The steady Humvees of War

I can’t forget March 2003. I was teaching a section of Research Methods to Notre Dame undergraduates. The country was having the ‘debate’ about invading Iraq. There was no debate. We were going. We knew, if for no other reason, because the American General plant in Mishawaka, IN was surrounded by a sea of recently produced Humvees. Bush was going to send those Humvees and their 20 year old drivers on his revenge mission to the desert. People the same age as the privileged ND students I was in the room with.

I brought it up one day. To a one, they had no idea the ‘debate’ was even occuring. They had no opinion one way or the other. I told them that was not OK, and that even if you disagreed with my anti-Iraq war stance you should be just as engaged. Just as angry. But why would they be. I’d guess most of them are now living comfortable lives mostly untouched by that war that has destroyed so many lives, given us ISIS, and tied this country’s hands with debt and turmoil for at least a generation. Their lives were set one way or the other. I think about that whenever I reflect on the fact that Bush got away with it. People don’t care because why would they?

It’s nice to see that British Parliament may try to hold Tony Blair accountable. Will we ever do the same to Bush, Cheney, and Powell?


Secular is good for us!

I’ve been fascinated to see a growing literature showing that religious beliefs, particularly beliefs about god, reduce social trust (examples here and here). Much of the work in the sociology of religion for so long has had a more or less explicit ‘religion is good for society’ thrust. I’ve published in that mainstream view myself, and usually the most you’ll see is ‘religion is mostly good for us, except for maybe fundamentalism.’

But, I’m starting to think this is because most survey data, particularly in the United States, has only allowed quantitative sociologists to study the very religious and the moderately religious, until recently. Now, with more and more seculars all the time, our samples are catching more people at the ‘not religious’ end of the spectrum, and it turns out they trust people too, and a paper I’m finishing up argues nontheists are more trusting than believers. So, it’s not ‘mainline’ versus ‘evangelical,’ but really it’s ‘very religious,’ ‘moderately religious,’ and ‘not religious.’And it turns out secular is good for you, and for us.

Goldilocks and the three GOP’ers

It’s ‘somewhat important Tuesday’ with primary elections in Michigan, Idaho, Mississippi, and Hawaii. Today’s media narrative appears to be ‘Is Trump losing Momentum to an ascendant Ted Cruz?’ Frankly, it’s a terrifying question, and there do seem to be reasons to believe Cruz could a make  real move today (admittedly without consulting polling data or experts). I think you have to hope Trump’s recent fascist antics would cost him the campaign, and I think there is a good explanation as to why Cruz is better positioned to take advantage than Rubio (and all the polling data I look at suggest this is what’s likely to happen should Trump trip). Here’s my take in one short paragraph.

“Ideas” candidates, like Paul Ryan, for example, sometimes struggle to effectively connect their ideas to people’s perceived problems. Because that can come as ‘I know your problems better than you do,’ it appears like a fundamental misunderstanding of representative government. I think voters, maybe particularly GOP voters, prefer at least the impression of responsiveness to material problems rather than champions of philosophy who say ‘you’re seeing it wrong, you don’t quite get it.’ This explains, at least partly, why candidates like Donald Trump, for example, can be successful. Trump’s campaign is framed as a reaction to some people’s ‘real’ problems rather than a lesson about a worldview they don’t understand. Cruz might be the middle ground between Trump and Rubio in this regard. Rubio comes off as a teacher committed to out-of-date ideas. When Trump calls Rubio a loser, he’s really just saying you’re out of touch like Romney, like Bob Dole! Cruz, however, is effectively offering a better balance of material analysis and philosophy than either Rubio or Trump. Whereas Trump seems to be saying, ‘geez, not having jobs because of foreigners sure isn’t great, let’s get rid of the scary brown people’ and leaving it at that before jumping into some other crazy rant, Cruz seems to be saying pretty much the same things while also being much better able to articulate ideas about the constitution and religiosity that give his message more philosophical substance and continuity. But, not so much that it feels like old-GOP commitment to free trade and economic theory you have to study in college to really understand. So, for GOP primary voters maybe the moral will be that Trump is too reactionary, Rubio too professorial, and Cruz just right.



Quantified Self and Interaction

I recently started using a FitBit. I use it mostly to understand why I’m not fit, not because I think it’s going to encourage me to get fit. It turns out my non-teaching Tuesdays and Thursdays are probably killing me, and Sundays aren’t helping. I know this because I can look at my week and see daily counts of how many steps I’ve taken, the miles I’ve walked, how many calories I’ve burned, and how many flights of stairs I’ve climbed. I’m grading papers today, and right now, at noon, my numbers look like this:

Steps: 856

Miles: 0.35

Calories burned: 941

Stairs Climbed: 1

That’s really bad (so bad I’m questioning the validity); worse than my typical Tuesday, Thursday, or Sunday, even.

