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Posts Tagged ‘sociology

“Whoever said crime doesn’t pay is an idiot. It pays great, which is why there is so much of it.”*…

 

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Low-level criminals in the US make an average of $900 per week, according to an estimate published in the academic journal Criminology.

So, people who commit small crimes, like robberies, forge checks, and deal drugs, are making more money per week than the average US worker ($885).

Low-level criminals are also making more money per week than high school dropouts ($504) and college dropouts ($756).

That might be in part because wage growth (in the formal economy) is so sluggish in the US, even though unemployment is low, at 4.4%. Wages grew only 2.5% between mid-2016 and mid-2017. While some analysts would expect it to be growing at 3.5%

More at Quartz Index.

* Jay Crownover

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As we sigh from the straight and narrow, we might send well-organized birthday greetings to Joseph Michael “Joe Cargo” Valachi; he was born on this date in 1904.  A member of Lucky Luciano’s mob family from the 1930s through the 1950s, Valachi was primarily involved in rackets and gambling– until his racketeering conviction in 1959, for which he was sentenced to 15 years in a federal prison.

Valachi attained his notoriety– and historical significance in 1963, when he was the star witness in a government inquiry into the Mob (the McClelland Committee).  He provided the Committee with graphic details of Mob life, and named six New York are Crime families.  The first member of the Italian-American Mafia to publicly acknowledge its existence, he is credited with popularization of the term “Cosa Nostra.”

After returning to prison, Valachi teamed with appointed writer Peter Maas to craft his memoirs, The Valachi Papers, which were published in 1968.

Valachi testifying

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Written by LW

September 22, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Race is an idea, not a fact”*…

 

White people- “Viewing the Performance of ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ in the Globe Theatre,” by David Scott. Photo courtesy the V&A Museum

The Jacobean playwright Thomas Middleton invented the concept of ‘white people’ on 29 October 1613, the date that his play The Triumphs of Truth was first performed. The phrase was first uttered by the character of an African king who looks out upon an English audience and declares: ‘I see amazement set upon the faces/Of these white people, wond’rings and strange gazes.’ As far as I, and others, have been able to tell, Middleton’s play is the earliest printed example of a European author referring to fellow Europeans as ‘white people’.

A year later, the English commoner John Rolfe of Jamestown in Virginia took as his bride an Algonquin princess named Matoaka, whom we call Pocahontas. The literary critic Christopher Hodgkins reports that King James I was ‘at first perturbed when he learned of the marriage’. But this was not out of fear of miscegenation: James’s reluctance, Hodgkins explained, was because ‘Rolfe, a commoner, had without his sovereign’s permission wed the daughter of a foreign prince.’ King James was not worried about the pollution of Rolfe’s line; he was worried about the pollution of Matoaka’s…

By examining how and when racial concepts became hardened, we can see how historically conditional these concepts are. There’s nothing essential about them. As the literature scholar Roxann Wheeler reminds us in The Complexion of Race (2000), there was ‘an earlier moment in which biological racism… [was] not inevitable’. Since Europeans didn’t always think of themselves as ‘white’, there is good reason to think that race is socially constructed, indeed arbitrary. If the idea of ‘white people’ (and thus every other ‘race’ as well) has a history – and a short one at that – then the concept itself is based less on any kind of biological reality than it is in the variable contingencies of social construction…

Black or White?  “How ‘white people’ were invented by a playwright in 1613.”

* Nell Irvin Painter, The History of White People

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As we aspire to (self-)consciousness, we might recall that it was on this date in 1966 that  A Hand Is On The Gate, billed as “an evening of poetry and music by American Negroes,” opened on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre. The directorial debut of actor Roscoe Lee Browne, it featured a cast of eight, including Leon Bibb, James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson, and Josephine Premice (who was nominated for a Tony).

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Written by LW

September 21, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The dog is a gentleman; I hope to go to his heaven not man’s”*…

 

The American religious landscape is undergoing a dramatic transformation. White Christians, once the dominant religious group in the U.S., now account for fewer than half of all adults living in the country. Today, fewer than half of all states are majority white Christian. As recently as 2007, 39 states had majority white Christian populations. These are two of the major findings from this report, which is based on findings from PRRI’s 2016 American Values Atlas, the single largest survey of American religious and denominational identity ever conducted…

From the non-profit, non-partisan, non-sectarian Public Religion Research Institute, a fascinating– and illuminating– report on the state of the sacred in the United States: “America’s Changing Religious Identity.”

