Chris Uggen's Blog: March 2006

Friday, March 31, 2006

fruits of justice

prison labor made an unlikely appearance in a times report on the immigration debates. u.s. representative dana rohrabacher* opposes any sort of guest worker program. mr. rohrabacher dismissed the arguments of president bush and business leaders about the nation's low-wage labor shortage:

"Let the prisoners pick the fruits," Mr. Rohrabacher said. "We can do it without bringing in millions of foreigners."

as the orange county republican is well aware, there are plenty of prisoners in california. while there are few no-brainers on the complex immigration issue, reprising the convict-lease system is unlikely to solve california's problems. if nothing else, we'd need a five-fold increase in incarceration to replace the labor of an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants. and, of course, collective amnesia about the abuses of prison labor in this country and elsewhere.

*judging by his age, voting record on defense appropriations, and the greenish beret in the picture, i expected to find a duke cunningham-like record of distinguished military service in mr. rohrabacher's bio. nah, turns out he's a tough-talking, no-nonsense surfer, with a master's degree from usc in american studies.

and that was my only shot at transcendence this month...

the strib reports that built to spill canceled its mid-april first avenue shows due to doug martsch's eye surgery. i've longed to experience martsch since young wes dropped me a copy of 2000's live. the guitar work is, well, transcendent. i've been getting lost in the 20-minute cortez the killer on a daily basis.

built to spill will return in fall. for now, i'll be content with their new release this month and dip a little deeper into the latest my morning jacket. a 'mats reunion may no longer qualify as transcendent, but the picture and track list brought a smile. here's to the sound of things falling apart and coming together again. get well soon, doug.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

tuesdays with al

i'm tentatively scheduled to discuss locked out on al franken's air america show at 12:30 this tuesday.

i say tentatively scheduled because it is not uncommon to bump the pencil-necked profs from such shows when a big news story breaks. in politics, a lot can happen over a weekend.

i'm excited about the interview, which should be more engaging than other appearances. mr. franken is erudite and progressive, but he doesn't affect the frowny-faced earnestness of other lefty journalists. he is a plenty tough ex-wrestler, but he doesn't affect the wannabe tough-guy act of right-wing talkradio.

because mr. franken loves to riff, anything can happen. i won't know until halfway through the interview whether i'm playing lead or rhythm guitar, but i'll show up ready to play.

and the winners are ... john braithwaite and friedrich lösel

john braithwaite of the australian national university and friedrich lösel of cambridge have been awarded the 2006 stockholm prize in criminology. they share the award for their "achievements in developing theory and evidence on the prevention of repeat offending."

i believe the prize is one million swedish krona (currently, about $127,000), which i'm sure the winners will put to good use. while both are quite deserving, i'm especially happy to see john braithwaite recognized for his important work on reintegration, restorative justice, and regulation of corporate misconduct.

since graduate school, i've seen john braithwaite as a model on many fronts. let me begin to count the ways...

1. he has impressive range as a criminologist, writing on a great diversity of topics, from regulating nursing homes to conceptions of justice in japanese and maori culture to the relation between social class and crime.

2. dr. braithwaite is a public criminologist who seems equally at home speaking to and writing for sociologists, corporate board members, delinquent kids, government officials, and the good folks running tiny non-profit restorative justice programs. many practitioners know and practice braithwaite's ideas every day.

3. he makes strong and consistent contributions to empirical criminology but also makes big conceptual breakthroughs. his bifurcation of labeling ideas into stigmatizing and reintegrative shaming, for example, and his republican theory of criminal justice (with philosopher philip pettit) have proven immensely useful for scholars and practitioners.

4. he is an optimist who unapologetically devotes his efforts to making the world a better place. his writing has a what's so funny 'bout peace, love, and understanding? vibe to it, with a consistent concern for the good and a sincere effort to reduce social harm.

