19th century, the party stood strong against slavery. Defending black freedom remained a notable feature of Republican party well into the 20th century. As late as the 1920s, Republican presidents, such as Warren Harding, spoke out against lynching and racial segregation. In the mid-20th century, the Republican party aligned itself with anti-communists, who rightly saw the brutality of Soviet communism.

But the Republican party we have today has not lived up to the standard created by the party’s founders and early leaders. By strongly courting social conservatives and relying on their votes for success, the Republican party has drifted far from its original goal of promoting people’s rights. Instead, we have a party that promotes voter ID laws that undermine black rights that the Republican party won with the blood of American soldiers. It is also a party set firmly against immigration. The mantra is that the party only opposes illegal immigration, but the policy proposals indicate an opposite view. There are many calls for walls, fences, and deportations. There are few demands for an immigration system that makes it easy for people to legally exercise their right to live or work in the place of their choice.

Those who care about civil liberty and individual freedom may recoil, but this is unwarranted. Instead, people who care about the rights of blacks, women, and immigrants should draw upon the Republican’s rich history to bring out the best in the party. This is important because democracies are built on rivalry. Major parties take turns in government. Thus, the Republican party is an essential feature of American government, not an aberration. If the Republican party can return to its roots, and work to make America a place for all, then the Republican party can use its time in office to be  the promoter of freedom that it used to be.

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Written by fabiorojas

August 31, 2012 at 12:01 am

Posted in current events, fabio

dystopic visions

Breaking news: The ASA has decided to change next year’s theme to Unreal Dystopias.  The meetings will begin with a randomly chosen member of each section being locked in the grand ballroom, leading to a conference-long struggle for survival and paradigm supremacy. Start stockpiling your survival gear now.

Written by brayden king

August 20, 2012 at 1:36 pm

the ncaa and penn state’s history

Ever since the NCAA announced they would sanction Penn State for its cover-up of the Sandusky sex abuse scandal, I’ve been thinking about writing a post related to institutional jurisdictions, authority, and reputation.  I completely understand the NCAA’s response to the scandal, especially in light of the findings of the Freeh report, and I think this was a very predictable response. Was the punishment harsh? Yes. Was it excessively harsh as a condemnation of the crimes of Sandusky? No.  Was the NCAA operating within its jurisdiction and exercising proper use of authority by making these sanctions? That’s debatable (and I’m sure it will be in the months to come).

My colleague Gary Alan Fine, who has thought a lot about scandal and collective memory (e.g., Fine 1997), has offered his thoughts on the sanctions in a New York Times op-ed. Gary questions “history clerks” who attempt to rewrite history as a response to a contemporary event/scandal.

The more significant question is whether rewriting history is the proper answer. And while this is not the first time that game outcomes have been vacated, changing 14 seasons of football history is a unique and  disquieting response. We learn bad things about people all the time, but should we change our history? Should we, like Orwell’s totalitarian Oceania, have a Ministry of Truth that has the authority to scrub the past?  Should our newspapers have to change their back files? And how far should we go?

This is a tricky issue. Everyone can agree that what happened at Penn State was deplorable. However, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to question whether the NCAA made these moves more as an effort to protect its own reputation and to safeguard the purity of college football, rather than as a reasoned response to the institutional crimes committed by Penn State’s decision-making authorities.  This scandal isn’t disappearing anytime soon, and so I expect we’ll hear a lot more about this in the months and years to come.

Written by brayden king

July 25, 2012 at 3:37 pm

orgtheory poll: 2012 presidential vote tally

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Written by fabiorojas

July 24, 2012 at 12:01 am

damnant quodnon intelligunt

Hi, Orgheads!

I am really excited to join the fray again as a guest contributor, and thankful to the team for inviting me. In my other posts I’ll be speaking on behalf of Steven Tepper and Danielle Lindemann (both of Vanderbilt University), my collaborators in the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP). This one’s just me.

We’ve been asked to post on the state of arts graduates and artistic employment and skills in the contemporary U.S. I think the topic is timely and appropriate for this blog as we’ve discussed the value and relevance of an arts or humanities degree in the past. In particular, OrgTheory hosted a discussion in November titled, “why job hungry students choose useless majors.” The gist of Fabio’s argument, I think, is that college students are practical credentialists who want a BA to avoid service sector and manual labor; the least talented of these are drawn to majors that require the least “academic ability,” namely, the arts and humanities.