[TotH to @timoreilly]

* Mark Twain

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As we direct our prayers, we might recall that it was on this date in 506 that the Council of Agde ended at the  the Basilica of St. Andrew ( in the Hérault , in Languedoc-Roussillon in France).  A gathering of Bishops from across the Visigothic Kingdom (roughly, Southwestern France and much of Spain), it issued 47 canons.  One forbade ecclesiastics to sell or alienate the property of the church whence they drew their living, and seems to be the earliest indication of the later system of benefices.  Another banned marriage between first and second cousins.

The Basilica of St. Andrew today

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Written by LW

September 10, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Science is what we have learned about how to keep from fooling ourselves”*…

 

… or at least that’s the idea.  Here, another of our occasional looks at the intellectual history of the cultural moment that we’re in:  how a concern with Commies in California’s universities led to “Cold War philosophy”– the yoking of rational choice theory to the scientific method– and how it embedded the free-market mindset in US society:

Cold War philosophy also influences US society through its ethics. Its main ethical implication is somewhat hidden, because Cold War philosophy inherits from rational choice theory a proclamation of ethical neutrality: a person’s preferences and goals are not subjected to moral evaluation. As far as rational choice theory is concerned, it doesn’t matter if I want to end world hunger, pass the bar, or buy myself a nice private jet; I make my choices the same way. Similarly for Cold War philosophy – but it also has an ethical imperative that concerns not ends but means. However laudable or nefarious my goals might be, I will be better able to achieve them if I have two things: wealth and power. We therefore derive an ‘ethical’ imperative: whatever else you want to do, increase your wealth and power!

Results of this are easily seen in today’s universities. Academic units that enable individuals to become wealthy and powerful (business schools, law schools) or stay that way (medical schools) are extravagantly funded; units that do not (humanities departments) are on tight rations. Also on tight rations nationwide are facilities that help individuals become wealthy and powerful but do not convey competitive advantage on them because they are open to all or most: highways, bridges, dams, airports, and so on.

Seventy years after the Cold War began, and almost 30 after it ended, Cold War philosophy also continues to affect US politics. The Right holds that if reason itself is rooted in market choice, then business skills must transfer smoothly into all other domains, including governance – an explicit principle of the Trump administration. On the Left, meritocracy rules: all three of Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominees attended law school at either Harvard (as Obama himself did) or Yale (as Hillary Clinton did). The view that choice solves all problems is evident in the White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s presentation of the Republican vision for US health care, at his press briefing last March 23: “We’ve lost consumer choice … The idea is to instill choice back into the market.”…

How this happened and what it wrought– the remarkable (but true) tale in its entirety: “America’s hidden philosophy.”

* Richard Feynman

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As we question authority, we might recall that it was on this date in 1956 that Congress authorized “In God We Trust” as the U.S. national motto.

The phrase had appeared occasionally (as had variations on the theme) on coinage since Civil War times; regularly– despite Theodore Roosevelt’s conviction that it was sacrilegious– from 1908.   But it didn’t appear on bills until 1957…

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Written by LW

July 30, 2017 at 1:01 am

“We are homesick most for the places we have never known”*…

 

It is fascinating to note that from the early modern era to the twentieth century, the word nostalgia primarily indicated a disease, whose causes, symptoms and cures were debated. Nostalgia’s test-case was Swiss soldiers abroad who missed their home and were depressed. (It is not an ancient Greek term at all.) Immanuel Kant in particular was much vexed by the supposition that going home could somehow satisfy the longing for a lost past, which, he insisted, must remain unsatisfied by definition. Nostalgia in those days was a technical term used and discussed primarily by specialists. In the twentieth century, however, the word has become fully demedic­alized. It now means little more than a sentimental attachment to a lost or past era, a fuzzy feeling about a soft-focus earlier time, and is more often used of an advertising campaign, a film or a memory of childhood than with regard to any strong sense of its etymology, “pain about homecoming”. Victorians talked with passion about their feelings for the past, longed for lost ideals, and, as one would expect in an imperial age, often talked about travelling home, in overlapping physical and metaphorical senses. They also theorized such feelings and dramatized them in poetry, art, music and novels. But “nostalgia” is a major term for us, not them. In this sense at least, nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

I can’t help wondering whether this shift in usage does not betoken a broader shift in politics too, or perhaps in cultural self-understanding…

Mosey (carefully) down memory lane at “Look back with danger.”

