Chris Uggen's Blog: July 2005

Sunday, July 31, 2005

sociopaths undefeated!

The Minnesota sociology Sociopaths capped another absurdly successful season Sunday, remaining undefeated in their last 1 games. The 'paths again combined tenacious defense with a vulgar display of power to vanquish arch-rivals, Bullwinkle's Saloon. A walk-off homer by the Penn. State Punk decided the contest for the second straight week. After the game, batboy Avery W. outlined a strategic plan to secure the Sociopaths' position as one of the top three graduate student/faculty sociology department slow-pitch softball teams in the world.
Back: Pam, Chris P., Rhonda, Tor, Chris U., Dave, Sarah (mgr.), Helene (asst. mgr.)
Front: Rob, Christina, Avery, Mike M. Ex-officio: Joe Galaskiewicz
Not Pictured: Carolyn, Heather, Mike V., Ann, Ben, Seth, Kathy, Maureen, Melissa, Doug, Teresa, Emma
Photos by Hope

Saturday, July 30, 2005

age and nba arrests

Law Professor Michael McCann has an intriguing post in his sports law blog on age and arrest among basketball players. David Stern and others claim that teen draftees might get into more trouble than well-seasoned college kids. Based on his sample of 84 arrested NBA players, McCann concludes: (1) non-college players are no more likely to be arrested than other players; and, (2) basketball players get into just as much trouble mid-career (or end-career) as they do at the beginning. Comparing college guy JR Ryder with high-schooler Kevin Garnett in Minnesota, the first conclusion doesn't surprise me at all. The second one, however, conflicts with most of what we know about age and crime. So I grabbed his data and plotted some curves.

First, let's plot the raw number of arrests by age group. I tossed out the retired players (we can hardly blame the NBA for them, can we?) and grouped the arrests by age, FBI-style. I then plotted the curves on two separate y-axes for easy comparison. Just click on the graphs to bring up the full-size versions.

By the time they get to the NBA, most players are already past their peak offending years. Still, the NBA peak comes relatively early: 23 versus 19 for US men overall. This made me think about age and selection into pro ball. Sadly, there are a lot more 23-year-olds than 41- year-olds in the NBA these days. So what we really need are age-adjusted rates. Here's what happens when we standardize by the number of players in each age group (using 2003 roster data).

The age-adjusted rate shows the mid-career blip that McCann mentioned. Even without the retirees, older players do get arrested (e.g., Gary Payton's recent DUI). Moreover, McCann seems to be spot-on about the comparatively clean records of 18, 19, and 20 year-olds in the NBA . Still the first two figures are somewhat misleading, since the x-axis shows single years for 16 to 24 but 5-year increments thereafter and the NBA arrests are plotted on a different scale than the US male arrests. So, here's what the age-adjusted arrest curve looks like for NBA players versus the rest of us.

No wonder coaches keep a close eye on their 23- and 24-year-olds. This is the only piece of the distribution where ballplayers are more likely to get arrested than regular Joes. Why? I'm thinking that off-court activities of 18-year-olds center around in-room Playstation. By the early twenties, however, wealthy young athletes probably venture out of the team hotel a bit more. So, the data are a bit sparse, but I think there's enough here to draw two conclusions: (1) the age-crime curve applies to the NBA as elsewhere (it might not be invariant, but ...); and, (2) McCann seems well-justified in challenging the NBA's age floor for 18-19 year-olds.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

law of vagrancy 2005

From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: Police Chief Bill McManus backed off on a plan to require panhandlers to register annually with the city and display a photo ID while they beg. Begging without a license could have resulted in arrest and misdemeanor charges.

"It certainly would be beneficial for downtown businesses and for people who are made to feel uncomfortable by panhandlers," McManus said (in a quote that seems lifted verbatim from Chambliss' crit-classic "Sociological Analysis of the Law of Vagrancy"). Chief McManus spearheaded a similar effort in Dayton, OH but neither the Minneapolis city council nor the mayor wanted to carry the flag on this one. As one might imagine, the ACLU points to constitutional problems with criminalizing begging. Restricting physically aggressive panhandling or limiting its time and place are probably constitutionally permissable, but the first amendment likely provides some protection of one's right to ask people for money.

