Things tagged sociology:

Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government Is Smarter

Ilya Somin’s Democracy and Political Ignorance has profoundly influenced libertarian thinking about voters and elections. More generally, the 2016 primary season has satisfied few and left the electorate choosing between two highly disliked presidential candidates.

Also, his talk at Harvard Kennedy School.



Security and the Normalization of Deviance

Schneier on Security:

Professional pilot Ron Rapp has written a fascinating article on a 2014 Gulfstream plane that crashed on takeoff. The accident was 100% human error and entirely preventable – the pilots ignored procedures and checklists and warning signs again and again. Rapp uses it as example of what systems theorists call the “normalization of deviance.”

The point is that normalization of deviance is a gradual process that leads to a situation where unacceptable practices or standards become acceptable, and flagrant violations of procedure become normal – despite that fact that everyone involved knows better.

I think this is a useful term for IT security professionals. I have long said that the fundamental problems in computer security are not about technology; instead, they’re about using technology. We have lots of technical tools at our disposal, and if technology alone could secure networks we’d all be in great shape. But, of course, it can’t. Security is fundamentally a human problem, and there are people involved in security every step of the way.

I have seen this personally many times, you can be sloppy several hundred/thousand/whatever times, and it doesn’t bite you, so you come to believe that being sloppy has no risk, and then boom out of “nowhere” a failure. When you look back and analyze the failure you will find that this complacency for the new normal of sloppy behavior is the root cause.



Ted Cruz and the use of deception to exploit political ignorance

Ilya Somin in The Volokh Conspiracy:

William Saletan of Slate has an interesting article on Ted Cruz’s misrepresentations about his record on immigration. He effectively shows that Cruz supported the legalizing the status of large numbers of illegal immigrants back in 2013, but now pretends that he opposed it all along.

The truth is that deceiving voters about one’s past or present positions is a fairly standard political strategy. Few successful politicians become such without engaging in this kind of deception at one point or another. I see little difference between Cruz’s distortions of his record on immigration, and President Obama’s years of lying about his position on same-sex marriage between 2008 and 2012.

Obama’s bad behavior, of course, in no way excuses Cruz’s or that of other Republicans. Here, as elsewhere, political partisans would do well to try to keep their biases in check and remember the sins of their own party, as well as those of the opposition.

In fairness, Cruz, Obama and other similar political leaders could potentially justify their deceptions by pointing to the dangers of unilateral disarmament in political combat. If they stop engaging in politically convenient lying, their opponents probably will not, and the more ethical candidates will be at a disadvantage. Donald Trump, whom Cruz is battling for the Republican nomination, is the proud winner of Politifact’s 2015 Lie of the Year award. To say the least, it is highly unlikely that he would reciprocate any restraint on Cruz’s part. President Obama (who won the same award in the 2013), can cite the various deceptions perpetrated by his political opponents.

If, as is likely, Cruz truly believes that the public interest would be best served by his winning the presidency, he could also conclude that he is justified in using deception to try to achieve that goal – especially if his opponents are going to use similar tactics. Similarly, Obama likely believes that his lies about same-sex marriage and the Affordable Care Act also ultimately served the public interest by helping him get elected, and enabling him to push through various beneficial policies.

Americans have the politicians they deserve, as in, if we can’t keep track of their lies from one month to the next, they have no choice but to manipulate our ignorance, rational or otherwise.



Bucking a Trend, Some Millennials Are Seeking a Nun’s Life

Penelope Green in the NYT:

While the number of women entering religious life has been in a steep decline since the mid-1960s, it is notable and even startling that a contemplative order like the Dominican Nuns of Summit — where the sisters live in cloister and practice a life of prayer — would be able to attract young, college-educated millennials.

Amazing photos from Toni Greaves:




The Life and Death of Amazon Is the Life and Death of Seattle

Charles Mudede in the Stranger:

All that we see happening around us today (the growth, the rise in home values, the increasing flows of foreign capital) was present in and pressed hard upon our city’s past. What has changed is just the scale. There has been no structural transformation that’s dislocated the past from the present. And without a profound transformation at the level of the base, which would mean a radical experiment with a kind of city we have never known or lived in, we are stuck with either a dying Dayton or a thriving 206.



Why boring cities make for stressed citizens

A little slow and obvious, but something I have noticed myself about cities I like …

Colin Ellard in Aeon:

Why would anyone think it a good idea to build a large, featureless building at ground level? What motivates a developer to erect an endless stretch of suburban housing where each individual unit is identical and, in the language of information theory, low in entropy?



A 21st-Century Migrant’s Checklist: Water, Shelter, Smartphone

Matthew Brunwasser in the NYT:

“Every time I go to a new country, I buy a SIM card and activate the Internet and download the map to locate myself,” Osama Aljasem, a 32-year-old music teacher from Deir al-Zour in Syria, explained as he sat on a broken park bench in Belgrade, staring at his smartphone and plotting his next move into northern Europe.

“I would never have been able to arrive at my destination without my smartphone,” he added. “I get stressed out when the battery even starts to get low.”



