Things tagged sociology:

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.



An Atlas of Upward Mobility Shows Paths Out of Poverty

The New York Times:

In the wake of the Los Angeles riots more than 20 years ago, Congress created an anti-poverty experiment called Moving to Opportunity. It gave vouchers to help poor families move to better neighborhoods and awarded them on a random basis, so researchers could study the effects.

The results were deeply disappointing. Parents who received the vouchers did not seem to earn more in later years than otherwise similar adults, and children did not seem to do better in school. The program’s apparent failure has haunted social scientists and policy makers, making poverty seem all the more intractable.

Now, however, a large new study is about to overturn the findings of Moving to Opportunity. Based on the earnings records of millions of families that moved with children, it finds that poor children who grow up in some cities and towns have sharply better odds of escaping poverty than similar poor children elsewhere.



The Radical Humaneness of Norway’s Halden Prison

Jessica Benko in The New York Times:

To anyone familiar with the American correctional system, Halden seems alien. Its modern, cheerful and well-­appointed facilities, the relative freedom of movement it offers, its quiet and peaceful atmosphere — these qualities are so out of sync with the forms of imprisonment found in the United States that you could be forgiven for doubting whether Halden is a prison at all. It is, of course, but it is also something more: the physical expression of an entire national philosophy about the relative merits of punishment and forgiveness.



The Problem With ‘Fat Talk’

Renee Engeln in The New York Times:

Conversational shaming of the body has become practically a ritual of womanhood (though men also engage in it). In a survey that a colleague and I reported in 2011 in the Psychology of Women Quarterly, we found that more than 90 percent of college women reported engaging in fat talk — despite the fact that only 9 percent were actually overweight. In another survey, which we published in December in the Journal of Health Psychology, we canvassed thousands of women ranging in age from 16 to 70. Contrary to the stereotype of fat talk as a young woman’s practice, we found that fat talk was common across all ages and all body sizes.



Does Lady Luck exist or do you make your own luck?

Carlin Flora in Aeon:

New findings suggest that luck is not a phenomenon that appears exclusively in hindsight, like a hail storm on your wedding day. Nor is it an expression of our desire to see patterns where none exist, like a conviction that your yellow sweater is lucky. The concept of luck is not a myth.

Instead, the studies show, luck can be powered by past good or bad luck, personality and, in a meta-twist, even our own ideas and beliefs about luck itself. Lucky streaks are real, but they are the product of more than just blind fate. Our ideas about luck influence the way we behave in risky situations.


The team then dug deeper to reveal why these streaks were in fact real: it was the bettors’ own doing. As soon as they realised they were winning, they made safer bets, figuring their streaks could not last forever. In other words, they did not believe themselves to have hot hands that would stay hot. A different impulse drove gamblers who lost. Sure that lady luck was due for a visit, they fell for the gambler’s fallacy and made riskier bets. As a result, the winners kept winning (even if the amounts they won were small) and the losers kept losing. Risky bets are less likely to pay off than safe ones. The gamblers changed their behaviours because of their feelings about streaks, which in turn perpetuated those streaks.



In violent times, young Japanese just shrug

Michael Hoffman in The Japan Times

The weekly Shukan Kinyobi discerns a “new fatalism” among young people. Meaning what? A feeling that effort reaps no rewards and so is not worth making; that the world is what it is and cannot be changed — at least not by me, even if I felt like changing it, which I don’t; that luck or inborn talent (which, being inborn, is just luck under another name) determines destiny, excluding most of us from the really good things in life — if they really are good, which they’re not, so to hell with them.

It sounds like despair but it is not. In fact, reports Shukan Kinyobi, young people have never been happier. A paradox indeed — one well worth exploring.



People think their opponents are hate-filled—unless you pay them money

John Timmer at Ars:

The hypothesis focused on the motivation for continuation of the conflict. Individuals on any side of it will believe that their own group is driven to work together by love of each other. They’ll refuse to recognize that same love in their opponents, instead assuming that the opposition is driven by hatred. That hatred, naturally, is directed at your own group. By assuming your opponents have an intractable negative bias against you, you end up with no desire to work with the opposition and pessimism about the prospects for any compromise. “If adversaries believe inflexibility on the other side renders mutual compromise impossible, they will be unlikely to adopt seemingly rational strategies for conciliation,” as the authors put it.

To test this, the authors surveyed both US citizens about the Democrat-Republican divide, and Israelis and Palestinians about their conflict. In general, their hypothesis held up well. Most groups felt that their own members were motivated by love of each other, while the opposition was united in their hatred of the survey subjects.

To quantify the negativity, the authors measured the relative bias between how much individuals ascribed mutual love to their opponents and how much they ascribed hatred to them. The strength of this bias correlated with a reduced willingness to negotiate, reduced perception that a favorable compromise could be reached, and other measures of optimism. In short, once you’re convinced your opponents hate you, then future prospects start to look bleak.

Is there a way out of this morass? Since money makes the world go around, the authors decided to try a small payment. They told a group of US participants that they’d give them $12 if their evaluation of their opponents’ motivations matched the value their opponents gave for themselves. In other words, if a Democrat gave Republicans a self-love/opponent-hate rating that matched the one Republicans gave themselves, they’d get $12.

The goal wasn’t really to harness greed; rather, it was simply to get people to stop and think of their opponents more carefully—to view them as humans, rather than some generic “other.” To an extent, it worked. Simply offering the payment reversed the general trend, with people ascribing more self-love than other-hate to their opponents.

