Archive for the 'Soc/Pol/Econ' Category

Details, details

Sunday, September 9th, 2007

Recently in Geneva, I was filling out this visitor card in a hotel. Notice anything peculiar?

Hotel registration card

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Funny with a serious twist

Sunday, July 22nd, 2007

Chris Uggen posted this video a few days ago:

I added a link to it on my daily links list where Liz Losh saw it and then included it in a blog post “Just Say Know” discussing all sorts of parody videos and sites related to drug use including the artist-created fictional drug Web site Havidol, and this video:

These are some great parodies. Work in the field of health communication looks at the effects of health campaigns, but tends to focus on serious ones. I wonder what type of work may be going on in the domain of parody viral videos online for similar purposes.

Worst job ever?

Thursday, July 19th, 2007

Unclear why exactly:), Michael Froomkin asks the question:

What would be the most unattractive job in the regular economy? I’m not talking about the objectively least-well paid or statistically most dangerous, or most unpopular (car salesman?). I mean, what job would you least like to have. No fair saying subsistence farmer in Darfur either — I mean in the US (or other developed economy).

His response: toll booth attendant.

As I note in the comments to his post, I won’t answer, because I prefer to think about aspects of jobs I like. His post reminded me, however, of having heard once that toll booth operators have the highest suicide rate among various occupations. I decided it was time to check on this. There doesn’t seem to be much out there to support the claim. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of methodological challenges to studying the relationship between occupations and suicide rates. This piece does a good job of mentioning several of them from lack of occupational information on death certificates to numbers being too small by category for comparison. From what I’ve read after a quick search, it’s fair to say the rumors I have heard about the above relationship are pretty much unsubstantiated.

Long before becoming a card-carrying sociologist, I was interested in suicide rates.* This may have had to do with the fact that I grew up in a country with one of the highest rates of suicide. According to 2003 figures, Hungary is #6 on the list (interesting group – bottom right corner when you click through), but in the 1980s when I was growing up there, it may have been #1 judging from the figures for the other countries high on the list since some of their rates seem to have gone up while Hungary’s declined considerably [pdf] in the last couple of decades. I doubt there are many Hungarians who don’t know of people in their immediate circles who either committed or at least attempted suicide (I knew several before graduating from high school), but perhaps this is true elsewhere, too.

All of which is obviously not to say that worst job ever equals suicide. It’s just a connection I made after reading about Michael’s candidate for the distinction.

[*] Yeah, yeah, maybe I became a sociologist, because I find questios of this sort intriguing.

Apple’s iRack

Thursday, July 5th, 2007

Upcoming book event on Crooked Timber

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

In the near future, Crooked Timber will be hosting another book event. I thought it would be helpful to alert folks ahead of time so people can read the book and thereby participate in the discussions more actively and in a more informed manner.

The book is “Higher Ground: New Hope for the Working Poor and Their Children” by Greg J. Duncan, Aletha C. Huston, and Thomas S. Weisner.

During the 1990s, growing demands to end chronic welfare dependency culminated in the 1996 federal “welfare-to-work” reforms. But regardless of welfare reform, the United States has always been home to a large population of working poor— people who remain poor even when they work and do not receive welfare. In a concentrated effort to address the problems of the working poor, a coalition of community activists and business leaders in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, launched New Hope, an experimental program that boosted employment among the city’s poor while reducing poverty and improving children’s lives. [The authors] provide a compelling look at how New Hope can serve as a model for national anti-poverty policies. [source]

You can either buy the book directly from its publisher, the Russell Sage Foundation, or get it at Amazon. Chapter 1 [pdf] is available online for free.

In addition to Timberite contributions, we’ll have comments by Nancy Folbre and Kimberly Morgan plus a response by Greg Duncan.

Words from the State of the Union Address

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

Recall the pointer to the site showing tag clouds of presidential speeches since 1796 (now updated for 2007). The New York Times has done something similar with Bush’s State of the Union Addresses. It’s a neat tool, in addition to the terms shown by default on the right, you can select others or search for any term you choose above the diagram of the speeches. You also get to see the word’s context.

Fantasy Congress

Saturday, November 18th, 2006

Does anyone around here play Fantasy Congress? I’d heard about it before, but now that I was invited to join a league, I started looking into it in more depth.

As in other fantasy sports, you – the Citizen – draft a team of real-life legislators from the U.S. Congress and score points for your team’s successes.

However, as one commentator aptly notes: “[I]t’s lifelike: you win by getting bills passed, not by passing good bills.”

