Things tagged sociology:

The Western Elite from a Chinese Perspective

Puzhong Yao in American Affairs:

Robert Rubin never intended to become the senior partner of Goldman Sachs: a few years into his career, he even handed in his resignation. Just as in Rubin’s career, I find that maybe randomness is not merely the noise but the dominant factor. And those reasons we assign to historical events are often just ex post rationalizations. As rising generations are taught the rationalizations, they conclude that things always happen for a reason. Meanwhile, I keep wondering: is there someone, sitting in a comfortable chair somewhere, flipping a coin from time to time, deciding what happens in the world?

Most Americans that I have met seem confused about this question. Perhaps it is understandable since most of them are not in finance and have not read Rubin’s book. Their goal is always to change something—Stanford business school’s motto is “change lives, change organizations, change the world”—though they rarely seem to know what or how. Or what the role of chance and circumstance is. But if the goal is to change something, they must have the ability to determine the future, mustn’t they?



How Trust Shapes Nations' Safety Rules

Veronique Greenwood in The Alantic:

When I moved to China nearly two years ago, one of the first things I bought was a bicycle. I live on a university campus, where everyone rides, and the bike was cheap: $17 for an ancient Five Rams cruiser, with a lively color scheme of teal and rust. I used to cycle to work when I lived in New York, dodging tourists and threading in between delivery trucks. But the moment I pulled out onto a street in China, it became clear that this was going to be a different experience.

Reminds me of an argument I got into with someone over the asinine Seattle bike helmet law. People think our (US) way is the only way to do things despite the fact that many people in the world do things the other way, and seems to go fine for them. Read this and absorb some of that. Stepping back, where we choose (have been taught) to place our trust is kinda my focus these days. Why do we want to place that trust in the government, despite the evidence of better systems to trust? No reason the FDA needs to be a government org, your doctor and insurance company could agree on a more able org. Same for food safety, occupational licensing, etc.



Himmelfarb on why intellectuals hate capitalism

Alberto Mingardi at Econlog:

It is not the fault of capitalism that the common man does not appreciate uncommon books. -Ludwig von Mises

There are many gems in Gertrude Himmelfarb’s Past and Present. The Challenges of Modernity, from the Pre-Victorians to the Postmodernists.

One is a 1952 essay on “American Democracy and Its European Critics”. In that essay, in comparing Tocqueville’s reading of America with Harold Laski’s (in The American Democracy), Himmelfarb notes perceptively that critics of American culture tend to see that “the incubus of Big Business lies heavily upon the whole country, stifling individual expression and corrupting individual tastes”.

But we know well that successful enterprises, cultural enterprises included, basically provide people with something that they want.



The Ideological Turing Test



The effect of partisanship and political advertising on close family ties

Using anonymized smartphone-location data and precinct-level voting, we show that Thanksgiving dinners attended by residents from opposing-party precincts were 30 to 50 minutes shorter than same-party dinners. This decline from a mean of 257 minutes survives extensive spatial and demographic controls. Reductions in the duration of Thanksgiving dinner in 2016 tripled for travelers from media markets with heavy political advertising—an effect not observed in 2015—implying a relationship to election-related behavior. Effects appear asymmetric: Although fewer Democratic-precinct residents traveled in 2016 than in 2015, Republican-precinct residents shortened their Thanksgiving dinners by more minutes in response to political differences. Nationwide, 34 million hours of cross-partisan Thanksgiving dinner discourse were lost in 2016 owing to partisan effects.

From the abstract of this paper by M. Keith Chen and Ryne Rohla, which I haven’t read. Via MR.



Politicians reject evidence that conflicts with their beliefs

Casper Dahlmann and Niels Bjørn Petersen in the WaPo:

We conducted a survey of 954 Danish local politicians. […] We then divided the politicians into two groups. One group got the data — but without any information as to whether the school was public or private. The schools were just labeled “School A” and “School B.” The other group got the exact same data, but instead of “School A” and “School B,” the schools’ titles were “Public School” and “Private School.”

If politicians are influenced by their ideologies, we would expect that they would be able to interpret the information about “School B” and “School A” correctly. However, the other group would be influenced by their ideological beliefs about private versus public provision of welfare services in ways that might lead them to make mistakes.

This is exactly what we found. Most politicians interpreting data from “School A” and “School B” were perfectly capable of interpreting the information correctly. However, when they were asked to interpret data about a “Public School” and a “Private School” they often misinterpreted it, to make the evidence fit their desired conclusion.



Cognition Builders: Extreme Parenting For The One Percent

Kim Brooks in The Cut:

The company was called Cognition Builders, and Harris explained that they would send people to a family for a period of weeks to observe everyone’s behavior and to figure out how parents could get better control over their kids. The people they sent were called “family architects.” They’d move in with a family for months at a time, immersing themselves in their routines and rituals. The family architects were the foot soldiers in the Cognition Builders team, but the most critical part of the company’s strategy involved the installation of a series of Nest Cams with microphones all around the house, which enabled round-the-clock observation and interaction in real time. At the end of each day, the architects would send the parents extensive emails and texts summarizing what they’d seen, which they’d use to develop a system of rules for the family to implement at home. Over time, the role of the family architects would evolve from observing to enforcing the rules.

One line that stood out to me was a throwaway from the writer about being a combo of life-coaching with Amazon Echo. But, think for a minute what life is like when the AI’s can parent like this. Robo-nannies will change the world.



The surprising pattern behind color names around the world



Is it fair to say that most social programmes don't work?

Lots of government and charity programmes aim to improve education, health, unemployment and so on. How many of these efforts work?

The vast majority of social programs and services have not yet been rigorously evaluated, and…of those that have been rigorously evaluated, most (perhaps 75% or more), including those backed by expert opinion and less-rigorous studies, turn out to produce small or no effects, and, in some cases negative effects.

This estimate was made by David Anderson in 2008 on GiveWell’s blog. At that time, he was Assistant Director of the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy.

This has become a widely-quoted estimate, especially in the effective altruism community, and often gets simplified to “most social programmes don’t work”. But the estimate is almost ten years old, so we decided to investigate further. We spoke to Anderson again, as well as Eva Vivalt, the founder of AidGrade, and Danielle Mason, the Head of Research at the Education Endowment Foundation.

We concluded that the original estimate is reasonable, but that there are many important complications. It seems misleading to say that “most social programmes don’t work” without further clarification, but it’s true that by focusing on evidence-based methods you can have a significantly greater impact.



Staying true to principle in the age of Trump

Ilya Somin in the WaPo:

Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, a prominent conservative opponent of Trump, recently noted that he is now more popular on the left than in the past, but despised by many of his former fans on the right:

Watching this process unfold has been particularly painful for me as a conservative columnist. I find myself in the awkward position of having recently become popular among some of my liberal peers—precisely because I haven’t changed my opinions about anything.

Won’t directly apply to many of you, being liberals. But, please read this well written mini essay about the detrimental effects of partisan bias, and reflect on it now, when it doesn’t apply, so that later when it does perhaps you can be a better participant, holding to your values no matter who is leading your team.



All That We Share



Voting with Feet vs. Voting with Ballots

Cato Podcast:

The decisions we make in the voting booth tend to be less informed and less decisive than the votes we cast with our feet. Ilya Somin, author of Democracy and Political Ignorance, explains.



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.