Archive for the 'Soc/Pol/Econ' Category

Happy belated Arrival Day!

Thursday, September 8th, 2005

D’oh, I can’t believe I missed it. Browsing Otto Pohl’s blog I realized that Arrival Day was yesterday. The Head Heeb started the tradition of the Arrival Day Blogburst two years ago in preparation for last year’s 350th anniversary of the first Jews’ arrival in the U.S..

Each year’s blogburst has a theme. The theme this year is “American Jews as part – or, more accurately, parts – of a larger whole.”. Since I like to take this kind of an exercise seriously, I’m going to have to postpone a response not having an immediate inspiration. In the meantime, you can check out what others had to contribute.

And here is what I posted on this day last year.

Blog talk on Chicago Public Radio

Friday, June 10th, 2005

Henry Farrell of Crooked Timber and Eugene Volokh of the Volokh Conspiracy discussed the role of blogs in today’s media landscape and the potential fragmenting role of blogs more specifically speaking on Chicago Public Radio yesterday. The site offers the segment archived in .ram format.

They did a good job in general. They nicely pointed out some of the particular aspects of blogs that give them the potential to be different from communication through other media (e.g. the importance of links). One of the issues that was discussed at length had to do with the potential fragmenting role of blogs especially with respect to political discussions. I would have addressed a couple of points somewhat differently (but I wasn’t the one live on the air). I note these points here not as criticism (as I said, they did a really nice job discussing various issues), but simply to move the discussion from the radio show into the blogosphere.

1) A listener asked whether there are blogs that aggregate different perspectives on an issue. Both Henry and Eugene suggested that this does not occur much in the blogosphere. Although it may be true that “blogs” per se do not do this often, there are Web sites out there that present the various sides of issues, they are just not necessarily called blogs. I realize the show was about blogs, but where/how do we draw the line? I’m thinking about sites like . There are also blog aggregators of sort that point to blogs of different stripes equally and at the same hierarchical level, so to speak, although I realize those pointers are not necessarily to posts on the same issue. Moreover, during campaign seasons there are sites that show you where different candidates come down on an issue (example: OnTheIssues). Again, not blogs per se, but online resources and in some cases also interactive.

2) Regarding the potential fragmenting role of blogs in the political realms both Henry and Eugene seemed to suggest that there is definitely potential for that. It is a tricky question. It is hard to say whether in this day and age of talk radio representing very particular sides blogs are really doing that much *more* to fragment people into isolated groups. Henry kindly mentioned the study with which I am involved regarding blogger ideological cross-linking to note that we do know of some interlinking among bloggers representing different perspectives although not that much. One of the challenges of that study and answering this question in general is that there is not that much “before” data on fragmentation so it is hard to say whether blogs are really *changing* things for the worse per se (“worse” depending on your take on the issue).

Overall, the radio show presents a very nice discussion of blogs, it is worth checking out if your machine accomodates .ram files. (NPR – Won’t you please expand the formats you support?!)

Help Wanted – Supreme Court Justice

Saturday, June 4th, 2005

NARAL Pro-Choice Help Wanted Supreme Court Justice

AUT boycott follow-up

Monday, May 16th, 2005

From the APSA:

“The American Political Science Association, through action by its Council and its Committee on Professional Ethics, Rights, and Freedoms, supports the views expressed in the May 3, 2005 statement by the AAUP against academic boycotts. We join in condemning the resolutions of the AUT that damage academic freedom and we call for their repeal.”

I am waiting for the American Sociological Association to follow with a similar statement. According to Jeff Weintraub, the ASA Council has taken the matter under consideration, but no outcome so far.

Oppose the Blacklist of Israeli Academics

Monday, May 9th, 2005

Jeff Weintraub has posted a petition calling on all academic and scholarly associations to join the AAUP in condemning the boycott of Israeli universities and academics. The American Sociological Association and the American Political Science Association are singled out as associations that should endorse the AAUP’s statement. You can add your signature to the petition here.

