Posts Tagged ‘Matthew Yglesias’

In case you haven’t heard, Nate Silver recently decided to leave the New York Times for the paragon of political analysis known as ESPN. Interestingly, Margaret Sullivan of the New York Times recently wrote a blog post describing Silver’s fit. She says, in part:

* I don’t think Nate Silver ever really fit into the Times culture and I think he was aware of that. He was, in a word, disruptive. Much like the Brad Pitt character in the movie “Moneyball” disrupted the old model of how to scout baseball players, Nate disrupted the traditional model of how to cover politics.

His entire probability-based way of looking at politics ran against the kind of political journalism that The Times specializes in: polling, the horse race, campaign coverage, analysis based on campaign-trail observation, and opinion writing, or “punditry,” as he put it, famously describing it as “fundamentally useless.” Of course, The Times is equally known for its in-depth and investigative reporting on politics.

His approach was to work against the narrative of politics – the “story” – and that made him always interesting to read. For me, both of these approaches have value and can live together just fine.

* A number of traditional and well-respected Times journalists disliked his work. The first time I wrote about him I suggested that print readers should have the same access to his writing that online readers were getting. I was surprised to quickly hear by e-mail from three high-profile Times political journalists, criticizing him and his work. They were also tough on me for seeming to endorse what he wrote, since I was suggesting that it get more visibility.

Many others, of course, in The Times’s newsroom did appreciate his work and the innovation (not to mention the traffic) that he brought, and liked his humility.

As John Gruber points out:

Traditional model: mostly bullshit.

Nate Silver: facts.

From a sociological perspective the strangest thing may be that it has taken so long for somebody to cut through the bullshit that pervades our conversations about politics, especially when a simple aggregation of the polls is incredibly effective. Lest we forget the political spectacle, though, Matthew Yglesias at Slate writes that Silver has been extremely successful because of his numbers combined with his ability as a journalist:

He’s a fantastic and engaging writer, who not only came up with an election forecasting method that far outpaces the TV pundits but more impressively he found a large audience for it. After all, even though the TV pundits’ methods are totally wrong and arbitrary they don’t do what they do for no reason. The idea is that it makes good television. And you don’t crowd out terrible analysis just by doing better analysis, you have to find the better analysis and find a way to make it compelling to people. That’s what Nate Silver accomplished.

It will be interesting to see what Silver brings to ESPN. Josh Levin, also at Slate, already has some suggestions.

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As many of you know, once you start committing sociology it is hard to stop. It is so hard to stop that Slate‘s Matthew Yglesias was able to find sociological relevance in Fast and Furious 6, which was last weekend’s number one movie an improbable 12 years after the release of the original. Beyond muscles, cars, explosions, and tanks, though, Yglesias makes a compelling argument for the continued success of the franchise: loyalty to family in a world of increasing inequality and decreasing trust of social institutions. As Yglesias writes:

Sociologically speaking, this is a classic moral outlook of a low-trust society well-captured by the allegedly Bedouin phrase “I against my brother, my brothers and I against my cousins, then my cousins and I against strangers.”

The problem, of course, is that this sort of particularistic outlook is very dysfunctional on a social level. You can’t have a prosperous and secure society unless the law is enforced. But how can the law be enforced when the prison guards are massively corrupt? Ultimately a functioning economy depends on functional politics, and functional politics depend not just on monitoring and incentives but on esprit de corps and a willingness to make abstract ideals a priority.

It would be comforting to simply dismiss the Fast and Furious franchise as an ethically unfortunate series of movies about illegal street racing. But as David Madland has written, the low-trust ethics it embodies are in fact typical of societies featuring a high and growing level of income inequality

In a world where the system increasingly seems to be rigged, it’s natural to turn to the Dominic Toretto’s of the world as heroes. Yet Dom, for all his hard work, ingenuity, and undeniable skill doesn’t really do anything useful or productive. He’s a nice guy who’s loyal to his friends and family. He lives by a code. And his outlook is increasingly appealing in an increasingly unequal America. But it’s ultimately destructively of the social institutions needed to generate prosperity. And yet at a time when elites long ago stopped caring whether the gains of economic growth would be widely shared, and in recent years seem to have turned their backs on the unemployed altogether then these are the heroes we’ll turn to.

Also working in its favor is another sociological factor: diversity. As Gitesh Pandya at Box Office Guru  notes, “From day one in June 2001, the series has invested in ethnically diverse casts which has broadened the consumer base. Sales from urban youth have always been key. And appeal has been strong with women too. This weekend’s audience breakdown showed a 49% female crowd which is incredibly high for a macho action sequel. 40% is common. 57% were age 25 or older and 32% were Latino.”

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