5. in every setting in which we've interacted, dr. braithwaite presents himself with humility, grace, and good humor.

on the latter point, i had the good fortune to write a scholarly exchange with professor braithwaite as a 3rd-year grad student. my very first publication was "Reintegrating Braithwaite: Shame and Consensus in Criminological Theory" in Law and Social Inquiry. i was actually even snarkier back then (can this be possible?), and not far removed from my creative writing courses. i asked whether his new integrated theory of crime, shame, and reintegration adequately reconciled the competing assumptions of its constituent models. i was absolutely horrified to learn from howie erlanger that professor braithwaite was writing a reply -- in fact, i remember being horrified to think he might actually read my piece. fortunately, his "Pride in Criminological Dissensus" was even-handed and supportive. i then wrote a brief rejoinder ("Beyond Calvin and Hobbes: Rationality and Exchange in a Theory of Moralizing Shaming").

this exchange proved important in getting my career started, so i'm forever indebted to john braithwaite. he wrote an inspiring and provocative book and he didn't crush me like a bug when i critiqued it. while i was struggling to publish anything as an assistant professor, i could always joke: "yeah, but i'm freakin' huge in australia."

though some aspects of the stockholm prize have kicked up controversy in criminology circles, the committee has surely identified very deserving winners in its first year.

    Wednesday, March 29, 2006

    don't be smug, egghead: minnesota probationer voting bill

    senate file 1752, which would restore the vote to felony probationers in minnesota, passed out of committee and will now be heard by the full senate. it has a long way to go, but the bill is alive for the moment. plus, i learned a good public criminology lesson.

    people responded well to my testimony, i think, though the crime prevention and public safety committee seemed less sympathetic to this bill than the elections committee. the crime folks appeared to frame it as aiding "criminals," whereas the elections folks framed it as aiding "voters" or "democracy." a couple highlights:

    1. i sat in stunned silence when a senator asked whether the bill would restore voting rights to someone convicted of treason who is not sent to prison. as of now, exactly zero of the state's 40,107 felony probationers are serving treason sentences. to my knowledge, there has not been a treason case in minnesota for at least 50 years. moreover, i can't imagine, say, zacharias moussaoui, being sentenced to straight probation rather than prison. i just stared blankly and let senator hottinger and tom johnson (of the council on crime and justice) field that one.

    2. a senator more sympathetic to the bill was concerned about probationers convicted of sex crimes and other violent offenses. the most common offenses for minnesota felony probationers involve drugs and theft (see pp. 32-33), but all major crime categories are represented. within any category, of course, probationers are convicted of less serious offenses than those who are sent to prison. aside from special consideration of voting offenses and election fraud, i dislike the idea of linking voting rights to the type of offense committed.

    floor testimony comes only from the senators themselves rather than folks like me, so my senate testifying is over. right now, i'm trying to update my report on felon disenfranchisement in minnesota and the racial impact of the proposed change. if i can finish in time, i'll try to get someone to read it. i'm not sure what's up in the house at this point, but representative keith ellison will likely bring something forward. i promised i'd send him a book yesterday, so hopefully i'll have some updated minnesota numbers for him soon as well.

    oh yeah, here's the public criminology lesson i learned yesterday: don't be smug, egghead.

    i felt a little exasperated and know-it-allish when the topic turned to treasonists on probation. as a professor, i often get to dictate the terms of the debate and "rule" on what constitutes a big problem or a little problem. while magnitude counts for a lot in social science, it doesn't mean beans in law and politics (or in the culture?). i didn't know how to respond without lecturing or somehow talking down to the committee -- defining the extent and nature of probation, detailing the sorts of offenses for which minnesotans receive probation, distinguishing it from parole and prison, etc.

    when discussion turned to sex offenders, i wanted desperately to remind the committee that we weren't talking about releasing treasonists and sex offenders from prisons, we were talking about voting. moreover, the bill would only let them vote after a judge decided they were safe to live in the community in the first place. i'm pretty sure that such "reminders" would have been counterproductive, so i'm glad i shut up. [aside: after hearing this discussion, i'm even more convinced by the findings in our harris poll -- efforts to restore voting rights for current prisoners will meet with much greater public and legislative resistance.]

    in any case, i fought the urge to speak in a smug or dismissive or snarky way. otherwise, it would have undermined all of the social science information that i presented. i'll try to remember to respond earnestly to questions and to be well-prepared to speak outside of the narrow issue at hand. and, to wipe that smug little professorial smirk off my face...

    Tuesday, March 28, 2006

    a 3:24? at his age?

    three hours and twenty-four minutes is a darn fine time for one's first marathon. sadly, after 15 or so marathons, it remains a couple minutes faster than my best time.

    the april issue of runner's world features a story on a first-timer who ran the november philadelphia marathon in 3:24. running with steve cottrell, a six-year-old border collie named cody finished 841st of 5,935 athletes. think about that for a minute: the dog beat 85 percent of the human runners who had presumably trained for this race for some time.

    i knew dogs were fast, but i didn't know they could last. i'm trying to generate some face-saving rationalization, but have rejected all the major candidates:

    1. well, cody is much younger than me. at six, cody could be slightly older than me. assigning him seven person years for each of his dog years, young cody is actually a 42-year-old master's runner. dang.