Last Days

Monday, May 9th, 2005

Yom Hashoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day – was just a few days ago. I thought I would post a note about one of the most difficult films I have ever seen: Spielberg’s “The Last Days”. It documents the final stages of the war when it was clear that Hitler was going to lose yet the Nazis did all that they could to continue to kill as many Jews as possible managing to annihilate over 400,000 Hungarian Jews in just two months. The movie looks at the lives of five Hungarian Jews who escaped to the U.S. and revisits the locations of their past with them. One of the people featured is California Congressman Tom Lantos. The movie is very effective. Although it is impossible to understand fully what these people experienced, this film brings you very close to the events. I did have one problem with it though. It completely ignores the plight of the thousands who returned after the war and had to start their lives over in the country that had taken everything away from them. I am surprised that the movie is rated PG13. Some of the images are among the most disturbing ones I have ever seen, certainly not for the faint of heart.

For some more personal thoughts on Yom Hashoah, check out this post over at Is That Legal?. (Be forewarned: difficult images.)

Crosses, crescents and another anti-Israel boycott

Wednesday, May 4th, 2005

Jeff Weintraub (via Normblog) writes a post I have been meaning to write forever. It relates to why I don’t donate [1] to the Red Cross: the International Federation’s refusal to grant the Israeli branch – Magen David Adom – full membership. The post is motivated by this editorial in The New York Times. The author of the editorial explains:

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies includes Red Cross organizations from North Korea, Iran and Cuba, but not from Israel. The reason it gives is that the corresponding Israeli society, Magen David Adom, uses the Jewish star as its emblem and will not adopt the red cross or red crescent, emblems that are recognized by the Geneva Conventions and the international Red Cross movement. Understandably, the Israelis do not want to adopt either of these emblems because they are heavy with religious meaning.

It seems like the issue is all about symbols. But as Jeff Weintraub notes, the opposition to admit the Israeli branch comes from particular countries and reflects more politics than a conflict over images.

Opposition by Red Crescent branches from Islamic countries, including but not restricted to the Arab world, has always been the decisive factor preventing the inclusion of Israel. It is now more than a half-century since the creation of Israel, and it is time for these countries to come to terms with Israel’s existence – not to endorse Israel’s policies, or even necessarily to make peace with Israel (if that seems too radical), but just to accept its existence. If they can’t bring themselves to do this, then at least the international Red Cross/Red Crescent organization should do so.

The NYTimes editorial ends by explaining why it is ironic and troubling for the actions of an organization such as the ICRC to be so politically motivated:

Despite all the talk of emblems, it is politics that have impeded Israel’s entry. That situation puts the Red Cross movement in an unfortunate position. The International Committee of the Red Cross, the arm of the movement that works in conflict zones and visits prisoners, often finds itself urging nations to put politics aside and do the right thing, such as in its current work on behalf of the detainees at the American prison in Guantánamo Bay. It will be in a better position to make these moral appeals when it can show that it is part of a movement that does what is right, rather than what is politically expedient, when it comes to running its own shop.

1. Of course, my actions may well be unfair to the American Red Cross given that it has tried to pressure the International Red Cross to ending its boycott of the Israeli organization. Nonetheless, there are enough other organizations in need of donations that I will continue to channel my support away from ones with strong ties to such overt anti-Israel stances.

Feminist humanist modern version Haggadah for Passover

Tuesday, April 19th, 2005

It’s that time of year again when the Passover page on my Web site starts attracting lots of visitors. A few years ago I compiled a feminist humanist modern version Haggadah for Passover as the traditional ones I could find did not meet my needs. I would have preferred to just grab one from a Web site, but none provided the type I was seeking. Once compiled, I figured others may find it helpful as well so I decided to post it. Feel free to grab a copy if it is of interest. It contains no references to a higher power, it includes an orange on the Seder plate, it is inclusive in language to both Jews and non-Jews and it refers to contemporary plagues such as hunger, war and racism. It is certainly not meant to offend. It is meant to offer people an alternative that better aligns with their beliefs and concerns about the world. (The Web page does not contain a Creative Commons license because I myself grabbed most of the material from elsewhere so it’s not really up to me to make a decision on that. I credit the sources on the document and include links to their Web sites. )

More traffic coming to a Chicago street near you

Friday, April 15th, 2005

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) is facing some major budget crises and has been contemplating various ways to deal with it. This week, the CTA decided to propose a plan that would cut dozens of bus routes AND the Evanston Purple Line express that runs during rush hours on weekdays. This would be extremely unfortunate for those of us in Evanston who use the Purple express.. and pretty much anyone between us and our destinations. I suspect those of us who have the alternative of getting into our cars will opt to do so. This will cause increases in traffic.. obviously not just in Evanston but to and from our destinations as well. It will be especially unfortunate for parking at Northwestern, which is already in a bad state. I foresee more and more people deciding to drive to work instead of taking the El. Overall, the environment won’t thank us for these changes either.

