Chris Uggen's Blog: October 2005

Monday, October 31, 2005

iowa court upholds mass restoration of felon voting rights

from the des moines register and talkleft.com: a district court in muscatine has upheld iowa governor tom vilsack's executive order restoring voting rights to all former felons in that state. as i wrote in august, the order raises some interesting legal questions. shelly schaefer and i are presenting a paper framed around some of them in a department workshop november 29:

Chris Uggen and Shelly Schaefer “Voting and the Civic Reintegration of Former Prisoners”

When Iowa governor Tom Vilsack restored voting rights to all former felons in that state this July Fourth, he noted that “research shows that ex-offenders who vote are less likely to re-offend.” The National Review countered that “the problem with Vilsack’s claim is that there is absolutely no research to support it. Not one longitudinal study exists showing the effects of the restoration of voting rights on crime rates or recidivism.” We undertook such a study this summer, by matching criminal records with voting records. We conceptualize voting as a form of “civic reintegration,” analogous to the work and family ties that are well-established in life course criminology. For our 1990 Minnesota release cohort, we find that approximately 20 percent of the former felons registered to vote. Our event history analysis shows that felons who voted in the previous biennial election have a far lower risk of recidivism than non-voting felons, and that this effect holds net of age, race, gender, and criminal history. The talk will discuss the strengths and limitations of our data and covariate adjustment approach for making causal inferences, the implications of felon enfranchisement for public safety, and the viability of weaving former felons back into the citizenry as stakeholders.

11/10 UPDATE: 11/29 talk cancelled (bumped for job candidates - new date to be announced).

Sunday, October 30, 2005

never slow down, never grow old

i learned two things from the december issue of runner's world: (1) that sixty miles per week is a good cut-point for determining how much training is likely to compromise one's immune system (p. 40); and (2) that fast runners get fast and stay fast by breaking aforementioned sixty-mile rule (p. 71) .

ed whitlock of ontario, canada ran a 2:54:48 marathon at age 73. go ahead and click the picture. isn't that exactly how you'd like to look at age 73 (or, for me, at age 43)? to understand how fast a 2:55 is, go out right now and run a mile in six minutes and forty seconds. that's four times around the big track. now, without slowing down or stopping, do it again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again.

i can run a single six-minute mile (before doubling over and sucking wind), and keep a 6:30 pace for a 5k (before doubling over and sucking wind), but then the wheels seem to fall off my relatively young (?!) legs. i usually finish marathons somewhere between 3:25 and 4 hours -- this year my pace was 8:20, back in the pack with certain arch-rivals. how does mr. whitlock sustain a 6:40 pace? practice. that is, he takes a daily three hour run of about 20 miles. he isn't the only great older runner, of course. that's fauja singh to the left. mr. singh tore off a 5:40 at age 92 in the 2003 toronto marathon. if i could somehow get myself into shape to approximate mr. whitlock at age 73, that's exactly how i'd hope to look at age 92.

it's a grand life if you don't weaken...

losing my religion

i spent a couple years working for a job training partnership act agency that trained "dislocated workers" in the 1980s. i traveled to burgs such as kenosha (home of american motors!) and janesville, feeling a little like michael moore goin' back to flint, michigan. i understand globalization and i know the world is flat, but i still like to buy locally whenever i can, especially when local carmakers and suppliers are struggling to fund pensions for my family members. just down the road from the minnversity, one of the oldest ford plants in the country will soon close; about 2,100 of my neighbors will be out of good-paying career jobs, unless the world suddenly rediscovers the ford ranger (motto: yup, still makin' em!). i mean, they made their own windshield glass there and twain's river still powers the facility.

u.s. cars are a deviant taste these days, at least among professors. we go "reliable" and drive accords, passats, and camrys; we go "upscale" with audis, volvos, and benzes; or, we go "green" with public transportation, bicycles, and hybrids. but we don't go "american." u.s. cars are for nostalgic old curmudgeons, unsophisticated rubes, and jingoistic red-staters (hmm, which one am i?). but my parents drove me home from the hospital in a beautiful turquoise chevy biscayne and they passed on a quasi-religious belief that buying "american" cars was a moral imperative rather than an economic choice. i know that the styling and technology are a half-step behind the world and i know that most global automakers are now assembling cars in the u.s. (albeit with less generous wages and benefits than the big three had historically provided) and i know that henry ford was no champion of diversity and i know that "big auto" has only itself to blame for this mess. i know all of the rational reasons but still can't overcome the emotional ones. i mean, they're closing the st. paul ford plant! so try to understand, and remember that i don't criticize your religion.

my faithful old jeep hails from toledo ohio. now a cranky teenager, she is fast succumbing to time and corrosion, leaving me i'm in a bit of a pickle. i haven't found a new u.s. car that i like as much as my iconic l'il cherokee but i've got to do something. old red has no airbags, an intermittent electrical system, and goes too fast for the soon-to-be-new-driver in the house. my needs are simple: traction enough to find purchase in the minnesota snow, space enough for a 6'4" (and growing) dude in the back seat, tough enough to survive a daily I-35 commute, nimble enough to execute u-turns and parallel park in tight urban spaces, and efficient enough so that i'm not personally prolonging the war. i can't see the kids squeezed into a ranger, but i've got a couple other prospects. i could go for another american icon -- it couldn't be that bad in the snow -- or maybe something "classic" that speaks to my inner romantic space-cadet or fragile male ego. as long as i'm waxing iconic, maybe i should just embrace the nostalgia altogether.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

why criminologists should study rulemaking as well as rulebreaking

is law a narrowly crafted expression of societal consensus? or is it a product of group conflict and a tool for advantaged groups to maintain a dominant position? the answer depends on the law, of course, but criminologists too often accept the criminal code uncritically. once we scratch the surface of many laws, we find that they emerged from conflicts over race, class, religion and other social cleavages.

i told my deviance class that, by most definitions, rosa parks was a deviant in 1955 and a hero in 2005. she was arrested fifty years ago because she defied a law requiring blacks to yield their bus seats to whites, which set off the montgomery, alabama boycott. theconglomerate.org reprinted the text of the city ordinance defied by ms. parks.

