Chris Uggen's Blog: August 2005

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

quick n' dirty online felon voting survey

When I checked the little online survey in my felon disenfranchisement page this morning, I noticed that there had been exactly 1,000 responses to my question asking whether convicted felons should be allowed to vote while in prison, on parole, on probation, or after they had completed their entire sentences. So, 1,000 being a nice round number, it seems like a good time to write up the results. With Jeff Manza, Clem Brooks, and the Harris Organization, I conducted a real national poll on the subject in 2002. Jeff and Clem designed some clever question wording experiments, splitting the sample to get clean estimates (a far superior method to the single-item approach I used on my quick n' dirty question). In the Harris poll, we were somewhat surprised to find that most people favored allowing everyone but current prisoners to vote. How do the results from this nationally representative poll compare to those from my online visitor poll?Visitors to the site were decidedly more favorable toward voting rights for all groups, but both polls revealed the same gradient of support -- strongest for ex-felons who have done their time, weakest for current prisoners, with those supervised in their communities on probation and parole falling somewhere between the two extremes. So, the public represented in the Harris poll would favor a system such as Ohio or Illinois, where only prisoners are disenfranchised. Many of the site visitors would go farther and enfranchise prisoners as well, as is currently the practice in Maine and Vermont. Neither group of respondents would prefer a stricter system such as Minnesota's or Wisconsin's, in which probationers and parolees are disenfranchised. Most conspicuously, perhaps, only 20% nationally and 8% of site visitors favored indefinite disenfranchisement of former felons as well as current felons, as is currently the case in Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Arizona, Virginia and other states (note: the map hasn't been updated to include 2005 changes in Iowa and Nebraska).

I'm of course very skeptical of such online poll results (and confess that some of those 1,000 votes came from my computer and many more came from the computers of my students). Nevertheless, I was happy to discover some degree of diversity among site visitors and the same gradient of support for the voting rights of non-incarcerated felons. I'm also grateful that about 1,000 people took the time to read the survey and vote. Thanks!

closed-circuit to glenn mason and barry alvarez

Closed-circuit to Glenn Mason, Barry Alvarez, and John Gagliardi: you'd better sign him while you can, because the enormous nonconformist is on the freshman football roster. I'm hoping big 61 revolutionizes defensive line play like Alan Page and Big Daddy Lipscomb. I'll be happy, however, if he just avoids spinal cord injury and passes all his drug tests and most of his classes (its not like I'm swelling with pride or anything).

Have a good season, Tor. You rock.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

murder of washington sex offenders

I've written at some length about the hyper-stigma that accompanies the "sex offender" label in the contemporary United States. Whenever I even hint that this stigma may hinder rather than help public safety, as in this AP story in June, I'm swamped with supportive calls and emails from sex offenders and their families and vaguely threatening or accusing mail from others. And, of course, breathless invitations to appear on cable news shows as "liberal punching bag o' the day." [Can you believe it, this guy actually thinks sex offenders have it too tough?] Now comes this story from the Seattle Times and Bellingham Herald:

BELLINGHAM — Last Friday night, a man claiming to be an FBI agent dropped in on three Level 3 sex offenders living together, supposedly to warn them of an Internet "hit list" targeting sex offenders. The man was not an FBI agent, but he may have been enforcing a hit list of his own creation. Two of the roommates were found dead early Saturday of gunshot wounds, and Bellingham police are investigating a crime that authorities say may be one of the nation's most serious cases of vigilantism aimed at sex offenders. The killings also highlight a potential problem about Washington's 1990 law requiring sex offenders to register their addresses so the public can keep track of them.

Yes, if the story checks out as reported, I guess murder qualifies as a potential problem. Given the demonization of sex offenders, I'm certain that few will shed tears over these murders. I'm also sure that the vigilante had never read the Bureau of Justice Statistics report or large research literature showing low recidivism rates of sex offenders relative to other former prisoners. Yet our FBI imposter/wannabe was well-informed on two counts: (1) he knew that "level-three sex offenders" Hank Eisses, 49, James Russell, 42, and Victor Vasquez, 68 could be found at 2825 Northwest Avenue; and, (2) he knew the specific details of their crimes -- offenses that took place in 1997, 1994, and 1991, respectively. Clearly one cannot blame the print or broadcast media, or the state department of corrections, or local law enforcement, or the state legislature for the actions of an accused vigilante. Nevertheless, the case raises troubling questions about whether the policies of each institution are best serving the public interest. To my knowledge, there is no clear evidence of less new sex offending in communities that impose greater stigma. Lacking such evidence, I fear that the moral panic exemplified by current notification procedures is a net loss for public safety.

Even years before their scheduled release, both male and female prisoners have told me they feared "the internet" and public availability of information about them. Rest assured that the Bellingham murder story will quickly make the rounds of every TV room and sex offender unit in state penitentiaries. It is not a story of deterrence that will keep them from future crime. It is not a story of redemption or martyrdom that will give them strength as they work through the tough times. It is instead a story of the hysterical vigilante lying in wait, a story that embodies their fears about life after prison and their dim prospects for ever becoming a normal citizen in a community. And it makes them wonder why the hell they should go to treatment.

