Chris Uggen's Blog: May 2005

Saturday, May 28, 2005

journal prestige & talent that can recognize talent

Brayden King has a thoughtful post about journal prestige in Pub Sociology today, based on a new article by business professor William Starbuck ("How much better are the most-prestigious journals? the statistics of academic publication." Organization Science 16:180-200). After analyzing correlations across reviewers and impact factors across first, second, and third-tier journals, Starbuck concludes that there is a lot of overlap in article quality across different prestige strata and the top journals may not be getting the top articles. Sociology is characterized as especially "egalitarian" in this respect, perhaps reflecting dissensus in the discipline on quality markers. King writes, "Does sociology's lack of consensus lead to more randomness in the review process? If so, does this mean we place too much emphasis on publication in top-tier journals? The study also suggests an important strategic plan for young sociologists seeking tenure - the best way to become visible is to write a lot of articles."

Hmmm. I won't engage Starbuck's methods here, though he may be drawing grande conclusions based on tall evidence (sorry, couldn't resist. "Tall" is the small one, right?). I could only offer the kind of safe and useless advice that department chairs always give: you should probably both aim for top journals and write a lot of stuff. First, I get way better review(er)s at top journals -- even when they torpedo my manuscripts (I realize, of course, that this depends on area and epistemology; your mileage may vary). A quote by producer Jerry Wald sums this up best: "There's no shortage of talent. There's only a shortage of talent that can recognize talent." I also get much better review(er)s today at all journals than I did when I was starting out. As any editor will tell you, they have a terrible time getting good reviews and don't want to "waste" a top reviewer. Second, most of us are lousy at predicting which work will resonate with readers and reviewers. If the main piece(s) of your diss or your big grant project get bounced from top journals, you need to have a few other options. I had high hopes, and maybe too much confidence, in a paper that was summarily rejected this year. Other papers, that I had my doubts about, somehow spoke to people and had a much easier time finding homes. I wouldn't necessarily attribute this to randomness, but to perspective. Something that jazzes up my friends in criminology or life course studies at Minnesota may not travel particularly well.
I do like the idea that sociology is more egalitarian than econ, psych, and management studies. We should be readers of "ignoble texts," especially now that the abstracts make it so easy to find the good ideas there.

Friday, May 27, 2005

hey twins fans -- behold the twisted brilliance of batgirl

It is a long way from opening day, but I'm finally catching up on the Twins. See the witty and erudite Batgirl for legovision instant replays, boyfriends of the day, and (non-sexual man crush) t-shirts.
Click picture for Flash or for downloadsPosted by Hello

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

radio love

The current, Minnesota Public Radio's grand experiment with alt-rock public radio, seems to be flourishing. Lots of pledges, better-than-respectable arbitron ratings, and even a half-hearted backlash. I'm so happy to be reunited with Mary Lucia every day that I can't believe this is public radio. Swelling with civic pride, my friend Nicole said that the whole city is much cooler now that we have a radio station. I have to agree. NPR's Splendiferous Table/Savvy Traveler bit always struck me as pretentious and, well, old and boring. Plus, classical music has never grabbed me by the ankles and shook me upside down like my music does. I just wonder whether the current is a model that could be replicated elsewhere, or whether it takes a critical mass of middle-class, knowledge-worker, aging hipster check-writers that might only be found 'round here (or Madison, or...). Right now, I don't care. Hearing the beatifics this morning set me right all day long.

fyi, the last songs Mary played tonight were the following:
Monade - Paradoxale
Phoenix - (You Can't Blame It On) Anybody
Magnetic Fields - I Don't Believe You
Beck - Girl
Angelique Kidjo - Batonga
Bauhaus - She's in Parties
Blackalicious - Green Light: Now Begin
Parliament - Up For The Down Stroke
The Soundtrack of our Lives - Bigtime
The Bad Plus - And Here We Test Our Powers Of Observation;
Morphine - Honey White;
Coleman Hawkins - Body And Soul;
Interpol - Next Exit;
Mando Diao - God Knows

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

skittish - law clerks and grad students

One of my favorite rites of spring is our department's sociological research institute or SRI, wherein students present papers by day and jest with faculty by night. It isn't exactly a role-reversal ceremony (and it would be inadvisable to push the slave/master Kronia analogy), but still cool. As a court geek who ate up the backstage stuff in "The Brethren," I was heartened to learn from that Supreme Court clerks engage in similar frivolity and that they aren't afraid to give 'em the needle. These lyrics from a 1996 skit surfaced in former Justice Harry Blackmun's papers, sung to the tune of The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby." The kids got in a few rips, but clearly did so with affection:

Ah, look at all the strange appointments.
Ah, look at all the strange appointments.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg,
Strolls into work every day 'bout a quarter past three.
Thinks we don't see.