I won’t comment on the claim that arts and humanities disciplines require less “academic ability” (except to say that I think it’s bonkers), but I do want to remark upon the fiction that a firewall exists between math and science on the one hand, and the arts on the other. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Jenn Lena

July 9, 2012 at 8:19 pm

fact vs. fiction

Over the weekend, the public radio show This American Life created quite a stir when they retracted a story that appeared on their show earlier this year. The retracted story was a segment from Mike Daisey’s one-man play, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.  (I blogged about Daisey’s story when it originally came out, saying “the voices that will remain in your head after the podcast are those of the mistreated workers whose bodies and souls are slowly being sacrificed on the factory line.”)  It appears that Daisey fabricated parts of the story,  like claiming that he met underage employees outside of a Foxconn plant where parts for Apple’s iPad were made.  Many of the most moving parts of the story never actually happened. The story began to unravel when a reporter for another NPR show, Marketplace, realized that some parts of Daisey’s account didn’t sound accurate and began to do some fact-checking and discovered that Daisey’s accomplice in all of this – a translator named Cathy – disagreed about the basic facts. Anyway, it’s a big mess because NPR holds itself to high journalistic standards and they needed to cleanse themselves of Daisey’s fabrications before it all went public in some other forum.  Here’s a full transcript of the retraction episode.

Needless to say, the media is having a field day with Daisey’s debacle, in which he first appeared to contritely apologize and then later defended himself as presenting a truthful representation of factory workers’ experience. For more in-depth coverage, check out these articles posted on the New York Times, The Atlantic, and Slate. Daisey has responded by claiming that his show is a work of art, not journalism, and that the central message he hoped to convey is true – that workers in factories where our precious technologies are employed in inhumane conditions and that this should affect how we feel about consuming these products. From Daisey’s own blog:

I apologized in this week’s episode to anyone who felt betrayed. I stand by that apology. But understand that if you felt something that connected you with where your devices come from—that is not a lie. That is art. That is human empathy, and it is real, and even if you curse my name I hope you’ll recognize that and continue reading, caring, and thinking.

I feel bad for Daisey because I do think that his message is an important one, and I’m glad that he got the message out there. The show was incredibly popular. The radio segment was the most downloaded show ever on This American Life. But I think Daisey created a major mess for himself. His sin is not fabricating a story, but rather it’s presenting that fabrication in the media as if it were journalism. If Daisey had never set foot on the set of public radio this would have never become a problem. Daisey’s theater performance is not the first, nor the last, piece of muckraking to dramatize truth. People have compared his work to that of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, which fictionalized turn-of-the-century factory conditions in Chicago.  I think another apt comparison is the movie, The Social Network. Like Daisey’s play, The Social Network draws on archival material to create a semi-fictionalized account of Mark Zuckerberg and the creation of Facebook. The movie is so compelling because of the emotional moments in the plot, which portrays Zuckerberg as coolly calculating, insensitive, and desperate for recognition. This version of Zuckerberg is the one that the public has come to know. We believe this is the real Zuckerberg. But like Daisey’s play, many (or most) of the scenes in the film are fabricated.  The screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, gets away with it because everyone knows he’s writing a movie and not a biography. So we let him play fast and loose with the empirical details and we love him anyway. Daisey is doing the same thing in his play. Unfortunately, what he was doing changed when he moved from the theater to the radio studio and began presenting his work as factually true (which he undoubtedly did).  It’s hard to look past this error on his part.

Daisey isn’t the only person to tread the thin line between factual reporting and fiction. Recently John D’Agata and Jim Fingal wrote a book about this issue called, The Lifespan of a Fact, which relays exchanges between a writer and his fact-checker (here is a review of the book by Jennifer McDonald at the New York Times). The writer, D’Agata, wrote an essay about a 16-year old boy who committed suicide by jumping from Las Vegas’s Stratosphere casino. In fact-checking the essay Fingal found over a hundred inaccuracies. D’Agata defended the inaccuracies, claiming that they helped him to artistically convey the truth of the story he was trying to tell.  The fabrications, he argued, helped to uncover the basic truths the piece was about. Is this what Daisey believes he was doing? If so, why not allow people to decide for themselves by revealing the inaccuracies up front? Of course, regular listeners of This American Life know that not every story appearing on the program is factually true. They regularly present short stories or memoir-like accounts told at The Moth, none of which I assume are fact-checked. Listeners would not be dismayed to learn that a humorous anecdote from one of these storytellers was not completely factually correct. People writing memoirs, after all, remember a distorted version of the past. Psychologists tell us that memories are malleable. Novelists are professional liars.  We praise them for their ability to make their fabrications believable. Occasionally, they reveal truths in the process of fabricating. We live in a subjective world, and so we’re comfortable intermingling fact and fiction. We just need better labels to tell us how to process it.

Written by brayden king

March 19, 2012 at 6:01 pm

gop primary reality check

You’ll see the media hype the GOP primary. They’ll point to the upcoming Southern primaries as evidence that the race isn’t over. Let’s do a reality check:

  1. 23 states have already voted.
  2. Delegates: Romney has 415 confirmed delegates. Other candidates have about 328 – combined.
  3. Raw vote totals: Romney has about 3.1 million total votes. Santorum has about 1.9 million.
  4. States won: 14 Romney, 9 for the rest combined.

Romney has some big winner take all/nearly all states coming up like California and New York. As long as he avoids blow outs in all the remaining big Southern and Midwest states, he’ll continue padding his lead in delegates, vote count, and states. The only question is when and how Santorum will end the race.