One of the most shocking parts of all this is that the one area in which the CTA decided to recommend no changes is charges to tourists! That is one of the most likely populations to go along with whatever changes are implemented so why leave them out of the plans?

Where does our money go?

Tuesday, April 12th, 2005

John Maeda has some nice visualizations comparing U.S. tax dollars spent on science vs the arts or the Whitewater/Lewinsky Investigations vs the 9/11 Commission. His source is an article in Parade whose print version apparently has much more info than the online one. [via]

The “man date”

Tuesday, April 12th, 2005

If there wasn’t such a stigma attached to being gay for so many, would men really have to be so paranoid about catching up with a male friend? It seems like such an unfortunate waste of energy to tiptoe around these situations. Of course, I understand why I can’t simply say “So what if someone thinks you’re gay even if you are not?” given that it may have implications depending on the circumstances. But that is what’s so unfortunate.

60 years ago today

Monday, April 4th, 2005

Since you can’t find this anywhere online and I think it’s worth a mention, I thought I’d do the honors. April 4, 1945 was the end of World War II in Hungary. When I was growing up, it was referred to as the day the country had been liberated and big celebrations ensued with one of my favorite Soviet-era songs (“Április négyrõl szóljon az ének..”). Not surprisingly that approach didn’t survive the political changes of the 1990s. Nonetheless, the fact that the significance of this day in the country’s history has been completely obliterated saddens me and leaves me frustrated. Talk about the social construction of holidays and historical dates. I would be much less bitter about all of this if the country had decided to commemorate the end of World War II on some other day, for example, the end of the war in Europe or across the world. But no such luck. Ignoring this issue is completely consistent with Hungary’s inability to face up to its horrific role in that war. Celebrating the war’s end would mean acknowledging that the country had anything to do with it and that’s clearly asking too much.

Sociology & the Internet mini-conference at the Easterns

Saturday, March 12th, 2005

For the Eastern Sociological Society meetings next week, I organized a mini-conference on Sociology & the Internet. The following three panels are part of this mini-conference.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Can Blogs Influence Public Policy?

* Tyler Cowen, George Mason University
* Henry Farrell, George Washington University
* Eszter Hargittai, Northwestern University
* Amy Sullivan, The Washington Monthly, Princeton University

Discussant: Jeff Weintraub, Lehigh University and University of Pennsylvania

Friday, March 18, 3005

Information Technology and Public Policy

* Regulating E-Commerce: Domestic Sources of State Power and the Role of State-Private Actor Relations, Henry Farrell, George Washington University

* Sociological Impacts on Web Site Accessibility: Why won’t it help to build a better software tool?, Jonathan Lazar, Towson University

* The Impact of Technology on Work-Life Balance, Leslie Cintron, Washington and Lee University

* Worldwide Data Documentation Standards and the Future of Social Science Research, Grant Blank, American University

Discussant: Timothy Shortell, Brooklyn College

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Digital Inequality

* Does The Digital Divide Explain Racial Differences in School Achievement? Caroline Persell, New York University

* Explaining the Diffusion of Broadband among Internet Users, John Horrigan, Pew Internet and American Life Project

* Media Use and Inequality in Access to Information: Does the Internet Level the Playing Field? Steven Shafer, Princeton University and Paul DiMaggio, Princeton University

* New Dimensions of the Digital Divide: Differences in Young Adults’ Use of the Internet, Eszter Hargittai, Northwestern University and Amanda Hinnant, Northwestern University

There is one more Internet-related panel at the meetings:

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Social Interaction via the Internet

* Harnessing Social Interaction: How We Use the Internet to Shape and Control Interpersonal Contact, Mary Chayko, College of Saint Elizabeth

* Ethical Dilemmas in Web-based Qualitative Research: The Case of Online Message Board Communities, Laura West Steck, University of Connecticut and Tamara Smith, University at Albany, State University of New York

* “Rupert Rocks and Ali’s Awful”: Analysis of Viewers’ Favorite Players on Survivor and Big Brother, Beth Montemurro, Penn State University and Colleen Bloom, Rutgers University; Sharon Gerczyk, Penn State University

Smith Princeton engineering student exchange

Thursday, January 6th, 2005

My two alma maters are working together to create new opportunities for women engineering students.