Stephen G. Breyer,
Gave 50 speeches last year. If they asked him, he came.
They were all the same.

(Refrain) Crazy nominations.
Where did they all come from?
Senate confirmations.
What were we thinking of?

David H. Souter.
Cutting and pasting all night. When there's nobody there.
He doesn't care.
Look at him working.
Writing those endless dissents that nobody will heed.
And no one can read.

Sandra O'Connor.
Votes with the left, then the right.
So that nobody knows
How the wind blows.

Nino Scalia
No one will join his invective and hyperbole.
Except for CT [Clarence Thomas].

Source: An older post from Tony Mauro via

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

(putatively) dangerous knowledge and asr

According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Washington Republicans filed my American Sociological Review article with Jeff Manza in their challenge to the 2004 governor's election. They say that over 1,000 felons voted illegally, and they say that I say that these felons would have favored the Democratic candidate, Governor Christine Gregoire.

Friends have since chastised me, in the nicest and most respectful manner, for arming their enemies. OK, sometimes I want to run screaming from my high-flown abstractions (such as a (putatively) noble wish to inject some social science into policy discussions) when push comes to shove in a real case with winners and losers. Are they just a thin veneer? The right envisions re-enfranchisement movements as a simple vote-grab by the left, discounting or minimizing the high-flown principles offered by the champions of reform (e.g., a universal right to vote as the cornerstone of democracy, civic participation as a means of weaving law violators back into the social fabric).

In our felon voting book, Jeff and I try to hit this head-on, struggling to offer (putatively?) (I promise that's the last one) balanced context alongside the partisan story (e.g., the history of the laws, how people convicted of felonies view them, international comparisons, public opinion on the issue, and, in cases like Washington's, just what it means to "vote illegally" in a representative democracy). We have taken positions, but hope they are derived from our reading of the evidence rather than knee-jerk partisanship. Still, it can be tough to untangle social science and true belief from naked self-interest.

rock star parking

As I fast approach my 10th anniversary with the Minnversity, I realize that I have parked in the same ramp over 3,000 times. My old jeep often gets lost in said ramp, especially when I am giving someone a ride home and especially when we are in a hurry. Grad students relish my inability to find my vehicle -- it seems to confirm certain long-held suspicions. Job candidates and colleagues, on the other hand, don't quite know what to make of this. My problem is not that I can't remember where I parked. My problem is that I can vividly recall parking in every single space in the ramp at one time or another: "let's see, I remember turning left and going down the stairs ... or was that in 1998?" But I have a solution: park in the least desirable and, hence, always available spot. This is on the top floor, nakedly exposed to the elements. It offers a bracing 5-flight walk-up and a pretty view of the Mpls skyline as I depart in the evening. Best of all, I can now observe the old jeep from my office window -- and thereby catch it in the act as it sneaks off to other spots while I'm cranking away on sociology.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

stigma and sex offenders

When I visit prisons I'm struck by how many inmates are serving time for sex offenses in the Minnesota system and the degree of stigma that attaches to their crimes -- both inside and outside the gates. Once applied, the "sex offender" label is far more stigmatizing than "murderer" or "arsonist" and incredibly tough to remove. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune's editorial staff came out today against the strict proposal being considered by the MN House -- special license plates for former offenders, big sentence increases (automatic life without parole for first- and second-degree sex offenses and prison terms of 20 years to life for recidivists convicted of less serious offenses), and even chemical castration. A few years ago, I wrote an article with Candace Kruttschnitt and Kelly Shelton on the subject. Of 448 sex offenders on probation, only 19 committed new sex crimes within 5 years. I can certainly understand the state's interest in incapacitating rapists and child molesters. Nevertheless, these proposals would be extremely costly and likely provide little payoff in public safety -- particularly in an environment of declining resources for local police forces and state corrections agencies.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

student dreams

I'm hearing more about professors and other authority types worming their way into students' dreams. My students generally picture me behind the wheel of a large automobile. A couple years ago, someone dreamed I was driving a big bus -- over a cliff, as I recall. Here's an email that arrived yesterday, the day after the final exam in my juvenile delinquency class:

Hey Chris! I cant believe I am going to tell you this but I think its funny. Last night I had a dream some of us classmates went on a road trip with you. You had this big ugly green van. Anyway, we were driving next to some girls and they were staring in the car and we got really mad at them so we all gave them the finger. Then you pulled over and they said that they can get us arrested for doing that. So you peeled (sp?) out and we tried to lose them. Then before I woke up you were handcuffed and arrested! What a weird dream. Definitely fits our juvenile delinquency class! Thanks for a great class!