Every person operating a bus line in the city shall provide equal but separate accommodations for white people and negroes on his buses, by requiring the employees in charge thereof to assign passengers seats on the vehicles under their charge in such manner as to separate the white people from the negroes, where there are both white and negroes on the same car; provided, however, that negro nurses having in charge white children or sick or infirm white persons, may be assigned seats among white people

i think i can make a pretty good case that this law emerged from conflict. the u.s. supreme court declared the ordinance unconstitutional in 1956, in violation of the due process and equal protection clauses of the fourteenth amendment. not everyone remembers that ms. parks was actually sitting in the black section of the bus. the driver "invited" her to move when a white man could not find a seat up front in the white section. her refusal brought her a disorderly conduct conviction and fine of $14. it seems strange that whites, so vigilant in policing segregation, would be comfortable sitting in the black section when convenient. segregation no doubt brings on all sorts of strangenesses.

for criminologists, such ordinances remind us yet again that the law is not a narrowly-crafted expression of consensual values. instead, many laws emerge from conflict and the naked exercise of power. moreover, laws that seem "normal" to us today will likely look out of place in a generation or two.

black coat, white shoes, black hat...

how can you make your way in the world without compromising who you (think you) are? the enormous nonconformist faced just such a dilemma last night. he wanted to hit the football banquet, but the dress code was a firm "business casual." tough call, because there's no way he's wearing "f*ing khakis" or other prepgear -- not in public, not in private, not ever (so he says, at least).

there's something about adolescence that raises the fashion stakes. at 14, i wore concert t-shirts washing dishes at the robert street shangri-la. when i moved on up to become a perkins busboy, i gained about a dollar per hour over the $2.30 i was earning, but needed a white shirt, dress shoes, and a black bow-tie. i had to subvert the uniform somehow and make it my own -- i kept my hair long, got funky platform shoes, and wore a leather wristband. when i moved to the kitchen it was pink hairnets (don't ask) and funky chef's whites. uggen II took a similar tack yesterday. he found a three-button black blazer (stylish enough and ginormous enough for sir charles barkley), new vans, and a nofx tee to complement his reasonably clean jeans. it seems like a small thing, but i'm happy whenever kids find ways to participate without feeling as though they're caving on their individuality. [in case you are curious, the shoes belonged to the late karl mueller.]

illegal voting

i wrote last month about a minneapolis woman who was charged with illegal voting because she cast a ballot while still on probation. other prosecutors are getting into the act as well. according to a milwaukee journal-sentinel story by reed epstein:

"A 24-year-old woman with a felony drug conviction in Dane County voted illegally in the 2004 presidential election, according to a complaint filed Friday in Waukesha County Circuit Court. Elizabeth A. Mitchell-Frazier of Waukesha faces one count of voting illegally and one count of falsifying her voter registration. The two felony charges carry a combined maximum penalty of 3 1/2 years in prison and up to $11,000 in fines. ...According to the criminal complaint, Mitchell-Frazier was told that after her conviction, in March 2004 in Dane County, she would lose her voting rights until the end of her sentence, which was three years of probation and drug and alcohol treatment. On election day, Mitchell-Frazier filled out a voter registration card and voted at Prairie Elementary School, the complaint says. It states she listed a valid Wisconsin driver's license on her voter registration application. But Mitchell-Frazier told investigators she thought the Dane County conviction was a misdemeanor..."

as i noted before, i'm astounded that we've made the simple act of voting a felony-level offense and that prosecutors are pursuing such cases so vigorously. ms. mitchell-frazier didn't vote twice or sell her vote or rig voting machines or turn legal voters away at the polls or destroy the votes of others. she merely showed up at the local elementary school and cast a ballot. i doubt that any judge will give her 3.5 years of prison time for this, but the fact that she could is incredible. if i drink a fifth of jack daniels before hitting rush-hour traffic today and get into a bloody fistfight after rear-ending a school bus, there's no way i'd be charged with a felony or even threatened with anything worse than a few weeks in the workhouse (no, i don't know this from personal experience). I'd be interested to know: (a) how many people have been prosecuted for illegal voting solely by virtue of their felon status and (b) what sort of sentences they have received. Has anyone actually done time for voting?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

more beauty, less truth

sometimes we headworkers seem to get a little myopic, what with all the reading and writing and teaching and imagining of alternative social arrangements. of course, we'd do well to seek beauty as well as truth in our work and in our lives. in fact, you might have passed some of said beauty today on your way to the office. i'm a chronic offender in this regard, so i thank the poetry muse for awakening me for a brief moment today. here's a selection from Mary Oliver's The Summer Day:

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?


--Mary Oliver, from “The Summer Day”

i didn't actually kneel down in any grass (which, i just noticed, remains green in minnesota) or stroll through any fields, but i did take a break and walked out to get a lemonade while the sun still shines. too bad we only get one wild and precious life...

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

parental rights of sex offenders' wives

the ny times reports* that a pennsylvania woman lost custody of her newborn son because the child's father was convicted of sex crimes. melissa wolfhawk gave birth last tuesday. although she lives separately from her husband, a schuylkill county judge stripped her of custody and sent the baby to the county's department of children and youth services. ms. wolfhawk will only get two hours of supervised visits before an october 31 hearing, but is appealing the custody decision in federal court. her husband, daishin john wolfhawk, served 10 years on a 1983 conviction of rape and sodomy of two teenage girls. according to the times:

The unusual case has raised some doubts even with groups that champion the rights of abused children. Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, said he respected the right of agencies to take custody of endangered children, but said that the standard for removing a child had to be set "very high." "If somebody was convicted 20 years ago and has not reoffended, and the circumstances of the offense would not appear to make him a threat to young children, then this is troublesome," Mr. Allen said. David L. Levy, the chief executive of the Children's Rights Council, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, said, "I am not aware of any case where a 20-year-old conviction, no matter how heinous, has been used to remove a child from the care of the perpetrator and from a mother who had nothing to do with that crime." "The state may think that because they're married, the only way to make the child safe from the father is to remove him from the mother," he said. "But what about her due process and constitutional rights? If they can show a present danger, I'd be the first one to support removal, but they need to show a connection between 20 years ago and now."

the case offers another example of the hyperstigma applied to sex offenders today -- it appears to be a permanent mark that extends beyond any official sanction. but regardless of the father's fitness, this case sets a troubling precedent for mothers who have committed no crimes whatsoever. i suspect that ms. wolfhawk's best chance of getting the boy back will be to divorce mr. wolfhawk and to relocate far from him. i've never heard of a case quite like this, although sex offenders who victimize children have been deprived of parental rights while under supervision, as have parents who kill their children. so i guess there are a few questions here:

1. which crimes, if any, should affect one's rights to be a parent? all sex crimes? murder? sex crimes against children? incest? what about drug use? any felony? reckless driving?

