Chris Uggen's Blog: February 2006

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

so that's where wally's eyebrows went...

oh, to be in lee county this week. i'd love to see the twins open spring training against boston on thursday. like many baseball geeks, however, i won't be getting away to florida.

the new twins commercials helped ease my pain. mr. hunter is a natural for television, but mr. mauer had better material. it always helps to cite the classics...

Sunday, February 26, 2006

inequality, jefferson, and the 2004 fed survey

i've posted before on trends in u.s. wealth and income inequality, but the most recent national fed survey and state reports from the economic policy institute leave me even more pessimistic. i'm no stratificationist, so i can't speak with any real or imagined expertise. as a citizen, however, i believe that too much inequality is bad for the republic. it also makes for ugly human transactions every time that grinding poverty confronts grandiose privilege on the street.

i'm not sure whether my personal preferences stem from the late-enlightenment rousseau and jefferson of polisci 101, lutheran church sunday school, or my later sociological education. probably jefferson. in his last blog entry in 1826, the original man of the people wrote:

"All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favoured few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God."

jefferson doesn't cite his light of science data here, but he did cite europe as a negative example of wretched inequality. here's a 1785 letter to james madison:

"[The] unequal division of property... occasions the numberless instances of wretchedness which... is to be observed all over Europe."

europe doesn't seem so unequal these days, eh? jefferson would have taken a dim view of the contemporary trends in american inequality detailed in the new fed survey. here are a few findings:

1. stagnant family income : the growth in family income from 2001-2004 was the smallest since the 1989-1992 period [yes, i realize how closely this periodization maps onto political changes]. average family income actually dropped about 2.3 percent to $70,700 from 2001 to 2004. the median rose about 1.6 percent to about $43,200.

2. rising debt: for the three-fourths of families with debt, the mean value of total outstanding debt rose 34 percent from 2001 to 2004. for comparison, this amount rose only 6 percent from 1998 to 2001.

3. fewer owners: most disturbingly for those with visions of a "stakeholder" society, the level of families with any stock holdings dropped significantly, as did the amount of those holdings. call me naive, but i like the idea of broad participation in equity markets (e.g., through 401(k)s and 403(b)s). until just now, the long-term trend had been toward ever-greater participation. in 2001, more than half of all families (51.9 percent) held stock directly or indirectly. now we're back down to 48.6 percent.



4. declining wealth at the bottom: even with rising home values, median net worth is flat and actually declining for the bottom 40 percent of the income distribution. median net worth for the wealthiest 10 percent of the income distribution increased 4 percent to $924,100 from 2001 to 2004. during this period, the net worth of the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution declined by 10 percent to $7,500. the second lowest quintile declined 13 percent to about $34,300.

5. racial and ethnic inequality: there are enormous differences by race and ethnicity throughout the report. for example, median net worth is almost six times higher for nonhispanic white families ($140,700) than for nonwhite or hispanic families ($24,700). the corresponding means are $561,800 and $153,100. [yes, i realize that racial inequalities were actually quite a bit worse in jefferson's day.]

6. rising inequality: the fed report only details the past decade, but the long-term trends show steep rises in inequality since the late 1970s.

as a social scientist, i'm not quite convinced by existing empirical work linking inequality and all manner of social ills. still, i'm convinced as a citizen that national trends in inequality are going in the wrong direction. what would jefferson do [wwjd?] to avoid this wretchedness? progressive taxation and public education for starters (more on the latter some other time). this from another letter to madison in 1785:

"The property of this country is absolutely concentred in a very few hands, having revenues of from half a million of guineas a year downwards ... I am conscious that an equal division of property is impracticable. But the consequences of this enormous inequality producing so much misery to the bulk of mankind, legislators cannot invent too many devices for subdividing property, only taking care to let their subdivisions go hand in hand with the natural affections of the human mind ... Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise. Whenever there is in any country, uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right. The earth is given as a common stock for man to labor and live on."

can you believe that this guy actually got elected president? i can accept the fact that for much of human history the mass of humankind really was born with saddles on their backs, with a favoured few booted and spurred to ride them. i'm just troubled that jefferson's nation is moving toward greater rather than lesser inequality today.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

nofx, d4, and the DIY ethic

because we ask ourselves why we live in a place thirty degrees colder than your freezer, minnesotans just eat up validation from california or new york. chris riemenschneider's friday column in the strib gives a heads-up on a cool mention of an emerging local institution.

NOFX immortalizes minnpunks dillinger four and the club down the street in "seeing double at the triple rock." i didn't know d4 was recording on (nofx bassist) fat mike's fat wreck chords, but the pairing makes perfect sense. both bands subscribe to the punk DIY ethic of independent record labels, squirrelly politically charged rants, and public nudity.

my son shares fat mike's birthday, his sensibility, and his vintage metal-flake danelectro DC bass, so i hear lots of nofx these days (they're not advocacting bestiality, dad, they're making fun of it). i must have played punk in drublic around the house when he was still in diapers, so i can only blame myself. i know less about minnesota punks d4, but like their big chunky sound. in 'tude, they remind me a little of madison's pummeling and pioneering killdozer, which came up with titles like intellectuals are the shoeshine boys of the ruling elite that rival d4's a floater left with pleasure in the executive washroom. the fact that they own at least a chunk of the triple rock on cedar avenue is just a bonus. i'm kind of ashamed i've never been inside the place, but will have to organize a happy hour at some point. i'm guessing it probably isn't the best place to take our new grad school recruits, but who knows?

without further ado, here's the song (downloadable for free at fatwreck.com -- this is why i still love the punks) and selected lyrics:

It's 3 o'clock at the Triple Rock, another round of watching Paddy talk
It's where you wanna get snowed in when you get
Snowed in, outside it's 10 below, is it day or night, we don't care or know
What we know is that we don't wanna be
Anywhere but here, please don't make us leave
When in Minnesota and you got a drinking quota

I'm seeing double at the Triple Rock, we're still here watching Paddy talk
Then undress, then get out the duct tape
The one question still remains, how much more art can we take?
I'll let you know when the medication wears off ...