Counting as a way to know something about who I am is an example of ‘the quantified self.’ There’s a ton of commentary about the significance of the quantified self, just do a Google search. Maybe start here:

On some days when my counts tell me I’m a bad person who is going to die young, I go for a walk around campus. I’m walking less to get fit and more so that I don’t feel bad that my count is low. On some days it’s so I don’t lose so spectacularly to my wife in the ‘step challenges’ our phone apps run for us.

An unintended consequence of these walks has been that I keep running into and talking to people I don’t regularly see in my typical work day. I’ve run into colleagues from the math department, a new anthropologist I never see otherwise, an economist friend, a former student who is out in the world doing really cool things, as well as many others. My brow is usually sweaty, and I have to say ‘look, I’m wearing a FitBit!’ (it’s required).

After that, however, we’ve had nice conversations about non-work topics. We hear often that technology is making us less social, substituting ‘false’ relationships for ‘real’ ones, etc., etc., etc. I don’t believe that, and I’m always looking for counter evidence. For example, when people are staring at their phone, more often than not they are interacting with someone on the other side. Staring at Facebook or Twitter are examples of being really involved with other people, and the phone just happens to be the interface. Similarly, I’m out walking to increase my steps, but I end up in the world, meeting and talking to people.

So, maybe we need to think about not just the ‘quantified self,’ but also the ‘quantified self and interaction.’

Marginalization and Trust: What’s Religion Got to do With It?

Tomorrow morning I’ll be giving a paper at the 2015 meetings of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. It’s about religion and trust. In particular, me and my coauthors India Bolden-Maisonet and Alex Capella are exploring the idea that secular people may be more trusting than religious people. It’s more complicated than that, and this is very much a preliminary work, but I do plan to develop this idea. Hopefully I’ll get some good feedback in the morning.

Here is a link if you’d like to read the talk. Right now it doesn’t have a work’s cited page, but it does include in-text citations. If you see any cite you’d like more info on, just let me know.


Cardinal Dolan at Le Moyne: sociological reflections (not culture war material, sorry)

Le Moyne College has made the news recently because we have invited Timothy Cardinal Dolan to be our commencement speaker and receive an honorary degree. A group of students started a petition to disinvite Dolan because of his role in the Church’s response the child sex abuse scandal and because of statements he’s made about same sex relationships.

I was interviewed a few times by different journalists, but my comments weren’t used –I’d guess because I didn’t really have anything controversial to say. I didn’t sign the petition, and except for rather limited contact with just a few students who have signed the petition or are involved in various forms of protest, I haven’t really been involved. I’ll wear a rainbow sash during Sunday’s commencement ceremony, as will several other faculty members. When Cardinal Dolan speaks, I’ll probably be just as uninterested as I ever am in commencement speakers.

Probably the biggest media splash was yesterday when two representatives of Le Moyne, our president Dr. Linda LeMura, and director of mission and identity, Fr. David McCallum chose to appear on Fox & Friends to discuss the ‘controversy.’ Honestly, I was under the impression things had mostly died down here on campus. Yes, there is some slight civil disobedience planned for Sunday, but the man is speaking and I’ll be very surprised if any Le Moyne students engage in disruptive protest.

Fox News, and in particular Fox & Friends, make their money by stoking the culture war (also see this silly piece in National Review Online). To hear the segment from the morning ‘news’ show, you’d think ‘leftist, secularist’ students were flipping the pope mobile. On the contrary, this is the most active protest having to do with religious issues I’ve seen in my 10 years here, and it’s decidedly civil and reasonable. There are good reasons to be upset that Le Moyne has invited Fr. Dolan (apparently an invitation offered by our Eric Dolphy loving past president), just as there are good reasons to invite the Archbishop of New York to be the speaker at Jesuit Le Moyne College (this is why I didn’t sign the petition, defensible choice or not).

Because I’m a sociologist of religion, however, this is certainly an opportunity to think about the sociological meaning of the protest on our campus.

Le Moyne got more Catholic after we moved to lay presidents. It’s a case study in the processes of secularization and resacralization. With Jesuit presidents, we just were Catholic. It was more difficult for outsiders to question it. Now it’s easier to question, so it has be demonstrated more overtly. We got our first director of mission and identity, and we are increasingly offered opportunities to explore our Ignation heritage.