My concern was more personal. As state support shrinks, the Minnversity is searching for new revenue streams. I'm glad I won't have to wear a laminated panhandling license around my neck at my next lunch with potential donors.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

cover versions

Do covers matter? I don't judge books by their covers, but I do pick up cds when the cover art grabs me. Jeff and I had a cover image that linked voting with crime nicely, but it is already being used on another book. Oh well, we'll find something good. The press suggested a stripe version and an orange version as alternates.

Any advice? I hoped for something like this graffiti image but it probably isn't practical. Jeff's daughter Zoey also drew a wonderful cover for us, but it turns out that adults actually draw most art that looks like kids' work.

I'll leave it to the experts, but I know that something too heavy-handed, or a bad cover in general, won't help sales.

Well, should we go with stripes, orange, or discouragement?

Saturday, July 23, 2005

musicapolis photoshow

The Minnesota Center for Photography opens its Musicapolis show tonight. Judging from the shots in the Strib, they unearthed some killer stuff. There are revealing glimpses of international (Dylan, Beatles), local (Curtiss A., Suburbs) , and in-between (Babes in Toyland, Replacements) acts. The promo materials remind me of Seattle's Experience Music Project, mixing big-name iconography and fun local flavor. The poster image (above) was an inspired choice (forget the stage, check out those guys on the floor). In Greg Helgeson's shot of Prince in 1979, you can imagine him finding his stage legs at his first "professional" show.
Musicapolis runs through September 3 at 165 13th Avenue NE in Northeast Minneapolis.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

policy criminology

I spent the last few days at the National Institute of Justice's annual research and evaluation conference, "Evidence-Based Policies and Practices." The idea is to connect policymakers and practitioners to a broad class of "researchers" studying crime and justice. Sociologists, even (or especially) public sociologists, tend to be cynical about applied/policy research, but this is one cool conference. A highlight for me was Del Elliott's plenary address on his "Blueprints" model programs for violence prevention. In some ways, his presentation brought to mind James Coleman's controversial "Rational Reconstruction of Society" 1992 ASA presidential address, or at least one example of the fruits of Coleman's programmatic challenge.

Elliott's group identifies model programs based on classic social science criteria (e.g., randomized trials, sustained effects, independent replication) and then spreads the seed. He argues passionately against sending kids through programs that are known failures (e.g., Scared Straight, early DARE, most boot camps); he even hinted that class-action suits could be filed against courts who continue to do so on grounds of negligence, if not malice aforethought. Mark Lipsey, the master of meta-analysis, explained how monitoring, training, and quality control (or "fidelity," as they say in the business) can successfully replicate and sustain successful programs. [In evaluation research, it turns out that consistent implementation is just as important as what is being implemented. Most teachers know this; many teaching philosophies can "work," but the absence of a philosophy or its inconsistent application usually fails.] He also offered evaluation strategies when practitioners go beyond the data --adapting a model program to a new target group or unusual local conditions, for example. Finally, organizations such as the Washington State Institute for Public Policy and individuals such as (RAND pioneer) Peter Greenwood are conducting increasingly sophisticated cost-benefit analyses to distinguish the best from the lousiest societal investments in public safety.

Of course, such social-sciencey attempts to systematize prevention and rehabilitation programs will surely discipline and punish some creative and difficult-to-evaluate efforts. That said, the progress in documenting successful programs has been astounding in the past decade -- from the "What Works" report to Congress in the late 1990s to the Campbell Collaboration's new library of clinical trials. When I received my Ph.D. in 1995, many experts were still arguing "nothing works" in corrections (and, one might add, "so what if it did"). Today, you'd be laughed out of the room if you made such claims. A real scientific basis for programs such as cognitive behavioral therapy and nurse home visits, for example, is now firmly established. A rational reconstruction of criminal justice, of course, would further require that policymakers attend more consistently to the science. At least we are creating the preconditions for such action -- a base of knowledge that simply did not exist in earlier eras.

Friday, July 15, 2005

npr and the whole idea of being an intellectual

I love public broadcasting, though sometimes NPR moves me to smash the kitchen radio into tiny plastic shards. It isn't the politics -- Sean Hannity or Janeane Garofalo don't even register on my smash-o-meter -- but the relentless elitism and pretentiousness of the public airwaves. Whenever they go slumming into low art or mass culture, NPR always harrumphs and winks and nudges. They can praise the pie in a place like Bismarck, North Dakota, but will do so in a condescending timbre that distances both broadcaster and audience from the locals who produce and consume it. As academics, of course, we need NPR, which celebrates the whole idea of being an intellectual. Witness this exchange between the (clearly very talented) Terry Gross and the (also very talented, and an icon to boot) Iggy Pop:

Terry Gross: "So, So, So, So, you were really just like interested in umm, I mean, its what the avant-gardists would call like musique concrete, you know, just like the found sounds, ummm…"

Iggy Pop: "I was interested in all that, yeah." Terry Gross: "So I mean did you know that part of what you were doing was actually very avant–garde?"
Iggy Pop: "Yeah-"
Terry Gross: "And that there was a long kind of like classical avant-garde, you know, intellectual tradition of the kind of thing that you were translating into punk?"
Iggy Pop: "Being a young American I didn’t know the long version, I knew the short version. So I was aware of Harry Partch. I was aware of John Cage… a little Buddha, a little Satan, a little… Who’s around, you know? A little Balinese gamelan, a little medicine song, also a little [sings] nah-nah-nah-nah-nah by
Cannibal and the Headhunters. So, you know, I was aware."

Is it just me, or was Ms. Gross actually grilling Iggy Pop on his credentials to be Iggy Pop? "You know, Mr. Pop, your little squawks and gyrations may bear some remote connection to actual art!" To be sure, his ability to drop names like Partch and Cage was an important validating credential for listeners (and, of course, sold a few more anthology CDs to the aged balsamic vinegar and Times Book Review set). More personally, I went to sleep with the horrifying realization that I probably sound exactly like that when talking to normal smart people who didn't bother with advanced degrees. I got a couple hours sleep, but was awakened from a nightmare in which I was Chris Gross-Uggen (now there's a mellifluous hyphenated surname), conducting an interview at the old Stillwater prison.

Gross-Uggen: "So, So, So, So, you were really just like interested in, ummm, I mean its what the structural Marxists would call like crimes of accommodation and resistance, you know, just like the individualistic reaction to false consciousness… ummm…"
Bob the Prisoner: "I was interested in all that, yeah."
Gross-Uggen: "So, I mean, did you know that part of what you were doing was actually very avant–garde?"
Bob: "Yeah-"
Gross-Uggen: "And that there was a long, kind of like, classical avant-garde, you know, intellectual tradition of the kind of thing that you were translating into first-degree aggravated robbery?"

Spooky, huh? Another fine reason to keep those transcripts under lock and key.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

ex-felon employment and expungement

The crimprof blog cites the LA Times on ex-offender job fairs. Such fairs are being organized all over the country, with mixed results. In this case and in some others I've seen, few employers or ex-offenders even showed up. Those who did attend, got good news (employers could get tax credits for hiring someone with a criminal record) and bad (many ex-offenders are ineligible for expungement). Such job fairs seem to be most successful in tight labor markets (e.g., 1999-2000 in most areas). On the employee side, turnout might improve by targeting current probationers or parolees, rather than former offenders who are "off-paper" and more difficult to mobilize. Mobilizing employers is more difficult, unless they face a labor shortage or former felons (potential "sponsors") have a good track record in the firm or establishment. There are books and videos available for ex-offenders and organizations such as Chicago's Safer Foundation have a long history of successful job development and placement for this group. Still, I tend to agree with Richard Freeman -- the best jobs program is probably a full-employment economy.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

jobs, blogs, and the weakest link

Several blogs offer thoughtful comments on a chronicle of higher education piece that discourages blogging among academic jobseekers. To paraphrase, "Ivan Tribble" maintains that blogs quickly reveal negative information about candidates that would otherwise never come to light. Sad, but probably true. The safest course of action is to avoid posting to blogs, to do so anonymously, or perhaps to craft a narrowly specialized blog that stays "on-topic" in one's area of expertise.

This caution seems to reflect what I call the "weakest link" problem: academics judge one another by the worst bit of writing or thinking in the entire oeuvre. A whole body of work can be overshadowed by a single weak link -- an ill-considered comment, a faulty interpretation, or even a mispronounced term (I think I'll mispronounce Weber at my next colloquium talk). Like Supreme Court nominees or presidential candidates, a lengthy public track record provides fodder for critics. I don't know whether this is especially true for sociology but I would imagine so, given research on hiring biases in disciplines lacking "objective" criteria to judge the scholarly value of research. So, we pounce on a weak link as clear evidence of a candidate's ignorance, inadequate training, or other fatal flaws. Economists (or James Coleman) might see this as naturally flowing from the dearth of comprehensive or pertinent information about candidates. Still, I like to think of myself as operating in the "ideas business." And it seems plausible to think that the specter of the weakest link might have a chilling effect on creativity.