Friday, February 24, 2006

americorps/vista jobs for reentry work

are you interested in doing full-time reentry work in the fabulous twin cities? michael bischoff, a project manager at the council on crime and justice sends word of two americorps/vista positions. one is for an assistant case advocate for formerly incarcerated people. the other is for program evaluation and research related to reentry. click the links for details and contact information.

either position could be a great opportunity to get some real hands-on program and research experience. the jobs are full-time, pay a basic living stipend, provide health insurance, and offer a grant for education.

the council is a fine local non-profit with an excellent national reputation. i can personally vouch for its leadership and core mission: "to build community capacity to address the causes and consequences of crime and violence through research, demonstration and advocacy."

to apply, submit a resume and cover letter by friday, march 31 to: council on crime and justice, attn: human resources, 822 south third street, suite 100, minneapolis, mn 55415 or hr@crimeandjustice.org. the positions are anticipated to begin June 21, 2006 and go through June 20, 2007.

(almost?) too stupid to mention

did anyone notice the two players that portland received at the nba trade deadline yesterday? from espn:

The Blazers joined in on the Seattle-Denver talks in its ongoing quest for salary-cap relief and receive Nuggets guard Voshon Lenard and Sacramento Kings forward Brian Skinner.

that's pronounced 'leh-'nerd 'skin-'nerd, friend. okay, maybe this is a coincidence. still, it has a much better vibe than pairing castro and batista, as the twins did this winter.

were i an nba general manager, this is just the sort of package i'd put together. the band lynyrd skynyrd took their moniker from coach leonard skinner, a gym teacher at (where else?) robert e. lee high school in jacksonville, florida. coach skinner was notorious for tormenting long-haired rocker dudes, including the nascent musicians. there were no robert e. lee high schools in minnesota, but i certainly remember a few gym teachers like mr. skinner. according to guitarist gary rossington, the vowels were changed "to protect the guilty."

the name's origin is only my third favorite skynyrd story. number two is that ronnie van zant would collect the money after each show and then dole it to the musicians based on his estimation of their performance. that's one take-charge front-dude. my all-time number one favorite skynyrd story is that third guitarist ed king actually dreamed his off-key solo in sweet home alabama. nobody could mess with it because it, like, came to him in a dream! here's the straight dope from an interview with jeb wright in 2004:


Jeb: Did you really dream the guitar solo?
Ed: Yeah, we wrote the song -- it took about 15 minutes. We worked on it for about half a day. I went home that night and I put the guitar by the bed and that night the entire solo came to me in a dream. There are actually two solos in that song and they both came to me in a dream.
Jeb: Was it a key inversion?
Ed: The song starts in the key of “D” but I swear it is in the key of “G” where it resolves. [Producer Al] Kooper says it starts in “D” so it is in “D” and therefore I played the guitar solo in the wrong key. After we recorded it, he took it out to California and played it for Mike Bloomfield and Bloomfield laughed. Kooper asked, “What’s the matter” and Mike goes, “He played the solo in the wrong key.” I have heard stories that Kooper wanted to redo the solo with either Collins or Rossington and they couldn’t come up with anything that fit -- I have heard that story but I have never asked either one of them about it. The guys actually stuck up for me. They said that since I had saw it in a dream then that is the way it was going to be. I didn’t just hear it in a dream, I actually saw it. When Billy [Powell] plays his piano solo, he plays it in the key of “G”. The guy in Guitar World who transcribed my solo did so in the key of “G”. I think I was right.


inspiring, huh? the song's lines about george wallace (pro) and neil young (con) make me wince, but i've still gotta smile whenever that guitar solo comes on the radio. if i dreamed the lead paragraph to a book or article, i'd never let anybody mess with it. in fact, i'm going to set my manuscript and my guitar by the bed tonight just in case inspiration comes calling.

i'm sure former gopher voshon lenard now dreams of raining down three-pointers at the rose garden arena. maybe the p.a. person will play a little call me the breeze or saturday night special when lenard and skinner hit the floor together. "sweet home oregon" doesn't have the same ring to it.

on second thought, this is way too stupid to mention.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

now what would you pay?

adam liptak's thoughtful piece in the times today highlights a significant barrier to felon reintegration: money. i'm not talking about how hard it is to earn a decent living with a criminal record. i'm talking about direct financial obligations to the state.

today, clients in the criminal justice system must pay fines, court costs, restitution to victims, lab costs (e.g., for drug testing, and sampling their dna), treatment costs (e.g., for chemical dependency or anger management), surveillance costs (e.g., for ankle bracelets), and because-we-said-so costs. liptak profiles one man who owes $127,000 to the state of louisiana, though six-figure debts are rare. it is not at all unusual, however, for "average" felons to owe thousands of dollars upon release.

when i analyzed applications for voting rights restoration in florida, i noticed that many such applications were never even reviewed. this is because applicants with any outstanding court costs or unpaid restitution were considered ineligible by definition. such practices seriously exacerbated racial inequalities in the system's operation. like florida, washington state is among the most aggressive in wringing money from felons. here's liptak:

Washington has one of the longest lists of fees assessed to criminals, and it is diligent in trying to collect them. Ms. Dubois, disabled after a car accident, makes payments of $10 a month toward what was once a $1,610 debt — $1,000 for a county "drug enforcement fund," a $500 "victim assessment fee" and $110 in court costs. "I still don't know who the victim was," she said. Her efforts notwithstanding, her debt is growing because of the 12 percent interest assessed annually by the State of Washington. As of September, it stood at $1,895.69.

until she pays it all back, however, she will remain ineligible to vote. just think about that for a moment. do such requirements exact a poll tax on the poor? how many other citizens -- of any socioeconomic stratum -- would pay $1,900 to vote in the next election? what if people remained ineligible to vote until they had completely paid off all student loans and other financial obligations to the state?

most students, of course, are not felons. while the state can make all felons debtors, i question the wisdom of imposing onerous financial obligations across-the-board. in my opinion, such policies needlessly prolong punishment. to the extent that former felons are marked as debtors and outsiders, it is more difficult for them to become "insiders" -- stakeholding and tax-paying citizens in good standing. that said, i grant that adhering to a reasonable restitution schedule might serve a reintegrative or rehabilitative function. making even nominal payments to victims might be part of a broader strategy of "earned redemption."

but that's not what we're talking about here. thoughtlessly dumping four-figure fees on the poorest of the poor serves no such purpose. this is either "piling on" to further stigmatize and criminalize the indigent or a misguided attempt to squeeze blood from turnips:

"The difference between 30 years ago and today," said George H. Kendall, a lawyer with Holland & Knight in New York who represents Mr. Rideau, "is that people who everyone agrees are poor are leaving the courthouse significantly poorer."