As Minimum Wages Rise, Restaurants Say No to Tips, Yes to Higher Prices

Patricia Cohen in the NYT:

Chelsea Krumpler, a waitress at Manos Nouveau in San Francisco, said that many waiters she knows were skeptical of her $25-an-hour wage and no tips. But she says she is earning as much as before with no worries about slow nights.

“It’s a little more secure,” said Ms. Krumpler, who has worked as a waitress for seven years. The policy has also drawn the staff closer together. “It’s more of a family,” she said.

Brian Keyser, the owner of Casellula restaurant in Midtown Manhattan, would prefer to end tipping but does not think his staff members or his diners are ready to accept it.

Now he must contend with a minimum wage for tipped workers that is rising in New York. That means giving his servers a $2.50-an-hour raise — even if they are already pulling in about $25 an hour in tips. “I have a kitchen full of people making far, far less than that, and I would love to give them that money, but I can’t,” Mr. Keyser said.

Coi, Mr. Patterson’s two-Michelin-star restaurant, has had all-inclusive pricing since it opened in 2006. He tried the same strategy when he opened Aster in the Mission District a few months ago, and quickly realized it was not going to work.

“I really believe in that model, but our customers didn’t want it,” Mr. Patterson said, because they thought it was too expensive. “It’s about perception,” he said. “It’s not just about the dollars you’re spending, but what you think you’re spending.”

At the Walrus and the Carpenter, the owner Renee Erickson has been adjusting her no-tipping experiment. Although she originally wanted to adopt an all-inclusive menu, she “worried we weren’t going to have the opportunity to explain why our prices were so much higher than the restaurant right next door.”

Instead, she added an 18 percent service charge. But it did not generate enough money to cover the added labor costs. So she bumped the charge up to 20 percent and shrank the owners’ share.

As the weeks went by, she and her partner kept adjusting the percentage that went to the kitchen workers. To get the staff on board, she decided to let everyone see the payroll spreadsheets, so they could understand how the money was being allocated.

A cultural problem that really needs to be fixed. The people in the back of house are working just as hard, but they get paid minimum wage, where the servers are making good money. It is illegal for owners to pool tips and share with back of house, so looks like service charges and no tipping allowed is the only way out.



The Problem We All Live With

Brutal This American Life episode:

Right now, all sorts of people are trying to rethink and reinvent education, to get poor minority kids performing as well as white kids. But there’s one thing nobody tries anymore, despite lots of evidence that it works: desegregation.

Via kottke.org



The Roller Rink Origins of N.W.A.


In a city Balkanized by gangs, Skateland became a refuge. Schweisinger thought the skating business could be successful. He didn’t imagine that within few months his rink would become the most important hip-hop venue in the history of South Los Angeles.



The Hell You Say

The new battles over free speech are fierce, but who is censoring whom?

Kelefa Sanneh in The New Yorker:

A patron stepped into the d.j. booth to ask that the song be cut short—she later explained that she wanted to “create a safe space,” and that Thicke’s lyrics evoked threats of sexual violence. The d.j. rebuffed her, and in the days that followed she and her allies took to social media to voice their dissatisfaction, suggesting that the pub was promoting “rape culture.” Before long, Fitzgerald’s conceded defeat, apologizing to the patron on Facebook and promising that “Blurred Lines” would not be played there again and that the offending d.j. would never be invited back.

Via NextDraft



The Man Who Shot Michael Brown

Jake Halpern in The New Yorker:

Wilson said that, despite what he’d said about experiencing “culture shock,” race hadn’t affected the way he did police work: “I never looked at it like ‘I’m the only white guy here.’ I just looked at it as ‘This isn’t where I grew up.’ ” He said, “When a cop shows up, it’s, like, ‘The cops are here!’ There’s no ‘Oh, shit, the white cops are here!’ ” He added, “If you live in a high-crime area, with a lot of poverty, there’s going to be a large police presence. You’re going to piss people off. If police show up, it’s because it’s something bad, and whoever’s involved can’t figure out the problem for themselves.”

He continued, “Everyone is so quick to jump on race. It’s not a race issue.” There were two opposing views about policing, he said: “There are people who feel that police have too much power, and they don’t like it. There are people who feel police don’t have enough power, and they don’t like it.”



Training Officers to Shoot First, and He Will Answer Questions Later

Matt Apuzzo in The New York Times:

A string of deadly police encounters in Ferguson, Mo.; North Charleston, S.C.; and most recently in Cincinnati, has prompted a national reconsideration of how officers use force and provoked calls for them to slow down and defuse conflicts. But the debate has also left many police officers feeling unfairly maligned and suspicious of new policies that they say could put them at risk. Dr. Lewinski says his research clearly shows that officers often cannot wait to act.



Tiny Birds, Big Drama: Inside the World of the Birdmen of Queens

Emily S. Rueb in The New York Times:


Mr. Harinarain, a heating and air-conditioner repairman from Brooklyn, joined a procession of middle-aged men in fedoras and flat caps, cradling wood poles and cages the size of large shoe boxes, streaming into a pocket-size park in Richmond Hill, Queens, on a recent Sunday morning. The cages were blanketed in white coverlets, some trimmed with lace. Inside each one was a delicate songbird: a chestnut-bellied seed finch native to the northern parts of South America and the Caribbean.