    2. as an elite athlete, cody got special treatment. nope. volunteers just kept him hyhdrated and rubbed his belly.

    3. cody was carried along by his superfast training partner. nah, it turns out that the dude held back the dog. cody could have run much faster but wanted to finish together with his training buddy, mr. cottrell (you mean dogs are loyal, too?).

    4. cody has the advantage of 4 legs, so he really ran a 6:48 rather than a 3:24. this would put him in the same performance range as plodders david lee roth (6:04), al gore (4:58), and mario lopez of tv's saved by the bell (5:41). sorry, but i can take no pride in outpacing david lee roth, al gore, and mario lopez of tv's saved by the bell.

    i'm thinking that i might like to get me a dog, but i'm going to have to get past this competitive jealousy thing.

    mo' felon voting testimony

    i'm scheduled to testify on felon voting again at 3 today in the minnesota senate, this time for the crime prevention and public safety committee.

    the bill (s.f. 1752) is near the top of the agenda, but things can and do get moved around. i'll bring the 936,518-page book manuscript that i'm currently reviewing, though i will likely be too caught up in discussion of the other bills to get any work done.

    i'm excited and honored to testify, but need to give myself a pep talk to overcome the perceived opportunity costs -- missing a good talk in the department and pushing aside other work and pressing deadlines. let's see...

    at least i'll be able to bring some fresh information back to my delinquency and deviance classes next year. there is always room for new examples in teaching moral entrepreneurs and rule creators. these courses already take up the sociological implications of many of the bills -- dna evidence, inmate health care, sex offender notification, drunk driving, and chemical dependency treatment.

    these experiences should also help my research and writing. i'm giving a plenary presentation in a session titled “Can Criminology Strengthen Democratic Institutions?” in november. i was planning to focus mostly on the public criminology aspects of the felon voting issue -- the johnson v. bush case, op-eds, and information sharing. the legislative experiences will really add some depth if i can get a few notes from the sessions. whether things go very well or things go very badly for me today, it will only help the presentation in november.

    cool. now i'm good to go. nothing peps one up better than a nice research opportunity.

    Chair: Sen. Leo Foley
    3 p.m. Room 107 Capitol

    Agenda: S.F. 2540-McGinn: Bloodborne pathogens collection and testing procedures.
    S.F. 2380-Ranum: Child pornography offenders conditional release terms.
    S.F. 3038-Higgins: Voter challenges prohibition.
    S.F. 3039-Higgins: Elections deceptive practices prohibition.
    S.F. 3049-Hottinger: Financing statements judicial review expedited process.
    S.F. 1752-Hottinger: Convicted felons civil rights and voting eligibility restoration.
    S.F. 3252-Higgins: Voters rights modifications and registration facilitation.
    S.F. 2684-Johnson, D.E.: Corrections contracts with jail facilities with access to chemical dependency treatment programs authorization.
    S.F. 3047-Rest: Mentoring programs BCA criminal background checks request authorization.
    S.F. 3374-Ranum: DWI first degree offenses provision modification.
    S.F. 3520-Ranum: Sentencing guidelines commission recommendations adoption.
    S.F. 3517-Foley: DWI provisions modification.
    S.F. 3100-Neuville: Governor background checks authority for residence employees and appointees.
    S.F. 3101-Neuville: DNA data and specimen destruction upon acquittal of felony provision modification.
    S.F. 3102-Neuville: Criminal sexual conduct victim notification requirements provision modification.
    S.F. 2919-Foley: Criminal and juvenile justice information policy group task force modifications.
    S.F. 3170-Fishbach: Uniform fire code appeal procedures modification.
    S.F. 3051-Fishbach: Fireworks displays operator permits suspension, revocation, or refusal to renew certification appeal authority.
    S.F. 3008-Skoglund: Comprehensive incident based reporting system data access authority expansion.
    S.F. 3231-Foley: Corrections Department medical director inmate health care decisions.
    S.F. 3251-Ranum: Inmate health screening requirements.
    The committee will continue past 5:30 p.m. if necessary.