Privacy in the age of blogging

Monday, December 20th, 2004

This on CT.

Jeffrey Rosen has a piece in yesterday’s NYTimes Magazine about the practice of blogging intricate details about one’s dating and sex life on one’s blog. (I was going to say “one’s private life”, but how private is it once it’s been blogged and read by hundreds?) As usual with journalistic pieces such as this one, it is hard to tell how widespread the phenomenon is, but it is out there to some extent and may be worth some thought. I certainly know that people in my social circles – friends, family members, colleagues – do wonder what I will and will not blog about from our interactions and sometimes even preface comments by saying “this is not for blogging”. I always reassure these people that I never blog information about other people without permission and in general rarely mention any names or other identifying information (except to give credit, but I check in such cases as well). However, from reading the article one would think my practices are more the exception than the rule.

Since I do not blog anonymously there is more social control over what I decide to make public. After all, everything I say reflects on me in return. Outing information about others that many may find inappropriate will have negative repercussions on me. So even if I had no concerns, whatsoever, about the privacy of people around me – but I do – a solely self-interested approach would still dictate that I keep information about others’ lives private in order not to upset people and in turn lose credibility and trust in the future. However, such social control operates much less effectively among those who can hide behind the veil of a pseudonym.

As I prepare for my upcoming undergraduate class in which students will be required to maintain blogs, I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about how to comply with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). According to FERPA, I have to make sure that certain details about student enrollment in my classes are kept private. In the process, I have realized that this is a one-way street. There is nothing preventing my students from blogging whatever information they decide about me. Of course, social sanctions may still exist. Students may decide it is not worth upsetting their instructor through such practices. Nonetheless, there will be plenty of opportunities for blogging things after class is over. Moreover, they may have individual blogs not associated with the class that are written anonymously and can serve as an outlet for commentary about others.

Of course, we all have different selves depending on the social situations in which we find ourselves and there is no reason one should let down certain guards in front of a classroom or when with a group of colleagues. Perhaps the most disturbing part about the phenomenon described in the article is that people are blogging intricate details about their private lives, which in turn includes the private lives of others. Of course, as long as this is a known fact one can accept it and behave accordingly (or not accept it and stop spending time with the person assuming that’s an option). But it sounds like this practice often only becomes clear after the fact, which seems to put unfortunate added pressure on private interactions.

Buying blue

Tuesday, December 14th, 2004

This on CT.

I was interviewed for a Chicago Tribune piece about the new Web sites that have spurred up encouraging people to buy blue.1 The idea is to get people to spend money in the stores of companies whose political action committees and employees support Democratic candidates and causes. It’s an interesting idea, but it’s completely unclear whether: 1. people’s purchasing behavior is that connected to their political ideology; 2. the blue side will use the compiled information more than the red side (after all, the information can also be used to boycott companies instead of supportint them). Regardless, it is certainly interesting to see where people are channeling their political frustrations.. and how quickly news has spread of these sites.

[Accessing the article requires registration. Bugmenot may be worth checking.]

1 I’m glad to see that the reporter quoted me in the right context, which is not always a given. Unfortunately, she got my departmental affiliation wrong. My primary appointment is in the Department of Communication Studies.

Voting error in the 2004 elections

Saturday, December 11th, 2004

This on CT.

A friend of mine, Philip Howard, has been taking a very innovative approach to teaching his class on Communication Technology and Politics at the University of Washington this Fall. He and his students have been collecting data about the use of communication technologies in the elections and writing reports about their findings.

The team has released reports on topics from the legalities of voteswapping to the political uses of podcasting. The latest article looks at voting error due to technological errors, residual votes and incident reports. They have collected data on these for all states for the presidential, the gubernatorial and the senate races. They weight the incident-report data by total voting population, eligible voter population and registered voter population. They find that in some cases – see state specifics in the report by type of error – the margin of error was greater than the margin of victory.

What a great way to get students involved, to teach them important skills and to contribute helpful information to the public. They make their data available for those interested in the details. You can download spreadsheets with information off their site. They also offer an extensive list of resources including a pointers to academic literature from the past twelve years on technologies and campaigns.

UPDATE: I should have mentioned that they are posting reports now as white papers and are eager to receive feedback. It looks like they will continue to analyze the data and welcome suggestions.

What will they think of next?

Saturday, December 4th, 2004

This on CT.