Monday, August 29, 2005

word verification on comments

To foil the spammers for a while, I added a little word verification task for commenters. This additional step is only meant to verify that an actual human being is doing the commenting rather than a spambot. Anyone can still comment anonymously on any post as long as they can type groovy distorted letters like these into a little verification box. There were just too many advertisements popping up in the comments section, for products that I really didn't want to endorse. At least I think they were ads. My friends wouldn't really be devoting blogs to the sale of ceiling fans, cat toys, and penile enhancement pills, would they?

ny times editorial on felon disenfranchisement

The New York Times today calls for an end to the practice of disenfranchising former felons after they have completed their sentences, drawing attention to successful reenfranchisement efforts in Iowa and Nebraska. In the latter state, a strong bipartisan legislative coalition decisively overrode a governor's veto. The piece notes that the United States is virtually alone among industrialized nations in restricting the rights of former felons in many states, as well as the racialized history of these laws:
Like so much of what ails America, laws that strip felons of the right to vote are rooted in race. The South enacted these restrictions during the late 19th and early 20th century as part of a sweeping effort to limit black political power. This ugly legacy is painfully evident in statistics showing that black people account for about 40 percent of disenfranchisement cases and only about 12 percent of the population.

I wrote about the racial origins of U.S. felon disenfranchisement with Angie Behrens and Jeff Manza in a recent empirical study and a brief review piece. In my opinion, race continues to be important in efforts to both disenfranchise and to reenfranchise felons. In fact, Jeff and I argue that the reenfranchisement movement today gains its greatest moral authority from the civil rights movement. Attending meetings around the country on the issue, I can see that the leaders are those who have done time fighting for civil rights rather than the professors or liberal foundation folks. I think it is easy to paint activists as jumping on the issue as part of a crude grab for likely Democratic votes. But the civil rights and church leaders (many of whom have been around since before the Voting Rights Act) provide a pure and powerful reminder that the right to vote goes well beyond narrow partisan concerns. Often a small legislative caucus or church-centered group needs to "carry the flag." In Nebraska, for example, the Holy Family Catholic Church of Omaha helped organize and build momentum on the issue. In Connecticut, a Black and Puerto Rican Legislative Caucus helped convince a split legislature and a Republican governor to permit probationers to vote. In short, a "color-blind" reform effort can come off as thin or self-serving. Instead, the racist history of the laws, the problem of contemporary black vote dilution, and the long struggle for civil rights more generally provides a strong moral backbone for reform efforts.

most disturbing, yet strangely familiar

I came across this image (jobani.gif) on the feministe blog though it may have originated elsewhere. I've been feeling poorly about being unproductive and not delivering on some writing deadlines, but I haven't felt like this since the dissertation mania of summer '95. Anyone identifying too closely with this picture right now should STEP AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER. A little walking and talking in the sun sometimes reboots my head and improves my writing, especially when combined with gyros, baklava, and an understanding friend (your mileage may vary).

Sunday, August 28, 2005

what's the matter with the university of kansas? how democrats won the heart of academia

Several surveys and critiques of left-wing overrepresentation in higher education are generating discussion. I can quibble with the sampling and methodology (or, I suppose, the biases of the researchers), but I wouldn't seriously question the population estimates and trend data on "percent Democrat" or "percent liberal." I know that this isn't a front-burner issue for most social scientists, but I think the results resonate strongly with the public, making it easier to dismiss our work as intrinsically biased. It also makes me wonder whether public and professional sociology are necessarily liberal or radical endeavors. As a middle-class White guy, I know that my career has benefited from having people like me in power. Have I also been privileged by my political leanings? Some data:

Point Estimates: Klein and Stern report results of a 2003 survey that asked faculty "To which political party have the candidates you've voted for in the past ten years mostly belonged?"

The results show that the faculty is heavily skewed towards voting Democratic. The most lopsided fields surveyed are Anthropology with a D to R ratio of 30.2 to 1, and Sociology with 28.0 to 1. The least lopsided is Economics with 3.0 to 1. After Economics, the least lopsided is Political Science with 6.7 to 1. The average of the six ratios by field is about 15 to 1.

Trend: A 2005 study by Rothman, Lichter, and Nevitte reports "a sharp shift to the left" since a 1984 Carnegie study that asked similarly-worded questions:

In 1984, only 39% of faculty members identified themselves as liberal, including only 6% that would describe themselves as "left," compared to 34% who identify themselves as conservative, including 4% who see themselves as "strong conservatives." The 1999 study found 72% of faculty to the left of center, including 18% who were strongly left (choosing "one" or "two" on the 10 point scale from "very left" to "very right"). Only 15% described themselves as right of center, including only 3% who were strongly right. It appears that, over the course of 15 years, self-described liberals grew from a slight plurality to a 5 to 1 majority on college faculties.

So, unless the studies are more seriously flawed than I think, there are a lot more liberals than conservatives in higher education and the proportions are becoming more skewed over time. True? Liberal representation, of course, doesn't mean liberal bias. I have not carefully reviewed the research on this issue, but frankly I find some of "our" defenses for the disparity to be weak, anti-intellectual, and troubling on their face. They offer arguments based on supply-side economics (that conservatives really don't want to work in academia), innate differences (that conservatives are naturally less intelligent or more dogmatic than liberals), or absolute truth (that free inquiry demands a left-leaning approach), then dismiss any remaining concerns with a wave of the hand and a hearty "Don't worry about it!" Even if we really believed these arguments (and their applicability to this and only this disparity), how much of that 28:1 ratio among sociology faculty would they explain in combination? Isn't it possible that at least some portion of the residual variance is due to discrimination?

I hate to lapse into a "some of my best friends are conservative" argument, but that's where I'm headed. I know plenty of moderate Republicans and (small-l) libertarians with the aptitude and inclination to conduct good social science (yes, I realize that the qualifiers are patronizing and probably annoying to non-moderate Republicans and large-L libertarians, but this whole post is probably patronizing and annoying to everyone else). I once wrote a paper with a brilliant undergrad named Jennifer Janikula (formerly Jennifer Halko) who had headed the local College Republicans and interned for a Republican senator. Jennifer was skeptical of Bill Clinton's argument that volunteer experience might make people more law-abiding. When our analysis failed to refute Clinton's view, she had no problem writing up the results in an unbiased manner and publishing them in Social Forces. Had they come out differently, I think I would have been equally unbiased, though I likely would have harrumphed a bit in the conclusion about the data or design being insufficient to provide a definitive critical test.