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Written by fabiorojas

March 10, 2012 at 12:05 am

did ron paul just save the republican party from self-destruction?

The results are in. Romney averted disaster by winning the Michigan primary. Santorum’s surge will soon come to a grueling end. The next contest is Washington, which should be Romney friendly. Then, a split on Super Tuesday would still leave Romney ahead in states won, total vote count, and delegates. Not a knock out victory, but enough to guarantee that a long slog will leave him ahead at the end of the day. Santorum’s money will dry up sooner or later.

So how does Ron Paul fit into this? There’s some evidence that Paul pulled his punches w/Romney and focused on the non-Romneys, especially Santorum. Paul’s campaign ran anti-Santorum adds in Michigan, a state where he’s clearly not a factor. Paul may have helped Romney get the extra points that he needed to get a win and close Santorum’s window of opportunity.

The reasons may be unclear, but the effect is not. By attacking Santorum, Paul has ensured that the next nominee will *not* be a guy who is opposed to birth control, thinks Satan runs our colleges, and trashes well regarded dead presidents. If the economy is improving, any Republican candidate will have a tough time. But Paul’s attacks on Santorum in Michigan may have saved the Republican party from a disaster of Goldwater proportions.

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Written by fabiorojas

February 29, 2012 at 4:27 am

failing beauchamp’s test

Over at the Andrew Sullivan blog, Zack Beauchamp picks up on my post about Ron Paul’s failure to significantly transform the Republican Party. He thinks that Paul doesn’t represent the best of libertarian face. Paul is tainted by state’s rights fanaticism, association with racists, and homophobia:

The real test for libertarianism will be when it gets a champion equipped to stand up for the ideology’s social views as well its economic and international ones.

Actually, there was one politician who might be considered a test of Beauchamp’s hypothesis – former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson. He’s pretty much a hard core libertarian who is both an economic and social liberal. He’s anti-tax, pro-gay rights, drug decriminalization, and has never dabbled in the race mongering that tainted Paul. The result? Johnson did worse than Huntsman. Barely topping 2% on polls, Johnson dropped out in November and bought a ticket to Irrelevant Land by running for the Libertarian Party nomination.

This evening, Santorum is enjoying a second surge, upsetting Romney in Minnesota and possibly Colorado. Paul’s best showing is second place in Minnesota, but still not winning a single state. Paul barely broke single digits in the other states. The message is loud and clear from the GOP primary electorate. The Wall Street republican, the anti-abortion crusader, and the hot head all get a thumbs up. Libertarians need not apply.

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Written by fabiorojas

February 8, 2012 at 9:54 am

links and ironies of anonymous and megaupload

Here are some more Anonymous links:

Also, Anonymous has recently retaliated against the shutdown of the filesharing site Megaupload (wiki site here) and the arrest of its Finnish-German hacker-founder Kim DotCom.  Here’s the NYT story about the arrest.  This fella is a piece of work: he was arrested at his $30 million dollar mansion in New Zealand (yes, with Finnish flag flying), and apparently about $6 million worth of vehicles were also confiscated.  Yes, he made his money via illegal filesharing (of music, movies etc) – about 50 million people visited the site daily.  Anonymous retaliated by hacking various sites, including the DOJ, MPAA, Universal. Interesting issue: free filesharing, important to the Anonymous ethos, has now created the type of concentration of wealth that the movement is fighting against.  Robin Hood got rich.

Kim Dotcom managed, just last month, to get some music celebs (, Alicia Keys, Kanye West, etc) to endorse Megaupload:

Needless to say, Universal did not like the song or video.

Written by teppo

January 23, 2012 at 7:44 am

wikipedia blackout and SOPA

Despite its many problems, I use wikipedia, a lot.  Too much.  Sure enough, just now I tried to dig something up – and got the wikipedia blackout page.  Given the blackout-  where will we quickly read up on SOPA (or whatever else)?

The SOPA thing is a complicated matter – a fascinating tension between protecting intellectual property and free speech.  At the extreme – should online sites like Pirate Bay (free movies, music and books) be allowed to operate freely?  Few people say “yes” to that one (including Jimmy Wales), so the questions emerge in the gray areas. But SOPA itself is a mess, no question.

Written by teppo

January 18, 2012 at 5:55 am

the huntsman lesson

According to the NY Times, Jim Huntsman will drop out soon. Some might say that being moderate sank him, even though he’s fairly conservative. My lesson is different and much simpler: candidates who refuse to seriously run in the first primary and reject the base’s rhetoric do badly. Unless the first state is going to be won by a local, you must try. See also: Rudy, Fred.

