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But how will I afford my winter chalet?!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006 by Jeff

The Seattle Times is running a series this week on illegal immigration. If you want an easy intro to the many facets of this complicated debate you might want to check it out. An excerpt from today's article:

If the supply of illegal workers were cut off, wages for those low-skilled jobs presumably would have to rise enough to attract legal workers into them. If, hypothetically, wage levels rose by a third, that would either add around $1,600 to the cost of the typical house or shave half a percentage point off the builder's 12 percent average profit margin.

"If I'm buying just one home, there's not that big an impact," Chiswick [an economist at the University of Illinois, Chicago] said. "But if I'm building a lot of homes and I can save a few thousand on each one.... "

[...]

Of course, the "illegal-immigrant discount" affects different layers of society differently.

The more often you eat out, stay in hotels or get your yard trimmed, the more you benefit from the illegal-immigrant discount.

And by increasing the supply of low-skilled labor relative to high-skilled labor, illegal immigration effectively boosts the purchasing power of the better-educated, more-skilled — and richer — portion of society.

The bottom line seems to be that undocumented workers (the kinder, gentler alternative to tagging poor latino families "illegal") depress wages but have very little impact on the pricetags of our food, homes, and hotels. Although, because these small differences add up when you buy in quantity, look for the rich cats to vociferously defend the status quo to maintain profit margins and an inexpensive, if illegal, workforce.

See the whole report here:

America's Immigration Dilemma: A Special Report

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If you like music

Friday, September 15, 2006 by Jeff

If you haven't come across Pandora Internet Radio yet, it's time to check it out. Type in an artist or song name and a new station will automatically be generated that plays songs with similar musical characteristics. Later you can add more names to diversify your station. Its founder explains it this way:

Together we set out to capture the essence of music at the most fundamental level. We ended up assembling literally hundreds of musical attributes or "genes" into a very large Music Genome. Taken together these genes capture the unique and magical musical identity of a song - everything from melody, harmony and rhythm, to instrumentation, orchestration, arrangement, lyrics, and of course the rich world of singing and vocal harmony. It's not about what a band looks like, or what genre they supposedly belong to, or about who buys their records - it's about what each individual song sounds like.
With each new song you're able to further customize the station by giving a "thumbs up" (play more like this) or "thumbs down" (I don't like it!) to that song. It requires that you sign up for a free account where your stations with be saved. I started with Massive Attack: Pandora responds: "To start things off, we'll play a song that exemplifies the musical style of Massive Attack which features electronica roots, downtempo influences, trippy soundscapes and many other similarities identified in the music genome project." With that it began playing "Future Proof" by Massive Attack (it doesn't always start with the band you chose), followed by a pretty cool and trippy track by a band I've never heard of, Breakbeat Era: "From here on out we'll be exploring other songs and artists that have musical qualities similar to Massive Attack. This track, "Rancid Remix" by Breakbeat Era, has similar a female vocal, trippy soundscapes and many other similarities identified in the music genome project." How cool is that? It's all free with advertisements, but if you absolutely can't stand the ads it'll cost you a cool 36 bucks a year to lose those (apparently you gain nothing else with a subscription!). Enjoy.

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Condie in chains

Wednesday, September 13, 2006 by Jeff

Imagine the cognitive dissonance at breakfast tables across the union this morning when readers bursting with cultural capital found that People Magazine had invaded the pages of "their" New York Times:

Sometimes it has seemed that all Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice needs to do is show up in public with a man, and people start talking...The single, sophisticated American secretary of state once drew notice for wearing black stiletto knee-high boots with an above-the-knee black skirt while reviewing American troops in Germany, so she is bound to attract gossip...But it took a two-hour flight to Halifax, Nova Scotia, this week...for Ms. Rice to find herself linked to someone with similar star appeal: Peter MacKay ofCanada, the single, sophisticated foreign minister, routinely named Canada’s sexiest M.P. by The Hill Times in Ottawa, and the closest thing to eye candy on the diplomatic circuit.
Ick. Ok, I'm projecting. I felt the cognitive dissonance, not they. This story was front and center on the Times' website, and surprisingly Condie was not wearing stilettos and fishnet stockings. We'd probably have to go to the Journal for that.

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Terrorism happens

Monday, September 11, 2006 by Jeff

Last night in Tucson two columns of light rose from the downtown skyline, a ghostly image of the Twin Towers (borrowing from a new New York tradition). Together with the week's effusive talk on television, blogs, and in classroom discussions about the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attack, terrorism, the War on Terror, al-Qaeda, conflicts in the Middle East, and U.S. nationalism, one might be surprised to find that there is no widespread agreement about why terrorism happens.