It would be easy to dismiss this as participants simply matching what they’d expect their opponents to say in order to get some money. But this change had the effect of reducing the bias score the authors calculated above. And they again showed that bias correlated with pessimism about compromise, a sense that a win-win agreement wasn’t possible, and a tendency to assume that the opposition’s opinions were an essential part of their nature. By reducing this bias, the small payment made people more open to the idea of compromise.

Paper is here.



Destiny’s Unintended Critique of Consumerism

Surprisingly, one of the best reviews so far comes from The New Yorker. I feel they really get the game …

Simon Parkin in The New Yorker:

Video games like Destiny are entire worlds that are governed by the rules and systems that their designers lay down. Because of this, they often take on the systems of the culture in which they are created, in this case, late capitalism. You are thrust into a world, told to work (here, your work is to harvest glimmer, a currency dropped by aliens), and use the fruits of your labor to improve your equipment. These upgrades allow you to work more quickly, more efficiently, or for greater gains. In this way, the ecosystem of investment and yield is established, an Ouroboros that is both irresistible and, by design, never completely satisfying. It replicates the familiar grind of consumerism; you are made to feel constantly dissatisfied with your possessions because you have the knowledge that there’s always a slightly better gun, cloak, or helmet just out of the reach of affordability.

So you return to work in order to save up. The better your equipment, the greater your social status with other players. The greater your social status, the more they will want you on their team and the more they will envy your achievements, which are clearly displayed in the clothes that you wear (in the game’s later stages, the only way to advance your character is by equipping him or her with better items). In this way, from a certain angle at least, Destiny exposes the alluring futility of the consumerist systems on the other side of the screen.

Use the archive.is link below to avoid their annoying paywall.



Japanese population cohorts by year




Seven Days And Nights In The World's Largest, Rowdiest Retirement Community

Boasting 100,000 residents over the age of 55, The Villages may be the fastest growing city in America. It’s a notorious boomtown for boomers who want to spend their golden years with access to 11 a.m. happy hours, thousands of activities, and no-strings-attached sex, all lorded over by one elusive billionaire.



The End of Gamers

Dan Golding:

Taken in their simplest, most basic form, a videogame is a creative application of computer technology. For a while, perhaps, when such technology was found mostly in masculine cultures, videogames accordingly developed a limited, inwards-looking perception of the world that marked them as different from everyone else. This is the gamer, an identity based on difference and separateness. When playing games was an unusual activity, this identity was constructed in order to define and unite the group (and to help demarcate it as a targetable demographic for business). It became deeply bound up in assumptions and performances of gender and sexuality. To be a gamer was to signal a great many things, not all of which are about the actual playing of videogames.

When, over the last decade, the playing of videogames moved beyond the niche, the gamer identity remained fairly uniformly stagnant and immobile. Gamer identity was simply not fluid enough to apply to a broad spectrum of people. It could not meaningfully contain, for example, Candy Crush players, Proteus players, and Call of Duty players simultaneously. When videogames changed, the gamer identity did not stretch, and so it has been broken.

And lest you think that I’m exaggerating about the irrelevance of the traditionally male dominated gamer identity, recent news confirms this, with adult women outnumbering teenage boys in game-playing demographics in the USA.

The predictable ‘what kind of games do they really play, though—are they really gamers?’ response says all you need to know about this ongoing demographic shift. This insinuated criteria for ‘real’ videogames is wholly contingent on identity (i.e. a real gamer shouldn’t play Candy Crush, for instance).

On the evidence of the last few weeks, what we are seeing is the end of gamers, and the viciousness that accompanies the death of an identity.



What Should Medicine Do When It Can’t Save You?

There are two things I care passionately about, and believe american culture (western culture generally) have wrong; education, and death. Here is a great piece on the latter. This is not something we can fix through legislation. (see: Death councils). It will have to be a cultural shift.

Atul Gawande in The New Yorker:

A few days before Thanksgiving, she had another CT scan, which showed that the pemetrexed—her third drug regimen—wasn’t working, either. The lung cancer had spread: from the left chest to the right; to the liver; to the lining of her abdomen; and to her spine. Time was running out.

This is the moment in Sara’s story that poses a fundamental question for everyone living in the era of modern medicine: What do we want Sara and her doctors to do now? Or, to put it another way, if you were the one who had metastatic cancer—or, for that matter, a similarly advanced case of emphysema or congestive heart failure—what would you want your doctors to do?

The issue has become pressing, in recent years, for reasons of expense. The soaring cost of health care is the greatest threat to the country’s long-term solvency, and the terminally ill account for a lot of it. Twenty-five per cent of all Medicare spending is for the five per cent of patients who are in their final year of life, and most of that money goes for care in their last couple of months which is of little apparent benefit.

And the hour long documentry on Frontline is here. Trailer for that:




Where We Came From and Where We Went, State by State

Great interactive infographic in the NYT:


Foreign immigration is a hot topic these days, but the movement of people from one state to another can have an even bigger influence on the United States’ economy, politics and culture.



Eric X. Li: A tale of two political systems

It’s a standard assumption in the West: As a society progresses, it eventually becomes a capitalist, multi-party democracy. Right? Eric X. Li, a Chinese investor and political scientist, begs to differ. In this provocative, boundary-pushing talk, he asks his audience to consider that there’s more than one way to run a succesful modern nation.




Charting culture