Columbia U., Meet Trump U.

January 14, 2017
Posted by Jay Livingston

In academia, we’re tough on plagiarism, especially when it runs to more than just a copied sentence or two. Plagiarism is one of those areas where we lean towards moral clarity rather than wishy-washy liberal moral relativism. I think.

I’m putting my syllabus together, and it looks like I’ll have to make a change in my boilerplate about plagiarism,

Plagiarism and cheating on papers or tests will result in a 0 for that assignment and perhaps an F for the course. But it may also get you a job with Donald Trump.

In case you hadn’t heard, Monica Crowley,  Trump’s choice to be U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communicationsplagiarized big chunks of her Columbia Ph.D. thesis. . She has excellent conservative credentials. She worked for Nixon and more recently for Fox News. She has said that Huma Abedin’s parents were “essentially tools of the Saudi regime.” Her views of the Syrian refugee crisis were also straight from right field.  She wrote in the Washington Times  that “The EU is apparently intent on committing continental suicide” by letting in so many Muslims.  They “are using the European Union’s open doors-open borders policy to reach the West for social welfare and the longer-term goal of spreading Islam.”

Crowley is a serial plagiarist. It wasn’t just her Ph.D. thesis. Her book What the (Bleep) Just Happened had at least “fifty instances of copying directly from conservative columns, news articles, Wikipedia and in one case a podiatrist’s website.” (Politico) The Wall Street Journal published her 1998 column, an appreciation of Nixon, which borrowed considerably from a Commentary article some years earlier by Paul Johnson.

When Trump appointed her, she spoke of his “vision, courage, and moral clarity.” That figures. She obviously shares Trump’s vision of Muslims. And now it’s clear she shares a similar morality. So it’s almost certain that she’ll keep her job, nor will the plagiarism damage her standing among conservatives. Academics, by contrast, take plagiarism more seriously – usually. Columbia has not said a word about whether the university might rescind her doctorate. Columbia is a prestigious Ivy League school. I guess it remains to be seen whether their standards are as high as those of Montclair State.

Here is a screenshot of just part of the thesis plagiarism as highlighted by Politico, which has many other examples.

(Click for a larger view.)

Travis Hirschi (R.I.P.) and “Acting White”

January 12, 2017 
Posted by Jay Livingston

The day I heard that Travis Hirschi had died was the same day I read this Vox article  by Jenése Desmond-Harris about “acting White.” I sensed a common element, but what was it? Both Hirschi and Desmong-Harris were questioning widely held ideas. Hirschi had thown down challenges to the criminology theories that dominated the latter part of the 20th century,* and Desmond-Harris was trying to debunk the widespread idea – even Barack Obama seems to have accepted it –  that Black kids who did well in school were often rejected by their peers, who accused them of acting White. But the similarities were more specific than just skepticism about the conventional wisdom. What they were both skeptical about was the idea of cohesive “oppositional” cultures.

Hirschi’s “control theory” of delinquency emphasized what he called the “social bond,” a social and psychological connection between the individual and conventional society that restrained impulses to break the rules. An important element of that bond was “attachment” to other people and to institutions like school. This seems sort of obvious. Common sense tells us that the closer a kid is to parents, peers, or teachers, the less likely he is to commit crime. But what about “delinquent peers”?  Here common sense tells us attachment is no longer a damper on crime. The closer a kid is to peers who commit crimes, the more likely he will be to commit crimes.