2. for how long should such a restriction be enforced? during the sentence, for a 2-5 year waiting period beyond the sentence? for 10 years? forever?

3. should both parents be liable for the sins of the father (or, i guess, the mother)? what should melissa wolfhawk have to do to get her kid back?

*thanks to "guilty k." for the heads-up on this story.

da crusher

reggie "da crusher" lisowski, blue-collar wrestling hero of the upper midwest, died this week at 79. crusher did time as a bricklayer and in milwaukee packing houses and forges before getting paid as a wrestler. he was a great villain, but lacked the exotic gimmicks of the masked wrestlers (dr. x), axis power wrestlers (baron von raschke), and behemoths (andre the giant). instead, he was the beer drinking tough at the end of the bar with the short temper and the twinkle in his eye. not surprisingly, his act aged well and his fan base was loyal to the end. as kids we would act out the saturday morning awa bouts in the hidden space between two houses on ruby drive. i'd climb a redwood fence and jump down on my opponent, snarling and stomping around as the crusher. i never knew why he was my favorite until i read this from his pro wrestling hall of fame site:

"Another facet of The Crusher's style was his stamina, and more importantly, his unwavering ability to absorb punishment from his opponent, and remain as strong as ever. He liked getting beat up, thriving on a good fight...and it seemed to the fans that the more he bled, the stronger he got."

what's not to love? when i saw a little obituary video of the crusher tonight, i tried to watch it with the eyes of the 10-year-old kid who emulated him. he was a strange and wonderful archetype of masculinity, buffoonery, and jovial stylized violence. i'm not sure how much crusher remains in me, or in other midwestern kids who ate cereal while glued to the screen on saturday mornings. still, it does help put certain teenage incidents in perspective, not to mention chuck palahniuk's entire oeuvre. RIP mr. lisowski.

Monday, October 24, 2005

it ain't what you make, it's what you keep...

when i present data on wealth or income inequality, students often jump to "the stock market" as the key explanatory factor. looking at my 3rd quarter report on the minnversity retirement portfolio, i'd have to disagree. i don't know much about economics, beyond my freshman 101 course (which, it should be noted, may have been the most personally and professionally useful course i took as an undergrad at the wisversity). having taken said course during the reagan administration, i know that equity markets don't necessarily favor elites during political regimes that should be friendly to their interests. with the rise of 401k and 403b plans, a larger percentage of americans are now participating in these markets than ever before -- and few working stiffs are amassing great fortunes. although a handful of sectors have outperformed during the bush II administration, such as energy (guess why!), the overall trend in u.s. equities has been flat over the past two years, as shown by the Dow and S&P indices below. moreover, few investors have made real money in the market over the first five bush I years, particularly when compared against the long bull run of the clinton years.
of course, the rich are getting richer these days, just as they have in the past. how? mostly through favorable tax policies. these generally take the form of cuts to those in the top brackets (including the treatment of dividends, capital gains, and institutions) rather than the sort of economic stimulus or growth that would lift all boats but threaten to erode wealth via inflation. so, while george w. bush's pitch to build a "wealth society" through broad-scale market participation is appealing on some levels, it seems unlikely to dent inequality or improve the life chances of the working or middle classes. instead, shifts in tax policy regarding businesses and individuals are where the action is. if i had taken econ 102 i might be able to divine the implications of proposed tax reforms for inequality.

nevertheless, i tend to side with john edwards and others who think a "working society" may put more money in the pockets of most americans in the long run. as edwards put it, "to be true to our values, our country must build a working society, an america where everyone who works hard finally has the rewards to show for it." i don't favor the protectionist policies that edwards advocated during the 2004 campaign, but i tend to agree that we need a credible societal promise that working hard will result in doing well.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

the endorsement -- anthony's fish-bar at sea-tac

i'm in seattle awaiting a commuter flight to pullman, so i stopped in to anthony's fish-bar for dinner. i'd eaten well at anthony's downtown before but didn't expect much from the airport. it might be a reflection of my landlocked lack of seafood sophistication (poor midwestern rube that i am), but i loved the salmon. airport salmon. they also had a nice bar with a clean sound system, red hook on tap and chilled glasses, friendly waitstaff, and fresh steamed broccoli. i think that sea-tac must have undergone a major recent upgrade (in concourse c, at least), because i don't recognize anything around here. wow, i'd be much better equipped to handle flight delays if i could get a decent meal at other airports. the only downside is that my work productivity could plummet...

crime, fear, and public opinion

some comments on the last post raised the issue of fear of crime and the ucr crime rate. here are a few figures i've been playing with to track these trends. first, compare the general social survey fear of crime indicator with the ucr index offense rate and the percentgage believing that crime is the most important problem. according to the gss, the percentage of people afraid to walk in their own neighborhoods dropped from about 45 percent in 1994 to 30 percent in 2001. 1994 was the year of bill clinton's crime bill debates, so you see a big spike in the percentage naming crime as the most important problem facing the nation.

many criminologists and politicians believe that the public is more punitive today than ever before, but that's not quite true. the chart below shows responses to three standard punitiveness indicators: the perception that courts are not harsh enough, that too little money is spent combating crime, and support for the death penalty. all peaked in 1994 but have declined significantly since then.
so maybe times are changing. people seem to feel less afraid of street crime in their everyday lives today than they did a decade ago, as both police and victimization data suggest they should. although a majority still favor "tougher" crime policy, the percentage has declined significantly over the past decade. i read these trends as providing an opening for reintegrative efforts. more people seem ready to view law violators as fallible human beings who will eventually desist from crime rather than as irredeemable monsters. if so, it creates a policy opportunity to reorient correctional practices toward the clear-headed goal of maximizing public safety.



Tuesday, October 18, 2005

less crime today than at any point in your lifetime?

if you are my age or younger and live in the united states, serious street crime has now fallen to the lowest levels recorded in your lifetime. according to the just-released 2004 fbi uniform crime reports, the murder rate is at a forty-year low and the overall violent crime rate is the lowest in thirty years. the ucr numbers are based on crimes known to the police, but they are really the most reliable and valid data source for homicide. ucr rates for rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, auto theft and larceny-theft were also down again this year, as were rates of property crimes such as burglary, larceny-theft, and shoplifting. for offenses other than homicide, these numbers should be considered alongside trend data in victimization and self-reported offending. in triangulating these sources, however, one generally gets an encouraging impression. the local picture is murkier, with serious crime trending upward in several important categories. nevertheless, here too the trend is decent if not encouraging -- particularly since the "murderapolis" days of 1995-1996.

so do you feel safer than you did 5 or 10 or 20 years ago? if not, why not? because 16,000 u.s. murders is still way too many murders? or, has the street crime effect on safety diminished relative to other concerns for you? do you think support for harsh anti-crime measures will diminish if the downward trend continues, or will punitiveness be cited as the reason for diminishing crime rates?