As the last comments reveal, I still cling to ideals of value neutrality and an objective social science. In my view, hints of bias threaten the legitimacy of our claim on societal resources -- I'm a public employee, after all, and the citizenry at large still pays a good portion of my salary. When I look at the numbers, however, I'd have to conclude that my "safe-left" politics (neither too hot, nor too cold and within spitting distance of most of my colleagues) have probably helped my career, just as my race, middle-class background and gender have opened doors along the way. Of course, like anyone else, I'd like people who share my own values and worldview to remain in power in academia, but there's probably room at the table for a few more conservatives. Or is there really no problem if most 20-person sociology departments voted 20 for Kerry/Nader and 0 for Bush in communities split 50:50? I'm starting to worry in a "What's the Matter with Kansas" way about sociologists losing the hearts and minds of America. Aside from real or perceived biases in instruction, would sociological knowledge flourish or founder if sociology faculty looked a little more like the rest of the citizenry on this dimension?

Saturday, August 27, 2005

commercial music

I just got word from the west coast that my 2005 song of the summer, Ben Lee's Catch my Disease is popping up on a TV commercial hawking school supplies already. This is generally bad news, but the day is beautiful and I'm seeing at least two bright sides: (1) sometimes product and song make an inspired match, as in the Kinks' Picture Book Hewlett Packard ad; and, (2) sometimes overlooked artists gain well-deserved recognition, as in the Suicide Commandos' Complicated Fun spots for Target. I don't know how Ray Davies feels about HP, but the commando-in-chief was stoked to gain a wider audience:

"From the vantage point of a 48-year-old punk rocker, it's funny how your dreams come true," said Commandos singer/guitarist Chris Osgood. "I always hoped the Commandos would have a song that got really, really wide exposure. At the time, I was thinking a song on the radio. But now that dream is going to come true in a totally unexpected way." [source: Jim Walsh's Pioneer Press interview]
OK, now I have to geek out with a boring personal digression. I was 15 when I heard Complicated Fun on the cheekily-titled regional compilation "Big Hits of Mid-America Vol. III." The punk energy and clever lyrics told us to chase both wild physical abandon and intellectual challenge, and that we needn't sacrifice the former for the latter:
It was easy back in treatment I got the sympathy I need
I told ‘em I was really smart and everyone agreed
We'd drink some beers and crack some jokes and that was quite enough
But I’m a whole lot older now, the novelty’s worn off ...
Now the future ain’t tomorrow, now the changes have begun
We’ve got to get a handle on some complicated fun...

The Commandos kick-started Minnesota punk and their two-minute anthem stays close to the hearts of some fine writers and generations of musicians. Before the Target commercial, however, only a few thousand ever heard the song (Big Hits sold 5,150 copies), and the artists surely never made any real money from it. After researching other music in ads, I was astounded at the range of songs used in commercials. Who could've thought "London Calling" would sell Jaguars? Or that "Lust for Life" spoke to the luxury cruise market, of all things?
I find these combinations amusing rather than blasphemous, but one has to draw the line somewhere. I'm predicting a bad end for anyone who trys to sell Levitra using the Kinks' Waterloo Sunset -- a song so beautiful it brings out strong performances by Cathy Dennis, Def Leppard, Blur's Damon Albarn, (Los) Angeles (in Spanish), David Bowie, and (my all-time personal favorite) Superlungs Terry Reid. Of course, the artists should have the last word, especially if an ad firm wants to celebrate a lost Curtiss A or Babes in Toyland treasure by cutting them a long-overdue check. So, I don't care if they use "Catch My Disease" to sell back-to-school supplies or skipping-school supplies, just leave my Waterloo Sunset alone.

Friday, August 26, 2005

demotion at bureau of justice statistics

The New York Times reported yesterday that "The Bush administration is replacing the director of a small but critical branch of the Justice Department, months after he complained that senior political officials at the department were seeking to play down newly compiled data on the aggressive police treatment of black and Hispanic drivers." Lawrence Greenfeld's demotion at the Bureau of Justice Statistics is the latest in a series of actions which, many criminologists contend, threaten the integrity of the nation's knowledge base on crime and justice. I certainly couldn't do my work without unbiased data on crime rates and incarceration, or unvarnished reports of funded research. I literally visit the BJS site every day and I'm continually astounded at the timeliness and quality of the work produced and compiled by this small agency. And I'm clearly not alone. Judging from the flurry of emails and calls I've gotten about this demotion, I wouldn't be surprised to see some high-profile op/eds and special sessions devoted to the issue at meetings. Fortunately, the large-scale study of police/citizen relations remains available for all to see. Click here for the "uncut and unrated" BJS report by Matthew R. Durose, Erica L. Schmitt, and Patrick A. Langan.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

life course / race course

Fall is transition time for academics, especially those in departments emphasizing life course sociology. In addition to career transitions, I've also passed some formal and informal milestones in one of my favorite leisure activities. Last year I formally gained "masters" status at races, a designation based solely upon one's date of birth rather than any accomplishment. Presumably this makes me eligible for fabulous prizes, but I haven't brought home any trophies or hardware yet, "masters" or otherwise. A glorious diversity of ages and body types assemble at every local 5k or marathon, from the elite skinnybutt racers to back-of-the-pack clydesdales like me. After 10 years of such events, I've noticed that my runnin' buddies don't slow down much over time: we started slow, we're still slow, and we couldn't get appreciably slower without running backwards, which would seem to require more effort than we're willing to put into it. In general, however, most older runners are wily veterans, compensating for physical declines by running smarter races than the kids.