However, were I to guess, I think our student body follows the general trends of their generation in terms of religiosity. When I ask, as I regularly do, students rarely say they’ve come because the school is Catholic, and less because it is Jesuit. Many seniors barely know what a Jesuit is, and I think we see that as more of a problem now than we used to. There is probably a selection effect as I teach social science electives, and I’d not be surprised if more religious students avoid me because of my relatively outspoken attitudes about atheism. But, I don’t think there is much self-organized religious activism on campus, orthodox or progressive. The Dolan reaction is the most I recall in my time here. I’m sure there is support, but it’s not organized like the opposition. I think that is indicative of the general apathy about religious issues on campus. The Dolan protest isn’t about Catholicism, per se. It’s more about sexuality and sexual assault, issues common across college campuses, Catholic or not.

Drone police and instant replay justice

As yet another video of a police officer murdering a black man makes its way through the media, we are again hearing calls for officers to wear body cameras. It’s not certain that body cameras would make much difference in police behavior. Nonetheless, cameras on cops all across the country opens up a number of exciting possibilities.

Here are some ideas.

Police departments need revenue – sometimes they’ll stop and fine you just to pay the bills. That’s patently unfair, and not very entertaining. Why not affix a camera to every officer and live-stream the feed over the police department website? Charge a few bucks a month for access, and put the long running tv show Cops right out of business. Violence voyeurs everywhere will sign up for Gold Subscriptions that include exclusive access to the racist jokes making their way around the local police department.

Americans love instant replay almost as much as reality TV. Who doesn’t like an X-Mo replay of a great diving catch, or viral video replays of police brutality? But, why not use the replay technology to make sure everybody gets a fair shot at justice? Pop a camera on every police officer in America, give every citizen 2 ‘challenges,’ and set up a Police Replay Operations Center in Times Square. Whenever a citizen feels unjustly treated by an officer of the law they can use one of their remaining challenges. The Police Operations Replay Operations Center will spring into action, carefully evaluating all available video angles to make sure the police officer made the right call. Broadcast the replays on a mega-sized video board in the town square so citizens can deliberate the case as well. Rationality will deliver indisputable justice. (To be fair, however, people of color should probably be allowed more challenges).

I can’t help but think that the Police Operations Video Operations Center could be put to better use than a clunky replay system that disrupts the flow of police work. Why not let the folks at the monitors play an active role in protecting and serving? In fact, police work can be dangerous for cops out on the streets, so why not use the technology to remove the cop from the beat where things can get out of hand quickly, while also giving them the eyes and force needed to control any situation? It works for the military, and police forces all around the country are using military grade resources. Yes, drone cops is clearly the way to go. Remote controlled, camera equipped, fully armed drone cops will ensure the safety of the police while delivering swift, reviewable, streamable, profitable justice.

Research Methods Resources: quantitative analysis

Here at Le Moyne I regularly teach a research methods course that serves criminology, sociology, and political science students. It is a survey course, by which I mean I cover a broad range of topics. I typically start with the epistemology of the social sciences, move into research design issues like measurement and connecting empirical work to theory, and then spend the second half of the semester focusing on specific analysis procedures. The course covers both quantitative and qualitative methods, so very little time is allowed for each.

I spend about 3 weeks on quantitative methods, hoping that by the end students are relatively comfortable with understanding and producing descriptive statistics, crosstabs, t-tests, correlations, and regressions. This year I covered logistic regression in more detail than normal. It’s a lot to cover in that time, so over the years I’ve created some handouts meant to help students do the work we have limited class time to practice.

I’m going to put two handouts here. One is meant to help students work in SPSS to do some basic quantitative analysis. The other is meant to walk them through using the SDA resource from Berkeley. One year I taught SDA exclusively because it’s free and gives students access to some high quality data with lots of social science applications.

I offer these resources ‘as is,’ and am confident that there are mistakes – I catch some every year and surely make more as I expand them. It’d be great if others found these useful, and I’ll only be reasonably embarrassed if you point out errors I’ve made (hopefully nothing super-serious!).

SPSS handout (MS Word)


SDA handout

SDA.Handout (MS Word)

The Pheminist Manifesto

Over the last several months at Le Moyne, a group of student activists have come together to protest sexism and gender injustice. They call themselves ‘Pheminists’ (our mascot here at Le Moyne is the Dolphin). They have written a declaration of intent they call the Pheminist Manifesto, and have asked that I make it available for sharing here here on my blog.