Saturday, October 15, 2005

national workshop on female offenders

although there are far more men than women in the u.s. criminal justice system, female correctional populations have risen significantly in the past decade. today women make up roughly 7 percent of prison inmates, 12 percent of jail inmates, 13 percent of parolees, and 23 percent of probationers.

a conference devoted to women in the system, the 11th national workshop on adult & juvenile female offenders, takes place today through wednesday at the marriott hotel in bloomington, mn. an informative ap story on the conference emphasizes some of the minnesota programs for mothers in prison and their children.

when i interviewed minnesota prisoners about their political life a few years ago, i started by doing ten interviews in a women's prison, then moved on to a men's facility. my impression was that the first interviews were much "easier" -- more women than men seemed to have developed a vocabulary for talking about things such as civic participation and their past and future roles in the community. so, i got a little spoiled as an interviewer. the men were immediately on top of issues such as individual rights, liberties, and voting but seemed to have given less thought to communitarian issues.

i didn't draw any big generalizations from a handful of interviews and this didn't become a theme in the books or articles from the project. still, it made me think about something i heard from a warden at a women's prison long ago but didn't believe at the time. she said, "female prisoners aren't anything like male prisoners -- they are a lot more like women in the community." consistent with the conference and the mission of the apfo, the warden was deeply skeptical of a "just add women and mix" approach to correctional programming.

navel-gazing at citation counts

i learned by way of crooked timber about a chronicle article detailing some wacky hijinks by journals to crank up their citation counts. here's a good one:

John M. Drake, a postdoctoral researcher at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, at the University of California at Santa Barbara, sent a manuscript to the Journal of Applied Ecology and received this e-mail response from an editor: “I should like you to look at some recent issues of the Journal of Applied Ecology and add citations to any relevant papers you might find. This helps our authors by drawing attention to their work, and also adds internal integrity to the Journal’s themes.” Because the manuscript had not yet been accepted, the request borders on extortion, Mr. Drake says, even if it weren’t meant that way. Authors may feel that they have to comply in order to get their papers published.

yikes! i can't imagine an editor of a major sociology or criminology journal writing such a thing (yet). i got curious about these citation counters, so i cite-googled myself. i found that one can get details quickly on citations by institution, language, source, authors, year, and other characteristics. beware, though, as it can be a humbling experience. i looked up my brilliant advisor, of course: several of his articles have been cited as much as all my work combined. i also checked out a few other sociological role models and found that at least one of them is cited approximately 19 times as often as i am -- i'm currently trailing by 2,745 citations and the gap is increasing. that aside, i developed three not-very-interesting hypotheses based on cites to my stuff.

H1. there is an association between visiting an institution and being cited by authors from that institution. i think people invite visitors who already appeal to one or more people in the department, but there may be a "visit effect" as well. in fact, i would never have started a project with jeff manza if he hadn't given a talk in minnesota. one could test for this reasonably well using the time-series data available from ISI and faculty CVs listing visit dates. the purple bars represent places i've visited and the yellow bars places that i have not yet visited -- click on the charts to get a slightly more readable gif version. shockingly, people in minnesota seem to cite me more than people outside of the skeeter state. i mentioned how much i enjoy visiting places to give talks, but it might also increase the visibility of one's work in publications down the road.
H2. the journals that publish the work seem to cite the work later. well, duh! that's what the flap was all about in the chronicle. i didn't have the energy for an article-level analysis (to see whether an article published in social problems was cited in social problems). again, the purple bars represent journals in which at least one article appears (like the departments visited above) and the yellow bars represent journals that remain 100 percent uggen-free.

H3. people are sometimes cited outside their major areas of teaching and research. of course, most cites probably track researchers' stated "areas of interest," unless said researchers are incurable dilettantes (i'll plead nolo contendere on that one). still, it seems that everybody who has been publishing a few years seems to get cited in multiple areas. maybe there's more interdisciplinarity happening than we realize.this all leads to a few questions: (1) my department doesn't pay much (if any) attention to citation counts. do they matter for individual tenure decisions or merit pay elsewhere? should they? (2) to what extent will "paper download counts" and blog visitors or webpage "eyeballs" be used to assess the impact or interest in a sociologist's work? (3) how are individual sociologists and (especially(?)) criminologists likely to "game" the system to increase their cite counts? ["i'll cite your article if you cite mine" or "we at the university make it a practice to only cite to one another's work"]; and, (4) if citation counts do matter, is anyone willing to cite me 2,745 times so i can make a little headway on this sampson dude?

Friday, October 14, 2005

talks this week

i'm giving two talks on felon disenfranchisement this week. tuesday october 18 i'll be at macalester college in an event sponsored by the legal studies program and the sociology department. i'm on at 4:30 in the john b. davis lecture hall. the macalester campus on saint paul's grand avenue looks especially beautiful in october but i've never really had a chance to visit. my grandparents lived in the neighborhood for many years and i think grandma even worked at the college as an administrative assistant. mac has long had a reputation for art and politics, so it should be fun. if i get a few minutes free i'll head to the running track to soak up some inspiration. according to the strib:

St. Paul was where he [green day's billie joe armstrong] wrote some of the songs for the politically charged "American Idiot," ... In the summer of 2003, he had walked around the track at Macalester College in St. Paul, writing the songs in his head.

nice! i try to write articles in my head while running, but they fade once i get back to a computer. as soon as i finish teaching thursday, i fly to washington state university in pullman, wa. my felon voting talk is friday noon in CUE 18 and i'll visit the criminology reading group at 3 in wilson for a discussion of age, crime, and desistance. i had great fun interviewing at wsu as a new ph.d. so i'm really looking forward to a return visit to the palouse. wsu has long been a wonderful home for sociological criminology so i should return with fresh ideas. i'm no troubadour, but traveling around giving research talks has to rank as one of the best (of many) academic perks.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

bruce needs a cartoon, we all need a cartoon

bruce springsteen brought his devils & dust solo show to the minnversity last night, offering an emotional performance in old northrup auditorium. i haven't been a huge fan of his recent songs, but found them moving in concert. he played piano, pump organ, two big hollow-body electric guitars, several acoustics, a ukelele, and an autoharp. regardless of what he was playing, he banged and thumped and tapped everything like a percussion instrument. he stomped his feet and shouted old blues patterns and patted out heartbeats on the guitars.