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Written by fabiorojas

January 16, 2012 at 2:48 am

Posted in current events, fabio

where your iphone comes from

The latest episode of This American Life is a breathtaking first-person account of a Mac aficionado’s visit to an electronics manufacturing plant in Shenzhen, China. Here he meets some of the workers who put iPhones together and discovers that the entire manufacturing process is done by hand! He learns of the incredible toll this process of constructing little electronics goods has on their health and lives. The account, partly due to Mike Daisey’s engaging monologue style, is really unforgettable and disturbing. One of my favorite lines from Daisy’s account:

How often do we wish more things were hand-made? Oh, we talk about that all the time, don’t we? I wish it was like the old days. I wish things had that human touch. But that’s not true. There are more hand-made things now than there have ever been in the history of the world. Everything is hand-made. I know, I have been there. I have seen the workers laying in parts thinner than human hair, one after another after another. Everything is hand-made.

In typical TAL style, they try to get the other side of the story and the last ten minutes of the episode really grapple with the effects of sweatshop labor on economic mobility. Still, the voices that will remain in your head after the podcast are those of the mistreated workers whose bodies are souls are slowly being sacrificed on the factory line.

Written by brayden king

January 10, 2012 at 5:08 pm

steve jobs at work

For Apple fan boyz and girlz, a short television feature from 1988 focusing on Jobs as new CEO of NEXT. HT: Ben Casnocha.

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Written by fabiorojas

January 7, 2012 at 12:48 am

#ows, the human microphone and hand signals

I’m sort of intrigued by the various innovations emerging from the Occupy Wallstreet Movement (I posted at strategyprofs about some of the tech ones, specifically apps).

One of the cooler, more low-tech innovations (ok, ok, these have been around for a long time – but still) is the use of the “human microphone” – note that the wiki entry was initiated just two weeks ago.  Occupy also has its own hand signals (and, check out the hand signals for consensus decision-making).  Cool.  Twinkles.

Here’s a hand signal tutorial:

Written by teppo

November 3, 2011 at 7:55 pm

vertical or horizontal, general assembly and occupy wall street

I’ve just finished that BusinessWeek piece on Graeber and Occupy (David Graeber: the Anti-Leader of Occupy Wall Street) and it features many interesting, organizational details.  (Well, assuming they have captured everything correctly.  Based on the rhetoric of #OWS, the piece may impute far too much to a couple, key people and organizations: Graeber and his friends, AdBusters, etc.)

Readers might already know all of this – but apparently there was a competing protest or rally already set up before the current form of the Occupy Wall Street protest emerged.  Specifically, there was a call for a “People’s General Assembly” on August 2nd to discuss a possible Wall Street occupation – but when Graeber and his friends showed up, there was a traditional rally already taking place.   The rally was run by “verticals,” existing organizations that already had a list of demands.  Graeber and Co set up an insurgent, “horizontal” general assembly nearby, which people and the existing organizations joined – eventually.  The Occupy Wall Street protest was then planned for the following month and a half.

I’m really interested in organizational initial conditions, aggregation and path-dependence – the Occupy Wall Street movement is an interesting case study on all these issues.

Anyways – read the rest of the story in the article.

Written by teppo

November 1, 2011 at 10:50 pm

occupy everything

Some more occupy movement links:

I was reading up on ‘occupy colleges’ at the Huffington Post and who do they quote but orgtheory’s very own Brayden King (as well as Fabio’s co-author Michael Heaney and other movement scholars).

Written by teppo

October 15, 2011 at 8:49 pm

ows op-ed

For those of you who can’t get enough commentary on the Occupy Wall Street movement, I’ve written an op-ed for The Hill about the movement.

Here are a few additional orgtheory posts about the OWS.

Written by brayden king

October 12, 2011 at 12:45 am

a sociology of Steve Jobs

Hosted over on my own blog, mostly because it’s a little long, here’s A Sociology of Steve Jobs.

Written by Kieran

October 11, 2011 at 2:34 pm

reverend fred shuttlesworth, rip

A great leader of the civil rights movement passed away yesterday. Fred Shuttlesworth, a co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Council and one of the most courageous leaders of the movement, died in Birmingham, the same city where he served as a pastor  and famously challenged the city’s Jim Crow laws. One of his legacies was that he could not be intimidated by violence, as he showed during his head-to-head tactical engagements with the city’s bigoted public safety commissioner, Bull Connor. At one point a planted bomb literally blew out the floor of his house from underneath him while he was sleeping, causing him to fall into his basement.  Shuttlesworth told a white police officer after the attack, “Go back and tell your Klan brethren that if God can keep me through this, the war is on. I’m here for the duration.”  His courageous example encouraged other civil rights leaders,  including Martin Luther King, to act boldly and decisively. Shuttlesworth may have been the best tactical mind of those early civil rights leaders. He was also humble. Recognizing his place in history he said, “God used [Martin Luther King] and me and others to move the country forward.”

Here are a couple of obituaries that are worth reading. I also recommend this excellent profile of Shuttlesworth that was published in the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education in 2001.

Written by brayden king

October 6, 2011 at 4:39 pm

steve jobs 1955-2011

You’ve undoubtedly seen the announcements.  But an orgtheory tribute seems warranted for this legend.  Here’s the Stanford address Kieran linked to, a classic.