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

2006 governor's race

jonathon "the impaler" sharkey is running for minnesota governor on the vampyres, witches and pagans ticket. that does it. i'm definitely floating some trial balloons this year.

i'm certain that the democrats will find another truly outstanding candidate to challenge popular incumbent tim pawlenty (as they did in 1998 and 2002!). nevertheless, i see the 2006 race as a three-person barnburner between me, the impaler, and governor pawlenty.

my staff is working up some detailed position papers, but let's take a quick look at how a mild-mannered sociology professor would stack up on the seven most important issues facing the state. the quotations below are taken from the candidates' websites, but i've fabricated everything without quotation marks. i'm envisioning cathy wurzer asking us the tough questions and mary lahammer providing the skinny and analysis:


#1. ms. wurzer: first, where do you stand on the all-important issue of impalement?

impaler: i am solidly in favor of impalement, cathy, preferably on the state capitol grounds. here's my official position:

"As governor, my 'legal way' to justify Impaling criminals is when they are charged, they will also be charged with 'Act's of Terrorism' if their criminal actions are: RAPE, CHILD ABUSE/NEGLIGECT, DRUG DEALING/PROCESSION, VIOLENCE UPON THE ELDERLY OR WOMEN, RELIGIOUS DECRIMINATION/ATTACKS, DWI/DUI (multiple offenses), CHILD MOLESTATION, MURDER (other than justified), POLICE BRUTALITY/ABUSE OF POWER and JUDICAL/PROSECTUTION MISCONDUCT"

gov. pawlenty: i leave the door open for possibly impaling level-3 sex offenders at some future time. otherwise, i am anti-impalement.

uggen: i am solidly anti-impalement, even for those who abuse apostrophes. my future attorney general is briefing me on the more obscure "act's" identified by mr. sharkey, but let me make a broad statement of principle. before investing in a new impalement initiative, i say we should enforce the state's current laws against negligect, procession, decrimination, and prosectution. those are all bad things, right? i wasn't sure about procession.

the skinny: this looks like a winning issue for governor pawlenty. minnesota voters won't elect a "soft on crime" governor. uggen's flip-flopping on procession and his rigid anti-impalement stance make him the outlier here.


#2. ms. wurzer: what about evil more generally? do you consider yourself to be evil?

impaler: "As I have previously stated, I am evil. However, I prefer to unleash my evil side upon terrorists and criminals. Not the innocent."

gov. pawlenty: some say i see no evil, but i am generally opposed to it.

uggen: i am running on an anti-evil platform, though i frequently use powerpoint in lectures.

the skinny: another victory for the incumbent. uggen is grasping at straw -- at least the impaler stands for something.


#3. ms. wurzer: where do you stand on God? love Him or hate Him?

impaler: hate. "I despise and hate the Christian God the Father. He is my enemy."

gov. pawlenty: love Him! i proclaimed may 5th the “day of prayer,” encouraging citizens to “turn to God as their understanding and beliefs direct, that we may open our hearts in thanksgiving for blessings received and to seek strength, wisdom and encouragement to build a better Minnesota for all people.”

uggen: love. are you sure God's a Him? that old dishwalla song suggested a female deity ('cuz i'd really like to meet Her)? i've made no other proclamations to date.

the skinny: governor pawlenty now leads 3-0. he's just destroying the other candidates.


#4. ms. wurzer: have you ever been photographed with a member of the royal family?

impaler: of course! here's me n' jeb in florida.

gov. pawlenty: of course! here's me n' george in le sueur. we even dress alike. darn it norm, we said no khakis! and where on earth did you get that belt? these are farmers, not drugstore cowboys.

uggen: no photographs yet, but i promise to pose with all major campaign contributors.

the skinny: i guess that's why governor pawlenty is the incumbent, cathy. the president loves him! all bets are off, however, if the elder bush brother gets the nod in 2008.


#5. ms. wurzer: are you really one of us? when and where were you born?

impaler: elizabeth, new jersey (april 2, 1964).

gov. pawlenty: south st. paul, minnesota (november 27, 1960).

uggen: we're talkin' st. paul, minnesota, cathy (may 29, 19-i-ain't tellin'). capitol city, baby!

the skinny: finally, a clear win for the professor. score it governor pawlenty 4, candidate uggen 1, and none for the impaler. new jersey? c'mon, new york maybe. and who says baby anymore? that may have cost uggen two million female voters and only gained him fourteen dick vitale fans.


#6. ms. wurzer: what are your educational qualifications?

impaler: "Ph.D., L.D.D.D. I am a Satanic Dark Priest, Sanguinarian Vampyre and a Hecate Witch. My Magikal Path name is: Lord Ares."

gov. pawlenty: i was phi beta kappa as a university of minnesota undergraduate and an honors graduate of the university's law school. i do not yet have a magikal path name, but there are some who call me...'tim.' i will also answer to t-paw and tim the enchanter.

uggen: hmm... how to put this. i got my undergraduate and graduate degrees as an exchange student at the university of wisconsin. but i love the good ol' u of m now! doesn't that count for something? in graduate school i took a magikal path analysis seminar but the instructor did not provide me with a magikal path name. let me respectfully suggest c-love.

the skinny: well, stick a fork in him, cathy. three degrees from wisconsin simply destroy uggen in this race. i would score this as a victory for the impaler. unless they can somehow get their magikal path names on the ballot by november, governor pawlenty and professor uggen are at a distinct disadvantage with undecided voters. knowing nothing else about the candidates, who would pick "chris" or "tim" over Lord Ares?


#7. ms. wurzer: do you have the proper athletic background to regale us with lame sports metaphors? where do you stand on a new ballpark for the twins?

impaler: as a professional wrestler and go kart racer, i'll shove my opponents into the turnbuckle and umm... take the checkered flag? i oppose public funding for a new ballpark but favor remodeling our existing facilities. for the twins to remain competitive, our state must invest in sharpened impaling stakes on the metrodome plaza. better yet, i propose to save the taxpayers money by removing the banners and sharpening the existing stakes. impalement will deter rival owners from stealing players like joe mauer and johan santana. given the deep losses to the twins' bullpen this season, those stakes will also serve as a friendly reminder to our relief pitchers. blown saves are like garlic and hawthorn branches to me.

gov. pawlenty: look, i've proven i can put the puck in the net. i am the puckhead-in-chief in this, the state of hockey, and a 3:43 marathoner to boot. moreover, i have many positions on the twins' ballpark -- not just one, like my opponents.

uggen: cathy, this is a marathon and not a sprint. i can accept defeat gracefully because i play intramural softball with sociologists. i wrestled amateur in junior high. like paul wellstone, i --

gov. pawlenty (interrupting): wait a minute, professor. i served with paul wellstone; i knew paul wellstone; paul wellstone was a friend of mine. professor, you are no paul wellstone.