springsteen seems to be drawing inward in performance, as he has in his writing. compared to the hyperactive motormouth who made his bones in the 1970s, he now leaves big spaces between the words and notes. he plays with almost the same energy as he did in his twenties, but it feels as though he's trying to force all that intensity and passion through a smaller, pinched opening -- rather than the wide open spaces of the e-street band. he is also working with simpler tools, trying to get closer to the source, i would guess. the evening was carefully choreographed, with springsteen hustling between instruments, and the stage was lit with meticulous care. the vocals got the most care and attention, as they probably should in a long solo show -- he sang "all i'm thinking 'bout is you" in a high-pitched "head voice" and opened up the familiar blast-furnace growls, wails, and shouts at well-chosen moments. doug hartmann described the experience as church-like, and i felt the same thing.

bruce springsteen clearly recognizes and appreciates his good fortune and success, but there was so much reverence for art and songcraft in this show that i almost felt sorry for the guy. everything he writes or sings seems to carry the weight of past success. to be sure, bruce still has the e-streeters (and neil has crazy horse, of course, of course) but even these good-time tear-it-up bands can't escape the legacy of being the best good-time tear-it-up band in the world. where could he go to just play something crazy? maybe someplace like the gorillaz, a cartoon band dreamed up by damon albarn of blur and other all-stars. i mean, bruce would do well to hook up with some loose assemblage of talented hipsters and write something along the lines of "feel good, inc."

more generally, i think that we could all benefit from having cartoon versions of ourselves. wouldn't it be great to have an irreverent, stylized persona that could sidestep one's history and biography? the start-up costs of a complete reinvention are beyond most of us, but i think we all have room for a little cartoon. i've already got my cartoon band picked out: you can look for me behind the scenes in the alpacas (that's me on the right). hey bruce, you're welcome to join us anytime -- we're lookin' for a good autoharp player.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

one man, one vote

according to yahoo news, iraq's independent electoral commission will comply with united nations guidelines and allow some prisoners to vote in the constitutional referendum this week. inmates who have not yet been convicted of a crime, including one very special pretrial detainee, should have the opportunity to cast a ballot later this week.

because he has not yet been convicted, saddam hussein would also be legally permitted to vote in the united states (were he a u.s. citizen). here, however, there would be no polling place or election commission sent out to solicit ballots of jail inmates and other detainees. the iraq electoral commission will be sending special "ballots and observer teams" to prisons on thursday so that inmates may vote.

of course, saddam hussein is no stranger to the electoral process, as a winner of avalanche victories in several elections. according to the bbc, he captured a solid majority of the vote in october 2002 -- 100 percent, or literally every one of the nation's 11,445,638 eligible voters selected hussein, up from the only-infinitesimally-more-plausible 99.96 percent he gained in 1996. the commission chairman, abdul-hussein hendawi, already seemed to be hedging on the former ruler's eligibility. other commission members were more favorable, such as elections board member izzedine al-mahmoudi: "theoretically, every Iraqi citizen over the age of 18 who is not convicted of a crime" has the right to vote.

i was once asked in a 6 am talk radio interview whether i thought "charles manson should decide the next presidential election." i hope that no tape survives of my caught-completely-off-guard response. it went something like... "uhmm... hmmm ... as a voter, i guess i'd personally errrr ... like to see more people vote who share my political preferences ... uhmm ... but we live in a representational democracy ... uhmmm ... where everybody gets to vote ... the people that i'd like to exclude might be different than the people you'd like to exclude [at which point mr. talk radio very cleverly told me he wanted to exclude manson and asked, again, whether i agreed or disagreed]... uhmmm ... with universal suffrage we can't really pick and choose who gets to vote... [oh yes we can, professor!] ... ). since that interview, i think i could come up with a more thoughtful answer and saddam hussein helps me see this.

can a bad person cast a righteous ballot? i can't think of a sharper rebuke to dictatorship than having the former dictator cast a vote. what about charles manson? is it an indicator of sickness or health in a democracy when her most stigmatized and vilified citizens step forward to register their votes alongside her most celebrated heroes?

a sociology of all-nighters?

do some academics never outgrow all-nighters? after grad school many gain the organizational capacity to regulate workflow more sanely. every year or so, however, i find myself with a big pile of stuff that absolutely, positively, has to be finished before i can lay me down to sleep. i'm just coming down from an intensive (but non-allnighter) session with a brilliant and indefatigable collaborator who has a similar workstyle. we were discussing sleep as a stratification dimension (i'll write more on this later) and it got me thinking about the costs and benefits of this approach.

i'm sure that some people would never want or need to stay up all night writing. others do it for a year or two as undergrads or grads but move on to other work patterns. then there are the "chronics" like me. i've found that i can get a lot done and survive pretty well the next day-- a bit foggy, but not usually ill-tempered. in contrast, some friends say that they tried it once and disaster ensued (fell asleep at the wheel, wrote the wrong formula into the page proofs, considered a shooting rampage, public meltdown). it is probably difficult to estimate the effect of all-night work on grades or career indicators because people self-select into the "treatment" on the basis of success-linked habits both good (e.g., stamina, dedication) and bad (e.g., procrastination, inefficient use of time). a randomized trial would be doable, but might lack external validity. an all-nighter needn't be school-related, of course, but i reserve the term for school or worklife. Staying up round-the-clock for family emergencies, natural disasters, or the pursuit of a good time seems like a different process than school/work all-nighters -- though they might provide knowledge and skills that would extend to the work domain. I know that soldiers and software coders stay up all night. do many middle-aged lawyers do all-nighters before trial? artists preparing for openings? sellers of widgets?

i'm sure it is a supreme mark of dorkdom or geekhood, but i actually enjoy clamping my jaw down like a pit bull and locking in on a project completely. in day-to-day worklife, i'm easily distracted and anxious about the many little mental post-it notes in my head. but i greet the sun feeling powerful after an all-nighter, with a sense of accomplishment and relief that at least that problem has been solved or that burden lifted. even dorkier, i seem to have more stamina for working than i do for partying these days. i'm less engaged and more likely to catch myself yawning in the latter case, plus the recovery process is a bit more difficult. i guess this is a sign that i really find my work stimulating, even if sometimes i wish there was just a bit less of it. i'm curious, though, about the trajectories of all-nighters over the life course and across occupations. my friends seem split on the issue -- some are abstainers who would never consider it, others desist at an early age, and a small percentage are life-course persistent chronics. is there a long-term health cost to the latter approach?