Hirschi rejected that idea. It derived from a romanticized picture of youth gangs as hives of solidarity and mutual support, something like the Jets and the Sharks of “West Side Story.” But in Hirschi’s view, real gang members were no more likely to have solid friendships than they were to break out singing “Tonight” in tune and in unison while doing tightly choreographed dance numbers on the streets of New York. In the real world, delinquents were, in Chris Uggen’s phrase, “detached drifters.”  Detached from others and from social institutions, they drift, often into scenarios that are self-defeating and sometimes criminal 

Desmond-Harris’s article similarly questions the picture of a Black student subculture solid in its opposition to the oppressive and White-dominated institution, the school. She says that although it’s easy to find anecdotal evidence – “African Americans who say they were good students in school and were accused of acting white” – there’s little in the way of good systematic evidence. She quotes Ivory Toldson, senior research analyst for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, criticizing Roland Fryer’s article, “Acting White: the Social Price Paid by the Best and Brightest Minority Students” (here ).

the most popular black students in his study were the ones with 3.5 GPAs, and students with 4.0s had about as many friends as those with 3.0s. The least popular students? Those with less than a 2.5 GPA.

It seemed that the "social price" paid by the lowest-achieving black students was actually far greater than the price in popularity paid by the highest academic achievers.

It’s not quite as simple as that, as the graph from Fryer’s paper shows.

Turning “attachment to peers” into something you can actually measure poses some real problems, and any method will be subject to criticism. Still, I think Hirschi would feel vindicated by Fryer’s data. The effect is especially strong among Whites, but for both Whites and Blacks, kids who get lower grades have fewer friends.

Disaffection (lack of attachment) seems to be general. Attachments, whether in school or in friendships. require some self-control. Kids who act impulsively and unpredictably are not going to do well in either setting.  So the kids who are not much invested in school are the kind of kid it’s hard to be good friends with.  The detached drifters may sometimes for oppositional cultures and groups, but these are weak substitutes for those of the conventional world of conventional teenagers. 

* Hirschi’s criticism of then-current theories was most explicit in A General Theory of Crime (1990), with co-author Michael Gottfredson. If you were in criminology, it was a book you couldn’t ignore. I remember one session at a crim conference in the early 90s where Rich Rosenfeld presented some data he and a colleague had from research in progress. I have no recollection of the topic (homicide maybe) or the findings, but they were somewhat puzzling. In the Q&A, when someone asked Rosenfeld about this he said, “We don’t even have a theory Hirschi and Gottfredson wouldn’t like.”

A Ram, a Plan, a Repeal, Obamacare

January 8, 2017
Posted by Jay Livingston

Mitch McConnell said that the Republicans will act this week to repeal Obamacare – or at least start to repeal it. Their previous votes on the matter were symbolic gestures. Now they Republicans can actually repeal it because they now control the Senate, the House, and the Presidency. They can do repeal the law even they do not represent the majority of the electorate.

Kevin B. Smith, a political scientist at the University of Nebraska, has closely examined the returns – he got House data from the secretaries of state of all fifty states – and graphed the results (here). The truncated Y-axis makes the results look more dramatic, but the point is the same. Republicans won control of the White House and Senate though far more people voted for Democrats. Republicans’ share of seats in the House is greater than their share of votes for those seats.

(Click on an image for a larger view.)

Back in 2010 when Obamacare was being passed, Republicans’ favorite phrase in describing the process was “ram down the throat.” This gem must have been  issued from GOP central; everyone on the right was using it. The Affordable Care Act, they said, was being “rammed down the throat” of the American people.* I Googled it.

The ramming took the form of votes in the Senate and House to pass the bill and then the signature of the president. In all these, the Democrats had a majority of the votes, and unlike the Republicans today, those Senators, Representatives, and the President had all received a majority of votes.
Most people would see this as the normal process of lawmaking in a democracy. The Republicans saw it as force-feeding. This time around, it really will be more like ramming – a minority government passing legislation that most Americans do not support. According to a Kaiser poll, only one in five favor immediate repeal.
The minority government will pass more laws, probably very quickly, i.e., in the first 100 days. Even now, they are trying to rush the confirmation of Trump appointees even before the ethics reviews have been completed. The Democrats could legitimately characterize these laws and appointees as being “rammed down the throats” of the American people. But they probably won’t. Liberals seem to be a bit squeamish when it comes to imagery suggesting the blunt use of force, even when they are the victims. Republicans, as I have argued elsewhere (here), are much more comfortable with the idea of torture. Their response to accusations that they were ramming something down someone else’s throat would probably resemble Trump’s response to accusations that he paid no taxes: it’s a matter of pride rather than shame.