    Monday, March 27, 2006

    felon disenfranchisement on the west wing

    eszter hargittai sends word that felon disenfranchisement arose in last night's episode of the west wing. evidently the Democratic candidate's partner supports expansion of voting rights. i'd love to see how they handled the issue on primetime. not so long ago, i remember a crowded presidential debate in which none of the actual candidates seemed to have even a nodding familiarity with the issue.

    i haven't watched the west wing in years, but noticed that one of the actors is named bradley whitford. i take it this is not aerosmith's second guitarist brad whitford (poor dude, i'm sure joe perry has gotten all the play for 35 years). i wouldn't ask, but i know that the genuine little steven/miami steve van zant has morphed into silvio on the sopranos and an absolutely smokin' syndicated deejay. one can't be sure, but i'd guess that the writer of freedom -- no compromise would support the expansion of voting rights too.

    Sunday, March 26, 2006

    plotting a scandalous and self-indulgent misappropriation of funds

    i'm pretty unimaginative when it comes to thinking up scandalous or self-indulgent misappropriations of funds. yet there is one selfish luxury item i'd love to install in the university's social science building: a fine shower.

    as a grad student i had access to a shower about 100 feet from my office. i rarely used it, though it felt wonderful in the midst of an all-nighter or after a lakeside run. that one was a bit more spartan than the luxury unit at left, but quite functional.

    these days, i'd love to take noon jogs around my beautiful minnversity campus. in the absence of a nearby shower, however, i get a bit too ripe for afternoon meetings. i could shower at the university's fine recreation center, of course, but i'd still face a long walk across the father of waters or a 1.6 mile drive from the office (not to mention the 1.6 hours it would take just to find parking).

    i could make an argument that a shower would improve department productivity, but i'm not sure that i could even convince myself of that. let's see, would a little interval training at noon improve our stamina at ASA meetings? maybe it could be justified as a safety device. what if we spilled some dangerous sociology chemicals on ourselves in the lab? perhaps a shower would send a subtle message to graduate students about the importance of working around the clock: we're serious here. ah, who am i kidding? none of this would fly.

    moreover, given our current space crunch, i couldn't justify converting an office into a shower facility. no, my shower project would require an epic enron-style misappropriation of funds, so i might as well dream big. someday i'll be able to install a colorful corner unit, or a stylish shower with privacy glass, or perhaps a modern system that calls to mind a certain device employed in the film sleeper.

    until then, i'll just gaze wistfully at that shiny new fire sprinkler on the wall...


    minnversity president robert bruininks has proposed trading 2,840 acres of land to the state in exchange for funds ($9.4 million per year for 25 years) to finance a new on-campus football stadium.

    it is an ambitious plan and a potential "win-win for the university and the state." still, it could prove a tough sell for faculty and conservative legislators. the faculty -- few of whom are die-hard football fans -- have other priorities. with state support for higher education at a twenty-five year low nationally, some had hoped the rosemount lands would provide the cash infusion needed to reach our goal of becoming one of the world's top three public research universities.

    conservative legislators and pundits may see the proposal as a shell game (hey, doesn't the state own this land anyway?). they might also ask why these assets aren't being sold on the open market to maximize revenue. worse, some might want to get their hands on all 7,700 acres (how dare those eggheads ask for taxpayer money when they are sitting on such assets!). on the other hand, it is difficult to find evidence of liberal bias in football. moreover, non-football constituencies in the state (e.g., sportspersons and environmentalists) might get a really nice park out of the deal.

    of course, i'll support my boss or at least remain agnostic until i know all the facts. one thing i like about the plan is that it would reduce the burden on our undergraduate students, lowering their stadium fees from $100 to $50 per year. plus, i'd enjoy a new football stadium and would let them garnish my wages to build one -- at least until tor stops dreaming of becoming glen mason's left tackle. aside from this personal stake, i know that smart administrators can use big-time athletics to generate big-time university resources. the wizversity prospered by morphing the fundraising brilliance of donna shalala with the football savvy of barry alvarez. the combination (dairy shalalvarez?) appeared to boost both research and teaching at the institution.

    still, i wish we could find a way to keep the rosemount lands as our ace in the hole and erect a new stadium with private support. unfortunately, we no longer have enough wealthy football boosters who can remember the last national championship a half-century ago. perhaps we could get a better price for stadium naming rights if we just sold them to the highest bidders. i can hear it now: Welcome to PawnAmerica stadium, home of YOUR Golden Gophers, sponsored by Depend (R) Adult Undergarments and RJ Reynolds Tobacco!

