Barry Hollander – LikeTheDew.com http://likethedew.com A journal of progressive Southern culture and politics Wed, 19 Sep 2018 10:58:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 http://likethedew.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/cropped-DewLogoSquare825-32x32.png Barry Hollander – LikeTheDew.com http://likethedew.com 32 32 Who Believes in Conspiracy Theories? http://likethedew.com/2013/11/19/believes-conspiracy-theories/ http://likethedew.com/2013/11/19/believes-conspiracy-theories/#respond Tue, 19 Nov 2013 21:11:31 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=53777

Many of us love a good conspiracy theory. Some of us, though, love them more than others.

It’s no surprise liberals are more likely to buy into a conspiracy theory critical of the right, or conservatives are more likely to believe one critical of the left. The data supports exactly that, proving we often dare research the obvious. Here I’m going to discuss four specific conspiracy theories, two from each side of the political spectrum, and sketch what a national sample of over 5,000 U.S. adults tells us about who does, and does not, believe in them.

conspiracy-oneFirst, the conspiracies. The first two, from the right, the last two, from the left:

  • The “birther” theory that Barack Obama was born outside the U.S.
  • The notion that the health care law included “death panels.”
  • The “truther” idea the government knew in advance about the 9/11 attacks.
  • And finally, that federal officials purposely aimed Hurricane Katrina flood waters at poor New Orleans neighborhoods.

Set aside the kooky nature of the theories. Looking at 2012 national survey data, I’ve been teasing out who believes in all of the theories, left or right, and I’m starting to untangle the media’s role in all of this.

If you haven’t read the previous research on conspiracy theories — don’t. It’s damned depressing. I just finished one that finds people who don’t believe in climate change also believe Princess Diana was assassinated and HIV does not cause AIDS. Scary stuff. Maybe Bigfoot pops up in there too. Anyway, I’m more interested in the stuff that might explain belief in all four of the theories above. Below I’ll list a few candidates and tell you, briefly, how they’re looking so far.

Before we go any further, a nerd moment. I’m discussing results based on multiple regression analysis. Simply put, you throw stuff into a model (age, education, party ID, race, etc.) and allow them to statistically control for one another to see who wins. So below when I say something seems to predict belief in conspiracy theories, that means it does so even after all controlling for all these other possible factors. Okay, nerd moment complete. So far:

Financial Uncertainty — I had big hopes for this. I’ve used two measures, the financial uncertainty people have now and how uncertain they are about the future. So far, the results are mixed, but in general the uncertainty about the future does modestly predict belief in theories of the left and the right.

Neuroticism — The formal name sounds weird, but it’s one of the Big 5 Personality Traits. Think of it as anxiety and the opposite of emotional stability, if that helps. This predicts three of the four theories (not the “birther” one).

Interpersonal Trust — This is how much you trust other people. Turns out, as suggested in some previous studies, this one is a major factor in belief in conspiracy theories. The more you trust people, the less you believe all of the theories.

So anxious, uncertain people who don’t like other people — they love conspiracy theories. Sounds like your crazy uncle, right? The one you want to avoid sitting next to at Thanksgiving. I should point out that even with all of these factors in the model, the less educated also buy into all four conspiracy theories. So do those of lower income. As you’d expect, party ID and ideology more or less break the way you’d expect, believing theories that make the other side look bad. The role of uncertainty makes sense. This makes you a prime target for believing that powerful external forces beyond your control are doing bad things and that you are powerless before them.

I’m only just now getting into how the media fit into all of this, but I can’t pass up a few of the more entertaining results.

Radio — I was curious, so I looked at listening to NPR versus listening to Rush Limbaugh. Listeners of Limbaugh break just the way you’d expect them to, believing in the bad stuff about Obama, not buying into the bad stuff about the Bush Administration. NPR listeners, even after all these controls, don’t believe in any of the theories.

Faux News — Viewers of Stewart and Colbert resemble NPR listeners above. The more you watch these shows, the less likely you are to believe in any of the four theories.

Fox News — Sigh, you know where this is going. It breaks not unlike partisanship.

There’s disagreement in the literature whether some people are just made to believe in conspiracies, though I think the more recent studies are breaking this way, that there’s an underlying individual difference that exists here in less PhDweeby terms, some of us are just made that way.

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Mormonism. It’s the New Catholicism http://likethedew.com/2012/01/17/mormonism-its-the-new-catholicism/ http://likethedew.com/2012/01/17/mormonism-its-the-new-catholicism/#comments Tue, 17 Jan 2012 17:38:37 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=35595 Evangelicals recently met to reach a consensus on which candidate not named Mitt Romney they should support for the Republican presidential nomination. The irony is not only in the location of the meeting, but who they decided to support.

As anyone paying attention to presidential politics knows, the evangelicals threw their Christian weight behind the candidacy of Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. Santorum is Catholic. The evangelicals met in Texas, near Houston.

What’s the irony? Let me explain.

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Evangelicals recently met to reach a consensus on which candidate not named Mitt Romney they should support for the Republican presidential nomination. The irony is not only in the location of the meeting, but who they decided to support.

As anyone paying attention to presidential politics knows, the evangelicals threw their Christian weight behind the candidacy of Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. Santorum is Catholic. The evangelicals met in Texas, near Houston.

What’s the irony? Let me explain.

In September 1960, John F. Kennedy gave a famous speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in which he addressed the divisive issue of religion in the U.S. presidential campaign. The controversy was over Kennedy’s Catholicism and fears by many that a Catholic president will find his loyalty divided between his nation and his church. The Pope may become puppet master, some suggested, pulling the president’s strings.

Kennedy’s speech helped blunt that criticism, or at least shift the nation’s attention away from Catholicism and to more pressing issues such as Communism and Cuba and the economy.

How times have changed. Except not so much.

Mormonism, it seems, is the new Catholicism.

It’s useful, I believe, to recall Kennedy’s words from some 50 years ago. In his speech he both said what many wanted to hear – that he was independent of the Vatican – but also perhaps what they didn’t want to hear, that he felt government and religion must remain separate. “No Catholic has ever been elected president,” he said, and by raising the matter, “the real issues of this campaign have been obscured.”

Kennedy then made a compelling point: the election should not be about what religion he believes in, which he argued should be of importance only to himself, but “what kind of America I believe in.”

He continued:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the President — should he be Catholic — how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him, or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accept instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials, and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

You can see how these words might upset some religious leaders today, not only Protestant conservatives but even many Catholics, bishops and higher, who dearly want to impose their will on the public acts of officials.

Santorum, a conservative Catholic not to be confused with the Catholicism of John Kerry or even JFK, won three-quarters of the evangelical votes at that ranch just outside Houston. In fairness, in seeking a viable alternative to Romney the evangelicals emphasized not his religion but his moderate political stances and perceived wavering on such core issues as abortion and gay marriage. Nevertheless, many conservative Christians have been less than, er, Christian, at least when it comes to Romney’s Mormonism. Some have even tried to separate Mormons from the Christian flock.

The cynic in me says it’s all about religion, not matter how hard they try to paint it as political differences. The realist in me says it’s a mix of politics and religion, and that these “moderate” political differences mask a deeper religious suspicion that while many won’t say, most probably feel.

And as Kennedy suggested in Houston so very long ago, those differences are not only unimportant, they come very close to being un-American.

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Retirement, by Way of Class-Action Lawsuit http://likethedew.com/2011/12/02/retirement-by-way-of-class-action-lawsuit/ http://likethedew.com/2011/12/02/retirement-by-way-of-class-action-lawsuit/#comments Fri, 02 Dec 2011 06:08:59 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=33558 I have a new retirement scheme.