Saturday, October 08, 2005

honeydogs/pirner tomorrow

adam levy is busy piecing together at least three overlapping i didn't know you could do that! careers:

1. as an acclaimed songwriter and performer with the rootsy and literate honeydogs.

2. as frontman for the funky tear-the-roof-off-the-sucker "hookers & blow" covers band. he describes it as "music from a more permissive era. If Serge Gainsbourg and Aretha Franklin had a baby, this band might have been their love child."

3. as a social worker in our less permissive era, where he puts his minnversity degree to work counseling kids who could use the help. he said this about his day job in a chris riemenschneider strib feature:

"Making music is probably the most selfish thing you can do. It's entirely self-rewarding. It's all about you. I've always had this voice at the back of my head -- probably the voice of my grandparents -- to spend more time helping other people. Art is a good thing, but it's just a distraction. You have to stay connected to something more real and purposeful."

lots of people express a commitment to the real and purposeful, but few will really do the work and fewer still will stay the course. i know firsthand about social work burnout -- especially among idealistic sociology types. i don't know how much mr. levy's work affects his art, but he writes about human frailty with a knowing sensitivity. all of this is to note that the current is sponsoring a honeydogs show with some very cool guests at the fitzgerald theater tomorrow. i've seen adam levy give inspired performances in both bands (and, strangely, i guess he's seen me perform as well) and from all reports the honeydogs can still tear it up. dave pirner, who is in fine voice these days, will also appear. the latter treated an audience of dozens to a mind-blowing n'orleans-style set here two weeks ago.

i'll miss sunday's fitzgerald performance, as i'm holing up with my ingenious and (unfortunately) indefatigable collaborator for an intensive copy-edit hootenanny til tuesday. still, i vow to catch another dog show or blow show in the next few weeks. levy has assembled a set of careers that many of my earnest and principled students dream about (i don't need a lot of money, but my work has to have some meaning ... i want to do something fun and creative but won't screw people over to make money ... i wish i could keep doing my art, but it is just not realistic ... i want to stay in the twin cities but also work at a national level). truth be told, it probably takes a rare combination of heart, brains, talent, and (indefatigable) work ethic to make it happen.

funky claude

as the baseball playoffs get interesting, i think about what's left of what i love about the game. of course, the players are outstanding -- watching a team of smooth-fielding defensive players such as the cardinals is a beautiful thing. still, most of what i love about playing the game is sensual or verbal. many love the sensual stuff -- wooden bats, leather gloves, soft outfield grass under your cleats, particles of infield dust dancing hazily before a setting sun. but i love the verbal stuff too -- everything under the broad heading of "pranks, chatter, and characters." watching a babe ruth league team this summer, i was glad to hear the same goofball conversations and affectionate ribbing that i enjoyed at 14. for example, i overheard a heated bench conversation this year on the nature of intelligence. the team's scrappy catcher adopted a learning perspective that opposed the innate differences approach of other players. how, he asked, could picasso have been the same genius at 2 that he was while painting the famous...err...you know, picasso paintings? i thought i was the only kid who argued about that sort of stuff between innings.

i don't advocate a return to the days when everyday players earned $15,000 per year and worked in warehouses over the winter, but the money seems to have squeezed a little joy from the game in recent years. so here's to jean claude marc raymond, predictably nicknamed "frenchy" by his teammates. claude raymond was a fine relief pitcher with several teams before becoming the french-language voice of the montreal expos for many years. mr. raymond's 1966 topps baseball card is shown below.
i obtained a copy of this card when i was about 10 from a neighbor's older brother (i probably traded mickey mantle for it). notice anything unusual? me neither. then, a year or two later, i came across mr. raymond's 1967 topps card. hmmm. this one is a bit tougher to see, but a barn door issue is clearly visible.

by 1968, he seems to have gotten things squared away. i don't know whether these photos represent innocent goofing or innocent mistakes, but i can't imagine such goofing and/or mistakes being repeated in consecutive years in these less-than-innocent days (see, e.g., the '89 billy ripken card). another photo from the era that brings a smile is aurelio rodriguez's 1969 card. topps actually photographed batboy leonard garcia rather than the gold-glove third baseman. in an ending that only w.p. kinsella could have dreamed up, mr. garcia now spends his days working for the baseball card company.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

european court of human rights on felon voting

from the sentencing project: the european court of human rights ruled today that denying voting rights to prisoners in the UK violates the european convention on human rights. the court held that “any limitations on the right to vote had to be imposed in pursuit of a legitimate aim and be proportionate” and that “any departure from the principle of universal suffrage risked undermining the democratic validity of the legislature.”

i don't know enough about the court's powers or jurisdiction to understand the full implications of this decision (i'm hoping that a great legal mind will step up to set me straight), but here is how the guardian describes the decision:

Laws setting out who can and cannot take part in elections are to be rewritten after the European court of human rights today ruled in favour of giving British prisoners the right to vote ... Britain is among 13 signatories to the human rights convention who prevent prisoners from voting, according to a government survey ... The court - on a majority ruling of 12-5 - said an article in the convention guaranteeing the "free expression of the opinion of the people in choosing a legislature" was not absolute but in a 21st century democracy the presumption should be in favour of inclusion ... The court was set up in 1950 to hear citizens' complaints under the human rights convention and is independent of the European Union.

debates over the voting status of prisoners -- in the UK, australia, and south africa, among other nations -- really draw the restrictiveness of u.s. laws into sharp relief. prisoners are now disenfranchised in 48 of the 50 states (maine and vermont are the only exceptions) and policy debates generally focus on whether non-incarcerated felons (probationers and parolees) and former felons (who have completed their sentences) should be permitted to vote.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

u.s. income inequality

a new nytimes story by david cay johnston presents some intriguing data on u.s. income inequality. a few summary points and excerpts from the article:

1. It takes $327,000 per year to make the top 1% in the nation, but income is rising significantly for this (and only this) group.
Only for those Americans in the top 1 percent, the nearly 1.3 million taxpayers who made at least $327,000, did incomes increase significantly more in 2003 than the rate of inflation. And this increase was concentrated within the top tenth of 1 percent. ... For the bottom 99 percent of taxpayers, income rose by slightly less than 2 percent, which was below the inflation rate of 2.3 percent.