As a rapidly aging hipster doofus, I know that ageist remarks quickly come back to haunt me (Oh, the silly things I said in grad school!). Still, it really bugs me to be beaten out in every race by some old guy clomping along, wheezing heavily, listing to one side, sweating profusely through a worn Bjorn Borg headband and diaphenous "lucky" race-T from '78, and throwing off a powerful smell of onions and Old Spice. The mature female runners are pretty much indistinguishable from these guys except for a slight difference in size and aroma. I'll take off feeling strong and purposeful, but the old masters hold their pace, passing me when I slow for water or tie my shoes. In the end, they kick my butt and I have to force a congratulatory smile as they stagger past me at the finish line.

So, here's my precise life course location in August, 2005. I'm chugging along at a race in White Bear Lake, MN. About five miles in, I hear the wheezing, feel the uneven footfalls around me, and, yes, smell the ol' onionspicesweat. I have a quick look around to see who it is this time. Hmmm ... nobody there. Then I notice that the fresh-faced runners nearby are giving me an unusually wide berth and crinkling their little noses as they pass. Aha! I've become that guy! My shirt only dates to the '96 Lake Monona 20k and the cologne is Old Hugo Boss rather than Old Old Spice, but I've definitely joined the brotherhood. It feels a little like getting tenure, so I'm o.k. with it. I suppose I could probably upgrade the wardrobe and lay off the White Castles the night before race day, but I know it would just prolong the inevitable. More than any formal masters designation, this sort of informal deference and nose-crinkling derogation clearly marks my happy (happy, I tell you!) transition from neophyte runner to full-blown crustihood. Now when I pass somebody at the twin cities marathon this october -- and I will pass somebody -- I'll also be passing along the shame and frustration that the wily veterans instilled in me over the past decade. I can't believe that dude is faster than me...

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

johnson v. bush petition

The Brennan Center for Justice recently filed a petition for certiorari before the U.S. Supreme Court in Johnson v. Bush, a challenge to Florida's felon disenfranchisement law. As an expert on this case, I wrote a lengthy report on felon voting restrictions, the size and social distribution of the plaintiff class, and the operation of Florida's clemency system. An intriguing "What Would Roberts Do" post is online at Rick Hasen's election law blog. Full details on the Johnson case are available from the Brennan Center. Its lead plaintiff, Thomas Johnson, is also featured in Laurel Greenberg's fascinating Florida election documentary Trouble in Paradise.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

feminist criminology

From the crimprof blog: The American Society of Criminology Division on Women and Crime announces a new journal with Sage, titled Feminist Criminology. Judging by the strong editorial board and the division's backing, it will no doubt attract some great scholarship. The division has been a big part of ASC since the mid-1980s, with a large membership, a quarterly newsletter, and coveted awards (including a student paper competition (deadline 9/15)). Anyone interested in Feminist Criminology can sign up for free online access to volume 1 .

Monday, August 22, 2005

playin' makeup, wearin' (daisy rock) guitars

When my daughter needed her first guitar, this model by Daisy Rock was exactly what she wanted (click the pics to enlarge). To my knowledge, this is the first line of electric guitars marketed expressly to girls. Is this a good thing? Or does equality imply that girls should be buying Strats, Les Paul Goldtops, and Martin acoustics? Frankly, I like the Daisy Rock idea and wish I had thought of it first. I don't remember seeing anything like this while misspending my youth in the smoke-filled boys club that was Torp's music on St. Paul's Rice Street. After seeing guitarists Mimi Schippers, Wayne Osgood, Rod Engen, Alex Piquero and some cool gender sessions last week, I thought about Daisy Rock and doing gender via guitar in adolescence.

Tish Caravolo, Daisy Rock's creator and designer, says "a guitar for girls is long overdue. Standard guitars are often too big and bulky for the female form. When I first started playing bass as a teenager, the instrument felt like a bat in my female-sized hands. At times, I wanted to quit because I felt like maybe the instrument just wasn't for me, or that I wasn't good enough ... many female musicians have experienced the same set of feelings and I truly believe this is why we have a lack of female guitar-playing .... As the mother of 2 girls ... I want to be able to provide them with opportunities ... to feel comfortable and capable."

As advertised, the Daisy is compact, it plays well, and it has some fun electronics (e.g., you can switch to what sounds like single coil pickups for a Fender-like sound or double coil for something closer to a Gibson). True to her story, my son's first (bass) guitar, in contrast, was long, dark, and tough-looking. He wanted an industrial-strength amplifier (power!) to stand up to any drummer, so we went with a simple and inexpensive Yamaha bass and a booming amp:
After a lot of playing, he fell under the influence of Flea and NOFX's Fat Mike. His second bass is thus a funky vintage Danelectro (whoa-- bassists' nicknames sure play with male body images: aside from wee Flea and "Fat" Mike, there's "the Ox" John Entwistle, "Bootsy" Collins, "Geezer" Butler...). I'm guessing his next stop is some high-end Music Man or Fender -- but I ain't paying for it, dude.