As a UGA professor, I’m a part of the state’s optional retirement system, one separate from the teacher retirement plan ... At UGA, “optional” means you have only the option of retiring, not actually doing so.

In a few years I’ll waddle to class behind a walker, an IV stuck in my arm to keep myself properly medicated.  Or I can turn to an exciting new supplemental retirement plan that involves me as a member of several class action lawsuits that I wasn’t even aware that I was participating in to begin with ...

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I have a new retirement scheme.

As a UGA professor, I’m a part of the state’s optional retirement system, one separate from the teacher retirement plan.  As an untenured assistant professor a million years ago, I couldn’t risk not getting tenure and thus losing money put into the account should I have to leave UGA for another university.

In other words, my TIAA-CREF account relies heavily on the stock market to pay for my golden years.  If you have a sore neck from watching the ups and downs of the market lately, you understand how disconcerting this can be.

At UGA, “optional” means you have only the option of retiring, not actually doing so.

In a few years I’ll waddle to class behind a walker, an IV stuck in my arm to keep myself properly medicated.  Or I can turn to an exciting new supplemental retirement plan that involves me as a member of several class action lawsuits that I wasn’t even aware that I was participating in to begin with.  Until recently, that is.  To explain, in the past couple of weeks I’ve received three emails giving me the good news – I’m part of a class action decisions that will mean money in my pocket.  They are:

  •  Ticketmaster.  Apparently I attended a concert sometime in my past.  In this case, I’m part of “a nationwide class of consumers” (known as the “Class”) who bought tickets through Ticketmaster’s web site (known as “the Website”) between Oct. 21, 1999 and Oct. 19, 2011 (known as the “Class Period”) and followed by a crapload of other legalese that tells me Ticketmaster is accused of deceptive and misleading tactics in hiding costs.  What do I get?  A buck-fifty for some concert I don’t remember, probably in Atlanta.
  •  iTunes.  Yep, like everyone else I’ve bought an iTunes card or two (or a million as safe holiday gifts for nephews and nieces I barely know).  Some of the cards were labeled as “songs for 99¢” when songs often sold for $1.29.  Bad Apple.  Rotten Apple.  In this deal, I get a $3.25 iTunes Store credit to buy, I suppose, songs for more than 99¢. This is a “top settlement” according to one site that tracks this stuff.
  •  Classmates.com.  My favorite.  You may have seen this online site, and my high school reunion used it, which led to me in a moment of weakness to foolishly create an account there.  Among other things, the lawsuit claims that “Classmates sent e-mail to subscribers of www.classmates.com that violated the law and the privacy rights of subscribers.”  In less legal terms, they annoyed the hell out of you with stuff they made up and they wouldn’t go away, no matter how often and how nicely you asked.  This is a big score.  I may rake in as much as $10.

If there’s a lesson here, it’s that you have to spend money to make money.  Spend enough, spread it around, and somewhere somehow, some sleazy company will get caught doing dirty and you’ll reap tens of dollars in future settlements.  That’s enough to help fund a retirement plan based largely on me stealing from a bowl whatever food the cat doesn’t eat.

It’s a plan.

 

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Hey Candidate! What’s Your Religion Again? http://likethedew.com/2011/11/17/hey-candidate-whats-your-religion-again/ http://likethedew.com/2011/11/17/hey-candidate-whats-your-religion-again/#comments Thu, 17 Nov 2011 23:03:56 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=32851 You might think that by now, everyone knows Mitt Romney’s religion.

He’s Mormon. Or “a cult,” if you buy into one crazy Texas pastor’s description, a good illustration of Romney’s difficulties with that basic element of the GOP base, Christian evangelicals.

A recent survey, though, found only 42 percent of Americans could correctly identify Romney’s religion. According to the report, the number who answered the question correctly is unchanged since earlier in the year when the controversial comments of a Christian pastor first made the political front page. So the news didn’t matter, at least in informing the public about his religious affiliation. Why?

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Church and StateYou might think that by now, everyone knows Mitt Romney’s religion.

He’s Mormon. Or “a cult,” if you buy into one crazy Texas pastor’s description, a good illustration of Romney’s difficulties with that basic element of the GOP base, Christian evangelicals.

A recent survey, though, found only 42 percent of Americans could correctly identify Romney’s religion. According to the report, the number who answered the question correctly is unchanged since earlier in the year when the controversial comments of a Christian pastor first made the political front page. So the news didn’t matter, at least in informing the public about his religious affiliation. Why? Only 42 percent got his religion right because, frankly, only 42 percent are paying attention to the presidential campaign.

Everyone else has something better to do.

I’m not saying the news doesn’t matter. When Al Gore selected Joe Lieberman as his running mate in 2000, it made a huge splash. Lieberman is Jewish, a first for a major party ticket, and everyone short of the brain dead knew it. But that was later in the campaign, summer and fall of the election year. You know, when people are paying attention.

If we’re going to talk candidates and religion, this brings us of course to Barack Obama. Doesn’t everything?

Back in 2008 (remember 2008? we were so hopeful, so naive), a lot of people couldn’t answer the Obama religion question correctly because they were oddly convinced he was actually Muslim. I say oddly because they also criticized his controversial Christian pastor (are we forced to use that phrase too often?), the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Heads didn’t explode (not sure why) as people managed to let these thoughts hang out together in their skulls.

I promise, no more parentheses. I’m in a 12-step program.

At one point, 1-in-5 Americans believed Obama was Muslim. Among Republicans, this was significantly higher. Among Christian evangelical Republicans, higher still. Throw in a few more demographic and political modifiers before Republican and I suspect we’d push 100 percent. Math is fun. As an aside, white evangelical Protestants were the only subgroup in the recent survey to improve in knowledge about Romney’s religious identification. Why? Because it matters to them.

The obvious result in 2008: fewer could accurately identify Obama’s religious affiliation because, unfortunately, a lot of them were making it up as they went along. Yes, I’ve written about this before. Next week I’ll write about kittens.

A candidate’s religion rarely matters in a presidential election. We point to 1960 and Kennedy’s Catholicism as the best exception to the rule, but you have to know – or think you know – a candidate’s religion before it can influence your attitude toward him or her. Even so, research and common sense tells us a whole bunch of other factors, real or imagined, matter more when it comes to deciding how to vote.

So let’s jump to 2012 and let’s say it’s Romney versus Obama for the presidency. Is it Christian versus Christian? Not if you follow certain evangelicals who not only don’t believe Romney is a member of their club but who also doubt Obama’s Christian creds. Is it Mormon versus Christian? Is it Mormon versus, um, er, whatever?

Does it even matter?

No, not really, so on the religion thing let’s just call it a tie and move on to something really vital when deciding between two men seeking the most important office in the world. You know, like their favorite pizza toppings or preferred contestant in Dancing with American Idol (or they’re thoughts on the alarming underuse of parentheses).

And maybe, just maybe, the people who vote because of religion will sit this one out.

A guy can dream. Or maybe pray.

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2012? Looks Like 1996, at least in Turnout http://likethedew.com/2011/11/15/2012-looks-like-1996-at-least-in-turnout/ http://likethedew.com/2011/11/15/2012-looks-like-1996-at-least-in-turnout/#comments Tue, 15 Nov 2011 16:12:46 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=32675 When it comes to voter turnout, 2012 is starting to look an awful lot like 1996.

In 1996, a wounded Democratic incumbent faced an uninspiring Republican challenger. Sound familiar? That year, only 49 percent of the electorate voted – the lowest in the modern era. Back then, President Bill Clinton had been elected on a wave of enthusiasm four years earlier. By his next election, that enthusiasm was wavering. Sound familiar?