    Saturday, March 25, 2006

    ehate, elove, and public criminology

    i've been getting lots of research-related correspondence lately and have fallen way behind in answering it. hate mail messages are hard to ignore, though. i don't get much real jackie robinson-style hate mail, such as that shown at left. dislikemail better describes most of my stuff. still, i'm led to ask: will internet-age attempts at public sociology and public criminology engender ever-greater hate mail?

    sometimes friends forward me stuff they encounter in the blogosphere. this week i got word of something posted on a local CraigsList with the subject line: "Most Rapists Vote DEMOCRAT !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!." it gets much uglier thereafter. i'll spare you the details, but this one was a clumsy political statement rather than a personal attack.

    nevertheless, folks are also upping the ante on personal attacks. in particular, some have made sure to tell me they know where i live by referencing my home address, my family, my car, and other personal details. my friends and colleagues are getting more of this sort of thing too. have you gotten any lately?

    i don't hear much talk about hate mail in discussions of public sociology, but it seems like an inevitable byproduct of the enterprise. often the mail references controversial statements or stories. for example, i got some very colorful email following my appearance in an associated press story viewed as sympathetic to sex offenders. just as often, however, the ehate stems from statements that could hardly be considered controversial (e.g., "the likelihood of recidivism declines sharply with age").

    i haven't saved this stuff, but i think i'll start archiving it. i'd share it online, but it is usually crude -- not crude in an interesting or revealing way, just crude. i'm not shocked to be called a race-traitor, for example, but such phrases are usually preceded by a string of unimaginative obscenities that i'd rather not repeat. it would sort of defeat the purpose to edit or censor the hate mail and then post it, right?

    of course, sometimes people write or say very nice things (love mail?) that leave the academic feeling a little sheepish or shamefaced. i've been called a "distinguished political scientist," for example, and was once introduced as a "civil rights leader from minneapolis." to make matters worse, there were actual civil rights leaders in the audience that day.

    i know that the number of people who read this blog is pretty small, but i'm still shocked that i've never seen any hate mail or personal attacks show up as comments -- not one! this seems impressive since anyone can leave an anonymous message. so far, the only comments i've deleted have been advertisements (hey, you've got a cool blog. get cheap viagra here!). when people disagree with posts, they have always -- without exception -- commented in a constructive and civil way. so far, so good...

    Friday, March 24, 2006

    you're beautiful...and sociological

    why does james blunt have the #1 song on the u.s. charts? no, it isn't his fine voice or songs, his good looks, or elton john's patronage. it is because he switched majors from aerospace engineering to sociology while attending bristol university.

    why the switch? he got into it for the same reasons many of us did. according to an interview in the independent last december, "it was just easier, and my mates were doing it. Only six hours of lectures a week." since he wanted to become a musician, he wrote a thesis titled "The Commodification of Image - Production of a Pop Idol." he continues, "There are some aspects that are relevant to the songs I'm writing. About the way humans interact, the way we are as social beings ... those [topics] are kind of relevant."

    i hear that a lot. sociology is easier, in part, because it is relevant to all manner of human interaction. the art school pop star -- clapton, lennon, townshend -- is dead. long live the sociologist pop star.

    Thursday, March 23, 2006

    federal lawsuit over financial aid for drug offenders

    does it seem strange that students convicted of rape remain eligible for federal financial aid but students convicted of misdemeanor drug possession are ineligible? under the "drug provision" of the higher education act, about 200,000 people convicted of drug crimes have been denied educational grants, loans, and work-study opportunities since 2000. drug crimes are the only offenses that trigger this sort of automatic exclusion.

    the times reports on a class-action complaint filed by the aclu and student groups against the u.s. department of education. of course, the act only affects low- and middle-income students who would otherwise be eligible for financial aid. african americans are hit hardest. although most surveys find only small black/white differences in drug use, african americans are significantly overrepresented among those convicted of drug crimes.

    in predicting recidivism, it is difficult to sort selection effects from education effects. nevertheless, higher education appears to provide an important pathway out of crime for many people. one could certainly argue that it makes sense to place criminal offenders behind non-offenders in the financial aid queue. that said, the selective exclusion of drug offenses seems to make little sense.

    my delinquency students know from our class surveys that some of their classmates have committed serious crimes. when they form small groups to complete assignments, the thought that they may be working with admitted violent offenders sometimes causes concern. yet none of these students would give a second thought to working with kraig selken, a plaintiff in this case. he lost financial aid for misdemeanor marijuana possession -- a crime to which over seventy percent of my students have confessed.