Written by teppo

October 6, 2011 at 12:01 am

Posted in current events

occupy wall street and change

The Occupy Wall Street protests are fascinating.  For a social movement scholar, these protests are like gold. We get a seemingly spontaneously organized protest that quickly captures the nation’s attention, replete with vivid imagery of protestors being harassed and arrested by police and a sudden diffusion of the protests to other large urban centers. And because the movement is evolving over time, we get a unique view into the dynamics of collective action and social change. Amazing stuff.

Jenn Lena’s photos on her blog tell a really interesting story about the internal dynamics of the protest. Looking at this organizing board, you can’t help but be impressed by the enormous effort of coordinating a protest of this scale.  Forget the coordination issues inherent in keeping an ideologically diverse group such as this together and marching in the same (roughly) direction or the incredible public relations job the activists are doing, some of the biggest and most problematic organizing issues are  more mundane (e.g. where do we get food and latrines for all these folks?). Organizing a protest of this size requires a massive amount of coordinating and organizing, and so the fact that this group is making it up on the spot is really impressive.

The movement has gained momentum to the point that now everyone is asking, what’s next? Where do we go with all of this energy? The resources are in place, the nation is watching, but does the movement have any objectives? I think that at a very abstract level, there is some agreement about what the objectives should be. For example, this video (again, thanks to Jenn for the link) points to an outcome of changing the process of community decision-making based on participation and consensus-building around a general assembly. Scholars of the 60s movements will recognize a lot of similarities in the philosophy behind the general assembly idea and the notion of participatory democracy practiced by groups like SDS. So one clear objective is to get more people involved in participatory democracy and form linkages between like-minded people who might form the base of a broader change-oriented movement. I think this is inspiring, and restoring this organizational know-how could be the most important product of these protests.

But clearly that’s not the only goal that participants in the movement would like to see accomplished. For one, restoring a process of participatory democracy in a relatively small social movement will have a limited impact on society unless they come up with other clearly articulated goals. In other words, while participatory democracy will certainly make a difference in the lives of those involved, at some point new demands have to be set if the movement is hoping to influence real social and political change. Those demands will probably come, even if it means losing many supporters who don’t see to eye-t0-eye on concrete reforms, but will it come soon enough? I think the time to strike is when the iron is hot, and right now the iron is HOT.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by brayden king

October 3, 2011 at 4:33 pm

occupy wall street

So, what are the specific demands and aims of the Occupy Wall Street protest?  Here are some sources of information on the protest -

Written by teppo

October 2, 2011 at 12:23 am

Posted in current events

@nyc – philosophical foundations of economics and the good economy

Here’s an interesting, upcoming conference that I only recently found out about: “Philosophical Foundations of Economics and The Good Economy: Individual Values, Human Pursuits, Self-Realization and Becoming.”  That’s a long title.

The conference is hosted by the Center on Capitalism and Society at Columbia University, set for September 23-24.  No registration is required.  Here’s the program (pdf).   Some of the sessions look interesting.  I’m going to try to attend.  With any luck, additional rain delays may even give me a chance to catch a US Open match.  (If any orgtheorists in New York perchance want to meet up, I’d love it.  Send me a note.)

Written by teppo

September 8, 2011 at 8:10 pm

Posted in current events

Should we pay Little Leaguers?

Did you watch the Little League World Series last month? It’s possible you missed it in the wake of other news stories, like Hurricane Irene.  But this year’s winners (a team from Huntingdon Beach, California) were also overshadowed by coverage of their own game, as the state of competitive youth baseball and whether or not these “unpaid adolescents” were being exploited became the media’s focus.

Sportswriter Dan Wetzel made his case for compensating Little Leaguers in “Pay the Little League World Series Players.”  Wetzel writes: “Not every Little Leaguer, just the ones who play on television, where their innocence is packaged into a commodity. And, no, they shouldn’t make millions or even hundreds of thousands.  They should get something, maybe several hundred per television appearance. If it made people more comfortable that the money went to a college savings fund or maybe into a trust that becomes available when they’re 18 or 21, so be it.”

Any self-respecting economic sociologist, or sociologist of childhood, will immediately think of Viviana Zelizer’s classic Pricing the Priceless Child after reading this quote.  And you will also know that childhood innocence and compensation do not always mix so well.

I’ve written about how we should think of children’s participation in afterschool activities as a form of children’s work.  Afterschool activities can qualify as “work” both because of prizes won and because of the acquisition of cultural capital that will have a pay-off in the longer run.  I’ve also written about child performers, particularly children on reality television shows, and how they are compensated.  Child performers have always occupied a complicated space in child labor debates, partly because their “work” is often constructed as being “educational.” But I’m not aware of any serious scholarship (sociological, economic, or legal) on compensation of child athletes.

In my opinion compensating child athletes may sound logical on some level, but it is a complicated issue that poses a few problems that are likely insurmountable in today’s commodified world.  The most obvious practical complication has to do with NCAA regulations. If we compensate kids they almost certainly lose their NCAA eligibility.  Of course many of these kids won’t go on to play NCAA baseball, but they may play another NCAA sport.  Compensating them without proper protections in place jeopardizes those future opportunities. (Paying NCAA athletes is another issue that has been batted around for some time, though it also has been talked about a lot more in the past few months).