In 1996, Bob Dole was not really loved by conservatives. It’s possible he wasn’t loved by anyone. But it was his turn. He was a mainstream throwback, a “country club Republican.” Serious. Or at least not wacky. Yep, this is starting to sound familiar.

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When it comes to voter turnout, 2012 is starting to look an awful lot like 1996.

In 1996, a wounded Democratic incumbent faced an uninspiring Republican challenger. Sound familiar? That year, only 49 percent of the electorate voted – the lowest in the modern era.

Back then, President Bill Clinton had been elected on a wave of enthusiasm four years earlier. By his next election, that enthusiasm was wavering.

Sound familiar?

In 1996, Bob Dole was not really loved by conservatives. It’s possible he wasn’t loved by anyone. But it was his turn. He was a mainstream throwback, a “country club Republican.” Serious. Or at least not wacky.

Yep, this is starting to sound familiar.

Before we go any further, I concede we don’t know for sure that Romney is the GOP nominee, but the smart money says so. Herman Cain is sliding, Newt Gingrich is next on deck. Neither seems likely to stop Romney. And while I Romney is a modestly better candidate than Dole, at least on the surface and the TV screen, he’s carrying a lot of flip-flop baggage, not to mention the distrust of true-blue conservatives and Christian evangelicals suspicious of his Mormon religion.

And let’s stop to note that, at least so far, Barack Obama is no Clinton. The economic situation is different (a point to Clinton) but the personal situation is different (a point to Obama). While the president’s base is unhappy, Romney doesn’t even have a base. Instead, he has a wobbly sense of inevitability.

How the election will end is anyone’s guess. The New York Times ran an interesting analysis recently that suggests there’s a very good chance we’ll be saying President Romney in the near future. But here I’m talking not about who wins, but how many people vote.

Any number of web sites will give you the turnout results of previous elections. Starting in 1960, turnout was just over 63 percent. It dropped steadily (in part because 18 year olds were suddenly eligible to vote, changing the math), moved around a bit, and then in 1992 leaped higher with Clinton’s big win over an incumbent Republican.

After that big turnout, four years later we hit a modern low of 49 percent. That’s the basement, or so it seemed. Turnout climbed, hit 57 percent in 2008 as Obama energized the youth and presented us with the nation’s first African-American president.

“Yes we can,” people said in 2008. In 2012, it may be more like “no we won’t.” At least when it comes time to vote.

Assuming an economy stuck in the doldrums, assuming no major international crisis, assuming Romney is the Republican nominee, I expect turnout in 2012 to truly disappoint and come in below what we saw in 1996.

The political rule of thumb is Republicans do better in low turnout elections, but 1996 proves the rule is, to borrow from Pirates of the Caribbean, more like a guideline. This is no 1996. Enthusiasm for Obama has waned. Enthusiasm for Romney never existed. Punch these two factors into your spreadsheet, push the calculate button, and out pops a potentially awful turnout, perhaps 48 percent, perhaps lower.

And it’s never good when, in a democracy, so few make so important a decision. Regardless of who wins.

 

 

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Tired Phrases: Ponzi Scheme http://likethedew.com/2011/10/30/tired-phrases-ponzi-scheme/ http://likethedew.com/2011/10/30/tired-phrases-ponzi-scheme/#respond Mon, 31 Oct 2011 00:50:50 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=32038 When a great phrase comes along, there’s no stopping it.

Take Ponzi scheme, for example.  Please.

Named after Charles Ponzi, it’s a “fraudulent investment operation that pays returns to its investors from their own money or the money paid by subsequent investors, rather than from any actual profit earned by the individual or organization running the operation.”  Or so says Wikipedia,  That sums it up nicely.

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Charles PonziWhen a great phrase comes along, there’s no stopping it.

Take Ponzi scheme, for example. Please.

Named after Charles Ponzi, it’s a “fraudulent investment operation that pays returns to its investors from their own money or the money paid by subsequent investors, rather than from any actual profit earned by the individual or organization running the operation.” Or so says Wikipedia, That sums it up nicely.

Such schemes eventually collapse. Bernie Madoff is our most recent and famous example, the largest fraudulent financial operation in U.S. history. But what’s fascinating is the use of the phrase beyond Madoff. Politicians love a phrase that does double duty.

Let’s look at its use over time. Bear with me, a bit of history (and numbers) ahead.

The world didn’t learn of Madoff’s fraudulent behavior until December 2008 (though he may have been running versions of it as far back as the 1970s). From 1990 to 2007, there were 3,540 stories with the phrase Ponzi scheme in them, at least according to the magical algorithms of Google News (see the table below). In 2008 there were 2,440. In 2009, after we learned of Madoff’s scheme, it jumped to 9,140 mentions.

So far this year there have been 5,230 uses of the phrase Ponzi scheme. Clearly Madoff is the root cause of many, but if we search for mentions without the word “Madoff” we find 2,550 mentions. In other words, the phrase remains popular – especially if you’re a candidate for the Republican nomination for president.

 

All mentions of Ponzi scheme in Google News searches Mentions of Ponzi via Google News without also mentioning Madoff Percent (rounded) of Non-Madoff Ponzi scheme mentions
2011 5,230 2,550 49%
2010 2,960 1,460 49%
2009 9,140 2,810 31%
2008 2,440 526 22%
2000-2007 1,960 1,950 100%
1990-1999 1,580 1,580 100%
1920 4 4 100%

 

Oh, in the table above, the four stories in 1920 are of the arrest of the man himself – Mr. Ponzi. I couldn’t resist tossing that in for historical reference.

To be fair, we can’t blame this overuse only on politicians. Journalists, too, love a good shortcut. First, it’s like code to help a story make sense to the audience. Second, it lets you get the story out of the way so you can move on to more important things, like happy hour.

But the phrase has other uses. For example, various online poker sites have been labeled little more than Ponzi schemes in recent news stories. Full disclosure, about $21 of my money is sitting at Full Tilt Poker. Hello. I’d like it back.

Of late, the GOP candidates have used Ponzi scheme to describe everything from Social Security to Barack Obama’s economic plans. A separate Google News search for both the phrase and various Republican candidate names landed Rick Perry in first place (428 stories that mention both his name and the phrase, at least he’s leading in something), followed by Mitt Romney. I admit this is an imperfect search approach, but the results don’t really surprise. Following these two come Herman Cain, Michelle Bachmann, and Newt Gingrich.

I expected more out of Gingrich. Very disappointing.

You can have fun with this at home. For example, here’s a search I did just a moment ago. The first hit is a letter to the editor, the second a story about Perry and Social Security. The rest are a mix of Madoff and Perry stories, with an international story thrown in for good measure.

And on the second page of hits is perhaps the most important one of all – about Full Tilt Poker.

Yeah, I’d like my $21 back.

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When it Comes to Recycling — the South Lags http://likethedew.com/2011/10/27/when-it-comes-to-recycling-the-south-lags/ http://likethedew.com/2011/10/27/when-it-comes-to-recycling-the-south-lags/#comments Thu, 27 Oct 2011 16:18:19 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=31865 Here in Athens, our city-county commissioners recently pushed through single-stream recycling.  In other words, folks no longer have to sort stuff into bins for pickup.  With recycling on my mind, I wrote about it recently in my local daily newspaper and I’ll revisit aspects of that column below.  Here, though, I want to focus on the South and whether we (the royal we, as in those lucky enough to live in the South) recycle as much as the rest of the country.