uggen: that was really uncalled for, governor. let me just state that i've twice beaten the incumbent in marathons. moreover, i have the courage to take a stand on the important issues: yes, i support a new ballpark in the strongest possible terms!

the skinny: oh my! the impaler has clearly done his homework on this one. professor uggen's pro-stadium position will surely cost him among his left-leaning anti-impalement voting base. his bickering with governor pawlenty did little to help either candidate.

lahammer's final tally: governor pawlenty 4, impaler sharkey 2, and professor uggen 1. in light of the impaler's recent legal problems, uggen could overtake him this fall. the professor doesn't have any outstanding warrants, does he? uggen might overtake the governor too -- but only in the twin cities marathon. he should have stayed in his cushy ivory tower, cathy. he's got no shot as a politician.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

how enervating!

as my collaborators and advisees know too well, i pride myself on diction and phraseology. words, that is. pride, of course, is a dangerous thing.

have you ever used a term in precisely the wrong way? i recently submitted a paper with michelle inderbitzin to the annual sociology meetings. our public criminologies mansucript leads with the following sentence:

The concept of “public sociology” has enervated conversations about what it means to be a sociologist, to do sociological work, and the meaning of that work to larger publics.

we also sent the draft to an eminent scholar, who generously provided comments. s/he flagged enervating in the first sentence, suggesting that we might want to look in a dictionary. argh! i had thought it meant "to energize or cause cool new ideas to course through the body." unfortunately, enervating actually means "to dissipate, weaken, and suck the life out of the body." oops. such mistakes are really irrigating. or enervating. whatever.

i half-heartedly tried to pin it on michelle (surely you wrote that line, right partner?), but i knew it was my line and she knew i was wrong all along. googling a bit, i've seen it used properly (the enervating slackness of passive people) and somewhat less properly (fresh, enervating, and non-synthetic). here's dictionary.com again:

Usage Note: Sometimes people mistakenly use enervate to mean “to invigorate” or “to excite” by assuming that this word is a close cousin of the verb energize. In fact enervate does not come from the same source as energize (Greek energos, “active”). It comes from Latin nervus, “sinew.” Thus enervate means “to cause to become ‘out of muscle’,” that is, “to weaken or deplete of strength.”

i realize, of course, that some would still accuse public sociology of enervating the discipline, but that wasn't our intent. the word enervating reminds me of confusion over recursive and non-recursive models, which social scientists can also get precisely wrong. recursive models assume that the causal influences all flow in one direction, whereas nonrecursive models allow for reciprocal or two-way causation. i'll remember it now: enervating is to energizing as recursive is to reciprocal.

this is how we learn, right? as sage language maven william strunk once said, "if you don't know how to pronounce a word, say it loud!" i can't let such mistakes enervate me, since they are likely to be recurring (or perhaps i mean non-recurring). from now on, i'll try to keep it simple. as sage centerfielder mickey rivers once said, "my goals are to hit .300, score 100 runs, and stay injury-prone."

Monday, February 20, 2006

age, ski jumping, and desistance

according to olympic commentators, the best ski jumpers are baby ski jumpers. this is because ski jumping involves convincing one's body to do something that one's brain regards as, well, stupid. as any former teenager will tell you, really stupid physical tasks are most reliably accomplished in youth.

one would think that older athletes might fare better at events privileging mind control, whereas the kids might prevail in events privileging speed and strength. instead, fortysomething cross-country skiers such as hilde pedersen sieze medals in grueling tests of endurance, while nervy nineteen year olds take gold in ski jumping.

watching the broadcast, i saw close parallels between ski jumping and desistance from crime and other risk behaviors. i'll bet that the age/ski-jumping curve follows the age/crime and age/accident curves. no, i'm not always thinking about crime. for instance, i also wondered whether jumpers and spectators might enjoy a warm landing pool of delicious banana cream pudding. more seriously, i marveled at the quaint sexist rationale that keeps women from participating: international ski federation president gian franco kasper says ski jumping "seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view." sounds like pre-rosie the riveter talk to me, gian franco.

like many boys and girls, i recall summoning up the courage to do really stupid things as a teenager (just jump! do it!) that today i'd reject without a second thought. i suppose this is why keeping the edge becomes such a preoccupation as we get a little older. i'm tempted to challenge my lad to a ski jumping contest, but not until i get some action on this pudding idea.

Friday, February 17, 2006

prison dogs

toby young ran the safe harbor prison dog program in kansas, teaching inmates to train dogs for adoption. this week, she left lansing prison with inmate john manard packed into a dog crate in the back of her van.

this is tough news for dog training programs. i'm most familiar with more intensive efforts to train dogs as helpers for disabled persons. i've spoken with inmates at shakopee correctional facility in minnesota about the powerful influence that such programs had on them. they devote considerable time, attention, and (yes) love to the animals, in the hope that the animals will do some good on the outside. the minnesota program fell victim to budget cuts, but the inmates swore by it.

i'm not aware of a rigorous program evaluation or cost-benefit analysis, but i like such programs for three reasons: (1) they make productive use of inmates' time and affections; (2) they provide a needed public service; and, (3) they help civilize prisons, offering a "carrot" with which administrators can reward good behavior (dog-time is much prized) and an opportunity for inmates to teach discipline. i can second or verify this blurb from ms. young's website:

Safe Harbor has more than 90 inmates in the dog program and the effect on these inmates is very profound. These inmates have something positive that they can be proud of. They write to their families and tell them every last detail about their current dog. They subscribe to dog magazines and research training methods and dog breeds. They attend weekly classes to teach them a bridge and target training method that we use in our program. They have formed teams to help each otherwith specific training issues. They ‘baby-sit’ each other’s dogs. The impact of this program is more far reaching than we will probably ever know. The prison store recently started carrying dog treats that inmates can buy at a cost of 45 cents for a pound of treats. It has been the fastest selling item in the store – inmates who aren’t even dog handlers have been buying treats for the dogs and so have officers who love having the dogs around. The dogs are the highlight of prison tours and visit inmates in the hospice center.

argh. i don't know whether ms. young hatched the escape for love or whether she was an unwitting pawn of the prisoners. i just hope that this escape doesn't compromise the good work of such programs.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

bad queen and other improbable pairings

seventies pomp-rockers queen are touring this year, with former bad company and free frontdude paul rogers taking the late freddie mercury's parts. rodgers and mercury were contemporaries and unusually good vocalists, but their styles were ... different.

mercury was over-the-top, theatrical, and campy. rodgers was straight-ahead, macho, and bluesy. hearing the latter interviewed this morning, however, i identified the missing link: rodgers emulated little richard's voice and mercury emulated little richard's style. still, i'm tempted to overpay to see them next month. it wouldn't be queen, of course, but rodgers' leather-lunged shouts might be a nice complement to brian may's big guitar sound (aside: almost bought his li'l vox amp this spring, but opted for this one). in any case, i'm now convinced that a seemingly improbable pairing will generate more fan interest than an expected one (e.g., queen's flirtation with george michael).

i tried to think of a similarly disparate pairing for the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. here are a few that come to mind, but you can probably think of better ones:

1980s: michael stipe fronting u2.
hmmm. i'd pay to see beautiful day, but edge and peter buck already have more than a little in common. maybe it would be more interesting to pair bono with r.e.m. -- losing my religion would be killer.