* The Republicans seem to prefer metaphors that show a deep concern with violation of the body. A year earlier, when it looked like the CIA might have to stop torturing people, the conservative talking point was that this new policy would “emasculate” the CIA. (See this earlier post here.)

Men’s Work, Men’s Votes

January 7, 2017
Posted by Jay Livingston

The sexual dimporphism in Disney films that Philip Cohen keeps pointing out (here, for example) is nothing compared to gender differences in the recent presidential election. Trump was the man’s candidate, as the 538’s pre-election maps clearly showed.

(Click on an image for a larger view.)

Maps based on the actual vote would, I suspect, be just as different.

But why? At Sociological Images, Alisha Kirchoff (here) suggests that Trump took his inspiration from Putin. Trump could not imitate Putin stunt for stunt – let’s try not to imagine a shirtless Trump on horseback, and the hair thing pretty much precludes emerging from the seas in scuba gear – but he projected a liking for toughness, even violence, and a generally combative view of the world.

His performances of masculinity – his so-called “locker room talk,” discussion of genitalia size, and conduct towards pageant contestants — could go from publicity stunt to public support to actual policy measures. His bombastic language about defeating ISIS and the need for more American “strength” at home and abroad, for example, could easily translate into foreign policy.

No doubt Trump’s attitudes and actions towards women were odious. Some people saw them as profoundly anti-woman. But even for those who saw them as normal masculinity expressed more frankly, this part of the Trump persona was probably not sufficient reason to vote for Trump.

True, his views of foreign policy evoked the image of a Mark Burnett game show, a world of winners and losers where one side beats the other by being stronger, more clever, and perhaps more ruthless.  But foreign policy is rarely decisive in elections.

The Trump persona may have had some appeal.  Men might have envied or identified with the wealth winner, the man who says what he thinks uninhibited by norms of decency, the guy who gets gorgeous girls. Besides, he was going to crush the forces of political correctness that were repressing men in the same way that he would crush foreign countries that did not fully do what we tell them to.

But the Trump promise was not just that he would be men’s champion, doing what they could not themselves do. More important was the promise that with Trump in office they could restore their masculine identity throught the most important element of that identity – manly work.The Trump campaign was a Viagra ad transposed to the labor market.

“I ain’t gonna be a nurse; I don’t have the tolerance for people. I don’t want it to sound bad, but I’ve always seen a woman in the position of a nurse or some kind of health care worker. I see it as more of a woman’s touch.”
Health aides earn a median wage of $10.50 an hour. Mr. Dawson used to earn $18 an hour making railroad traction motors. “I was a welder — that’s all I know how to do.”

That’s from a recent New York Times article (here) about the disappearance of traditionally male jobs. (Note the welder’s nod to politically correct views about gender: “I don’t want it to sound bad, but . . .”). The projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the trend will continue. Of the fifteen jobs expected to have the greatest growth in coming years, all but five currently employ more women than men.

Trump is telling the Mr. Dawsons of America to ignore the data and even to ignore the evidence of their own experience. He is saying in effect, “I, Donald Trump, will bring manly jobs back to America.” It’s not “I will be manly for you.” It’s “I will change the economic world so that you can be a man again.” Unfortunately, it’s very unlikely that Trump can restore the world of thirty years ago.

Those manufacturing jobs are not coming back. Saving 800 jobs at a Carrier plant is a symbolic gesture, and while symbols are important and may temporarily change perceptions of reality, they do not change the reality itself.

It’s as though on the subject of climate change Trump were saying, “Ignore what the scientists say; ignore the evidence from you own experience – the heat waves, the droughts. I Donald Trump will bring back the temperatures of thirty years ago.” And then, in a symbolic gesture to prove his point, he holds aloft a snowball.