Being a numbers geek, I of course went to the data.

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Recycle ManHere in Athens, our city-county commissioners recently pushed through single-stream recycling. In other words, folks no longer have to sort stuff into bins for pickup. With recycling on my mind, I wrote about it recently in my local daily newspaper and I’ll revisit aspects of that column below. Here, though, I want to focus on the South and whether we (the royal we, as in those lucky enough to live in the South) recycle as much as the rest of the country.

Being a numbers geek, I of course went to the data.

In this case I used a national survey (go here for raw questions and results) that included, for some odd reason, recycling behaviors. To me, the most likely explanation of whether one recycles is the place you live. My mom, for example, lives in my hometown of Lawrenceburg, TN, a small place where there’s no driveway pickup of recyclables. She recycles, but not a lot, because she’s got to sort it and load it in her aging Taurus and deliver it to a nearby center. So you’d expect people who live in smaller communities to report less recycling because doing so is not so simple or easy.

The survey lets us examine this in a rough way as it divides communities into four sizes: the largest 25 counties in terms of population, those over 150,000 (but not in top 25), those 35,000 to 150,000, and then a fourth catch-all category that includes my Lawrence County, Tenn.

The result? Not good for the South.

Check out the table below (paper recycling only). Simply put — size matters. As the population size of one’s county increases, so does the likelihood of people saying they recycle. It’s not perfect, but the trend is obvious as we move from left-to-right, from smaller to larger counties.

Percent who Recycle Paper

Population Size of County Live In
Under 35K 35-50K 50-150K Largest 25
Northeast 58.8 73.7 83.3 70.7
Midwest 51.0 74.5 74.2 71.8
West 50.0 68.6 69.9 81.0
South 39.4 45.9 58.1 60.8

Let’s look at the smallest counties first. In the South, only 39.4 percent of those who live in these counties report recycling paper. Then look at the other U.S. regions in the same column. About half say they recycle paper. While recycling in the South increases as community size increases, it never really closes the gap between the South and those other, less fortunate, regions of the U.S.

For plastic it’s even worse. About 35 percent who live in smaller southern counties say they recycle plastic. Elsewhere, it ranges from 53.1 to 64.7 percent. Ouch.

The Northeast outperforms the rest of the country in the smaller counties. The West does a better job in the larger cities. The South? I suppose we love our landfills and feel the need to constantly feed them. There are a lot of potential explanations for this. Perhaps counties across the South, regardless of size, simply don’t make it as easy to recycle as similar-sized counties elsewhere. Maybe it’s a function of poverty. Or maybe we prefer to put our recyclables up on cinder blocks in the front yard for our neighbors to admire.

Or it may be – I’m sorry to raise this – about race.

I didn’t expect this, but when I constructed a model to predict recycling I tossed in all the usual suspects – age, education, income, sex, and yes … race. I also included such factors as whether you own your own home, whether you live in a house versus an apartment or mobile home, and a whole bunch of other stuff, some of which you can find discussed in the link above to my newspaper column. Even with all those factors statistically controlled for, African-Americans were still significantly less likely to report recycling. It’s a powerful relationship and one I can’t easily explain. It may be cultural, or it may be simply access to good recycling programs. I honestly don’t know.

On the good news side, if you include all these other factors, living in the South doesn’t play as much a role in whether or not you recycle. It’s still there, sorry to say, but not as pronounced.

Finally, to my column mentioned above. In it, I opened by asking whether recycling was a function of being liberal versus conservative. Tree-hugging liberals, I assumed, would out-recycle those tree-killing conservatives. Nope. Liberals and conservatives report recycling at the same level. You can skim the results in my column, but I doubt many will surprise, such as the role of owning a house or education (both positive predictors, along with a lot of other stuff).

The column’s main question, though, was whether recycling was like voting, a political act, or more like being involved in your community. Through the magic of multivariate analysis I concluded it’s more like being involved in your community. I’m not sure how this speaks to the South’s dismal record of recycling, maybe it doesn’t at all, but it does say something about people in general and how recycling is connected to community involvement. That’s a good starting point.

 

 

 

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Obama and the Birthers. Again http://likethedew.com/2011/10/24/obama-and-the-birthers-again/ http://likethedew.com/2011/10/24/obama-and-the-birthers-again/#comments Mon, 24 Oct 2011 20:43:27 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=31722 Why? Because I recently finished some research on the movement and what factors predict the likelihood to see Obama as born somewhere other than the U.S. Any publicity, for me, is good publicity.

Sitting in an academic journal’s queue for consideration is my study entitled Obama and the Birthers, followed by a colon and then what the study is really about. Yeah, the left side of the colon sounds like the name of a really bad 1960 pop band, but this colon thing is a rule. You have to have a sexy title, followed by a colon, and then the boring descriptive stuff. It’s called titular colinicity. And no, I didn’t it up.  It only sounds like something I’d make up.

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Rick Perry, I love you.

The Republican candidate raised not-so-subtle doubts about President Barack Obama’s birth certificate this past weekend and I’ve never been so happy to see the birther movement reinvigorated.

Why? Because I recently finished some research on the movement and what factors predict the likelihood to see Obama as born somewhere other than the U.S. Any publicity, for me, is good publicity.

Sitting in an academic journal’s queue for consideration is my study entitled Obama and the Birthers, followed by a colon and then what the study is really about. Yeah, the left side of the colon sounds like the name of a really bad 1960 pop band, but this colon thing is a rule. You have to have a sexy title, followed by a colon, and then the boring descriptive stuff. It’s called titular colinicity. And no, I didn’t it up.  It only sounds like something I’d make up.

The research paper is being considered for publication but I’ll sketch out some of the results here. The study, based on a national survey of 1,240 U.S. adults, found that racism plays a big role in who thinks Obama has invented a Hawaii birth certificate and was secretly born in some other country or, possibly, on some other planet.

That’s the real finding, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

First, you have to look at something called the theory of motivated reasoning, which is an academic way of saying people believe whatever the hell they want to believe – and damn all evidence to the contrary. Once we establish the theoretical base, we can move on to the results.

What I did was toss a whole bunch of factors into a multiple regression model to see what ingredients remain and what ingredients no longer matter. In other words, stuff like education and age and ideology statistically control for one another to find out which really matter and which are mere pretenders to the misperception throne.

The bottom line: those who believed Obama was born outside the U.S. tended to be less educated, female, from the South (ouch), and less knowledgeable about politics. Even with a bunch of other statistical controls, racism still matters. The higher you’re racism score based on an index of several questions, even after controls for your own race, income, all the rest – the more likely you were to say Obama was not born in the U.S.

Here’s some interesting media news. Reading paper newspapers or listening to the radio, those doesn’t matter, but folks who watch television news were significantly less likely to say Obama was born elsewhere. That’s the good news, that TV news moderates this misperception. Too bad I couldn’t break it down to the kind of TV news you watch (Fox, MSNBC, CNN, etc.). But the folks who read blogs, they were more likely to say Obama is not a U.S. citizen. Given the partisan nature of blogs, this isn’t really surprising, though it is kinda sad.

The takeaway? Racism matters. In some earlier unpublished work I’d found racism also plays a significant role in the likelihood of folks in a different national survey to believe Obama was secretly a Muslim. Why? People who don’t like Obama, especially for racial reasons, need a more politically correct way to dislike the guy. Yes, there are lots of policy reasons to fault the president on, but apparently it’s easier to let religion and birthplace act as a surrogate for racist beliefs.

We never seem to learn.