If you only care about winning the game, sure, you can compile a team of senators and represenatives who have an active record. But do you really want to be sitting around hoping that some real-life bill that makes your stomach turn is successful just so you can score some points in FC?

I can see the appeal to some extent, but overall I am not convinced the system is refined enough at this point to get me sufficiently enthusiastic. And while my first reaction was that at least it has educational value by teaching people about the legislative process, now I’m thinking that since it is most likely to appeal to folks who already know much about politics, it’s not clear that it will really spread the word far and wide about how the system works.

That said, I don’t have much experience with fantasy sports so I may be missing some important factors. Moreover, I do think the idea is interesting and certainly impressive that some college students thought it up and managed to execute itp. And to be fair, it sounds like its creators – four undergraduate students at Claremont McKenna – are working on refining the system.

From colonies to terrorists

Saturday, November 4th, 2006

Ooh, this is cool. You can view a tag cloud of the most common words in U.S. presidential speeches, declarations and letters since 1776. Slide the arrows on the bar to move from the representation of one document to another. The bottom of the page has a detailed description of how the tag clouds were generated, it looks like a careful approach. What a neat idea. [thanks]

Credit Slips blog

Friday, November 3rd, 2006

Credit Slips is a group blog focusing on “all things about credit and bankruptcy”. Not only does this blog have a great list of contributors, but they also bring in some star guests.

This week, Viviana Zelizer from Princeton’s Sociology Department has been guest blogging on topics ranging from the importance of personal ties in economic transactions to economic exchange across generations in families, the gendered aspects of spending and the intersection of economic transactions and intimate relations. (The latter is also the topic of her most recent book on The Purchase of Intimacy). She is great at talking about these issues so I highly recommend checking out her posts.

Full disclosure, Viviana was one of my mentors in graduate school. However, I think that makes me particularly qualified to comment on how helpful her work is in understanding questions about how social relations and cultural context influence economic processes. Be sure not to miss out on this treat.

The shocking truth: politicians lie

Wednesday, September 20th, 2006

People have been asking me to comment on the recent riots in Budapest so I thought I would say a few words. First, a necessary caveat. I don’t follow Hungarian politics closely.* In fact, I don’t follow Hungarian politics much at all. I could probably write a whole separate post as to why not, suffice it to say that I don’t live in that country for a reason (or two or three) and years ago I decided that it was simply not good for my blood pressure to keep track of events. So I don’t. That said, when something especially noteworthy happens, I am curious to know what it is and will go to Hungarian sources instead of relying on various international reports. I’ve read up on recent events a little bit so here is a quick summary.

Politicians lie. Yawn. The twist here is that apparently many Hungarians naively assumed that they don’t. Worse yet, Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány was caught on tape saying that his party lied a lot before the elections last Spring. To clarify, the instigator of the riots was not some public speech the Prime Minister made in the last few days. Rather, someone taped and recently leaked a discussion [link to Hungarian text] he had with a few top people in about 180 of his party representatives back in the Spring.

The level of honesty in his comments is naive, refreshing and scary all at the same time. Imagine if you could give some magic potion to a president or prime minister of your choice that would lead the person to talk about his/her actions and policies from the last few years completely openly and eagerly. It could result in some frightening and fascinating speeches. And who knows where that would lead.

Hungary’s got a lot of problems. The main point of Gyurcsány’s speech was that it was time to fix at least some of them. Yes, the irony is that the point of the speech was to say that it was time to stop the lies and make some difficult, but important changes.

Students organize demonstrations, because they don’t want to pay any tuition for college. Pharmacists are appalled, because the government wants to stop their monopoly on selling drugs. (You can’t even buy aspirin in Hungary anyhwere but a pharmacy. Talk about a ridiculous monopoly!) Other than public servants, almost nobody pays the taxes they should, because there are so many ways to cheat the system. So the country runs on a deficit and needs some major fixing. It’s going to be painful. It’s not as though any other political party or coalition could fix these problems without major repercussions. People are freaked out. And now the person who’s introducing painful changes is heard saying that he lied to get elected.

Many people seem naive enough to think that the other side didn’t lie before the elections. Unfortunately – and see any parallels in US politics? – for whatever reason the left won’t start pointing fingers at the right to note that for every lie Gyurcsány’s party told, Orbán’s party (the opposition) told double (if not triple or quadruple). So the question of interest in my opinion is why/how some get away with lies so much better than others. (Okay, I realize being taped admitting to lies is not helpful in keeping it out of the spotlight.)