My guitars followed a similar progression from a $100 nerd-boy hollow-body at 12 that looked like this (thanks, Dad!)
... to a LOUD macho metalhead iceman that only accentuated my nerdishness at 15 ...
... soon supplemented by a pretty IBZ Gibson Dove copy during my high school "stop the draft" period, is the go-to guitar around the fireplace.I never really played very well and don't play much today, but I knew that the guitar I carried around was way more important than the ($175) car I drove. Today I have a pink 60s strat (well, Fender calls it rose mist or something, but it looks pink to me). I probably wouldn't have picked this at 15, but I'm glad the kids have more choices today.

In any case, I'm predicting that if Ms. Caravolo is successful with Daisy Rock, she will indeed get a few more girls into guitars, onto the stage, and ultimately on the radio. I'm also predicting that my sociology friends will admonish me for perpetuating the stereotyping, rather than reallocating the big ol' black bass to the girl and the cute lavender six-string to the lad. As a parent, however, I have a pretty limited range of action -- you can lead your kids to axes, but you can't make 'em shred.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

teaching deviance with (the other) nwa

Northwest Airlines mechanics went on strike today. Like many Minnesotans, I have good friends and family members on both sides of the picket line. No one disputes that these mechanics are highly skilled, well compensated, and largely responsible for the sterling safety record of the airline's aging fleet of DC-9s. Citing competitiveness and losses, however, management is demanding deep pay cuts and plans to outsource many jobs overseas. The mechanics have been so frustrated with management's position -- especially the hiring and training of replacement workers -- that there is some evidence of a work "slowdown" over the past month.

In my sociology of deviance course this semester, I'm thinking of referencing NWA as I make my way through the theories -- both as corporate and workplace deviance. I can think of a structural Marxist account of power and rulemaking, as well as a neoclassical or functional account based on markets. I'm most intrigued by the idea of teaching about this at the situational and group level of analysis, though. Let's say a mechanic could fix a cooling fan, but decides instead to ground the flight by defining it as irreparable -- either out of frustration with management or loyalty to the union or both. From a differential association or social learning perspective, this seems a clear case of close group ties compelling (rather than restraining) deviance -- conformity to the group produces rule violation. I'm less certain of social control explanations (the DA take always comes a bit easier to a Sutherland student), but I'll probably lean on Hirschi generally and Toby's stake in conformity more specifically. Once the mechanics figured out that most of their jobs were gone about a month ago, they had zero incentive to conform to NWA (or FAA) rules, and informal controls went out the window. Is this too much of a stretch? It seems like a sad but apt example that raises basic questions about the social construction of deviance and whether or how it is learned in interaction. Sound reasonable? As a companion article, one might use an accessible structural/institutional piece by Rick Mathews and David Kauzlarich (featured in the Adlers' fine reader) about the disastrous consequences of shoddy maintenance at one budget airline.

Friday, August 19, 2005

hell hath no fury like a grindcore band scorned...

Here's a Friday diversion from post-meeting ennui: The Smoking Gun reports that lawyers from the Iowa metal band Slipknot are confronting Burger King over their use of a "look-alike, sound alike 'band' in order to influence the Slipknot generation to purchase Chicken Fries." Burger King filed for a quick declaratory judgement, arguing that the "mock heavy metal band wearing chicken masks does not violate any rights, including rights of publicity or trademark rights." I love it when putatively silly and putatively serious worlds collide. To be sure, the masks of BK's "Coq Roq" (charming title, which itself has generated some controversy) do resemble those of Slipknot, but no 14-year-old metalhead would ever confuse them as "sound alikes" as the claim alleges.
I've got some free advice for the lawyers: BK's Coq Roq is clearly derivative, but they're ripping off Gluecifer -- the regressive Norwegian metal band of my kinsman, Rolf Yngve Uggen, aka Raldo Useless (love the guitar, dude, but please tell me you didn't write those lyrics). In fact, the first four words of Gluecifer's allmusic entry are "Scandinavian cock-rock combo," a phrase which may be trademark protected. But don't take my word for it. If you can spare the time or if you just can't resist, do the following: (1) hop over to the Coq Roq site to hear Cross the Road (which should load automatically); (2) now jump to Gluecifer's I Got a War (try here if it doesn't load). Same song, right? (3) Okay, now check out anything by Slipknot on yahoo launch. Way different vibe, right? The only common thread is that all three bands seem really, really scared of women. So, BK appropriated Slipknot's look but Gluecifer's sound. If Gluecifer ultimately gets damages from BK, they can send my cut to the general scholarship fund of my favorite public university (which, of course, in no way endorses either chicken fries or misogyny).

Sunday, August 14, 2005

stockholm prize in criminology

The big news at the closing of the World Criminology Congress was the Swedish Minister of Justice's announcement of a new international award. The Stockholm Prize in Criminology will be awarded for outstanding achievements in criminological research or for the application of research results by practitioners for the reduction of crime and the advancement of human rights. I know that big awards can sometimes be divisive but I see this as a terrific development for the social scientific study of crime.

Each time I hear the Nobel announcements, I think an award for sociology or the study of social life more generally is long overdue. Seeing James Heckman awarded a Nobel Prize in economics for "development of theory and methods for analyzing selective samples" or Toni Morrison awarded a literature prize for her "visionary force and poetic import" makes me think of the contributions of sociologists worthy of similar recognition. So, who would you nominate for the new criminology prize? Or, for a (yet to be developed) sociology prize?

