mixed martial arts as a moral issue

The Ultimate Fighting Championship recently decided to file a lawsuit against New York for its statewide ban on professional mixed martial arts events. NYU law professor Barry Friedman is involved with the case, and I think they make a decent legal argument. Claims that the sport is too violent seem to suggest the state has a constitutional right to restrict such forms of expression, but that argument didn’t pan out for opponents of violent video games in California. The slightly more compelling case is the safety issue. MMA is obviously a dangerous sport, but it’s certainly no more dangerous than boxing, which has a long history in New York. Further, as the lawsuit points out, New York does not prohibit gyms that train mixed martial arts fighters, the regular sparring matches that take place inside these gyms, and even amateur competition. New York City also, despite having never held a regulated, professional MMA match, is home to a high level professional kickboxing scene, which, again, is at least as dangerous as MMA. It will be interesting to see how this turns out.

At pretty much the same time as this was announced, Fred Bowen published a bizarre opinion piece in the Washington Post‘s kids’ section deriding MMA (or “ultimate fighting,” as he insists on calling it). “I’ve watched some ultimate fighting,” he writes. “It’s a brutal sport. In fact, I don’t think ultimate fighting is a sport at all. It’s violence presented as entertainment.” That’s pretty representative of the overall argument, both in terms of logical soundness and general writing skill. It’s sort of a self-evidently poor piece of argumentation, but I think what I find most distressing is the Washington Post sees fit to give this guy a public venue to spout off his random, half-baked ideas about things.

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gender & abortion in public opinion

Dana Goldstein and Matthew Yglesias argue the recent debate surrounding Mike Pence’s efforts to defund Panned Parenthood highlights the importance of diversity in legislative institutions. “What [politicians] think in their heart—and especially which priorities are dear to them—actually makes quite a bit of difference,” Yglesias writes. “People with different backgrounds and life experiences are likely to have different ideas about what matters, and that can really change political outcomes.”

I was going to make a post noting women are not in fact more pro-choice in their attitudes than men, although those who are might care more about the issue than similarly pro-choice men. This certainly was true at least at one point. But then I decided to screw around in the 2008 American National Election Studies data and, according to two quick-and-easy bivariate logistic regressions, women are 8 percent more likely to agree that “[b]y law, a woman should always be able to obtain an abortion as a matter of personal choice” versus the other three choices (in short: never/only in rape and incest/in some other cases beyond rape and incest). Women are also 15 percent more likely to say the abortion issue is “very important” or “extremely important” versus the other three choices (“not at all important”/”not too important”/”somewhat important”). These results are statistically significant at the .01 and .001 levels, respectively. Although this is incredibly rudimentary analysis, I’m left a bit less convinced of my prior position to say the least.

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welfare is social security (not the other way around)

The Republican nominee for Senate in Nevada, Sharron Angle, is being attacked today for calling social security “welfare.” But what’s really interesting is how welfare and Social Security are historically quite closely intertwined. In fact, it’s more factually accurate to say welfare is a form of social security rather than the other way around. As political scientist Robert Lieberman details in his book Shifting the Color Line: Race and the American Welfare State, the Social Security Act of 1935 created a number of important social policies, including Old Age Insurance and Aid to Dependent Children. But while Old Age Insurance came to be simply referred to as “Social Security” (a term that carries a positive connotation in public discourse),  Aid to Dependent Children came to be known as “welfare” (a term that, by contrast, carries negative and racially-charged connotations).

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boxing, chess, and game theory

I recently read the sociologist Loic Wacquant’s Body and Soul: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer. While the book as a whole offers a really intriguing ethnographic look into the culture and practices of boxers at a Chicago gym (including Wacquant himself), an off-handed paragraph struck me as perhaps of interest to social scientists more generally:

Thus the strategy of the boxer, as product of the encounter of the pugilistic habitus with the very field that produced it, erases the scholastic distinction between the intentional and the habitual, the rational and the emotional, the corporeal and the mental. It pertains to an embodied practical reason that, being lodged in the depths of the socialized organism, escapes the logic of individual choice. [from the footnote] One glimpses here in passing all that the strand of sociology inspired by game theory could gain by taking as paradigm a very “corporeal” game such as boxing rather than an eminently “intellectual” one like chess or military strategy. (2004: 98)

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friday odds and ends

John Sides explains why political science research suggests California’s new “jungle primary” probably won’t change anthing, but an anonymous political scientist writes in to Andrew Sullivan to explain why he voted for it anyway. I’m a bit confused by the contradictory logic seemingly inherent to simultaneous arguments that the new system will both decrease ideological polarization and remove the institutional incentives for strategic voting faced by supporters of third parties. But at the very least, if this new system passes legal wrangling, it will be an interesting topic of study for Americanist political science.

Jamelle Bouie describes the southern Christian identity politics of Nikki Haley and Bobby Jindal:

Bobby Jindal’s persona is probably authentic — I have no reason to think otherwise — but it’s clear that his Christianity, his unassuming name and his recognizable accent are all part of his appeal to white Southerners. It’s hard to imagine a Piyush Jindal rising as rapidly through the ranks of Southern conservative politics. The same goes for Nikki Haley, whose birth name is distinctively South Asian, and who repeatedly stressed her Christianity in order to dispel rumors about her religious beliefs. This doesn’t make her any less authentic, but it does suggest that it might be difficult to succeed in Southern conservative politics if you insist on retaining the cultural markers of your ethnic heritage.

Ta-Nehisi Coates’s relatively new “Talk To Me Like I’m Stupid” segment is pretty great. This week he explores hunting in the 19th century; naturally, at least one reader has been just waiting to unload his encyclopedic knowledge of this obscure topic.

Ezra Klein notes that U.S. inequality is back at record highs and, via Jonathan Bernstein and Richard Neustadt’s classic work of scholarship on the presidency, U.S. presidents actually aren’t as powerful as everyone seems to assume.

Finally, Matthew Yglesias discusses the problems of interest group pluralism when business is more powerful than other players.

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blogging in grad school, continued

An old Daniel Drezner post sums up my earlier trepidation about blogging in grad school. But is it possible things have changed in the five years since this post?

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poli sci and the dutch election results

Erik Voeten has a nice overview of the Dutch election results over at The Monkey Cage. For some additional social scientific analysis that might help frame a discussion of what comes next, check out the latest issue of the Annual Review of Political Science, if you have access to it. Strom, Muller, and Smith have a nice piece called “Parliamentary Control of Coalition Governments,” while Kalyvas and van Kersbergen offer a solid overview of “Christian Democracy.” The former profiles how preference divergence, uncertainty, and opportunism offer three central conditions maing the control of governing partners difficult in coalition governments, especially in PR systems. The latter has an interesting discussion of how the arrival of right-wing populism, lead by Pim Fortuyn, has affected Christian Democrats in the Netherlands (see p. 194).

In general, the Annual Reviews could be excellent resources for political journalists, but they do require a subscription.

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