Amidst all the election news of the past month from all over, I have had little energy to compile a post about a referendum taking place tomorrow in Hungary: extending Hungarian citizenship to Hungarians living outside of Hungary’s borders. (Pick any country around Hungary and you’ll find relevant populations from Slovakia to Romania, from Serbia to Ukraine). When a nationalist party becomes desperate in securing votes, it comes up with interesting ideas. Why not extend voting rights to all Hungarians across the globe? Those who left in 1956 or who live as frustrated minorities in other countries may be the perfect targets for their nationalistic message. Give those people voting rights and the party may be able to secure quite a bit of popularity in the future.

Apparently there are no details about what it would take for people to prove their Hungarian “origins” (seems like opening a can of worms to be asking that kind of a question in this area of the world). That may be one aspect that would allow the current government (made up of parties that are not backing this initiative) to temper the effects of a majority yes vote.

One facet of all this of additional interest to me is how the country would proceed with the voting rights of those living abroad. The only way those of us abroad can currently cast our votes is to go to the Hungarian embassy in the country in which we reside. Obviously, this leads to few votes from those not residing in Hungary. For the initiative to be really effective, they would have to tweak this part of the system as well.

The outcome of the referendum tomorrow will only count if at least a quarter of those eligible to vote – so about two million people – plus one vote for the same outcome.

Hargittai: Our Lives

Friday, November 19th, 2004

The Nov 11, 2004 issue of Nature has a review of my father’s most recent book, Our Lives: Encounters of a Scientist. The review is by Henryk Eisenberg and the piece is called “The view from Budapest”. It’s a positive review so you now have one more reason to go out, get the book and read it!

Religion and politics

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2004

This on CT.

Nicholas Kristof in the NYTimes today makes the argument that “the Democratic Party’s first priority should be to reconnect with the American heartland”. He continues later by saying that “One of the Republican Party’s major successes over the last few decades has been to persuade many of the working poor to vote for tax breaks for billionaires.” Precisely. I am always shocked when I have conversations with people – doesn’t happen too often, but I try to do it when possible – who are clearly hurting the most by Bush’s politics, but who are nonetheless avid supporters.

Kristof goes on to address the issue of religion and politics in particular.

To appeal to middle America, Democratic leaders don’t need to carry guns to church services and shoot grizzlies on the way. But a starting point would be to shed their inhibitions about talking about faith, and to work more with religious groups.”

This is a point Amy Sullivan has been making throughout the year (and earlier). She has written tirelessly and convincingly about it numerous times in several venues.

Here’s one:

Religion is the third rail of Democratic Party politics. Seasoned political operatives who can soberly discuss the details of human rights atrocities or abortion procedures start twitching when the issue of religion enters the conversation. Congressional aides who maneuver through the world of Medicare regulations or appropriations with ease become stymied by references to faith. And hustings veterans who would never dream of running a campaign without targeting racial minorities and union members look askance when asked about outreach to religious communities.
Many Democrats are religious. More than one-half of Democratic voters attend church more than once a month. But until professional Democrats get over their aversion to all things religious, they will continue to suffer the political consequences.

Personally, I would prefer that religion was a more private affair. But one need not spend too much time in the United States to understand that religion is an incredibly important component of most people’s lives, and not such a private one for many. So it is not surprising that one ignores it at one’s peril.

If the U.S. had a parliamentary multi-party system where one could choose representatives closer aligned to one’s views then a party may be able to afford to put religion aside. In Hungary, the only place I can vote, I have always favored a particular liberal party. It never comes even close to a majority vote partly because it is viewed as the party of the intellectual liberal elite (a perception, Kristof argues, the Democratic Party seems to have among many). But a vote for that party closely aligned with my views does not mean a vote completely lost, because it can still have parliamentary seats and create alliances with other parties that represent similar views. And if part of the majority alliance, it can even have representatives in the top positions. But it is only affordable to take such nuanced points-of-view, because supporters of those nuanced positions can still be represented. That is not how politics works in the U.S.. And, hopefully, most of us who would prefer to keep religion out of politics recognize that. Although it may frustrate me that religion is so central in American political discourse, I would still rather have it be part of the discourse than watch people vote for a president who will clearly not represent their interests.

On a final note, one frustration as a social scientist interested in questions of culture and religion, is that there is very little funding available for research in these areas. Given the kind of importance cultural values and religious beliefs seem to play in people’s everyday lives, I find it quite disappointing and disturbing.