Saturday, August 13, 2005

commodification, payola, and KMOX

Market economics and freakonomics have a lot to recommend them. Intellectuals get pretty lathered up, however, about the commodification of art and culture. Can we really blame the tyranny of the market when "good" work gets pushed aside? Economic and cultural sociology have always interested me from afar, so I wish I had the training and conceptual tools that each area employs to get traction on such questions. I came across three loosely related stories in the last month that a good economic sociologist or cultural sociologist should be able to get her head around

1. For better or worse, Gore Vidal's smart-alecky essays on power and inequality kick-started me into sociology as a freshman English major. The last few years I've seen his interviews become lamentations, as he realizes he won't live long enough to see "some sort of civilization take root" in America. I think what he means by "civilization" is a well-educated populace, generally free from material want, with some reasonable "floor" of health care and income that preserve human dignity and connectedness. (He'd say it with much greater panache, of course). By saying we lack a civilization, however, he's also clearly ripping American culture as well as the political and economic choices made by elites. I would probably disagree with Mr. Vidal on the particular contributions of rawk music and baseball to American culture (and civilization), but some aspects of the market can undermine even these peculiarly American contributions.

2. On rawk, I posted last month about Jacob Slichter's dissection of the economics of popular music. The former Semisonic drummer published a Times op-ed recently, weighing in on the New York Attorney General's investigation into payola allegations at Sony.

[The] method of getting airplay circumvents payola laws, which forbid a radio station from accepting a payment to play a song without disclosing that payment to its listeners. Because the promoters pay the stations up front and collect later from record companies, the lines are sufficiently blurred, making it hard to prove that any quid pro quo transaction took place between a label and a station.

I guess no one should be shocked anymore at the commodification of popular music, but I don't think a lot of listeners (or musicians, for that matter) know that the artists are actually paying for the airplay:

I certainly didn't understand it - until my band, Semisonic, found itself flying around the country in 1996, visiting radio stations and ingratiating ourselves to program directors ... Knowing that our record company, MCA, would deduct our promotional expenses from the band's share of future record sales, I kept tabs on our costs after flights, meals, hotels... I estimated we had spent close to $20,000. ... How much had we spent on promotion overall? Close to $500,000... had gone to independent record promoters, gatekeepers who control access to the airwaves. The promoters pay commercial radio stations, putatively to look at their playlists, but in reality, as those in the business know, to get their clients' songs on the air.

My favorite statement on the subject is Neil Young's Payola Blues [clip] from his "Shocking Pinks" rockabilly period.

Well, here's three thousand,that ought to get it on.
Well, thanks a lot man! I love your new song.
Payola blues- No matter where I go, I never hear my record on the radio.

On a not-unrelated subject, Mr. Young's record company sued him for making albums that were not "Neil-Young-like" enough. (Sociology departments can't do that, can they?). In any case, I'm not sure whether payola represents a market distortion or simply a mature market in full flower. Either way, however, the practice dilutes the cultural products that help make us more or less civilized.

3. On baseball, it bugged me (way more than it should have bugged me) that, after 52 years, St. Louis' KMOX had lost the rights to broadcasting Cardinals games. I think the radio term for KMOX is a "flamethrower" because its signal spreads far and wide across the prairies. I would pick it up while driving or doing dishes (hey, its a glamorous life) late at night in Madison or St. Paul. I've never lived anywhere near St. Louis, but I always respected their great baseball tradition, and I always heard it and pictured it at KMOX. Their crews were legendary -- Harry Caray (who made his bones at KMOX well before becoming the Cubs mascot), Jack Buck, and Joe Garagiola called the games in 1954. I did a morning drive interview about some crim research on the station last year and I couldn't believe that the DJ took the opportunity to rib the Minnesota professor about the '87 Twins. I'm sure there are radios in garages and nursing homes whose dial hasn't budged from 1120 AM since Lyndon Johnson's presidency (when Bob Gibson was mowing 'em down and Bob Uecker was just Tim McCarver's backup catcher). Cardinals management said the move simply made financial sense, generating more revenue to field a better team. So, the economic side of me sees this as an acceptable if not salutary example of market efficiency (I mean, people can still hear the games for free on the radio and the Cards get full value for their product), and the cultural meaning side of me sees this as the devil's business.

As a criminologist, my tools work best on the payola example. In this case, the practice clearly violates FCC regulations, whereas the KMOX example is just a question of sentimentality or nostalgia for me. I don't know that either case forestalls development of American civilization, but each shows how the market shapes cultural products that hold meaning for a great many people.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

beyond the walls

Philadelphia is currently hosting the World Congress of Criminology, which sort of makes it easy for sociologists in town for the ASA meetings to participate in WCC as well (On the other hand, doubling up on meetings works better for me in principle than practice. I'll be baked by Tuesday). I've seen some terrific sessions, but one was especially moving: "Beyond the Walls" is a spoken word, dance, music, and video presentation that stirs together strong perspectives that seem fundamentally incompatible on the surface.

A couple former inmates shared the stage with the mother and sister of a homicide victim and two mothers of homicide offenders. The normal socially prescribed roles for these groups are well-established. Offenders are viewed as self-serving and manipulative; anyone speaking for prisoners is a "Pollyanna;" victims' families seek only vengeance; and, offenders' parents react against their child's stigma, haunted by thoughts of their own culpability or complicity. Beyond the Walls used the disturbing lived reality of crime and punishment to blur and ultimately subvert these roles. It could have come off as hollow, but the performances were too real and too intense to dismiss as standard feel-good "let's start the healing" stuff. These performers did the work -- and it must have been a lot of work -- to get to the point of constructive dialogue. I'm not sure what the (other) criminologists in the audience took from the performance, but it helps me see that "loss" and criminal harm are neither discrete events in the life course nor individualized "processes" to get through. Rather, criminal harm creates a set of interwoven trajectories whose crossings can be both explosive and restorative.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

summer songs

note: this post has been updated and expanded.