Jeff Goodwin, an NYU sociologist of (among other things) social movements and terrorism, reviews three recent contributions to this very problem in a review essay just published in Sociological Forum. It's short, sharp, and of course saves us all the need to read these books ourselves. But, take it from me, most of what you need to know in this short article is spelled out in the conclusion:

So what, in sum, do we really know about (suicide) terrorism? Quite a lot, actually. To begin with, terrorism refers to acts of violence that are intended to kill indiscriminately ordinary civilians, and to frighten others, for political ends; it is thus quite different from guerrilla warfare, political assassination, and other strategies of insurgency that have military and political targets. Terrorism, including its suicidal variant, is typically organized by insurgent groups or networks as part of larger political and military campaigns; it is often utilized as a “last resort”—but not always. Suicide terrorism, and much nonsuicidal terrorism, is usually motivated by nationalism that has been stoked by foreign military occupations, but identities and ideologies other than nationalism have also motivated suicide terrorism, including anarchism and Islamism. Finally, protracted campaigns of terrorism, including suicide terrorism, require significant popular support. Specific populations usually support (suicide) terrorism when democratic states inflict extensive and indiscriminate violence against the members of groups with which those populations strongly identify.
Many parts of this explanation reflect concepts and theories developed by social movement (SM) scholars, raising the question of how different are social movements and terrorism? A series of interesting posts at orgtheory.net recently bears rather directly on these questions of terrorism.

Fabio Rojas asks [Q7] what makes a social movement target the state instead of someone or something else. The relevant tie-in to Goodwin's article is here:

There is a general, although by no means unanimous, consensus among social scientists that terrorism is violence targeted indiscriminately against ordinary civilians or noncombatants as opposed to soldiers, police, politicians, bureaucrats, or other agents of the state.
Defined in this way, explaining insurgents' choice of targets is part and parcel of explaining terrorism, and so suggests an affinity between these two areas of study. Fabio speculates, "One might think that it is issue related and also linked to the life cycle of the movement." Actually, the relevant "cycle" that SM scholars use to explain violent tactics is the protest cycle rather than the life cycle of a single movement (see Ruud Koopman's studies of German and American protest cycles). Goodwin's essay suggests that terrorism (particularly it's suicidal variant) comes after other strategies/tactics have failed, so we might call this support for his stage hypothesis.

The other part of Fabio's hypothesis is that violent tactics like terrorism are used for certain kinds of issues. He also asks [Qs 11 and 20] about the role of ideology in shaping protest (broadly defined) and again Goodwin is helpful. There is no easily identifiable issue or set of issues that elicit terrorism (& other violent protest), although much terrorism is stoked by nationalism enflamed by the strong intervention of a foreign government in domestic issues (oftentimes military occupation). However, as Goodwin is at pains to clarify, other issues and ideologies can also motivate terrorism:

The fact that most suicide bombings of civilians in Iraq seem to have been carried out by foreign “jihadists”—that is, non-Iraqi Islamists (Cordesman, 2005:5)—lends further credence to the view that a political and religious power struggle among Muslims, and not simply Iraqi nationalist resistance to the U.S. occupation, is the source of much of the terrorism in Iraq.
Ideology comes into play in the form of identities. That is, religion becomes a factor in conflicts when the collective identity of a religious community is activated. Presumably other ideologies, political (anarchism) and otherwise, could be mobilized in the service of terrorism, just as they are for (violent and non-violent) social movements. Goodwin explains that a "community" is likely to support terrorism when it lives under extreme political repression and economic deprivation [Q19]. This support is a necessary condition for sustaining a terrorist campaign which relies as it does on resources in the community - another similarity between SMs and terrorism.

There's little doubt in my mind that scholars of terrorism and social movements would benefit greatly from an exchange of ideas. The parallels are extensive. But are they limited? Are there really critical differences between these two phenomena that necessitate seperate theories? Or is this another case of the inefficient duplication of efforts in the face of institutional pressures to specialize?

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Choosing between bad and worse

Saturday, September 09, 2006 by Jeff

An article in the latest Chronical of Higher Education ominously warns new assistant professors on the dangers of heading a dissertation committee too soon. If you are one, you might want to read this lest you risk your own track to tenure or wind up along with your advisee trapped between the strong personalities of senior committee co-members, "cower[ing] like meerkats dodging an elephant tussle."

Me, I have a committee of two seniors and a ladder-climbing assistant professor who recently climbed another rung, which happens to be 3,000 miles away, leaving me dangling from the loose clutches of the remaining two. One of those leaves for a 6 month sabbatical in January. The remaining member is widely viewed as one of the most overworked professors in our department. Incidentally, the two exiting professors are my committee co-chairs.
You are a doctoral student, selecting a dissertation adviser. Option A is a scholar who is renowned but imposing, distant, and busy. Option B is a freshly stamped Ph.D., new to the tenure track, near your age, friendly, supportive, interested in your work, and seemingly ready to devote unlimited time to helping you.
In fact, I'm not selecting a new advisor. But with one now departed from this university and another enjoying an extended stay in Japan next semester, I may be looking. So how does one choose between these two options, the busy superstar and the supportive newbie? The authors of this article unfortunately only tackle the pitfalls of Option B, the newbie, without addressing what to do about those senior faculty members who don't have the time or the emotional wherewithal to shepherd graduate students to graduation. Where am I now? In the lurch. Surveying the remainder of our faculty that hasn't been lured away by big private university salaries. And you know what? There is no Option C.

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When revising papers becomes too expensive

Sunday, September 03, 2006 by Jeff

"Like riding a bicycle" is not an apt simile for running zero-truncated negative binomial regression models. It's been nearly a year since my paper using said models was rejected by a highly esteemed journal and it's now time that I get off my ass and revisit these old models. Unfortunately, the opportunity costs of revision have steadily increased in direct inverse proportion to the time that has elapsed since I last ran those zero-truncated negative binomial regression models. I now need training wheels.

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Jeff A. Larson
Sociologist, Arizona.


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