2. The top 1% makes more (17.5% of all income) and pays more taxes (33% of all taxes) than other groups.
The top 1 percent of taxpayers received almost 17.5 percent of all income and paid a third of all income taxes in 2003, the I.R.S. found. The top tenth of 1 percent received 7.57 percent of reported income and paid more than 15.3 percent of all income taxes.

3. The top tenth of 1% (.1%) makes more than the bottom 33% and inequality between these groups has risen sharply in the last 25 years.
The top tenth of 1 percent had more income in 2003 than the poorest third of taxpayers, a group with 330 times the number of people, analysis of the data showed. This is a sharp change from 1979, the earliest year in the I.R.S. report, when the total income of the poorest third of Americans exceeded that garnered by the top tenth of 1 percent by 2.5 to 1.

4. The US has less income disparity than Mexico and Russia, but greater disparity than other nations.
Other data show that among major world economies, the United States in recent years has had the third-greatest disparity in incomes between the very top and everyone else. Only Mexico and Russia, among major economies, have greater disparity.

I don't know whether the IRS counts prisoners among the bottom 33%. If not, the change in inequality is presumably even greater. Also, inequalities of wealth are far greater than those of income. The relationship between inequality and crime is contested, but the long-term trend toward greater inequality makes me nervous -- are we really building a "stakeholder" society for the bottom third? does an ideology of meritocracy become less tenable with such disparities?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

pbs, protest, and west bank heroes

i tuned into the pbs documentary "get up, stand up" as soon as i saw that public enemy's chuck d would be narrating. the globe thought the doc was safe as milk, while the times called it one of "most daring, and perhaps hippest" programs on pbs (now that i think about it, both statements are probably true). cultural sociologists probably found it superficial -- thirty seconds of a song set against a little photo montage, and then .004 seconds of analysis from an erudite rock critic (e.g., dave marsh). it doesn't feel much like pbs to me, though. i started imagining a ken burns-style documentary: zoom in super-slowly on a black-and-white photo of kenny rogers and paul simon doing "we are the world" while shelby foote spins a yarn about robert e. lee and an echoey piano tinkles "dixie" in the background. much of the time was spent on megaconcerts such as live 8 but at least some of the archival footage is spectacular (e.g., live bob marley, billie holiday's otherworldly "strange fruit"). pbs also set up a nice link page that connects to the centre for political song and other nice sites.

watching the pbs/scorcese documentary "no direction home: bob dylan" i realized how dylan became an icon at an absurdly young age. as a child of the seventies rather than the sixties, i always saw dylan as grizzled, wizened, and downright gnarly. but by age 22, he had recorded "blowin' in the wind," "the times they are a-changin' and "masters of war." the songs were great, of course, but watching him, i have to think that his youth and good looks were part of the package that brought instant icon status. for me, the highlight was seeing dylan onstage and backstage with what became "the band" (i.e., the late rick danko joyously waving his bass around, robbie robertson smiling knowingly). around the minnversity, we mostly hear about dylan hanging out in west bank spots near what is now the social science building (we don't hear anything about him attending classes).

all this leads me to a couple questions.

1. first, what are the best "get up, stand up" songs written since 2000? some anti-war protest songs from green day and system of a down have hit the radio, but most seems to remain underground. i mean, would any 21-year-old write anything like "masters of war" today? bands such as anti-flag or (earlier) rage against the machine generally catch criticism for being "heavy handed" or wearing their politics on their sleeves (as do right-wing country singers, for that matter).

2. second, would we even notice another dylan if s/he came along? his first album sold poorly, so he would likely have been dropped by most record labels before the landmark freewheelin' album was recorded. or would the songs have found a way to an audience through live performances, word-of-mouth, and blogs? i'm skeptical since i don't exactly see huge audiences lining up for ani difranco, billy bragg, or conor oberst.

i know that dylan was funny and sarcastic in a way that might connect with my students today, but would his sincerity? u2 is a partial exception, but my worry is that earnest doesn't sell too well these days -- unless it is emo/personal rather than emo/political. part of me thinks that post-dylan generations have become more jaded, cynical, and resistant to the sort of statements expressed by woody guthrie or bob dylan. it seems as though a modern dylan would have to be even more enigmatic, more complicated, and more opaque. on this issue, here's a favorite quote from david foster wallace on such trends in my generation:

The intellectualization and aestheticizing of principles and values in this country is one of the things that's gutted our generation. All the things that my parents said to me, like "It's really important not to lie." OK, check, got it. I nod at that but I don't really feel it. Until I get to be about 30 and I realize that if I lie to you, I also can't trust you. I feel that I'm in pain, I'm nervous, I'm lonely and I can't figure out why. Then I realize, "Oh, perhaps the way to deal with this is really not to lie." The idea that something so simple and, really, so aesthetically uninteresting -- which for me meant you pass over it for the interesting, complex stuff -- can actually be nourishing in a way that arch, meta, ironic, pomo stuff can't, that seems to me to be important. That seems to me like something our generation needs to feel.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

tc marathon: uggen battles t-paw!


i ran the twin cities marathon today. when i did my first marathon ten years ago (also the tcm), i was just curious. i've probably done 15 since, with my best time coming during a sabbatical year when i "trained." according to the preliminary results, i finished 1,021st, which is just shy of the big prize money. here are a few post-race observations:

- i no longer pay much attention to the clocks and just trust my body. when i get out of breath or when something hurts, i generally slow down. otherwise, i just go as fast as i can. people tell me i smile constantly throughout the race.

- a couple years ago, i spent a week in an exchange program with yuko arimori, a marathon silver medalist for japan. when i sheepishly asked her for training advice, she said "you are a good runner -- just try harder during the race -- not before." i think of this every race. it reminds me that if i want to run faster, i should just run faster. yuko rocks.

- i did notice the clock said 1:42 at the halfway point, but looked down at my little belly bouncing and knew that i was in no shape to sustain that pace. i made a solemn vow to forego all beer and french fries until the next marathon. [of course, 1:42 is only fast for me. the male winner, mbarak hussein, ran the first half in 1:08 and finished the marathon in 2:18. nicole aishe, the women's champ, finished in 2:40 in her first marathon.]