For a seasonal diversion, check out VH-1's poll of top summer songs. At the top (?) were the Stones' Satisfaction, Sonny and Cher's "I Got you Babe," the uber-creepy “Every Breath You Take” by The Police, and the Commodores' cloying “Three Times a Lady.” Are these summer songs? [No.] Shouldn't summer music be exuberant, jumping off the radio with punched-up midrange? [Yes!] I'm partial to power pop and r & b this time of year, but good summer songs burst out of every genre. Thematically, they are often geared to young love, or adolescents escaping school, or both. As I did my first long August run today, awaiting the ice, the snow, and the TC marathon, I considered my summer 2005 favorites. This, of course, brought to mind the long list of summer songs below (asterisks mean a local tie marks the artists as "one of us"). A tough prerequisite for summer songs is that they actually be in heavy rotation on commercial radio. This narrows the field quite a bit, but Klosterman has convinced me that there are no "guilty" pleasures -- it doesn't take a great band to produce a great summer song.

Summer 2005: The Envelope Please.

1. Catch my Disease, by Ben Lee [I was backstage in Pomona...]
Toy piano, campfire-strummed guitar, and joyous choruses. My 2005 winner, hands-down.

2. Mr. Brightside, by The Killers [She's touching his ... chest]
Gobs of punchy midrange and a clever bait-and-switch in the lyrics. Well-crafted.

3. Beverly Hills, by Weezer [wah-wah-wah-wah, wawawawa]
The song didn't grab me (No, I'm not going to link to a video with Hugh Hefner. It doesn't even work as irony), but the wah-wah guitar solo is indelible. Here's the tab:

D----10-8-8986------10-----------10-8-8986-8-8-6-- x2

4. B.Y.O.B., by System of a Down [Why do they always send the poor?]
OK, protest songs don't usually make good summer songs, but some can do both: "Everybody is going to the party, Have a real good time, Dancing in the desert, Blowing up the sunshine." Green Day and Anti-Flag have stepped up their games in addressing the war, but System seems to have pushed themselves well beyond their past work.

5. Sugar, We're Goin' Down, by Fall Out Boy [I'm just a notch in your bedpost But you're just a line in a song]. One for the kids. Johnny Loftus' allmusic review put it best: they "simultaneously acknowledge and deconstruct the mushy emo soliloquy." Simultaneously acknowledging and deconstructing is harder than it looks...

Here are a few blasts from summers past:

2004: Jerk it Out, by Caesars [Swedepop: it's easy once you know how it's done]
2004: Hey-Ya, by Outkast [lend me some sugar, I am your neighbor]
I Believe in a Thing Called Love, by The Darkness [ooh! guitar!]
Swing Swing, by All-American Rejects [swing, swing from the tangles of]
2003: Where is the Love? by Black-Eyed Peas [addicted to the drama]

2003: Heavy Metal Drummer, by Wilco [playing KISS covers, beautiful and]
2003: Ocean Avenue, by Yellowcard [sleeping all day, staying up all ni-ight]
2002: Days go By, by Dirty Vegas [you are still a whisper on my lips]

2001: Put a Little Love in It, by Ike Reilly [before it brings you down]
2001: Lady Marmalade, by Aguilera, Pink, Lil Kim, and Mya [voulez vous coucher]

2000: California Stars, by Wilco [beneath a bed of California stars]
1999: Singing in my Sleep, by Semisonic [singing up to a Capulet]

1999: Nineteen, by Old '97s [finish up with high school, headed for a state school]
1998: Flagpole Sitta, by Harvey Danger [i'm not sick but i'm not well]
1998: La Femme D'Argent, by Air [
beautiful bassline]
1998: Sex and Candy, by *Marcy Playground [like disco lemonade]
1997: Impression that I Get, by Mighty Mighty Bosstones [never been tested]
1997: MMMbop, by Hanson [mmmbop, ba duba dop ba do bop]
1996: What I Got, by Sublime [i
don't get angry at the bills I have to pay]
1994: Fantastic Voyage, by Coolio [slide, slide, slippity-slide]
1994: Loser, by Beck [gettin' crazy with the cheese-whiz]
1993: Insane in the Brain, by Cypress Hill [insane in the membrane]
1992: Give it Away, by Red Hot Chili Peppers [lucky me swimmin' in my ability]

1992: Teen Angst, by Cracker [what the world needs now]
1991: Shiny, Happy, People, by REM [shiny happy people holding hands]
1991: Unbelievable, by EMF [
say to me i don't talk enough but when I do I'm a fool]
1991: Around the Way Girl, by LL Cool J. [i need that around the way girl]
1990: Groove is in the Heart, by Deee-Lite [dance and have some fun, dig]
1989: Mayor of Simpleton, by XTC [never been near a university]
1988: Sweet Child O' Mine, by Guns N' Roses [she's got eyes of the bluest skies]
1987: Just Like Heaven, by The Cure [kissed her face and kissed her head]
1985: Raspberry Beret, by *Prince [something about the clouds and her mixed]
1984: Love is the Law by *The Suburbs [written on the wall, for everyone to see]
1983: Blister in the Sun, by The Violent Femmes [let me go wild]
1983: Atomic Dog, by George Clinton [
1982: Mexican Radio by Wall of Voodoo [eating barbecued iguana]
1982: We got the Beat by The Go-Gos [jump BA-yack!]
1981: Don't You Want Me? by The Human League [a waitress in a cocktail bar]
Upper Mississippi Shakedown, by *Lamont Cranston [got my car runnin']
1980: Crazy Little Thing Called Love, by Queen [ready Freddie]
1979: Cruel to be Kind, by Nick Lowe [love is bona fide, but that don't coincide]
1978: I Wanna be Sedated, by The Ramones [can't control my toes]
1978: Le Freak, by Chic [Nile Rodgers' chicka-chicka rhythm guitar]
1977: Car Wash, by Rose Royce [keep those rags and machines humming]
1976: Summer, by War [eight track playin' all your favorite sounds]
1976: Do Ya, by ELO [just to get a look to feel to touch her long black hair]