The Pheminist Manifesto: A declaration of Intent

We, the feminists of Le Moyne College, declare our intention to make issues of sexism and gender injustice a priority. We pledge to educate our community, bring awareness to gender injustices both on campus and off, and push for change at Le Moyne College as long as gender injustices continue.

We believe each woman has the right to dictate any decisions involving her body, her education, her career, her spirituality, her beliefs, her family and her overall quality of life. Every woman has the human right to a life free from patriarchal, paternalistic coercion.

Our particular brand of feminism is inclusive and intersectional. Women of all ethnicities,  all faiths, all ideologies, all sexualities, all bodies, and all gender expressions have a place among us.

Men also have a place among us; we welcome men who regard women as equals. Male feminists are a testament that toxic and hegemonic masculinity can be resisted, and its subversion should be celebrated and encouraged. We reject the notion that feminism is, or ever has been, synonymous with “man-hating.” However, we must remember that the scars etched by the patriarchy are deepest in women and non-male and/or non-conforming gender identities, and that is where we focus our energies.

As educated individuals for and with others, we pledge to recognize our privileged status, and use it to raise campus and community consciousness about sexism, including the ways in which it intersects with racism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, ableism and all forms of oppression.

We pledge to cultivate a safe community free from shaming of any kind. We encourage questions and conversation. We acknowledge our individual experiences and we pledge to support and empower all women. We are feminists working together towards the transcendence of gender injustice. This is our pledge as ’Phins for Pheminism.
The Le Moyne Pheminists

Artists and Alienation: Everyday Marxism at Subway

I eat at Subway, a lot. Probably more than any self-respecting person should. In fact, including this post, my blog has a bit of a Subway Series going on here and here. Maybe I should write a book on the sociology of Subway.

The Subway I go to most often requires its employees to shout ‘Welcome to Subway!’ whenever someone walks through the door. Other places do this as well – i.e. “Welcome to Moe’s!” I don’t find it particularly welcoming to be shouted at by strangers when I walk through doors. Does anyone ever shout back – “Oh my! It’s so nice to see you all today!” That would be weird. But, more than not feeling welcomed, it makes me feel guilty about imposing on these low wage workers making sandwiches on command for strangers all day. (I mean, not so guilty that I don’t eat there twice a week and load my card with points.)

A couple of months ago I was at a different Subway than my usual spot, but they still do the Welcome to Subway Shout – standardized welcoming is heartwarming. This day, however, it was less a shout and much more of a ‘dumb things I gotta do today mumble.’ I totally get that – no offense taken. In fact, I’ve often thought that ‘Subway sandwich maker’ has got to be one of the most alienating jobs available. These folks are making products that they immediately give away to their boss of the moment. They make the sandwich, someone else eats the sandwich – all day long. Not only do they immediately lose the product of their labor to someone else, they have to experience alienation from customers who often make really odd demands for sandwiches (i.e. “cut the bread the old way”). Customers are the sandwich exploiters of these Sandwich laborers – or as they are known in the industry: Sandwich Artists.

Yes, Corporate Subway calls these folks Sandwich Artists. This has to be as ironic an employee moniker as there is – it’s much worse than Wal-Mart’s ‘associates.’ There is nothing artistic about using predetermined ingredients, in required amounts, at the command of strangers walking through the door. This is not craft nor creativity, but rather carefully monitored capitalist production.

Here is a screenshot from Subway Corporate describing the position of Sandwich Artist:

Sandwich Artists report to Management.

Sandwich Artists report to Management.

Notice the happy Sandwich Artist who ‘Reports to: Management.’ I’d guess this isn’t the same as an artist working for a patron. These are well managed artists, as we can see in the position’s Tasks and Responsibilities which include exhibiting “a cheerful and helpful manner while greeting guests and preparing their orders” and preparing “food neatly, according to formula, and in a timely manner.” These artists are paid for emotional labor and following a formula. Smiling and painting by numbers isn’t how I think of artists! That said, some members of the Subway Family are very fast – and, like any strong, artistically inclined family, Subway celebrates their efficiency.

Once at my favorite little corner Subway, I was chatting with a Sandwich Artist I’d come to know a little bit. She’d start my Veggie Delite before I ordered it. Yes, there was a sense of friendship here, not alienation. As we worked our way down the sandwich assembly line she mentioned she’d just given her two weeks and was leaving without a new job yet acquired. I said, ‘oh, that’s too bad, why are you leaving?.’ She gave me the most obvious look one could give, and said “It’s Subway.”

Yep. It’s Subway. Home of the alienated artist.