1990s: the flaming lips' wayne coyne fronting pearl jam.
now we're getting somewhere. just imagine wayne's reedy falsetto over alive. for the reverse, we'd get to hear eddie vedder belting out she don't use jelly. he would certainly take do you realize? in an entirely new direction. it is probably best not to think about that one too long.

2000s: how about weezer's rivers cuomo in outkast?
hey-ya would be great fun onstage. putting andre 3000 into weezer would result in some outstanding versions of beverly hills and buddy holly.

that settles it. let's put andre 3000 in queen! two words: bohemian rhapsody.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

click me!

another fine jon smajda tech tip:

i just returned from a presentation on clickers, or wireless personal response systems designed for classroom use. i do some polling in my delinquency and statistics classes, so this might work well for my larger classes. instructors are using them locally for quizzing students, gathering class participation data, and getting a quick check on what's sinking in versus what's just sinking. they seem perfect for the large number of shy students who nevertheless want to stay engaged in the class meetings. they might also be handy for getting midterm evaluation results on one's own teaching.

judging from the presentation, the start-up costs would be low for current powerpoint users. you make a slide with a question, flag the correct response, and ask the students to click away. once you close polling, you can examine the responses and break them out in different formats. for my purposes, the most important features involve confidentiality, data formatted for easy download (e.g., into a spreadsheet), disaggregating responses by clickee characteristics such as gender, and the ability to construct questions on-the-fly during lecture. no problem on any of these counts. clicker systems could be great for undergrad data collection as well, particularly for social-psych projects. i'd like to see a little experiment comparing responses by hand-raising versus those individually collected by clickers. i'm sure the secret ballots generate different responses relative to the group dynamics in play with hand-raising.

who buys it? the way it was pitched today, the clicker would be bundled with other course materials at a cost of about $25 per student. to avoid passing the costs to students, departments could order a receiver and set of clickers as well. in our department, carolyn liebler and joel samaha are currently using the systems. there are myriad applications, but i especially like the idea of shifting course based on student responses -- both in a pedagogical sense (do they get the material or do they need another pass through it?) and in a "voice" or procedural justice sense (can they register their preferences on exam formats, review session times, and other issues?).

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

name effects

according to the economists, teachers and employers use names as signaling devices for socioeconomic background. in fact, the effects of names on socioeconomic attainment is one of the most interesting issues levitt and dubner tackle in freakonomics. there is likely a long sociological literature on the topic, but i've seen more economic research recently. for example, audit studies typically find large name effects on employment call-backs. economist david figlio has a nice sibling-pair paper that finds name effects on educational outcomes. levitt and roland fryer, however, find little effect of "distinctively black names" on socioeconomic attainment, once the effects of basic socioeconomic background indicators are statistically controlled.

i tend to think more like a novelist than an economist on this issue. in icelandic sagas and other literary forms, names and the power to name things may determine life chances. in distinguishing "good" from "bad" fiction, heavy-handed character names are usually a dead giveaway. the most memorable characters i've encountered in books or film often have resonant names -- huck finn, norma desmond, travis bickle, blanche dubois, sam spade, nola darling, rabbit angstrom. shouldn't real life work the same way? to the unscientific side of me, it seems foreordained that a lad named joe montana would excel in the manly art of football. and he's gotta be the quarterback, right?

this brings me to jack swagger. mr. swagger, captain of the woodbury high school wrestling team, is introduced at home meets as captain jack swagger, which is cooler still. i watched him take first place in the all-conference meet on saturday and i'll be pulling for him in the state tournament. john updike wouldn't name a character "jack swagger" because it too perfectly connotes masculinity and success. think about it: johnny depp played captain jack sparrow in pirates of the caribbean. swagger would be too much, but sparrow takes it down a notch so that the audience can willingly suspend disbelief.

we chose tor and hope in naming our kids. tor is a variant of thor, the norse god of thunder. [in norway, thor is pronounced "tore" and tor is pronounced "tour;" in the states, tor is pronounced "tore"]. thor was a massive and mighty hammerin' man, but a well-liked protector against evil. sure enough, the lad grew into his name. we chose the name hope for its optimistic vibe. it was the 288th most popular name in 1993, but seems to have risen in the rankings recently. i love the spanish variant esperanza as well. It has a dramatic flair that might suit my daughter even better than hope.

of course, my kids are saddled with an unusual and difficult surname. we pronounce it "you-gun" but norwegians say "oo-gun." only strangers and sworn enemies say "ugh-un." what's a uggen? like other norwegian farm laborers, my ancestors took the name of the farm that employed them -- in this case, the uggen farm. sadly, i have it on good authority that uggen is now a norwegian euphemism for hangover (e.g., "i woke up feeling a little uggen this morning"). beautiful.

my colleague jeff broadbent, however, tells me that yugen has a much more respectable meaning in japanese aesthetics -- as mysterious, elegant, and graceful. here is one definition:

Yugen - The subtle and the profound. Yugen is at the core of the appreciation of beauty and art in Japan. It values the power to evoke, rather that the ability to state directly. The principle of Yugen shows that real beauty exists when, through its suggestiveness, only a few words, or few brush strokes, can suggest what has not been said or shown, and hence awaken many inner thoughts and feelings.

hmmm. it ain't jack swagger, but it sure beats a hangover.

Monday, February 13, 2006

shelley and keats are out in the streets

john keats and percy shelley made yahoo news today. the years have been unkind to their final resting place, but a friend to their poetry.

here are a couple valentine's day love poems, written a couple centuries ago by a couple of twentysomething romantics:


john keats, bright star (1819)

BRIGHT Star! would I were steadfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night,
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like Nature's patient sleepless Eremite,

The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors:—

No—yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair Love's ripening breast
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest;

Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever,—or else swoon to death.


percy shelley, love's philosophy (1819)

The fountains mingle with the river,
And the rivers with the ocean;
The winds of heaven mix forever
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
All things by a law divine
In another's being mingle –
Why not I with thine?