1975: Love Rollercoaster, by Ohio Players [say what?]
1974: Fox on the Run, by Sweet [O.K.! (O.K. O.K.) - you think you got a pretty face]
1972: Go all the Way, by The Raspberries [hold me close, don't ever let me go]

1972: Summer Breeze, by Seals & Crofts [blowin through jasmine in my mi-i-ind]
School's Out, by Alice Cooper [we got no class, and we got no princi-pals]
1971: Bang a Gong, by T-Rex [you've got the teeth of a hydra upon you]
1970: Venus, by The Shocking Blue [on mountain top, burning like a silver flame]
1970: Hawaii 5-0, by The Ventures [the drums, the guitars, and Jack Lord's hair]
1969: Cinnamon Girl, by Neil Young [i could be happy the rest of my life]
1968: Chain of Fools, by Aretha Franklin [chain-chain-chain...]
1967: Sweet Soul Music by Arthur Conley [
do ya like good music?]
1967: Little Bit o' Soul by Music Explosion [lot more kick with a little bit o soul]
1966: Pushin' too Hard, Seeds/Psychotic Reaction, Count 5/Dirty Water, Standells
Sunny Afternoon, by the Kinks [can’t sail my yacht- taken everything I got]
Dancing in the Streets, by Martha & Vandellas [swaying, record playing]
1965: Mr. Tambourine Man, by The Byrds [my boot heels to be wanderin']
1964: Surfin' Bird, *The Trashmen [pa pa ooh mow mow]
Wipeout, by the Surfaris [deedeedeedeedeedeedeedee]
1962: Liar, Liar, by *The Castaways [make a little effort, try to be true]
1961: Runaway, by Del Shannon [I wah-wah-wah-wah-wonder]
1960: Summer Wind, by Frank Sinatra [it lingered there... to touch your hair]
1960: Walk Don't Run, by The Ventures [the original]
1959: La Bamba, by Ritchie Valens [una poca de gracia, arriba y arriba]
1959: C'mon Everybody, by *Eddie Cochran [house is empty and folks are gone]

Hmm. Feels like I'm just barely scratching the (very white, very male) surface on this one. Any ideas? It could be an age, period, or cohort effect, but I could really feel the love for songs on one part of the list (you too? or did I mess up the songs from your favorite summers?). So, I guess I'll go with it and wallow semi-publicly in the nostalgia. I could have listed 50 songs from my pre-teen mid-1970s AM radio days, delivered in style by Tac Hammer and True Don Blue of KDWB. This was the soundtrack for the night games of the boys and girls of Ruby Drive. We played on the street from about suppertime to dusk, in the few precious summers squeezed between dependent childhood and the invidious distinctions and style choices of adolescence. Then somehow the stakes got too high and our tastes narrowed considerably. That's it! Tomorrow I'm definitely pushing some mid-seventies Sweet and War through the car speakers -- maybe Love is Like Oxygen or All Day Music -- to see how it holds up against some '05 Ben Lee and The Killers.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

pardon me, governor...

After a round of stories in June, I'm getting new questions on Iowa, which formerly had a very restrictive ex-felon voting ban. Governor Tom Vilsack issued an executive order restoring voting rights to all former felons in that state in July, but did he really abolish the practice of disenfranchising ex-felons? Kind of. The Iowa Constitution grants the governor the power to pardon those convicted of "infamous crimes" or felonies:

A pardon is given when the governor grants a certificate of restoration to one convicted of an infamous crime. The effect is to restore the convict of all rights of citizenship, including the right to vote and hold office. These rights are not restored unless the governor grants certificate of restoration, which can be granted after final discharge from penal institution.
So, as long as Governor Vilsack remains in office, corrections officials can regularly forward names to his office for restoration of rights. I don't know enough con. law to be sure (sadly, the great legal mind has left the building), but Article II, Section 5 of Iowa's Constitution would still appear to restrict felon voting rights.

No idiot, or insane person, or person convicted of any infamous crime, shall be entitled to the privilege of an elector.

A new governor could conceivably resume the practice of disenfranchising former felons, perhaps with an executive order overturning Governor Vilsack's order. Even if it doesn't apply to future felons, however, the change is a big deal, once and for all restoring rights to the roughly 100,000 people convicted of felonies in that state, whether they left prison in 1954 or 2004. Under no scenario that I can imagine could a new governor "re-dis-enfranchise" them.

The practical question for me and Jeff Manza and experts like Marc Mauer at the Sentencing Project, is whether to remove Iowa from the list of states that disenfranchise former felons. By my count that list includes blanket restrictions in Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Virginia, and Wyoming. Other states disenfranchise some categories of former felons [Arizona (recidivists only), Delaware (5-year waiting period), Maryland (violent recidivists), Mississippi, Nebraska (2-year wait) Nevada (recidivists and violent), Tennessee (convicted prior to law's repeal), Washington (prior to law's repeal)] . It would be bizarre to see a parenthetical note for Iowa such as "(convicted 1/1/2006-12/31/2010)" on that list. If Governor Vilsack's order is reversed, however, it would represent the first new restriction on the voting rights of former felons in several decades. At least I think it would be a new restriction...

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

sort of puts the partisan power play thing into perspective

From Volokh puzzleblogger Kevan Choset: What do individual rights hero William Brennan, human rights hero James Hormel, and unilateral rights hero John Bolton have in common?