As to the rioting, it’s probably due to a few, but enough bad elements to spin things out of control. The impression I get from talking to my parents is that the city seems to be functioning just fine and it doesn’t sound like there are major concerns about things getting much worse on that front.

[*] For those not familiar with my background, perhaps I should clarify: I was born and raised in Hungary.

Global Day for Darfur

Friday, September 15th, 2006

This Sunday, Sept 17th will be a Global Day for Darfur with demonstrations across the globe. Check the Web site to see whether there is an event in your area. (Look carefully, some of the events are being held on other days.) This page has some background information. It is unbelievably sad the extent to which this humanitarian disaster has been ignored so far.

But what if you meet a man?

Sunday, July 23rd, 2006

Interesting anecdote in the comments to this post over at Science + Professor + Woman = Me. This is a conversation between the commenter and her chair, a man, about getting the signature for two graduate students to join her lab.

    Chair: I’m not sure that I can sign off on your being the advisor for these students.

    Me [Pam]: Excuse me? (Background: two new federally-funded three-yr grants, each with a doctoral stipend available for a student)

    Chair: Well, how do I know you are not going to meet a man and run off and be with him?

    (I kid you not, he said that).

    Me: You don’t. But how do I know that you aren’t going to meet a man and run off with him, and abandon the department?

    (He didn’t think it was funny – but he signed the forms.)

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!

Friday, July 21st, 2006

…, …, …!

I’m going to Australia in about two months. I’ve been interested in visiting ever since I read Jill Ker Conway‘s Road from Coorain, which was almost 15 years ago.

The reason I’m particularly excited about all this today is because I just received my tourist visa. Via email. Cool. Yes, talk about a good use of IT by government services. I had submitted my application just four days ago. (Anyone want to tear into this regarding security concerns?)

I got very anxious earlier this week when I realized I needed a visa to go to Australia. I feel like I’ve done my fair share of standing in lines for visas at 5am. Luckily, after a bit of browsing I realized that citizens of certain countries could apply for visitor visas online.

I HATE getting tourist visas. I don’t like the process involved in getting student/work visas either, but tourist visas bother me more. I don’t see why Australia needs to know so much about my various medical conditions just to allow me to visit for a week. In any case, being able to fill out the form in my living room without having to run around for x copies of y dimension passport photos made a big difference.

My most frustrating visa experience to date was at the Canadian embassy in NYC a few years ago. It was unbelievable how they treated people. They also sent people home, one after another – after the requisite five hours of standing in the freezing cold, of course – for paperwork that they never stated was required. I decided not to return to Canada until I could go without having to obtain a visa.

Data ain’t just for geeks anymore

Wednesday, June 28th, 2006

Via Jim Gibbon I’ve discovered GapMinder. Wow! It’s a wonderful visualization tool for data. The focus is on world development statistics from the UN. The tool is incredibly user-friendly and let’s you play around with what variables you want to see, what you want highlighted in color, whether you want to log the data, what year you want to display, and whether you want to animate the time progression (oh, and how quickly).

I’ve made an example available on YouTube. (I used Gapminder to create the visualization and Hypercam to capture it.)

Here is some context for that particular graph. My first interests in research on Internet and social inequality concerned the unequal global diffusion of the medium. I wrote my senior thesis in college on this topic and then pursued it further – and thankfully in a more sophisticated manner – in graduate school. So this is a topic that has been of interest to me for a while and it’s great to be able to play with some visual representations of the data.

So what you have on the video graph is a look at Internet diffusion by income (logged) from 1990-2004. I picked color coding by income category, which is somewhat superfluous given that the horizontal access already has that information, but I thought it added a little something. (For example, to summarize the puzzle of my 1999 paper – the first to run more than bivariate analyses on these data -, it focused on explaining why all the red dots are so widely dispersed on the graph despite all representing rich long-term democratic countries.)

Thanks to the tool’s flexibility, you can change it so that the color coding signifies geographical region and could then tell immediately that what continent you are on – an argument some people in the literature tried to make – has little to do with the level of Internet diffusion.

Gapminder example

Imagine the possibilities of all this in, say, classroom presentations. Jim links to a great presentation using this tool. (Although I disagree with the presenter’s conclusion at the end about the leveling of differences regarding Internet diffusion.)

I recommend checking out the tool on your own for maximum appreciation of its capabilities.