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May 25 and That Sense of Wonder http://likethedew.com/2011/05/23/may-25-and-that-sense-of-wonder/ http://likethedew.com/2011/05/23/may-25-and-that-sense-of-wonder/#respond Mon, 23 May 2011 22:34:48 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=24930 May 25 is an important space date.  Why?

  • Fifty years ago this day, President John F. Kennedy announced before a joint session of Congress his plan to land “a man on the Moon” by the end of the decade.
  • And 34 years ago this day, the first (or fourth, depending on your level of geekdom) the Star Wars movie premiered in theaters and stunned audiences with its visuals.

On the first, I was a mere 3 years old so you’ll forgive me if I really don’t remember the speech.  But on the second I was a college freshman standing in line on a rainy Florence, Ala., night to buy tickets for this movie everyone was talking about.

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May 25 is an important space date.  Why?

  • Fifty years ago this day, President John F. Kennedy announced before a joint session of Congress his plan to land “a man on the Moon” by the end of the decade.
  • And 34 years ago this day, the first (or fourth, depending on your level of geekdom) the Star Wars movie premiered in theaters and stunned audiences with its visuals.

On the first, I was a mere 3 years old so you’ll forgive me if I really don’t remember the speech.  But on the second I was a college freshman standing in line on a rainy Florence, Ala., night to buy tickets for this movie everyone was talking about.

Settle in, because this is where I desperately try in a few words to turn a calendar coincidence into something meaningful.  Failing that, I’ll eat up a few minutes of your time that you’ll never get back.

Let’s start May 25.

On this date, back in 240 BC, the passage of Halley’s Comet was first recorded – or so says that source of all knowledge, Wikipedia.   It’s a space thing too.  Unfortunately there aren’t any other space anniversaries on this date, so I can stretch this calendar metaphor only so far before the space-time continuum begins to unravel.   Instead, I’ll stick with the man on the moon and Star Wars (for you geeks, that’s Episode IV: A New Hope.  Yes, I had a lengthy discussion about this last week with my teenage son).

The Kennedy announcement was a moment of hope, a challenge to a nation by its young, charming president.  To put a man on the Moon.  Wow.  Try describing to kids today how technologically challenging that seemed back then, try telling them about how it felt as much like science fiction as it did science fact.

It was a big deal.  Need proof?

Deep in my stash of dusty albums (//www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DvkPSwwVVQ

records?), somewhere between the Rolling Stones and Jefferson Airplane, there’s an album of the Apollo 11 spaceflight.

Yes, as an album.

Someone gave it to me when I was a kid.  It’s full of the chatter back and forth between Houston and the spacecraft as it hurtled toward the Moon and, upon landing, Neil Armstrong uttering that famous phrase: “Houston, Tranquility Base here.  The Eagle has landed.”

Those words still give me a chill.  Maybe you had to be there with the rest of America, hunched around television sets, for it to have that effect.

Movies are like that too, that shared sense of wonder, though obviously on less grand scale.  While I love my DVDs and streaming a movie via Netflix, those experiences will never replace the shared moment of watching a terrific film you’ve been dying to see in a dark room with a few of your friends and a lot of likeminded complete strangers.  Oh, and there’s the smell of popcorn.

For me, good recent shared movie moments are the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or perhaps the Harry Potter films.  And for some of us, maybe it was that first Star Wars movie (or fourth movie, I know – get a life, geeks).

I suppose every day is special.  Certainly with the magic of the Internet you can find a long list of events tied to any particular date – useful for something to talk about at parties or as gist for yet another online essay designed to take up digital space.   In this case, though, I find it mildly meaningful that Star Wars and Kennedy’s call for a man on the Moon fell on the same day.

Because in many ways, our sense of wonder has been diminished.  And that’s too bad.

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Conspiracies Never Grow Old http://likethedew.com/2011/05/18/conspiracies-never-grow-old/ http://likethedew.com/2011/05/18/conspiracies-never-grow-old/#comments Wed, 18 May 2011 06:49:57 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=24590 “A” may be for Apple and ”J” for Jacks, at least in sweet breakfast cereal, but not when it comes to conspiracy theories.

In Conspiracy Theories in American History, “A” is for Abolitionists and “Z” is for ZOG, an acronym for Zionist Occupied Government.  Those are the first and last entries in the weighty two-volume encyclopedia edited by Peter Knight.

Never has a book about conspiracies seemed such a fitting read.

We live in an age of conspiracism that one Newsweek writer described as “a religion that blends faith and doubt.” Today we have “birthers” and we have “truthers” and we have ...

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“A” may be for Apple and ”J” for Jacks, at least in sweet breakfast cereal, but not when it comes to conspiracy theories.

In Conspiracy Theories in American History, “A” is for Abolitionists and “Z” is for ZOG, an acronym for Zionist Occupied Government.  Those are the first and last entries in the weighty two-volume encyclopedia edited by Peter Knight.

Never has a book about conspiracies seemed such a fitting read.

We live in an age of conspiracism that one Newsweek writer described as “a religion that blends faith and doubt.”

Today we have “birthers” and we have “truthers” and we have people who fear a vast secret plot to bring about a single world government – people who’ve clearly never watched the European Union try to reach a rational decision.

This is nothing new.  America has always had conspiracy theories.  As Robert Alan Goldberg notes in the book’s historical overview, the Puritans looked upon native Americans as “minions of Satan” and part of a “Satanic conspiracy.”   In the 1600s there were witches in Salem, and in 1712 New York, fears of a “bloody conspiracy” among slaves.

We’ve had Illuminati and Freemasons, enough to fuel any number of bad books and forgettable movies.

I’m hardly the first to draw a conspiratorial line to our present-day wingnuts.  In an excellent piece in the New York Times, Kate Zernike notes our historical love for conspiracies and cites some of the leading scholars in the field.

I’m hardly a leading scholar in conspiracies, but in my own research I’ve examined those who believe Barack Obama to secretly be a Muslim while, at the same time, managing to criticize him for his former Chicago Christian pastor.

Using national survey data, I found partisanship and racism play a big role in predicting who believed Obama was Muslim.  Keep in mind, as many as one-in-five American adults suspected he was lying about his religion.

I also thought reading or watching mainstream news, which went out of its way to correct this misperception, would help make people more accurate.  Nope.

Without getting too PhDeebish, a good theoretical approach to understanding this is something called motivated reasoning, which essentially tells us that people believe what they want to believe, especially when it’s bad about someone they don’t already like.

Or, as the guy who created the theory said, “people are more likely to arrive at those conclusions that they want to arrive at.”

I’m pretty sure he’s part of some conspiracy theory.

Right now I’m analyzing national survey data to understand the birth certificate-challenged folks who continue to believe Obama was born outside the U.S., and again the role the media and racism play in such beliefs.

Why racism?  Because while it’s politically incorrect to use race as a reason to not like our first black president, latching onto doubts about his religion or birthplace can act as a damn good surrogate.  In other words, it provides good cover.  In my first study above, after statistically controlling for a host of other factors, racism still predicted the perception that Obama was a closet Muslim.

All well and good, but what’s wrong with a good old fashioned conspiracy theory?

Nothing at all.

Scholars argue conspiracy theories go back as far as the ancient Greeks and, like the poor, they will always be with us.

But I can’t help but think that the Internet has helped nudge us into a whole new realm of wingnutdom.  Every blog is a printing press, every tweet a broadcast.  With the good of the digital revolution, that everyone is able to comment and communicate and have their say, comes the bad – that everyone is able to comment and communicate and have their say.  No matter how dumb their “say” happens to be.