Artists, of course, get considerably more slack. Iggy Pop once characterized an album (Soldier or Party, I think) as "one of my dogs" in an interview. If the Coen Brothers stumble a bit, say, fifty minutes into the Hudsucker Proxy, nobody forgets Miller's Crossing, Raising Arizona and other early sucesses. Not so with academics. In discussing the vagaries of the review process, I've said that some of my articles were "unfairly accepted" but I never hear professors admit that any of their articles were "dogs" or "real clinkers."

Here's my favorite part of "Tribble's" article:
The pertinent question for bloggers is simply, Why? What is the purpose of broadcasting one's unfiltered thoughts to the whole wired world?... Worst of all, for professional academics, it's a publishing medium with no vetting process, no review board, and no editor. The author is the sole judge of what constitutes publishable material, and the medium allows for instantaneous distribution [emphasis added].
Worst of all? The sole judge? Oh no, not that! As I type this, the absence of a review process doesn't seem so terrible. In my scientific work, of course, I value reviewers' thoughtful comments. While waiting six months to get those reviews, however, I think wistfully back to writing late-night music reviews to be published the next morning. It can be revealing and fun to reflect on a topic in print. More practically, if I kept these reflections "private," I probably wouldn't bother to think about them or work through them at all (much less write them). Maybe that's good. Last week, a very busy and very smart grad student innocently asked me, "Do you waste much time on that blog?" How am I supposed to answer that one?

In any case, the Chronicle was really pointing to the danger of blogs for outsiders looking in. As a tenured insider, I'm more worried about writing something (even on a non-university site) that would reflect poorly on my students, my colleagues, my department, my university, or my discipline. That is, I'm not overly concerned about people thinking I'm immature or ill-informed, but I'll have to shut it down if Prof. Tribble so dislikes my reflections (or drummer jokes) that his department refuses to interview my busy and smart advisees.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

public sociology at HIRED

I spoke about work and crime today at HIRED, an organization providing employment and training services to a client base that includes former felons. I initially expected an informal break-room discussion with a few staff members, but I was given two hours and an audience of 40-50 smart professionals. In principle I relish this sort of public sociology opportunity. In practice, however, it can be daunting. I once worked in a small employment and training nonprofit in Madison (the Dane County Private Industry Council). In preparing, I thought how I would have reacted to some university pointy-head telling me how to do my job at a mandatory two-hour training session (even if said pointy-head does bring cool slides). I tried to hit some key ideas and empirical findings from the good research literature, but offered as many caveats (e.g., would experimental results from the 1970s and 1980s hold today?) as generalizations. It is always a challenge to summarize oceans of research without glossing over important details, or putting an overly optimistic or pessimistic spin on the findings. Fortunately, I had copies of a short review piece that Jer Staff and I had written for corrections administrators so I could at least provide citations when needed.

In the end, I got a lot of perceptive questions and comments. I felt somewhat at home answering the big-picture questions about stigma, punishment, and reintegration. I stumbled, however, when pushed for existing models of exemplary programs that have been rigorously assessed. I know something about what people are doing today and I know a lot about what "worked" in the past, but I cannot say whether what people are doing now is working now. More distressingly, I cannot say for certain why things worked or failed to work. That is, even where a causal effect of work on crime can be identified through an experiment or other means, social scientists can often only speculate about the mechanism connecting them (e.g., money, stability, age-graded role transition). I'm certainly guilty of either emphasizing the "true effect" but remaining agnostic as to the mechanism, or focusing on potential mechanisms but hedging on causality. I came back with three (pointy-headed yet also simple-minded!) reactions:
  1. Run more experiments and vary the mechanisms. If money is the hypothesized mechanism, for example, we could pay group A $10/hour and group B $20/hour. But experiments are expensive and random assignment is a tough sell to practitioners even under the best conditions (unlimited resources, no harm to participants, no guilt in denying treatment to non-participants).
  2. Let theory guide the mechanisms (economic vs. learning vs. informal control vs. all of the above).
  3. Push harder for evaluation of the myriad "interventions" that employment and training and corrections professionals make every day.

thinking big @ franconia sculpture park

On Sunday, I ran up to the Franconia Sculpture Park in Shafer, MN. I immediately feel inspired when I see the artists and interns throwing fire and metal around, listening to loud music, and enjoying the sunshine. Well, first I just feel jealous, then I feel inspired. This trip, I stared at Mark Guilbeau's "An Analytical Living Environment"(below) until it started to feel like home.