Sundays are race days, though the events are not really races but speed-singing contests. Two cages each containing a male finch, whose fierce calls are triggered by an instinctive desire to woo females and defend turf, are hung on a pole about an inch apart.



One City Tried Something Radical to Stop Gun Violence. This Report Suggests It’s Working.

Tim Murphy in Mother Jones:

In late 2007, Boggan launched the Office of Neighborhood Safety, an experimental public-private partnership that’s introduced the “Richmond model” for rolling back street violence. It has done it with a mix of data mining and mentoring, and by crossing lines that other anti-crime initiatives have only tiptoed around. Four times a year, the program’s street team sifts through police records and its own intelligence to determine, with actuarial detachment, the 50 people in Richmond most likely to shoot someone and to be shot themselves. ONS tracks them and approaches the most lethal (and vulnerable) on the list, offering them a spot in a program that includes a stipend to turn their lives around.



How often do ethics professors call their mothers?

“Cheeseburger ethics”

Eric Schwitzgebel at Aeon:

Shouldn’t regularly thinking about ethics have some sort of influence on one’s own behaviour? Doesn’t it seem that it would?

To my surprise, few professional ethicists seem to have given the question much thought. They’ll toss out responses that strike me as flip or are easily rebutted, and then they’ll have little to add when asked to clarify. They’ll say that academic ethics is all about abstract problems and bizarre puzzle cases, with no bearing on day-to-day life – a claim easily shown to be false by a few examples: Aristotle on virtue, Kant on lying, Singer on charitable donation. They’ll say: ‘What, do you expect epistemologists to have more knowledge? Do you expect doctors to be less likely to smoke?’ I’ll reply that the empirical evidence does suggest that doctors are less likely to smoke than non-doctors of similar social and economic background. Maybe epistemologists don’t have more knowledge, but I’d hope that specialists in feminism would exhibit less sexist behaviour – and if they didn’t, that would be an interesting finding. I’ll suggest that relationships between professional specialisation and personal life might play out differently for different cases.

It seems odd to me that our profession has so little to say about this matter. We criticise Martin Heidegger for his Nazism, and we wonder how deeply connected his Nazism was to his other philosophical views. But we don’t feel the need to turn the mirror on ourselves.


In most cases, we already know what is good. No special effort or skill is required to figure that out. Much more interesting and practical is the question of how far short of the ideal we are comfortable being.



The Power of Empathy



The House That Saved Their Marriage

Nancy Keates in the Wall Street Journal, use the Archive.is link to bypass paywall:

Allison Paschke, an artist, and John Danskin, a computer engineer, needed some space from each other. The couple, who had been married for more than two decades and raised two kids, found themselves squabbling over lots of small things, but they didn’t want to get divorced. So in 2006, they sold their three-story house in Cranston, R.I., and bought a 4,300-square-foot loft in the old jewelry district of downtown Providence for $600,000. Then they went about dividing the loft into two connected but utterly distinct living areas, each with its own bedroom, kitchen, dining area and workspace.



Anders Breivik’s Inexplicable Crime

I don’t really know what to say about this link, other than heads up, this is not your average think piece. This is some intense powerful writing, about some deep and dark shit. Trigger warnings and such, don’t click unless you are ready for it.

Karl Ove Knausgaard in The New Yorker:

Inside the mind of a mass killer.



The Milwaukee Experiment

Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker:

Like many people in the criminal-justice system, John Chisholm, the District Attorney in Milwaukee County, has been concerned for a long time about the racial imbalance in American prisons. The issue is especially salient in Wisconsin, where African-Americans constitute only six per cent of the population but thirty-seven per cent of those in state prison. According to a study from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, as of 2010 thirteen per cent of the state’s African-American men of working age were behind bars—nearly double the national average, of 6.7 per cent. The figures were especially stark for Milwaukee County, where more than half of African-American men in their thirties had served time in state prison. How, Chisholm wondered, did the work of his own office contribute to these numbers? Could a D.A. do anything to change them?

The recent spate of deaths of unarmed African-Americans at the hands of police officers has brought renewed attention to racial inequality in criminal justice, but in the U.S. legal system prosecutors may wield even more power than cops. Prosecutors decide whether to bring a case or drop charges against a defendant; charge a misdemeanor or a felony; demand a prison sentence or accept probation. Most cases are resolved through plea bargains, where prosecutors, not judges, negotiate whether and for how long a defendant goes to prison. And prosecutors make these judgments almost entirely outside public scrutiny.

Chisholm decided to let independent researchers examine how he used his prosecutorial discretion. In 2007, when he took office, the Vera Institute of Justice, a research and policy group based in New York City, had just begun studying the racial implications of the work of the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office. Over several years, Chisholm allowed the researchers to question his staff members and look at their files. The conclusions were disturbing.