    Wednesday, March 22, 2006

    prussian blue and arendt's banality of evil

    is there anything creepier than a twenty-first century pre-pubescent pop sister act? why, yes! a twenty-first century white supremacist pre-pubescent pop sister act.

    lamb and lynx gaede are the thirteen year-old sisters from bakersfield known as prussian blue. a magazine profile on the band got me thinking about the power of learning theories and about the commodification of deviance.

    on learning theories, these girls are clearly conforming to parental expectations and the norms of a deviant neo-nazi subculture. i'm saddened trying to imagine what my own children would do in their circumstances -- immersed in and celebrated by a subculture of holocaust-deniers hell bent on starting a race war. i'm sure they would break free eventually, but at 13? blog pictures show them playing at home and frolicking outdoors -- making an adolph hitler snowman, for example. is this their normal?

    i have a tough time pointing any fingers at these girls now, but they must soon take responsibility for their music and its message. lamb and lynx gaede will either further embrace the subculture, make a sharp break with it, blow up, or fade away. i'd like to think that by 18 at least one of them will be recording anti-hate music of some sort. maybe i'm dreaming, but adolescent rebellion is a powerful thing.

    on commodification, i've heard some musicians snicker about "Christian rockers" drawing huge crowds with marginal talent -- dude, if we just tossed a few "God's loves" in there we'd be, like, freakin' megastars. i can't speculate on Christian rock, but i'd hypothesize that the rise to the top is even quicker in cultural spaces with a ready-made audience of outcasts. Even the most marginal musicians who embrace "white nationalism" in their lyrics can likely tap a small but intensely devoted market. i've seen it in punk music, but the potential is even greater -- and perhaps scarier -- in pop music.

    i did not want to give them any money, of course, but i thought i should hear the sample tracks on the prussian blue website before writing. that's where the banality of evil comes in. lest you worry that prussian blue will reach the kdwb-listening tween masses, let me assure you that these songs and performances have zero crossover potential. in my opinion, the stranger sounds a little like a neo-nazi ashlee simpson reading kipling. when i'm with you resembles a hillary duff outtake. vocally, there's little polish -- they sound like girls doing karaoke at a birthday party. even with puffy combs as a producer (yeah, like that's gonna happen -- i'll probably get death threats just for suggesting it), they wouldn't have much chance at mass acceptance.

    lyrically, well... it is this sort of stuff:

    Aryan man awake,
    How much more will you take,
    Turn that fear to hate,
    Aryan man awake.

    yuck. if you want to hear music from the streets of bakersfield, i'd heartily recommend a little buck owens and his buckaroos (or dwight yoakam for you revisionists).

    sorry buck, i hate to drag you into this -- i just need a little act naturally to clear the palate.

    Tuesday, March 21, 2006

    chronicle mention

    locked out gets a nice mention in the march 24th chronicle of higher edumacation.

    i learn a lot from the chronicle, though i find something profoundly disturbing in almost every issue. this either involves some top-down atrocity being inflicted upon faculty or students or some self-inflicted scandal that makes me feel dirty about my chosen profession. both leave me fearing for the future. i guess we shouldn't expect academe to be so different from the rest of the world. as dr. john puts it,

    your social life ain't no better than my hot dog stand.
    your edumacation ain't no hipper than what you understand...

    newspaper blues

    i've got great affection for our two local papers, the minneapolis star-tribune and the st. paul pioneer press. as a kid, i'd often read four local papers a day, including the long-gone evening star and dispatch. i've always recommended that students and new faculty subscribe to the strib, though columnist katherine kersten has me rethinking this position.

    in my opinion, the papers and their staffs have historically leaned left but generally reflected the blue-state politics of the populace. editorials would advocate diversity, education spending, progressive taxation, a floor of government-provided social benefits, and suspicion of concentrated wealth and power. the world, of course, has changed. while the editorial page retains some of this stance, katherine kersten's local metro section column runs directly against it.