The mix of styles and moods is thrilling, if unsettling: from Vaclav Fiala's cool Observatory to Anastasia Ward's dreamy Flying Horse to a dark remembrance of Duluth, 1920. Many works have a punk D.I.Y. sensibility that I'm just not feeling in the Walker's tasteful sculpture garden. The big metal-throwing crane is airbrushed with graffiti ("Makin' Art and Breakin' Hearts"), the sculptors are scarred and sunburned, and they might invite you "inside" a piece as they dig, bend, carve or hammer it. I can't stay away for more than a few months and I advise friends to go get lost there if they hit a creative dry spell. Franconia is accessible from the twin cities, you needn't pay unless you care to make a donation, and you might come back with some ginormous ideas. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, July 02, 2005

semi-participant observation

I always thought drummer jokes were unfair and stereotypical. Funny, but unfair and stereotypical.

What do you call someone who hangs around musicians? A drummer.
I finally read Jacob Slichter's So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star. "Jake" was the drummer in Semisonic, who had a huge hit in the late-1990s with the ubiquitous "Closing Time."

Did you hear about the guitar player who locked his keys in the car? He had to break a window to get the drummer out!
Slichter graduated from Harvard, where he first met singer/guitarist (and Minneapolis music hero) Dan Wilson. He writes as an outsider, almost as a participant-observer. Even as he's explaining what's it like to be commodified, he's reveling in the rock star coolness of it all.

He knows that "the question of how to dress us" provided a "cultural fork in the road" (p. 76), regrets his failure to "lambaste MTV's horrid gender politics" (p. 173), and explains in detail how "recoupable debt" made him a "rock and roll sharecropper" (p. 36). I most enjoyed the backstage dirt on the economics of the music industry -- the not-quite payola that record companies pay independent promoters who, in turn, pay radio stations to play the company's music. The industry seems hopelessly old-fashioned and ill-equipped to deal with new media and modes of distribution.

"Mom, when I grow up, I want to be a drummer." His mother scoffs and replies... "Well, you can't do both."
Still, Slichter writes with no bitterness (despite the silly subtitle: "How I Machine-Gunned a Roomful of Record Executives and Other True Tales from a Drummer's Life") . He enjoys and appreciates many of the musicians he meets, and speaks well of those closest to the band. On good nights, Slichter feels like "lord of the pocket" building the "groove into a wave," gliding along the top, before sending it crashing down on the audience and stilling the waters (p. 197). Even the mix tape of cool drum parts he listens to before shows is revealing and instructive.

Q: What's the difference between a drum machine and a drummer? A: You only have to punch the information into the drum machine once!
I initially thought that Slichter must have been a sociologist, but he's too hilariously self-deprecating and star-struck for that. Until a soc Ph.D. writes a rock and roll travelogue, however, So You Wanna Be a Rock and Roll Star may provide the best "nerd's-eye view" of the music industry.

Friday, July 01, 2005

medicalization and mental illness

After widely publicized concern that anti-anxiety benzodiazepines such as Xanax would be excluded under new Medicare guidelines, the federal government appears to be reversing course. The stigma associated with medication and mental illness can be measured, in part, by reaction to Tom Cruise's diatribe on the medicalization of postpartum depression and Brooke Shields' response in a New York Times op-ed:
  • In a strange way, it was comforting to me when my obstetrician told me that my feelings of extreme despair and my suicidal thoughts were directly tied to a biochemical shift in my body...

My sense is that postpartum depression is less stigmatizing than plain vanilla depression, perhaps because the body changes so much with childbirth that a speedy return to "normal" is anticipated:

  • With a doctor's care, I have since tapered off the medication, but without it, I wouldn't have become the loving parent I am today.

There is a large research literature on stigmatization of mental illness. This case suggests to me that mental illness may be less stigmatizing when it is (1) acute rather than chronic; (2) demonstrably linked to changes in physical health or biochemical shifts; and, (3) associated with a social good (such as motherhood) rather than a social bad (such as illicit drug use). I notice that Shields' editorial uses the term "postpartum depression" eight times and the generic "depression" only once. Do people still subscribe to the "pull yourself up by the bootstraps" theory (or Cruise's novel prescription of "diet and exercise") for other forms of depression?