In honor of this, drawing from the encyclopedia of the crazy, here are some of my favorites:

  • Flouridation of the drinking water, made infamous in Dr. Strangelove (precious bodily fluids), caused any number of conspiracies including one that it was a communist plot to make people docile.  It also has Nazis, an added plus in any decent conspiracy theory.
  • Father Coughlin was a rabble rousing Catholic priest who used radio to assert that Jews had conspired to create The Great Depression.  Glenn Beck is often compared to Coughlin, in part due to their shared love of conspiracy theories, in part due to their mastery of the media.
  • Credit card data and the mark of the beast is one pushed by a number of folks, including Pat Robertson.   It’s all tied into 666.  Too much math.
  • “Americans Beware” is a forged encyclical supposedly from Pope Leo XIII that calls on Catholics to save America from the Protestants.  As a practicing Catholic, I’m all about this one.  We’ve already got a lock on the Supreme Court.  Fear us.
  • “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” is one we all know about, the nutjob document about a Jewish cabal bent on ruling the world.  Copies continue to float around the Middle East and, no doubt, in a few crazy militia camps in Idaho.
  • And every UFO conspiracy ever invented.   These are great.  The X-files has an entry too.  As it should.

It’s a fun read.  And a little scary.

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What’s In a Name? Everything http://likethedew.com/2010/09/04/whats-in-a-name-everything/ http://likethedew.com/2010/09/04/whats-in-a-name-everything/#comments Sun, 05 Sep 2010 02:01:23 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=10900 What’s In a Name? An awful lot when you’re a parent waiting for that first child.  A baby’s name is the stuff of negotiation, family history, a sense of how it all flows together, and of course the single most important factor – not naming the  kid after someone you always hated.  Life’s too short to live with that.

The Social Security Administration is good for a lot of things, especially a check once a month if you happen to be retired.  It also boasts this neat site that records and tabulates all the baby names under which people apply for social security numbers or, sometimes, through other historical documents.

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What’s In a Name?

An awful lot when you’re a parent waiting for that first child.  A baby’s name is the stuff of negotiation, family history, a sense of how it all flows together, and of course the single most important factor – not naming the  kid after someone you always hated.  Life’s too short to live with that.

The Social Security Administration is good for a lot of things, especially a check once a month if you happen to be retired.  It also boasts this neat site that records and tabulates all the baby names under which people apply for social security numbers or, sometimes, through other historical documents.

You can have a lot of fun with this kind of site.

For example, if we use the broad Census designation of what lucky states get to be considered the South (Delaware? Really guys?), the breakdown of favorite boy baby name goes something like this:

Favorite Boy Names by Region
Year South Northeast North Central West
1988 Christopher Michael Michael Michael
1998 Jacob Michael Jacob Jacob
2008 William Michael Jacob Ethan

In 1988 all four sections of the U.S. went with the name and only the South – being the South – took a different path and preferred Christopher.  By 1998, the South went with Jacob (full disclosure, my son’s name, so a brilliant choice).  The North Central and West agreed.  The Northeast?  Still stuck with Michael.

I suppose they really liked that John Travolta movie.

By 2008, the South had moved on again, shifting to William as its favorite among boy names.  The North Central stuck with Jacob, the West with Ethan.  The Northeast?  Michael.

Here’s an interesting factoid.  In 1988, across all 50 states and the District of Colombia, only five boy names appeared as the top choice in all 51 cases.  Wow.  That’s a remarkable lack of diversity across a fairly diverse nation, at least when it comes to names.  By 1998 we improved, with nine different names appearing as the top choice.  And by 2008, you’ll find 14 different names.

How about the girls?

When it comes to diversity, the results look similar.  In 1988 there were only three names that landed in the top spot across 51 states and D.C.  Jessica was the first choice of 25 states, Ashley the tops in 23, and three places went with Amanda.  By 1998, we had eight different girl names snagging a top spot somewhere across the U.S., and in 2008 we had eight again, though the names were slightly different.

Below is the regional breakdown, at least as the Census folks define it:

Favorite Girl Names by Region
Year South Northeast North Central West
1988 Ashley Ashley/Jessica Ashley Jessica
1998 Hannah Emily Emily Emily
2008 Emma Ava/Emily/Isabella Ava/Emma Isabella/Olivia

First, let me say that in 1988, Ashley barely beat out Jessica in the South, 9 states to 8.  And as anyone can see, there are a bunch of ties that pop up by 2008 across the country, and some interesting developments with Ava, Isabella, and Olivia, no doubt due to recent immigration.

Oh, and let me add that my daughter’s name, Erin, doesn’t make the top of the list.  And it should.  She said so.

The Real South

If instead we use a more traditional “South” measure, you know, one with the states you’d expect to find, like Georgia and Alabama and Mississippi, and people know that iced tea must be sweet, we get:

The Real South and Names
Year Girl Names Boy Names
1988 Jessica Christopher
1998 Hannah William
2008 Madison William

As you can see the girl results change a  little compared to the Census South while the boy names stay more or less the same.

What all can you do with these data?  More than I can write here.  What’s missing is an underlying theory as to why regions of the country might prefer certain names over the others.  Immigration is one likely factor, and indeed we find Latino names more prevalent in states with strong Latino populations.  No surprise there.  But another theory may be a love of Biblical names.

Take Jacob, for example.  As I mentioned above it’s my son’t name, but we stuck him with that not due to the Bible but because of Jake Barnes, the protagonist in one of my favorite books, Hemmingway’s The Sun Also Rises (which he tried and failed to finish this summer, so what the heck does he know).  The name has grown in popularity.  Back in 1909, it was the 102nd most popular boy’s name in the U.S.  By the 1960s it slipped in popularity but since 1999 Jacob has been the single most popular name in the U.S.  Er, at least for boys.  Before that, Michael held the number one spot and today it remains #2.

I thought that perhaps the South would own those good, solid, scary, Old Testament names, but this doesn’t seem to be the case.  Once again, the data get in the way of a good theory.

Among girl names, Emma is #1 in the latest data, and for the first time ever.  It became popular in the 1990s.  Isabella is #2 and it’s a fascinating case study.  It was modestly popular from 1909 to 1948 and then disappeared from the Top 1000 list until 1990, when it began a steady climb to just below the top of the heap.

The Bad Girl Effect

Why do some names become unpopular?  One theory is the bad girl effect.

Take Paris as a girl’s name, as in Paris Hilton, she of recent arrest fame, no doubt because she was jealous of all the free publicity received by Lindsay Lohan.  The name Paris has been around for awhile, hanging around the bottom of the U.S. list, but it began a steady climb to its highest point (#157) before dropping quickly.  If you look at the years, it becomes clear the name dropped as Ms. Hilton became, um, less popular among thinking people.  Britney hit #137 in 2000 but since then, for obvious reasons, the name fell seriously out of favor and now ranks only #689.  Lindsay climbed as high at #35.  Now it stands at #277.

The Coasts are Cool, Except Not

We all know that trends begin on the East and West coasts and migrate slowly into the lands of the great unwashed, meaning all the rest of us.  So baby names, they ought to do the same, right?

The data don’t support this theory, at least when it comes to names.

I tried Madison.  It’s an up-and-coming name (#4, up from #628 in 1985) in that originates either from a town or a Founding Father or maybe from some TV show I missed along the way.  I figured it came first from perhaps California or New York and slowly grew popular elsewhere.  Nope.  The South seems to have used this name earlier than the rest of the country.  Emma is hugely popular and seems to have come first out of the middle of the country.

So take that, California and New York.