* Carson McCullers

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As we agree with Proust that “remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were,” we might send epigrammatic birthday greetings to Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra; he was born on this date in 1925.  Berra played almost his entire 19-year baseball career (1946–1965) for the New York Yankees. Berra is one of only four players to be named the Most Valuable Player of the American League three times; according to  sabermetrician Bill James, he is the greatest catcher of all time and the 52nd greatest non-pitching player in major-league history.  Berra went on to manage the dynasty of which he was a crucial part, the Yankees, and then the New York Mets; he is one of seven managers to lead both American and National League teams to the World Series (as a player, coach, or manager, Berra appeared in 21 Fall Classics). He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.

Berra is also remembered for the “unique”  observations on baseball and life with which he graced reporters during interviews:  e.g., “Baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical,” “It’s déjà vu all over again,” “You can observe a lot by watching,” and “The future ain’t what it used to be.”  In The Yogi Book, Berra explained, “I really didn’t say everything I said. […] Then again, I might have said ’em, but you never know.”

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Written by LW

May 12, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution”*…

 

What can a 19th-century rebellion against automation can teach us about the coming war– the robots are coming!– in the job market?

Clive Thompson, an author and journalist at the New York Times Magazine and Wired, revisited Luddite’s history in an article for The Smithsonian to see what it could teach us. As machine learning and robotics consume manufacturing and white-collar jobs alike, the 200-year-old rebellion’s implications for automation are more relevant than ever, says Thompson:

“The lesson you get from the end of the Luddites is: Do the people that are profiting off automation today want to participate in distributing their profits more widely around the population, or are they going to fight just as hard as they did back then?”

That economic and political question is hanging over western democracies coping with a wave of populism seemingly tracking a widening gap between stagnant wages and ballooning wealth at the top. While automation eventually tends to create new jobs even after it destroys old ones, that’s little consolation for millions of workers whose skills and experience are obsolete…

More on this all-too-relevant history in a interview with Thompson: “Luddites have been getting a bad rap for 200 years. But, turns out, they were right.”

And do read Thompson’s original article: “When Robots Take All of Our Jobs, Remember the Luddites.”

Then, check out “Robots don’t have to take over jobs in order to be a problem for workers.”

* Stephen Hawking

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As we heft our hammers, we might we might send thoughtful birthday greetings to José Ortega y Gasset; he was born on this date in 1883.  A philosopher and essayist, he is perhaps best known for The Revolt of the Masses, which characterized 20th-century society as dominated by masses of mediocre & indistinguishable individuals– a conception tha converged with other “mass society” theorists like Karl Mannheim, Erich Fromm, and Hannah Arendt.  (Lest his view be seen as too grim and judgmental, he is memorialized in what has become known as “the Ortega hypothesis,” based on a quote in The Revolt of the Masses, that states that average or mediocre scientists contribute substantially to the advancement of science.)

In exile during the Spanish Revolution, he refused to support either side or to hold academic office under Franco.

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Written by LW

May 9, 2017 at 1:01 am

“What a piece of work is a man!”*…

 

A two-minute look at demographics, habits, living conditions, and more if only 100 people lived on Earth in the same cultural and social patterns as the 7.4 billion who actually do:

[Happily, while most of the info here check out as solid, the poverty numbers in this video seem to be based on data from around 2012; things have got better since then: if 15 people in 100 spent $US1.90 a day or less in 2012, by 2015 that number was down to 10. Back in 1981, according to World Bank data, the corresponding number was over 40.]

* Shakespeare, Hamlet

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As we note that “it takes a village,” we might send carefully-observed birthday greetings to Gabriel Tarde; he was born on this date in 1843.  A French sociologist, criminologist, and social psychologist, he conceived society as based on small psychological interactions (“intermental activity”) among individuals (much as if it were chemistry), the fundamental forces being imitation and innovation.

While this theory of social interaction– which emphasized the individual in an aggregate of persons– brought Tarde into conflict with Émile Durkheim (who conceived of society as a collective unity), Tarde had an formative influence on the thinking of psychologists and social theorists from Sigmund Freud to Everett Rogers.  Now, for all his sins, Tarde seems to be in process of being re-discovered as a harbinger of postmodern French theory, particularly as influenced by the social philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.

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Written by LW

March 12, 2017 at 1:01 am

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