- the vow to forego beer lasted from 9:42 am until about 10:32 am, when i had a frosty cup o' james page around mile marker 18. there is always a contingent of hospitable "hashers" ("a drinking group with a running problem") somewhere on the course -- i think they might have been madison ex-pats. i'd never partaken during a marathon before, but it tasted plenty good on this hot day. i also had some fine peanut m&ms as we crossed over into st. paul.

- the vow to forego french fries lasted a bit longer -- from 9:42 am until 12:45 pm -- when i ate bbq ribs, brisket, chicken, corn muffins, baked apples, baked beans, and several pounds of steak fries. wait, steak fries are ok, right? i said french fries were the problem. oh yeah, and another heineken.
- a sublime power pop band, the hopefuls, played the post-race party. the guitar parts came in both chunky and creamy varieties and the bottom was terrific (here's a short video). i'm always emotional after a race and catch myself weeping at the strangest things (in the manliest possible way, of course. in fact, it looks more like "leaking" than crying. really!). this time it was the harmonies of these twenty-something smart-alecs and a dozen or so pogo-ing teenagers dancing. it was a beautiful thing. great backing vocals are pretty rare in the alt-rock world these days (ok, fountains of wayne is a nice exception). it was an inspired pick for a post-race show -- and not just because of the cheezy track suits (they had been the "olympic hopefuls" but i guess the good folks at the u.s. olympic committee have attorneys who nip such things in the bud).

- as i've noted before, i am now a "masters" runner. today, i wore a little tag on my back that said "male 40-44." this would really bother me in most settings, but such labels might be useful in sorting things out at parties or clubs. unfortunately, 153 males age 40-44 were faster than me today, including the winner, mr. hussein. my only hope of bringing home trophies or other hardware is to show up at small races. maybe during snowstorms. i placed 6th among 53 runners from shoreview (we suburbanites are built for comfort, not for speed) and 11th of 42 christophers (i just love searchable results).

- my training is pretty simple. i run 3-4 miles when i have the time during the week -- mostly to a community center, where i can do a little strength training -- and then i do a longer run of at least 13 miles on the weekends. no hills, no intervals, and i don't even know what "fartlek" is. when i get closer to a marathon, i'll stretch the long run to 20 miles or so.

- only getting a couple hours of sleep the night before or having a little cold has surprisingly little effect on my performance. there were no major injuries this time, but a few minor "issues" arose. in ascending order of importance: right foot, left knee, big toe, small intestine.

- they bill the tcm as the "most beautiful urban marathon" and it might be true. one runner asked me whether all minnesotans lived in leafy lakeshore mansions, and i told him that only the sociology professors did.

- there was some nice music today along the course. it was strange to see a tight but surprisingly funky band of navy personnel in their dress white uniforms playing stevie wonder's (or stevie ray's or the rhcp's) superstition: "when you believe in things that you don't understand, you will suffer..." there was some nice 70s radio-friendly funk (brick house, dancing in september), rockabilly, and hip-hop at house parties and lots of smiling kids. slapping hands with kids along the route is a guaranteed energy boost, so i grabbed every hand like a politician at the state fair.

- alan page (boyhood hero, former viking, and current minnesota supreme court justice) turns out around mile 3 to play his tuba and oom-pah us on every year. paul wellstone was missed again -- i think of him exhorting us to the finish near cathedral hill (and nobody exhorted one on like paul wellstone), but i could be mistaken. his famous green bus showed up at least one year too. jesse ventura sometimes attends, but i haven't seen him lately. minneapolis mayor rt rybak gave me a cup of water today, but it wasn't the same. also, i missed seeing jeylan mortimer's son kent, a monster drummer who kept a monster beat and smiled beatifically every year atop a particularly tough hill (he moved on to the east coast this summer). with the warm weather, there were people along the streets almost the entire route. seeing friends with their kids always gets me moving.

- i don't get very competitive about running (shut up! i said "about running" didn't i?), but i had one goal today: beat tim pawlenty. mr. pawlenty is minnesota's republican governor, a south st. paul native, and my arch-nemesis in the "male 40-44" category. i didn't see him along the course (what, do i have eyes in the back of my head? ok, i'll stop, i'm really not competitive about running). still, i only got him by five minutes today (t-paw ran a respectable 3:43), so i may have to revisit that beer and french fry thing if i want to keep him in the rear-view next year.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

dna giveth but it sure don't taketh away


pspunk alerted me to a short article describing how some states are addressing the "problem" of prisoners being exonerated by dna evidence. as clayton neuman wrote this week in time magazine:

Justice, it seems, has an expiration date. Luis Diaz last month became one of a handful of Florida prisoners--and one of 99 nationwide--exonerated by DNA testing since 2000. But the 2001 statute that helped set him free after he spent 26 years in jail for rapes he did not commit is set to expire next week. After Oct. 1, when prisoners can no longer petition Florida courts for post-conviction DNA testing, their only hope will be to ask prosecutors (the people who put them in jail in the first place) to reopen their case. Prisoners in Ohio face a similar deadline at the end of the month. "It is quintessentially un-American for the very people who may have caused this kind of miscarriage of justice to be the people who decide whether DNA testing occurs," says Jenny Greenberg of the Florida Innocence Initiative.

Worse still, the four-year window in Florida that required the preservation of evidence for older cases--which may have predated reliable DNA testing--is also closing. And unlike California, which last year passed a law ensuring the preservation of evidence throughout an inmate's incarceration, Florida Governor Jeb Bush last month mandated that law-enforcement agencies need give only a 90-day notice before destroying evidence, which isn't much time given the low literacy rates among inmates and how hard prison protocol makes it for them to reach a lawyer. Six states have yet to address the issue of requiring the preservation of DNA evidence. And new hurdles could arise at the congressional level, where a bill threatens to restrict many prisoners from filing one last-ditch petition in federal court. All these moves are designed to keep courts from getting deluged with DNA-related requests by thwarting new technology with red tape.

if i read this correctly, it means that states are starting to destroy the dna evidence used to convict prisoners at one end, and then not allowing them to petition to have themselves tested at the other. i'm all for keeping our busy courts from "getting deluged with dna-related requests," but i find the asymmetry in power a bit troubling here. dna evidence is an invaluable tool for police and prosecutors, but shouldn't it also be available for the wrongly convicted? i'm sure that there are many "frivolous" requests for testing, since guilty as well as innocent prisoners have an interest in something (anything!) to "rule themselves out" as suspects. still, it seems only a slight exaggeration to see this trend as inverting justice blackstone's adage: better to imprison 10 innocent people than to let one guilty person go free.