    in principle, i'm glad to see a regular strib column by a conservative voice. frankly, i like a bit more political flavor with my news. in practice, however, i'd much prefer an economic and political conservative --why oh why couldn't they have found an entertaining fiscal conservative such as p.j. o'rourke or a louder more classical conservative such as jason lewis? even a smart-ass regular-guy righty like st. paul's joe soucheray would be far preferable. ms. kersten's column instead emphasizes a particular brand of cultural and religious conservatism. because she appears on the front page of the metro section rather than the opinion page, it is a bit jarring to encounter headlines such as these with my morning coffee:

    If gay marriage is OK'd, definition of bigotry will expand March 19, 2006

    Once same-sex marriage is OK, polygamy's next March 16, 2006

    Why are DFLers scared of voting on same-sex union? March 1, 2006

    i may have missed a few others this month -- same-sex marriage and bestiality, same-sex marriage and al qaeda, same-sex marriage and satanism -- but you probably get the idea. "gay marriage" is ms. kersten's popular hobby horse. i could envision such stories being written 150 years ago -- just substitute "miscegenation" for "gay marriage"-- though the 1860s version would have asked "why are Republicans scared of voting on race-mixing?"

    right now i'm asking whether i really want any political diversity in my paper. am i being intolerant here? is ms. kersten spewing hateful bile or just taking a principled position with which i disagree? i dunno, but i'd honestly feel better if her crusading columns were published as opinion pieces rather than news or feature stories. at least i'd feel less compelled to hide the newspaper from visitors to our fair cities.

    like airports and skyscrapers, newspapers project an image of a community to broader publics as well as everyday local users like me. with ms. kersten's columns so prominently displayed, i have a tough time handing a strib to a visiting job candidate who might be looking for housing in the area. worse, there is some danger that the st. paul paper will be sold or even shut down. a lack of competition never bodes well for local journalism, especially for those of us in the market for a paper that better reflects our vision of the community.

    Monday, March 20, 2006

    mn senate elections committee

    i testified at the minnesota senate elections committee today. the "voting rights for felons" bill passed and will be sent on to the full senate. of course, it must also find favor in the house and in the governor's office to become law. nevertheless, today was a good start for proponents of reenfranchisement.

    here are a few scattered observations:

    1. a social scientist cannot really present research at such hearings. the legislators want a reasonable summary of descriptive information and basic findings. i'm pretty comfortable in such settings, but i had to reconsider and amend my presentation style to make an impact. asa-style or asc-style would not have been very convincing.

    2. the initial version of the bill would have restored rights to both parolees (who have been in prison) and probationers (who are conditionally released in lieu of prison). senator john hottinger, the bill's sponsor, likely felt that a probation-only bill would have better prospects and amended it accordingly. because minnesota makes great use of probation and sparing use of parole, the amended version would restore voting rights to the great majority of convicted felons in minnesota -- approximately 40,000.

    3. i waited about three hours and fifteen minutes before the bill was discussed. this helped me learn the procedural norms and behavioral expectations (though, given the delay, i wished i would have eaten lunch beforehand). for example, i learned to direct my remarks and responses to "mr. chair and committee members." the rules were not much different than those i've encountered at faculty meetings. as in faculty meetings, i also learned that it was most effective to keep things brief and to make eye contact with the voters.

    4. the testimony on other bills reminded me of the critical importance of basic "social facts" sociology. lawmakers are often hungry for simple descriptive information. even when they are not hungry, they still attempt to deal with the best evidence that is available to them.

    5. elections law is a hot area in 2006. there wasn't an empty chair and many spoke passionately about the right to vote from a great variety of perspectives. the bills addressed issues such as voter intimidation and dirty tricks, the voting rights act of 1965, accessibility for the hearing-impaired and those with other disabilities, free speech rights to display campaign signs in apartment windows, and rules for lobbyists and open meetings.

    6. lobbyists wear more fashionable and expensive clothing than state senators. all males wore ties and jackets and i would have felt out of place if i hadn't.

    7. many people duck in and out of the hearings, often whispering to visitors or senators during the testimony on a bill. at one point, lawmakers left the room and hammered out some wording that built consensus on a bill.

    8. i was astounded at the recitation of "dirty tricks" used in recent elections to restrict participation. i heard evidence that literature was distributed giving erroneous election dates, that people were threatened with "10 years in jail" if they attempted to vote when they or another family member had been in trouble with the law, that voters were systematically "challenged" simply because they had not replied to certified mail sent by political parties, and other systematic abuses of the system. not surprisingly given the history of voting rights in this country, african american speakers were most passionate and convincing. they argued that such tricks have occurred and that we need to take action to prevent them from occurring in minnesota. whites and others seemed almost agnostic about it.