See, the mountains kiss high heaven,
And the waves clasp one another;
No sister flower could be forgiven
If it disdained its brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth,
And the moonbeams kiss the sea; –
What are all these kissings worth,
If thou kiss not me?

i've loved keats -- especially la belle dame and its modern variants -- since english 207 my freshman year at the wisversity. i came across an old volume in memorial library that looked like a copy of keats' (medical?) school notebook, complete with doodles and filthy rhyme. the shelley selection is lighter fare, but valentine's day is all about the candy...

Sunday, February 12, 2006

nationality, sport, and ja, vi elsker dette landet

which nation of 4.6 million is the all-time leader in winter olympics medals? (hint: it also leads the world in human development, press freedom, and uggens). that's right, i'm talking about iraq!

well, actually, i'm talking about norway. entering the 2006 games this week, norway had 260 medals, far outpacing the former soviet union at 194 and the u.s. at 190. at last glance, my kinswomen and kinsmen led the 2006 medal count as well.

though my cousins may disagree as we pitch horseshoes this summer, norwegians are not superior athletes. norway ranks 28th in the all-time summer games medal count, one place above the "unified team," which was only assembled for the boycott olympiad of 1992. at 140 medals, the nation seems unlikely to catch the u.s. count of 2,219. there are a few "swedes" in baseball lore (most notoriously, swede risberg of the 1919 black sox), but norwegian-americans do not have an outsized influence on sports such as football, basketball, and baseball. for example, one hall-of-fame lists only babe didrikson, knute rockne, and jan stenerud.

i don't blame my double-digit 40 time on my ethnic heritage, of course, nor do i believe that i'd be a great ski jumper simply because i'm norwegian-american. [i've been a-scared of ski jumps since wide world of sports. whenever i ski, i still worry about taking a wrong turn and hurtling down a ramp to certain death.]

i'm no expert on the sociology of sport, but i think that norwegian dominance in the winter games might make for an interesting example in sociology classes that will take up thorny issues of race, nationality, and sport this week. nobody could seriously suggest that norwegians have a superior genetic endowment for cross-country skiing. yet i hear such arguments made routinely about other groups of athletes in sports such as distance running or basketball (usually by coaches, just before they get fired). rather, most people seem to understand that norwegians have a rich cultural history of participation in winter sports and much snow upon which to ski.

of course, norwegians take great national pride in the winter olympics, sometimes to the point of needling their less-successful neighbors. my favorite sportswriter, patrick reusse, tells a tale from the salt lake games in 2002 [caveat: as with every reusse story, the particulars change a bit with each retelling and i'm likely to butcher them here]. fiji and some other nations lacking storied cultural traditions in winter events were participating for the first time. reveling in success a few days into the games, the norwegian press breathlessly reported every new medal. one norwegian paper reportedly featured this headline: NORWAY GAINS ANOTHER GOLD: SWEDES TIED WITH FIJI.

of course, national sports comparisons are ever-changing and always relative. it wasn't that long ago that americans assumed they had cornered the world basketball market. sometime between dirk nowitzke and yao ming this position went from untenable to ridiculous. i'll bet that somewhere along the line a fijian writer needled a colleague from tonga about being tied with poor norway in the world golf rankings.

Friday, February 10, 2006

in a long white cadillac

deposed minneapolis school superintendent thandiwe peebles is leaving the district and its $700 monthly car allowance. now the city is stuck with a four-year lease on a long white cadillac srx at $534 per month.

public school officials just love luxury automobiles. several years ago, i drove to a meeting with madison metro school district officials. when i asked my boss where to turn, she just said "follow the mercedes, chris. these are school people." peebles' allowance was not at all unusual -- the st. paul superintendent gets $750 monthly for her jaguar.

i don't see anything wrong with (a) providing cars for public employees who must drive a lot on their jobs; or, (b) public employees driving luxury cars. unfortunately, when luxury cars are provided at taxpayer expense, the administrators start to look like "limousine liberals," gassing up at the public trough. i could almost hear public school teachers groaning as i read the story --it is tough enough to pass school referenda these days. anti-spending groups such as the taxpayer's league of minnesota pounce on any hint of frivolous spending or luxury, with regular features such as "taj mahal of the month" and "waste watcher."

when parents must supply the kleenex and paper towels for cash-strapped schools, any hint of ostentation sends a bad message. if we need to put together a nice package to attract a qualified candidate, i'd much rather pay her an additional $9,000 in salary than supply it in the form of a $750 per month luxury car. think about the reference point: the annual per capita income in minneapolis' near north neighborhood is only $9,600 (and $22,700 for the city overall). superintendents' contracts are typically loaded with perks and lucrative buyouts, but i'm hoping that the contract for dr. peebles' successor is a bit more politically palatable and (in my view) socially responsible. good sign: her interim replacement drives a '96 camry.

the strib also notes that my current boss drives a 2003 gmc envoy that he paid for himself. i fully support paying our president his $350,000 salary, which is actually below-market for a major university president. but i'd protest a $750 monthly car allowance or state-supplied goldy-gopher escalade. the same goes for department chairs, i suppose. i'll receive some summer salary this year, but my colleagues would certainly frown on allocating department funds for extravagant transportation (if not, i'd like one of these and one of these). such extravagance in a time of rising tuition just seems to rub the public's nose in it.

minneapolis boss r.t. rybak, the nation's fittest mayor, uses his $500 monthly allowance to lease a cheap toyota prius. it probably has very low miles, since he likes to ski to work. even governor t-paw, my marathon nemesis, drives a basic state-owned chevy suburban. it shares the same frame as the escalade, no doubt, but it sends an altogether different message.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

harsh democrats versus draconian republicans

despite strict sentencing guidelines that limit their discretion, federal judges still exert some control over punishment severity. principally, they can adjust offense levels based on the facts of the case and depart from the guidelines altogether based on the fit between law and facts.

the chicago tribune reports a new article by max schanzenbach and emerson tiller on the political orientation of judges and sentencing outcomes. the analysis suggests that Republican appointees to federal district courts punish drug trafficking, theft, and violent offenses more harshly than Democratic appointees. conversely, there is some evidence that Democratic appointees raise punishments for white collar offenses by adjusting offense levels upward.