Seminar on “The Wealth of Networks”

Tuesday, May 30th, 2006

Crooked Timber is running a seminar on Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks. The book discusses several important and interesting issues and we’re hoping that these comments will only be a start of conversations about them. The introductory post has links to all of the contributions (by Henry Farrell, Dan Hunter, John Quiggin, Eszter Hargittai, Jack Balkin and Siva Vaidhyanathan) including a response from Benkler.

Campaign songs

Sunday, May 14th, 2006

For your weekend listening pleasure, some Hungarian political campaign music. I had meant to blog about this a few weeks ago during the elections (it’s just one of about a dozen posts I haven’t managed to get around to recently), but it’s not as though it’s any less relevant now.

The song was written explicitly for the Hungarian Socialist Party‘s campaign in the recent parliamentary elections. I like it – it’s reminiscent of Hungarian pop/covertly political songs from the 1970s. I didn’t like it the first time I listened to it, but got pretty hooked the second time. I wonder if it’s at all of interest if you do not understand the language and/or are not familiar with the style. (No need to get into how unique the style is, maybe it’s not, but it still reminds me of lots of Hungarian songs from a while ago, songs that don’t tend to make it to the Billboard charts despite being quite good.)

The most commonly recurring words are “igen”, which means “yes” and “Magyarország”, which means “Hungary”. The bottom of the page suggests that the song was also made available as a ring tone for cell phones, which seems like an interesting idea.

So what are other exampes of political campaigns creating their own songs? I can think of campaigns adopting songs for their purposes and playing them at victory time, but those songs weren’t written for the campaigns explicitly. Bonus points if you can link to the examples.

The Beauty Academy of Kabul

Thursday, May 11th, 2006

A few weeks ago I saw the documentary The Beauty Academy of Kabul and wanted to recommend it as I thought it was a very interesting film. It’s playing now in a few U.S. cities and will continue to show up in a few others over the summer. (Just click on “Where to see it” on the flash page.)

A small group of American women (a couple of them immigrants from Afghanistan) decided to open up a beauty school in Kabul to train local women about their craft. (It turns out that most of these Afghani women had already been pursuing this line of work previously, but they had not received any training in a while.)

The film does a nice job of giving some historical context starting with footage from the 70s about life in Kabul and the introduction winding up with images of all the destruction on Kabul’s streets today. It is really fascinating to see the transformation. The focus is mainly on day-to-day life, a perspective we don’t usually get to see much.

The movie seems to be very honest about portraying various sides of the parties involved. Although the American women go into all this with a reasonably open mind, not surprisingly they remain naive about the local women’s lives. This comes through clearly in the footage, there does not seem to be any attempt at making them seem more sophisticated or in-touch than they are. The toughest parts, for me, were the heart-wrenching realizations about the situation of women in Afghanistan today, regardless of certain changes.

It’s a bummer that films like this don’t get wider distribution. If you happen to be in one of the few towns where it’s playing, I recommend checking it out.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation

Monday, March 20th, 2006

Two blogs with which I am affiliated – Crooked Timber and Lifehacker – made the top 10 list of referral blogs to EFF’s fundraising campaign. I was so glad to hear that!

Support Bloggers' Rights!
Support Bloggers’ Rights!

TV: Human Trafficking

Tuesday, October 25th, 2005

I’m running around all day today, but no time to wait with this post: I want to recommend Lifetime’s Human Trafficking mini-series. It aired last night (in the U.S.), but the first part will be replayed early this evening before the second part is shown.

The NYTimes quotes an immigration and customs official from the movie:

An ounce of cocaine, wholesale: $1,200, but you can only sell it once. A woman or a child, $50 to $1,000, but you can sell them each day, every day, over and over and over again. The markup is immeasurable.

The movie is well done in many ways, I recommend it.

One question I’m left with is the best ways to educate people, and especially children, about all this. A movie like this is helpful, but it’s not clear how a 12-year-old would deal with it. And then there are areas where showing such a movie is not even an option.

The NYTimes piece has a synopsis of the first part in case you can’t spend four hours on this tonight.

Yahoo!’s Hot Zone

Thursday, September 29th, 2005

Yahoo! has launched a new site: Hot Zone featuring the first news correspondent of its own: Kevin Sites. Sites will transmit news from around the world – mostly from areas underreported by the mainstream press – using various forms of media to Hot Zone readers. The articles often come with accompanying photo essays, audio or video material. Comments are open (for those with a Yahoo! ID, which readers can get for free) on the pieces so readers can contribute to the content.