Second, and even more complicated, is that if we compensate kids in a way consistent with them being classified as workers or performers (and limiting compensation to those who appear on television makes it more likely they would be classified as performers) that would also limit the number of hours they could “work” and the conditions under which they could labor.  This could impact practice times, length of games, and other parts of the sporting experience.

However, I do believe that kids should be compensated and rewarded for their hard work—particularly when it helps adults benefit financially. One model to look at would be the National Spelling Bee (which, incidentally, is now not only broadcast on ESPN, but also live on ABC in the final rounds).  Finalists receive prizes, like an encyclopedia, along with scholarships, bonds, and cash awards.  Other in-kind gifts like computers and trips are also possible (for example the National Geography Bee winner wins a trip to the Galapagos Islands). Perhaps elite child athletes could receive similar types of awards—like specialized training—that could protect them from NCAA violations.

In the meantime they have to settle for hometown parades and a DVD of their television appearances.  What do you think is fair?

Written by hilaryleveyfriedman

September 7, 2011 at 8:32 pm

the left’s disenchantment with obama and the antiwar movement

Yesterday, Clancy Sigal, of the Guardian, cited my research (with Michael Heaney) on the antiwar movement as evidence that the left has dropped Obama:

Meanwhile, Obama’s contribution to the left has been to weaken it. From the day of his inauguration, antiwar activity in the US collapsed. In a little noticed study last April, a University of Michigan survey, by professors Michael Heaney and Fabio Rojas, concluded that the movement evaporated because its mainstay Democrats, lulled by Obama’s “second coming”, withdrew almost in a body. As Heaney said, “the election of Obama appeared to be a demobilising force … even in the face of his pro-war decisions.”

A few thoughts. The antiwar movement, at various points in history, has often occupied a central place in American politics. My own view is that antiwar issues were dominant in the mid-2000s. Most historians would argue that antiwar sentiment was strong in the late 60s/early 70s, the isolationist era of the 1930s, and other moments. So the antiwar movement can be one indicator of a more general political sentiment. At the same time, antiwar movements are dependent on very specific historical conditions – the length and intensity of war, the legitimacy of war, and so forth. These forces aren’t always related to the general trajectory of the left, or any other faction embracing the antiwar issue. And if I understand recent public opinion polls, self-identified liberals are still fairly supportive of Obama. That suggests to me that Sigal is wrong.  For most liberals, the wars have been successfully decoupled from the rest of the progressive agenda. That may be troubling, but it shows a strong alliance between rank and file liberals and the Obama administration.

Written by fabiorojas

August 8, 2011 at 5:00 am

academy of management 2011, receptions and parties

The 2011 Academy of Management conference (in San Antonio) is in a couple weeks.  Miguel Unzueta (UCLA) and Sekou Bermiss (Texas) have put together a helpful Academy of Management parties and receptions twitter account, @AoMParties.  Thanks guys!  Very helpful.  Here’s the google calendar of the events.

Written by teppo

July 28, 2011 at 10:05 pm

patent trolls and innovation

Other than financial measures (like ROA) I can’t think of another firm-level variable that is more commonly used in organizational studies than patent activity. Patents are used to track everything from innovation to technological niches to social networks among scientists.  Patents are an all-purpose measure because we think they are tightly linked to creativity and knowledge production, the engine that drives both science and capitalist enterprise. But what if this is increasingly not true? What if patent use is becoming decoupled from creativity?

This is one of the questions posed made by last week’s This American Life, my favorite NPR show and one of the most consistently interesting programs of journalism out there. The show talked about patent trolls – companies or individuals who acquire patents for the primary purpose of suing other actors who might use technology that potentially infringes on that patent.  The show focused on the firm, Intellectual Ventures, and its founder Nathan Myhrvoid. Through a couple of interesting vignettes and sly investigations, they showed how the company uses lawsuits, brought by a number of shell companies, to get large settlements out of technology companies, some of which are struggling enterpreneurial groups.  The show demonstrates how, rather than protect and promote innovation, increasingly patents are being used to stifle innovation by wiping out or financially weakening companies that are actually trying to bring innovation to the marketplace. Meanwhile, patent trolls sit on those patents and do nothing to advance the innovations.

This must have some implications for our current understanding of patents as indicators of creativity and innovation. One of the startling revelations in the program was just how much redundancy there is in the patent system. The number of patents issued that cover the same basic function is often in the thousands, especially in the software industry. Patents may be more indicative of turf wars than they are of real innovation.

Even if you’re not a technology scholar, I highly recommend that you listen to the podcast of the show.