max is a phd economist as well as a jd, exemplifying the trend toward law profs with disciplinary phds and advanced methods skills (he was also my gracious host during an informal lunch talk at northwestern law). this project would seem to present some tricky level-of-analysis ecological issues and nonlinearities. nevertheless, after a very quick read of the full paper, i think the model is generally well-specified, at least within the limits of the data. the substantive story is reasonable and the authors seem both sensitive to and authoritative about the underlying mechanisms linking the putative cause (partisanship) and effect (outcomes).

for a couple reasons, i think the estimated effects of partisanship might be conservative (too low rather than too high). first, the federal courts do not see a lot of "street" crime. relative to state courts, violent offenses in the federal system tend to be acts such as bank robbery rather than, say, strongarm robbery; drug offenses tend to be moderate-to-large-scale trafficking rather than small-time dealing or possession. so, detecting any difference between street versus suite crime would be difficult within the federal system.

second, these effects were observed from 1992 to 2001, a period in which partisan effects may have been muted rather than exaggerated. it would be laughable to characterize Democrats of the era as "soft on crime." rather than soft versus hard, it might be more apt to characterize the contrast as harsh versus draconian.

since i haven't done any sentencing research, however, i'll need a sentencing expert such as celesta albonetti or rod engen to break the full implications down for me. provisionally, however, i've reached the following conclusions: (1) if (when?) i'm hauled into federal court for illegally trading oil stocks, i'll angle for a bush appointee; and, (2) if (when?) i'm hauled in for possessing my 500-count bottle of generic sudafed, i'll shop for a clinton appointee.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

michaela hutchison and gender equity

forget the super bowl. michaela hutchison was the sports story this weekend. on saturday she became the first female in u.s. history to win a state wrestling title competing against boys. as the crowd chanted "girl power," her escape with 16 seconds left in the alaska state championship match secured a 1-0 victory at 103 pounds. according to press reports, a bloodied ms. hutchison walked off the mat to a standing ovation. she finished her sophomore season at 41-4 with 33 (!) pins, one short of the state record.

fortunately, great female athletes need no longer establish their greatness by competing against males. nevertheless, i think this ranks as a spectacular accomplishment. where's the parallel? this is paula radcliffe outpacing the male field in the marathon. this is laila ali knocking out joe frazier, jr. this is michelle wei crushing tiger woods in a pga playoff. well, you get the point. there's no head start, no handicap, no "ladies' tees," no smaller ball, no no-checking rule. michaela hutchison beat the boys straight up.

because her skills and toughness are unquestioned, the males she defeats do not make excuses or otherwise attempt to minimize ms. hutchison's accomplishments. a loss to the #1 ranked person in the state is a source of pride rather than embarrassment. according to the AP story, kodiak high's tucker vanmatre was pinned in 47 seconds at the region championships.

"It was quick," VanMatre said. "She got me in an arm bar and turned me (over)."
"I expected it. She's good," VanMatre added.


evidently, ms. hutchison is not alone. last year, 17 females qualified for state wrestling championships that included males (texas and hawaii maintain separate wrestling programs for girls and boys). but michaela hutchison is the first state champ and will hold that distinction for the rest of her life. where will she go to college? ms. hutchison would be a fine recruit for the top-ranked minnversity wrestling team. though its outstanding coach j robinson has criticized some aspects of title ix, he might welcome a star female wrestler. she would simultaneously help his program and help meet the title ix "proportionality" requirement (that the ratio of male to female athletes be proportionate to the ratio of males to females on campus). if only she had a couple sisters who played football...

at my lad's match tomorrow, i'll try to imagine him locking up against a female wrestler. at 6'5" and 270, i think this is probably a little less likely than in the 103 weight class. while i celebrate ms. hutchison's great accomplishment, i confess that such a match would be tough on both dad and son. like most fathers, i've tried to instill a major double standard when it comes to violence (hitting boys: sometimes ok; hitting girls: NEVER ok). he might therefore hesitate to deploy his standard bag of (good clean) head-butting, shoulder-abusing, oxygen-depriving, knuckle-in-the-solar-plexus, chin-on-the-spinal-cord wrestling tricks. that said, he could do his worst and none of it would slow down a 6'5" 270-pound version of michaela hutchison. no doubt the boys at 103 tried all this and more, yet she pancaked 'em anyway.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

is cool no longer cool?

i just got word from my informant at a juvenile detention center that the word "cool" has fallen out of favor -- and that staff are subject to derision for using it today. i thought "cool" was everlastingly and indelibly cool, or at least that it had been cool since the jazz age.

when i asked said informant what had replaced it in the lexicon, she offered a couple candidates: (1) tight, which i like, though it carries myriad other connotations (e.g., cheap, drunk, and uncomfortable); and, (2) fo' sho', which has become a hip-hop staple, though it cracked me up when i first saw it written on a lynyrd skynyrd lyric sheet in 1979 (ya got that right? just gimme three steps). personally, i prefer "hip," though hip hasn't been cool or tight since 1961.

did the boomers kill cool by oversaturation? do we have other viable candidates? i currently close tough meetings by asking "OK, we cool?" now i'll have to work up a new bit, or maybe cultivate a completely different vibe altogether ("OK, are we satisfied that we've reached a mutually satisfactory arrangement and that our future interactions will be neither contentious nor awkward nor inhibited as a result of the difficult conversation that we have just concluded?). if nothing else, cool was coolly efficient.

Monday, February 06, 2006

silenced voices, liberties, and change

as anticipated, i learned much at the minnversity's silenced voices conference on felon disenfranchisement last saturday. in particular, i got a little insight into processes of legal change -- in the courts, the legislature, and executives' offices.

in the courts, catherine weiss of the brennan center and art eisenberg of the nyclu gave tight presentations of the constitutional issues involved in felon disenfranchisement -- mainly 14th/15th amendment and voting rights act stuff. ms. weiss gave a thoughtful reply to a question about the supreme court's refusal to hear johnson v. bush. she speculated that this florida case would have (a) reopened fresh wounds surrounding bush v. gore; and, (b) dumped the court into some turbulent civil liberties waters in these uncertain times.

in the legislature, we heard from minnesota representative keith ellison, who introduced legislation to reenfranchise probationers and parolees. ellison discussed his patriotism as rooted in the slow but inexorable extension of the franchise beyond the propertied white male framers. he also noted that a Republican briefing sheet portrayed his bill as "good policy, but bad politics," pointing to its likely partisan impact.