A Clever Conclusion

This is where I try to wrap up this mess, with a clever conclusion, but honestly I don’t have one other than to invite you to play with the web site yourself.  Scroll to the bottom right corner and you can enter a name and see how it’s popularity has changed over time.  Make sure you click either boy or girl, and where it asks Number of Years put in 50 or 100, don’t leave it at the default of 0.  In the bottom left column you can click on search by state and see how your state chooses, though you have to do it year by year.

In other words, have fun.  And lemme know what you put together.

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In Praise of Episodic News http://likethedew.com/2010/08/31/in-praise-of-episodic-news/ http://likethedew.com/2010/08/31/in-praise-of-episodic-news/#comments Tue, 31 Aug 2010 19:02:48 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=10857 Right off, let's admit it’s easy to make fun of television news. If it weren’t, Jon Stewart would be out of a job.

So yes, TV news suffers from delusions of adequacy. But let’s move beyond pop criticism and look at a problem academics have often identified as one of the roots of boob tube evil, the idea that its news tends to be episodic rather than thematic. Or in the words of political scientist Shanto Iyengar, TV tends to tends to present "recurring issues as unrelated events."

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Right off, let’s admit it’s easy to make fun of television news. If it weren’t, Jon Stewart would be out of a job.

So yes, TV news suffers from delusions of adequacy. But let’s move beyond pop criticism and look at a problem academics have often identified as one of the roots of boob tube evil, the idea that its news tends to be episodic rather than thematic. Or in the words of political scientist Shanto Iyengar, TV tends to tends to present “recurring issues as unrelated events.”

Put another way, TV new stories appear as a single episode unconnected from a thematic whole.

Only if it were still so.

These concerns arise largely from research conducted in the 1980s and the early 1990s, back when the three broadcast television networks dominated the planet, when fat newspaper profit margins walked the Earth, and just before the emergence of two media institutions — talk radio and cable news — that make concerns about a lack of theme appear so very naive.

Indeed, it’s hard to find “news” today that isn’t squeezed into some narrative framework.

I use the word narrative here quite on purpose, mainly because I’ve heard it over and over again in recent weeks as partisans snipe at one another over the airwaves. Stewart blasts Fox News for avoiding stories that fail to fit its “fear-driven narrative.” Sean Hannity warns his talk radio listeners about the dangerous “liberal narrative.”

With both sides focused now on narrative, I come today to praise the episodic.

In science there are two approaches to knowledge. One is deductive reasoning, which begins with a theory and then moves to observations to test it. A lack of support means the theory needs rethinking. The other is method inductive reasoning, which begins with specific observations to arrive at some theory or explanation. If I haven’t put you to sleep yet, the difference really does matter.

News has become more deductive than inductive, more driven by an beginning theme or narrative. And that’s a damn shame.

“Opinion in all its forms,” said radio guy Ira Glass in a recent talk, “is kicking the ass of journalism.”

For those who don’t know, Glass is host of This American Life, an excellent program heard on public radio stations across the country, the kind of show definitely deserving of mention on the web site stuff white people like. But Glass has a point, a painful one. By kicking journalism’s ass, I assumed at first he meant with ratings and readers, the only true measures when it comes right down to it. Now, though, I’m convinced he means something deeper, something more sinister. I think he means the N-word. He means narrative. I also suspect he means getting at the truth, or a version of the truth, in a way mainstream media often fail to do given the constraints of journalistic practice and the artificial way, especially on TV, how stories are often told.

There’s nothing wrong with narrative.  You can read a fascinating, if somewhat academic, discussion of it here. In journalism, by narrative we typically mean a form of storytelling beyond the rat-a-tat of straight news. The Nieman folks at Harvard, for example, do a very nice job of gathering some of the best narrative journalism (see also this web site for a good read).

But these are stories, true stories, told using all the tricks found in good fiction, like plot and character and tension, with nothing invented. Truth is stranger than fiction, and it makes for damn good stories if told with skill and an eye for telling detail.

By narrative in today’s partisan battlefield, each side is painting the other as fitting facts, any facts, to a pre-existing storyline. Some might call it framing, others might call it spin, and cynics might argue it’s always been that way, but never has there been so strong a narrative in sources that demand so much attention. The TV talkers on MSNBC and Fox News come immediately to mind, but let’s not forget talk radio and a handful of web sites with the audience, and the influence, to squeeze the facts into a pre-existing storyline like a size 6 trying to fit into a size 2 dress.

This may be the future: a constellation of news sources, all with their own narrative, scooping facts from the spew of daily events and telling their truth their way. It certainly seems a more profitable approach, at least when it comes to ratings and audience. But along the way we lose a sense of common knowledge and consensus.  A starting point in our national conversation.

So I come to praise the episodic in news, the individual bit of story that stands alone outside some overall narrative about how the world is, or ought to be. Or what some talkmeister believes it should be.

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Help Palin Out http://likethedew.com/2010/04/27/help-palin-out/ http://likethedew.com/2010/04/27/help-palin-out/#comments Tue, 27 Apr 2010 23:32:20 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=9065

Sarah Palin needs a new line.  Suddenly, no one is chanting: “Drill Baby Drill.”

Maybe it’s the 11 dead from an oil well explosion last week in the Gulf of Mexico.  Maybe it’s the oil slick the size of Rhode Island now oozing its way toward the wetlands of Louisiana.  Or maybe Palin hasn’t been making many public appearances this week.

When I heard the news, I immediately called my wife, who called her sister, who said our nephew — who works the offshore wells in Louisiana — was not working that week.  Good news, at least for us.

I’m not making political hay out of the loss of life and the potential devastation to Louisiana’s priceless marshes and wetlands.  I’m a moderate when it comes to drilling.  We need to drill more and in a few places likely to get me tossed out of the Sierra Club, if I actually belonged to the Sierra Club.  But I also recognize there are limits, there are places best left untouched, and I can read the numbers.  The amount of oil we can produce isn’t all that much in the grand scheme of things.  Saudi Arabia we ain’t.

No, what pisses me off more are chants by people who’ve probably never seen an oil well, the same folks who think a line that would fit on a bumpersticker equals wisdom.

“Drill Baby Drill.”  Sounds like a bunch of sophomoric frat boys egging on a fellow member as he, well, never mind what he might be doing.  Needless to say, it’s a stupid chant.  Which brings us back to Palin.

Where the hell is Sarah Palin?

On Fox News, I suppose.  She’s sure not leading the “drill” chant this week and not for a couple of months until the political statute of limitations on tasteless and brainless rants manages to expire.  I suppose she could make do with “Mine Baby Mine” as the West Virginia coal mine tragedy sinks slowly — but not completely — off the news agenda, but it seems a bit soon for that, even for her.

This leaves our favorite former governor with a shortage of bumpersticker chants for rallies, and therefore way too much time to fill with her own words.  She’s needs help, so let’s market test a few:

  • Spend Baby Spend (no, wait, that would work only for Dems).
  • Tax Baby Tax (ditto).
  • No Baby No (er, I’m not going there).
  • Deregulate Baby Deregulate (too many syllables, and stupid too, given the financial meltdown).
  • Bomb Baby Bomb (insert Iran or North Korea, depending on the week).
  • Hair Baby Hair (maybe as a chant aimed at Romney?).
  • Dance Baby Dance (c’mon, you know some Palin kid will eventually end up on Dancing with the Stars).
  • 2012 Baby 2012 (which is either a new science fiction TV show or a vow to run).
  • Obamacare Baby Obamacare (this sounds odd, as in Michelle needs to keep an eye on this woman).
  • Baby Baby Baby (for those special nights, or special crowds.  Everyone smokes after).

So help a former governor out.  Provide her with some new chants with your comments, material she can use.  Somehow I don’t think any of mine above will make the cut.