Monday, May 02, 2005

music to run by

Re: Music for running

Cold Sweat - James Brown
Atomic Dog - George Clinton
Got to Give it Up - Marvin Gaye
Summer/All Day Music- War
Polk Salad Annie - Tony Joe White

Unsung - Helmet
Hate to Say I told you So - Hives
Get Free - Vines
Main Offender - Hives
I Wanna be Sedated - Ramones
Lust for Life - Iggy Pop
Gasoline - Audioslave
Interstellar Overdrive - Pink Floyd

Heavy Groove
Whiskey in the Jar - Metallica/Thin Lizzy
Like a Hurricane - Neil Young
Take me to the River - Talking Heads
Time - Chambers Brothers

Sad or Sweet
Feel a Whole Lot Better - Byrds
Angie - Rolling Stones
Do you Realize? - Flaming Lips
Sweet Burgundy - Tommy Bolin

Tangled up in Blue - Bob Dylan
One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer - George Thorogood/John Lee Hooker
Silver Rider - Low
Wonderboy - Tenacious D

Skyscraper - Kinobe
Hayling - FC Kahuna
Kinda Kinky - Ursula 1000

Rosalita - Bruce Springsteen
I will Dare - Replacements
Saturday Night-s Alright for Fighting - Elton John
Rock and Roll - Led Zeppelin
Rocking in the Free World - Neil Young
I’m Eighteen - Alice Cooper
Substitute - The Who

Green Onions - Booker T- and the MGs
Walk Don’t Run - Ventures
Hawaii 5-0 - Ventures
Rumble - Link Wray
Miserlou - Dick Dale

Rebel Rebel - David Bowie
Bang a Gong - T-Rex

Sunday, May 01, 2005

keith richards and other old guitar players

Re: Where does Keith Richards rank in the pantheon of guitar gods?

Ah! An important question. I've got way too much to say on this subject, but Keef summed it up his own self: "all ya need to play guitar is five strings, two fingers, and one asshole" (Yeah -- five strings. He normally removes the low E and tunes down the others, making some of his stuff tough to copy).

As for style, he plays "loose," with a close connection to the instrument. I would call it "lean and unclean" -- a greasy, sinewy sound. He's one of those players who can't keep his hands off a guitar, whether he's backstage, around the house, etc. It shows in his playing (esp. acoustic stuff) -- it looks instinctive or intuitive, but the feel comes with decades of cradling the instrument. He reminds me a bit of Neil Young -- maybe 8 out of 10 on technique and a hundred million out of ten on soul. Both are underrated rhythm players (if you follow the Stones, Charlie Watts gets a lot of credit for the "bottom," but Richards shoulders the load in making their songs go). Neither compete with what Neil would call "fuckin' stock-car-racer guitar players" who do crazy speed work, but I see this as an advantage. He leaves a lot of space or "room" in songs. This is surprisngly tough to do when you have a great lick. He finds the groove but keeps things uncluttered so that everything functions to support the riff (except for Jagger's yammering, of course). I'm guessing that folks like Ron Wood, or Mick Taylor, or Bill Wyman just know to stay the hell out of his way.

Of course, he doesn't have the technical skills of a Clapton or the fluidity of Page either, but I think his riffs are often *much* more engaging than Clapton's (compare "Brown Sugar" with "Sunshine of Your Love"). In addition to the standard blues and Chuck Berry influences of his generation, there's a strong un-ironic old-school country (e.g., Hank Williams) vibe to his playing that most Brits never caught -- sort of like JJ Cale, if you know that reference. In fact, he's the only one I mentioned who regularly plays a telecaster (the standard Nashville-issue axe). Most of the macho guitar gods play Les Pauls to sound "fat like the butcher's dog" or Stratocasters if they want a little twang.

If I were to nitpick, I'd say that he doesn't typically display the touch or sensitivity of someone like Tommy Bolin or even Hendrix (in his quieter moments). And his off-nights are pretty awful in concert. Still, there are some nice exceptions (e.g., listen to the intro on "Angie"). And, of course, he doesn't have the ferocious attack of a Dick Dale or Link Wray when he plays with the Stones, though his solo work (X-pensive Winos, or whatever the name) is plenty tough. As for influence, he's certainly among the most copied players I know. Everything from Joe Perry with Aerosmith (who must be 60 now himself) to punks like Paul Westerberg with the Replacements (who attempted to duplicate his style in many ways), to melodic metal types like Slash of GNR, to modern roots rockers.

He's definitely one of the greats, partly because he is such an icon (I remember getting a super-long strap just so I could play the guitar slung down low like Keef). As Chuck Klosterman wrote in support of such iconography:

"It's difficult to think of rock artists who are great without being cool, since that's precisely why we need them to exist. There have been countless bands in rock history -- T.Rex, Jane's Addiction, the White Stripes, et al. -- who I will always classify as "great," even though
they're really just spine-crushingly "cool." This is why the Eagles suck..."