the executive branch story came from gary dickey, counsel and advisor to iowa governor tom vilsack. mr. dickey related an all-american/after-school-special story of legal change. a high school class in cedar rapids iowa sunk their teeth into felon voting rights as a class project. they bombarded mr. dickey and state legislators with daily emails -- sometimes, i'll immodestly add, citing my research with jeff manza -- and phone calls lobbying for personal meetings and legal change. though not much happened in the legislature, mr. dickey and the governor began thinking about an executive order issuing a blanket pardon and voting rights restoration. at least a portion of this plan was hatched in a pickup basketball game with various staffpersons. so that's how it works...

somebody's gotta make a movie about this. dickey named his dogs liberty and justice, yet even he was astounded by the kids' commitment to full democratic participation. the conference also featured characteristically clear and authoritative overviews from marc mauer and carl warren, who organized the conference with minnversity law students. nevertheless, i'm still thinking about cedar rapids, iowa and those high school true believers. as mr. jefferson smith himself once speechified,

Just get up off the ground, that's all I ask. Get up there with that lady that's up on top of this Capitol dome, that lady that stands for liberty. Take a look at this country through her eyes if you really want to see something. And you won't just see scenery; you'll see the whole parade of what man's carved out for himself, after centuries of fighting. Fighting for something better than just jungle law, fighting so's he can stand on his own two feet, free and decent, like he was created, no matter what his race, color, or creed. That's what you'd see. There's no place out there for graft, or greed, or lies, or compromise with human liberties. And, uh, if that's what the grownups have done with this world that was given to them, then we'd better get those boys' camps started fast and see what the kids can do. And it's not too late, because this country is bigger than the Taylors, or you, or me, or anything else. Great principles don't get lost once they come to light. They're right here; you just have to see them again!

i understand that a webcast is planned for the entire conference, including longer presentations by me, marc mauer, and catherine weiss. locals in minnesota can see video replays at the law school on february 10, february 24, and march 31.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

collaboration: love, devotion, surrender

carlos santana's latest big-selling duets with name-brand guest vocalists have me thinking about collaboration. i've long admired mr. santana as a guitarist, especially his rare combination of attention to detail and joy in playing. i saw both traits in action while privy to a st. paul sound check long ago: he'd stand, play a note, cock his head, look serious, step 2" left, play a note, smile broadly, mark the spot, step 2" left... beautiful. nevertheless, he hasn't always chosen the best sidepersons or collaborators.

i'm sure the new duets are fine, but i can't imagine mr. santana will ever find a better collaborator than mahavishnu john mclaughlin. sometimes i dig out their joint love, devotion, surrender when i'm feeling a little empty or alone. i remember it as a source of comfort in adolescence -- listening with a close friend whose mother was dying and whose father was just gone. i suppose my friend was santana to my mahavishnu john. today, i don't know whether i'm moved by the emotional content of the music or the emotional memory of the music. in either case, i still hear two artists at the top of their game, each opening up a vein and taking a chance.

i found lds in a $3.49 cut-out bin, back when i was mainlining noisemakers such as rust-period neil young and, later, those sons-of-youngs j. mascis of dinosaur jr., sonic youth's thurston moore, and husker du's bob mould. while they didn't move me viscerally like the feedback gods above, i wasn't too thick to appreciate quieter players such as local boys steve tibbets and leo kottke; i also recall being mesmerized by an un-electric and un-amplified orchestra hall performance by nonagenarian andres segovia. i still love all this guitaristry, but somehow i return to love, devotion, surrender far more often. probably because it is a beautiful collaboration.

technically, the two guitarists complemented one another wonderfully -- santana's warm, melodic runs washing over and through mclaughlin's forceful staccato phrasing. or, on some songs, it is precisely the opposite. the two were clearly vibing during the sessions and picking up and dropping one another's styles. in my opinion, these are the two essential ingredients of any great collaboration: complementary skills and enough like-mindedness to vibe together to produce something beautiful or transcendent. the rest of the band was right with them as well -- vets from miles' fusion stage and the mahavishnu orchestra, such as the great billy cobham and jan hammer (?!) on drums and larry young on organ.

of course, the songs are terrific. the touchstone opener is coltrane's a love supreme, followed by his naima. next, mclaughlin's the life divine seems completely real but technically impossible. it leaves me thinking i couldn't have heard what i just thought i heard (no way. No Way!). the attacking pickwork is absurd on this, and on the following jam, let us go into the house of the lord. i don't have the imagery to do it justice, but the dueling arpeggios remind me of muscular birds moving at the speed of light between earth and sky (i warned you i didn't have the imagery. maybe they sound more like ligers, or two chickens with large talons.). finally, lds closes with meditation, a quiet but stirring denouement.

at 15, i was spooked and put-off by the overt religiosity of the album -- the fold-out picture showed sri chinmoy with our two shoeless guitar demigods literally at his feet. i mocked their gullibility, their short hair, and (most of all) their white sweaters (white sweaters?). plus, the vocals were nothing more than repetitious chants -- almost an afterthought. even then, however, i connected with the playful religious ecstasy in lengthy jams such as let us go into the house of the lord. don't get me wrong -- they both shred throughout. nevertheless, the fun and joy of the sessions bring a smile. these were jams with a higher purpose. at the time, i dismissed the words and pictures as half-baked hippie idealism (only i didn't say "idealism") and dust-of-the-grand-wazoo cosmik debris. here's an excerpt from sri chinmoy's liner notes:

each moment we are given ample opportunity to love mankind. and if we really love mankind, then we have the feeling of wanting to offer devoted service to mankind...
each moment we see right in front of us a barrier between one human being and another -- an adamantine wall between two people. we cannot communicate properly, wholeheartedly and soulfully. why? because we are wanting in love...we can break asunder this adamantine wall on the strength of our soulful love.

i know, i know -- i talk exactly like this these days. what seemed impossibly cheesy to me at 15, i've somehow embraced over time. i blame madison, wisconsin and nick lowe's what's so funny 'bout peace, love, and understanding? for simultaneously demystifying such sentiments and softening my attitude toward those making them. whether it was religious ecstasy, human connection, or just some spectacularly kind bud, mclaughlin and santana tore down this adamantine wall on love, devotion, surrender.

from what i remember of durkheim's elementary forms, religious rituals are all about worshipping the human connection in social life. during moments of collective effervescence we reaffirm shared sentiments and create new ideals. i suppose that santana and mclaughlin were up to something similar, surrendering themselves to one another and their shared conception of god and divine love. that's the soul of collaboration: tear down the walls, make something beautiful, and shred as one. the matching white sweaters are just a bonus.