Written by brayden king

July 26, 2011 at 8:33 pm

SC rules on Wal-Mart vs Dukes

The Supreme Court has sided with Wal-Mart in the class action case. As regular readers of this blog will be well aware, sociologists have been more than usually involved in the case and the debate surrounding it. The slip opinion, written by Scalia, discusses Bill Bielby’s testimony and dismisses it:

The only evidence of a “general policy of discrimination” respondents produced was the testimony of Dr. William Bielby, their sociological expert. Relying on “social framework” analysis, Bielby testified that Wal-Mart has a “strong corporate culture,” that makes it “‘vulnerable’” to “gender bias.” He could not, however, “determine with any specificity how regularly stereotypes play a meaningful role in employment decisions at Wal-Mart. At his deposition . . . Dr. Bielby conceded that he could not calculate whether 0.5 percent or 95 percent of the employment decisions at Wal-Mart might be determined by stereotyped thinking.” The parties dispute whether Bielby’s testimony even met the standards for the admission of expert testimony under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 702 and our Daubert case … The District Court concluded that Daubert did not apply to expert testimony at the certification stage of class-action proceedings. We doubt that is so, but even if properly considered, Bielby’s testimony does nothing to advance respondents’ case. “[W]hether 0.5 percent or 95 percent of the employment decisions at Wal-Mart might be determined by stereotyped thinking” is the essential question on which respondents’ theory of commonality depends. If Bielby admittedly has no answer to that question, we can safely disregard what he has to say. It is worlds away from “significant proof” that Wal-Mart “operated under a general policy of discrimination.” … Respondents have not identified a common mode of exercising discretion that pervades the entire company—aside from their reliance on Dr. Bielby’s social frameworks analysis that we have rejected. In a company of Wal-Mart’s size and geographical scope, it is quite unbelievable that all managers would exercise their discretion in a common way without some common direction. Respondents attempt to make that showing by means of statistical and anecdotal evidence, but their evidence falls well short.

While dismissing the particular body of evidence presented as insufficient to establish the Plaintiff’s central claim, the decision does not make any more general remarks about the relevance of social-scientific evidence. (At least not to my untrained eye. Those with a legal education are welcome to comment.)

The ruling was unanimous with respect to rejecting certification, but Ginsburg wrote a partial dissent (joined by Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan) on the question of the scope of the ruling, and did not sign on to the middle section of the decision (where the social science evidence is discussed). She writes, in part,

The plaintiffs’ evidence, including class members’ tales of their own experiences, suggests that gender bias suffused Wal-Mart’s company culture. … the plaintiffs presented an expert’s appraisal to show that the pay and promotions disparities at Wal-Mart “can be explained only by gender discrimination and not by . . . neutral variables.” Using regression analyses, their expert, Richard Drogin, controlled for factors including, inter alia, job performance, length of time with the company, and the store where an employee worked. The results, the District Court found, were sufficient to raise an “inference of discrimination.” … The District Court’s identification of a common question, whether Wal-Mart’s pay and promotions policies gave rise to unlawful discrimination, was hardly infirm. The practice of delegating to supervisors large discretion to make personnel decisions, uncontrolled by formal standards, has long been known to have the potential to produce disparate effects. Managers, like all humankind, may be prey to biases of which they are unaware. The risk of discrimination is heightened when those managers are predominantly of one sex, and are steeped in a corporate culture that perpetuates gender stereotypes.

In a footnote to that “long been known” sentence, Ginsburg cites Goldin and Rouse’s paper on discrimination in Symphony orchestras (revealed by the comparison of blind with non-blind auditions). The partial dissent does not mention Bielby’s testimony.

I’ll leave it to those more qualified than myself to assess the technical aspects of the ruling (e.g., with respect to Daubert), along with its meaning and likely consequences. It’s worth noting, finally, that even as they dismissed certification for the class, the three women on the court joined the dissent.

Written by Kieran

June 20, 2011 at 4:17 pm

battle for brooklyn: social movements, countermovements, and the urban growth machine

A couple of weeks ago I saw Battle for Brooklyn, a new documentary by Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley,* at the Chicago Underground Film Festival.  The documentary tells the story of Brooklyn activists who fought against a real estate development planned in the the old Atlantic Yards site that ceased hundreds of homes through eminent domain in order to build a business complex and a new arena for the New Jersey Nets. Told from the perspective Daniel Goldstein, one of the community organizers leading the protests, the film provides a rare and in-depth look at the internal workings of a social movement, chronicling the emotional highs and lows as well as the process of tactical decision-making.  It’s a fascinating film for a number of reasons, and I can’t recommend it enough.

One of the impressive qualities of the film is how vividly it portrays the structural constraints of mobilizing a successful movement. The anti-development movement was extremely well organized and tactically savvy, and yet you never get the sense that they will win this battle.  The first reason was, despite their own considerable resources – the movement was primarily led by middle class residents – the activists faced a formidable countermovement.  Although the film reveals the countermovement was actually funded by Forest City Ratner – the developer of the project – and was therefore effectively an astroturf organization, the countermovement activists were able to successfully frame the project as a form of employment stimulus and to inject race as a divisive issue. (Very few jobs were ever created from the project despite this persuasive framing.)  A political environment of underemployment and economic uncertainty made this frame especially resonant to Brooklyn residents whose homes would not be touched by the project.

