Monthly Archives: March 2011

A lament for the Utah State Aggies…

My undergraduate alma matter, Utah State University, made it to the NCAA tournament this year. Despite a 30-3 season and a #17 national ranking, they were assigned a #12 seed against Kansas State. Last night they lost the opening game by five points. The Aggies always do great in the regular season, but then choke when they get to the big tournament. This will unfortunately do them no favors as they seek higher seeds in future seasons.

As an aside, before class started today I was talking about March Madness with one of my students and about USU’s loss last night. Surprisingly, he knew about USU’s basketball reputation! “They’re the team with the awesome student chants during the games… and that one big guy who always shows up dressed in crazy costumes!” Despite the loss, it’s nice to know that even people out in Kentucky know a little bit about Utah State’s basketball program… or at least, the enthusiastic student fans!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

The following is a re-post from last year’s St. Patrick’s Day post:

Granted, I’m only 15% Irish. The rest of me is German-Russian (35%) and English (50%). But unfortunately, there just aren’t that many German or English heritage holidays to celebrate. So it’s to St. Patrick’s Day that a turn to celebrate my ethnic heritage.

My g-g-g-g-g-g-grandfather, Michael, was born around 1775 in Ireland. He married Marianne and they had a daughter named Mary around 1799. She married Dennis Rogers (b. 1796) and they had a daughter named Margery. They all came to the United States in the 1840s, along with almost two million of their compatriots, to escape the Great Potato Famine. Margery married Michael Murphy in New York City. They moved Wisconsin where they had seven children. One of these children, Alexander Rogers Murphy, was born in 1854. Alexander married Mary Ellen O’Brien in 1884 in Minnesota. Mary Ellen’s parents (Daniel and Katherine) were from Cork, Ireland. Katherine’s parents, Jerry Daly and Kate, were born around 1805.

Alexander and Mary Ellen Murphy had four children (see photo below). Their youngest daugher was Irene Catherine Murphy, born 1895. She is my great-grandmother and is the furthest on the left in the picture. She married John Joseph Knoll whose family is of German-Russian origins.

It’s true, I’m a “white American.” But like most white Americans, I have ancestors who were immigrants to the United States. They came to escape the harsh conditions in their own country and were often subject to the same prejudice and marginalization that face today’s more recent immigrants.

So from the 15% Irish heritage that I have: Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Enjoy your corned beef, cabbage, and soda bread dinner. Or at least go out to eat at Bennigan’s. – Gaelic Storm: “Black and Tans”. Disclaimer: I am neither Catholic nor a pub patron. :-)

Random Sampler

  • I think this is fascinating: “Mapping the Nation’s Well-Being“. It’s also a bit depressing because Kentucky is near the bottom of just about every “well-being” indicator measured by Gallup. Interestingly, both of my previous places of residence (Utah and eastern Iowa) are near the top of just about everyone one of these well-being indicators.
  • CNN’s Gloria Borger describes President Obama’s personality: “a deep tempermental caution, served with a side of prudence.” She talks about this like it’s a novel revelation. As I’ve described before, though, political psychologists predicted that this would be his style long before he was even elected.
  • Speaking of psychology, this helps explain why so many college professors are politically liberal: “Individuals with the personality trait that most strongly predicts an inclination toward liberal politics [openness to experience] also predict an attraction to academic careers.”

Mosques and Americanism – Part 2

As a quick follow-up to my previous post, the Monkey Cage blog recently provided a link to this interesting press release from The press release discusses the findings of a recent public opinion survey on Muslims in America. The two “bottom-line” findings are that 1) Muslims who are more religiously active (i.e. attend their Mosque more often) are also more likely to be involved in American politics and 2) non-Muslims who are very religiously active are 18% more likely than those who are not religiously active to believe that Islam is compatible with American politics.

The survey and CNN write-up is available here:

Nativism and Islam in America

I spent most of graduate school reading and writing about American nativism, the attitude that a uniquely American culture, tradition, or way of life is being threatened by something distinctly “foreign.” Although the target has changed throughout American history, there has always been a distinct strain of nativist attitudes in the United States. For most of the 1980s-2000s, for example, American nativism was predominantly concerned about the threat posed by Hispanic immigrants.

There seems to be some anecdotal evidence, however, that the target may be shifting from Hispanic immigrants to Muslim immigrants and the religion of Islam specifically. For example, Rep. Peter King of New York was on the news this weekend advocating a congressional hearing on the “radicalization of Muslim Americans”, saying that “something from within” the Muslim community threatening the United States. There was also a rather amusing satirical skit on the Daily Show early this month, where the host (Aasif Mandvi) argues that a Muslim version of “The Cosby Show” (the “Qu’Osby Show”) would be useful for breaking down anti-Muslim stereotypes in the U.S. Then there was the whole controversy late last year about the plans for a Mosque near the 9/11 Ground Zero site.

Again, this is all anecdotal at this point. I would be interested, though, to see if this is a trend that will continue or if it’s merely a short phase after which Hispanic immigrants will re-emerge as the primary focus of nativist concerns in the United States.

Random sampler

  • Even though Kentuckians are some of the most socially conservative in the United States, only 25% of Kentuckians support SB 6, the hard-line immigration bill recently passed by the KY Senate. In contrast, 64% support the KY House’s approach in cracking down on employers who knowingly hire undocumented immigrants.
  • I love the HBO miniseries John Adams. So this is very funny. They spoof a number of scenes and lines from the miniseries.
  • Another political scientist on The Daily Show with John Stewart.
  • My friend and colleague here at Centre College has posted a series of summaries on different parts of David Brooks’ forthcoming book The Social Animal. Brooks will be visiting Centre to deliver a convocation address later this spring. The first post is available here.

The benefits of bilingualism

My wife and I have met with a surprising degree of success in raising our two-year-daughter to speak English and Spanish. I was thus very pleased to learn about some recent neuroscience research findings on the benefits of bilingualism:

Learning to juggle two languages in the brain is a skill that probably deserves credit for bilinguals’ cognitive advantages — although, researchers emphasize, this doesn’t mean they learn any better than people who speak only one language. But it does keep the brain more nimble, allowing bilingual people to multitask better, pick out key information faster and more effectively ignore surrounding distractions.

The full article is available here:,0,7811530.story