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It’s Still Census Time … sorta http://likethedew.com/2010/04/01/its-still-census-time-sorta/ http://likethedew.com/2010/04/01/its-still-census-time-sorta/#comments Thu, 01 Apr 2010 22:01:49 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=8738

So how’s the Census doing?  I’m glad you asked.

Nationwide, last I checked, the participation rate stands at about 50 percent. Not too shabby, if you want to count half the people. And I’ve met a lot of folks I’d rather not count.

For those of you who feel lucky because you didn’t get the long form – don’t. There is no long form this year, only the short version. Since 1940 a certain number of households, often one-out-of-six, got a longer proctologist-like version that asked about everything from whether a household had indoor plumbing to how long it took to drive to work every day. Don’t fret. The data are still being collected, but now through the American Community Survey.

But let’s return to participation and look at what states are doing the best.

North and South Dakota lead the U.S. in participation. Maybe this is some kind of state sibling rivalry. Then again, it’s easy to be ahead when you have so few people living in a place that’s so cold and there’s not a hell of a lot else to do. Oddly, the top five states are contiguous (the list includes, in order as I write this, Nebraska, Iowa, and Wisconsin). Northern states, all of them.

Look at the map below. Darker colors represent lower participation, lighter colors represent states whose residents enjoy filling out federal forms on time. See that dark ribbon of states along the lower half of the U.S., stretching from sea to shining sea? How often do Georgia and Alabama get the chance to be grouped with California? Not often. A few geographic oddballs also join the under-50 percent club: New York and Maine and West Virginia, the last one easily explained. Those people have better things to do, like partying before the Final Four.

Want to look at a neat interactive map to track participation? Go here and follow the directions. You can look at states or even burrow down to the county level. But I did some of the work for you.

In Georgia, Taliaferro County comes in last place with a measly 18 percent participation rate, followed by Glascock, Webster, Baker, and Echols counties. Counties in Metro Atlanta have the highest participation. In order, the top counties at the time I wrote this were Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett, and Cobb.

And now the fun part.

Dig deeper, down to the city level. Or do what I did, which was download a spreadsheet of all cities, counties, and census tracts in Georgia because, I admit it, I’m a numbers nerd. A place called Edge Hill comes in at a whopping 10 percent participation rate. Last place.

Why?

Edge Hill is tiny. It lies in Glascock County and is, according to Wikipedia at least, the smallest town in Georgia. I’ve never been there except through the magic of Google Maps, but in the 1990 Census it boasted 22 residents. By 2000, the number had shot up to 30. Someone got busy and popped out a few kids, because by 2008 it was up to 33 folks. If only 10 percent have filled out their 2010 census form, that means a grand total of 3 participants this year.

With small size, apparently, comes small responsibility.

I’ll keep monitoring Edge Hill for further developments.

So what’s it all mean? Well, you have to love the Census folks for choosing April 1 as their big “send in your form” day. But I did mine, or rather my wife did ours and I assume she included me in the household. Unfortunately, my home county – Clarke – is below the state and national participation average, even though we have a snazzy Facebook group page designed to get people to fill out their forms.

Then again, it’s springtime. There are better things to do.

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Young Adults and the Borg Collective http://likethedew.com/2010/03/16/young-adults-and-the-borg-collective/ http://likethedew.com/2010/03/16/young-adults-and-the-borg-collective/#comments Tue, 16 Mar 2010 19:58:01 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=8457

According to a recent survey, 83 percent of young adults sleep with their cell phones.

And I thought my generation had all the best weird sex stuff.

When I first read this factoid, I didn’t believe it.  So I asked students in my UGA class:  “How many of you sleep with your cell phone?”  I expected maybe 25 percent would admit it.

The result?  Oh, about 83 percent said yes.

I suppose the other 17 percent can do a lot better than a “personal digital assistant” to get them through the night.

It was at home one night when I read this statistic.  Me being me, I took the low road.  I immediately wondered aloud, to my wife, if you’re sleeping with your cell phone, whose picture would you put on the screen.

“Stop,” my wife said.

“Okay, but I wonder what kind of special apps can you get for sleeping with your phone?” I started listing a few rather creative ones.

“Stop.”

“Fine.  But if you sleep with an iPhone, isn’t that…”

“Stop.”

So I did.

I get it.  By “sleep” the folks who did the survey meant — curiously — sleep.  As in slumber.  As in not what I first thought, honestly, when I read this odd and disturbing and a bit creepy statistic.  Being a cutting edge mass comm scholar who dares research the obvious, I moved quickly to validate the data.  In other words, I surveyed my two teenagers.  While Mary Ann Ferguson, my research methods professor, always warned against generalizing from an N of 1, I figured an N of 2 was at least twice as good.

“Do you sleep with your cell phone?” I asked my two kids.

It’s never too late to know whether they’re practicing safe telephony.

They stared at me like I was a taco short of a combination platter.  In other words, the way they normally look at me when I ask foolish questions like “how was school today?”.

But back to sleeping with a phone.  “No,” they both said.  Then they went back to looking at me like I’m missing a taco.

Of course they don’t — in part because they’re not quite in the 18 to 29 age group surveyed by the Pew Center, in part because they’re not fully inducted into the Borg who, if disconnected from the collective, sob like Glenn Beck.

But it tells us a lot about the millennials, that up-and-coming generation who live life by the soft glow of the small box.  If television is “the glass teat,” so aptly called by the brilliant Harlan Ellison, then we need a new name for cell phones and, most especially, smart phones.  “The Other Glass Teat” is already taken, again by Ellison (damn the man).  I’m open to suggestions.  So far, my best ideas revolve around a digital pacifier.

I originally came across the “Sleeping with the Cell” statistic in a fascinating column by Nancy Gibbs in the most recent issue of Time (Honey, I Shrunk the) magazine.  She draws heavily on this Pew study.  I suggest you read both — some of it may make you happy, some of it may make you drink, and some of it you simply won’t believe.  Two-thirds admit to texting while driving?  Really?  How come they’re still alive to be surveyed?

In her column, Gibbs calls young people “radically conventional.”  That’s a neat label.  Then she takes a hard left turn and calls them “unconventionally conventional.”  Not quite as neat a label, but both fit.  Consider these statistical tidbits from the Pew study:

  • Over half said one of the most important thing in their lives is being a good parent.
  • While nearly a third said that most important thing is having a successful marriage.
  • But they’re the “least overtly religious American generation in modern times.”  But they’re as spiritual as other generations.
  • And they’re on track to be “the most educated generation in American history.”
  • While through it all, it’s comforting they respect their elders.  “A majority say that the older generation is superior to the younger generation when it comes to moral values and work ethic.”

I left out a lot of political and media stuff, but it’s an interesting bag of consistent inconsistencies.  The most fascinating is the role of technology in their daily lives.

I’m a longtime Internet user, began in 1987 before the Web existed, but for me it’s merely a tool I turn on and I turn off.   For them it’s a seamless part of their lives.  They text, they talk, they share on social networks.

When they’re off, not tied into the collective, they’re probably asleep.

And even then I’m beginning to wonder.

So what’s it all mean?  Gibbs has a terrific hypothesis — we protected this generation so much, not even letting them go to the playground alone, that all these emerging socially-connecting media fill a need for the millennials.  “So should we be surprised that they learned to leverage technology to build community, tweeting and texting and friending while their elders were still dialing long distance?”

It’s a damn good argument.  I hate most cliches, but this perfect storm of a generation and emerging technology coming together, it will have significance in decades to come.  I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but it’ll be fun to watch.

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