The other reason the movement struggled to achieve their goals is because they were up against a united and powerful elite. One thing that we know  from social movement theory is that movements are much more likely to succeed when they face a divided elite. In this case, NYC business and political elites formed a strong front and pushed through the necessary measures to ensure the real estate could be declared “blighted” and eligible for eminent domain.  The film provides as good an illustration of “growth machine” politics that I’ve ever seen. In fact, this may be the main lesson from the movie. As Galinsky remarked in the post-screening Q&A, the core message of the movie isn’t to declare that eminent domain is a bad policy, but rather to show how webs of power – in this case embodied in a multiplex network linking a city’s politicians, business elite, and media – influence, and potentially stunt, the democratic process.

The film is showing right now in NYC. Don’t miss your chance to see it!

*The filmmakers are actually the brother and sister-in-law of my colleague Adam Galinsky, which is how I came to be at the Chicago premiere.

Written by brayden king

June 17, 2011 at 9:01 pm

What is at stake for Sociology in Walmart?

Much has been discussed about the Walmart case and ASA Amicus Brief in the postings and comments on the orgtheory [with subsequent posts 1, 2] and scatterplot blogs. Little, however, has been said about the literature review in the ASA Amicus Brief, though it spans a little more than half the main body of the Brief. Some have even suggested that the only thing the Brief does is take the position that the methods that Bill uses are those of science and sociology in particular. Clearly it does much more. [In providing the analysis below, I want to be quite clear that I am not making any claims about what people’s motives were in writing and submitting the ASA Brief.  Laura Beth has been quite clear about hers and I believe her.]

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Written by Chris Winship

May 28, 2011 at 11:07 pm

Goals and a Few Answers

I spent last night reading through all the comments on orgtheory and scatterplot. My key goal in writing my initial post was to get a discussion going about the role of sociology in the courts and the particular problems involved. I guess I succeeded! My interest in the Walmart case was only secondary and I discussed it, the ASA Amicus Brief, and Bill’s expert report because it was current, was potentially important, and exemplified many of the issues that I thought needed to be discussed. I did not write it to attack the ASA as Sally Hillsman has accused me of in an email to the Council. Truthfully, I do not know enough about what was done to know whether I would believe it to be unproblematic or not. If the Council, the ASA members’ elected representatives, had the time to seriously consider the matter, read the materials involved, appreciated the issues, and voted to submit an Amicus Brief to the Supreme Court, then I think I and others should not complain. Of course the Mitchell et al. paper does attack the ASA brief, but on scientific, not procedural grounds. [I should also note that Sally’s claim that I offered Laura Beth the opportunity to publish her reply to Mitchell et al. in SMR and withdrew that offer is factually incorrect. I withdrew the offer for her to write a quite different paper, for quite defensible reasons. All that said, what will go in the SMR special issue is still evolving.]

In reading through all the comments last night I was amazed by the number times various people said I said particular things (using their words, not mine), and claimed that I thought various things (with no access that I am aware of to my mind). Amy’s post is perhaps the extreme example of this. In an actual court proceeding this may be appropriate. I don’t think it is appropriate for blogging, assuming the goal should be to try to understand each others’ thinking–why they believe what they think is reasonable–and that by hearing what each other thinks, we might improve and deepen our own thinking. Let’s not put words in people’s mouths or thoughts in their heads. If a position someone has taken is important for a point you want to make then quote the person. If you believe someone thinks a particular thing and that is why they are taking the position they do, then ask them whether that is what they think. More generally, as Laura Beth has asked, let’s keep it as diplomatic as possible. In doing so, this will vastly increase the likelihood of having a constructive dialogue.

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Written by Chris Winship

May 25, 2011 at 12:55 am

Walmart and the ASA (a guest post by Chris Winship)

Note: Chris is a professor of sociology at Harvard University and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and, since 1995, he has edited Sociological Methods and Research, which is a peer-reviewed scholarly methodology journal. SMR content is also available on the SMRblog.

The current employment discrimination case against Walmart raises the important question of whether social science, and sociology in particular, can effectively participate in court cases and at the same time maintain its scientific integrity. If the answer is yes, there is then the further question of what criteria need to be met for scientific integrity to be maintained. These are important questions requiring discussion, even debate. But first some history.

By early fall, if not sooner, the Supreme Court will make a key decision in the largest employment discrimination suit in history: Dukes v. WalmartOral arguments in the case were heard on March 29. The suit itself, involving a class of as many as 1.5 million women, alleges that Walmart has systematically discriminated against women in its salary and promotion decisions. Potentially, billions of dollars in damages are at stake. The question before the Court, however, is not whether Walmart in fact discriminated against its employees but rather whether such a large case, involving women working in varied circumstances in thousands of different stores and involving different supervisors can be thought to constitute a single class and thus whether the class should be certified.

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Written by Chris Winship

May 18, 2011 at 12:10 am


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