    9. i'm glad i live in a democracy and i feel privileged to be able to participate in some small way in the legislative process. some have compared lawmaking with sausagemaking, but i'm a true believer in the process. plus, i actually like chorizo sausage.

    10. two former students were involved in the proceedings. i felt ancient when one told me that she took my class "10 years ago" but happy to hear that i "hadn't changed much."

    fyi, the picture comes from an alumni magazine thing i did two or three years ago. the photographer fussed over it pretty good -- lights and generators and assistants -- so i'll probably use it until i retire. as a st. paul kid, of course, it is kind of cool to be photographed on the state capitol. the books i'm holding are a con law reader (taken from don downs' poli sci class at the wizversity) and keyssar's terrific right to vote.

    Friday, March 17, 2006

    felon voting bill up monday in minnesota senate

    i got word today that a reenfranchisement bill will be discussed monday in the minnesota senate.

    my understanding is that the proposal would extend voting rights to all non-incarcerated felons, including those serving probation and parole sentences. prisoners, however, would remain disenfranchised.

    the last time such a bill came up for discussion, i did a rough memo using 2003 data on the likely effects. by my count, at least three-fourths of the disenfranchised felons in the state would regain the right to vote. it would reduce the african american disenfranchisement rate from about 12 percent of the voting age population to less than 4 percent and the rate of non-african american disenfranchisement from about 1 percent to about 0.3 percent. i'll need to update these numbers for 2004 (2005 won't be available yet), but the basic patterns should hold.

    only a few minutes are allotted for discussion on monday, but here are some particulars:

    On Monday, March 20, 2006 at 3 p.m. the following bills are in the Senate Election Committee in Room 107 of Capitol.

    S.F. 1752-Hottinger: Restoring the right to vote for certain convicted felons (allows ex-felons to vote when they get out of confinement);
    S.F. 2743-Pariseau: Criteria for voting systems;
    S.F. 3038-Higgins: Prohibiting voter challenges based on mailings by parties;
    S.F. 3039-Higgins: Prohibiting deceptive practices regarding election time, place, etc.
    S.F. 3040-Higgins: Re-authorize the Voting Rights Act of 1965

    Thursday, March 16, 2006

    the most beautiful urban sociology department in america?

    i signed up for the madison marathon today, which now calls itself a great race in a capital place (do you think they argued over capital versus capitol?). i'm hoping a late-may race will inspire me to suspend my winter all-gravy 'n ale diet and start running a bit more seriously. this never works, of course, but it should be a nice weekend getaway.

    the twin cities marathon has trademarked the slogan the most beautiful urban marathon in america (TM). it is a darn pretty fall race, but the "most beautiful" line is sheer advertising. moreover, the good folks at big sur might beg to differ, at least on the beauty part. does a seven-judge panel criss-cross the country to rank urban marathons on beauty? how about an annual marathon beauty pageant, where race organizers showcase their course layouts with slick multimedia presentations?

    nope, any race could have adopted the most beautiful moniker. all it means is that we call ourselves the most beautiful. nevertheless, press reports often use the phrase as though it came from some official sanctioning body. they introduce it with "what has been dubbed" or "is frequently called" the most beautiful urban marathon in america. it all seems a little disingenuous, but perhaps it enhances the marathon's reputation.

    i wonder if this logic applies elsewhere. what sort of phrase should my minnversity's sociology department trademark? the most beautiful urban sociology department in america is a possibility, but beauty doesn't exactly leap to mind when one catches sight of the harsh modernism of the social science tower. maybe if we sheathed it in stainless steel we could call it sleek modernism.

    no, i'm looking for a phrase that is impressive, yet difficult to falsify. i like the most important sociology department in america, but that's a bit over the top. the coolest sociology department in america? i privately refer to minneapolis-st. paul as the center of the universe, but sociology at the center of the universe might be pushing it. the claim is misleading, albeit difficult to falsify, as long as one grants that it isn't the only center of the universe.

    still, i think we can improve on our current webpage slogan: promoting commitment to our collective quest for a systematic understanding of society. in welcoming new grad recruits last week, i described the work of my colleagues and students as sociology that matters. i'm sure they would have preferred most beautiful, but the eyes of the beholder are notoriously fickle.

    Wednesday, March 15, 2006

    sampson op-ed on civilizing effects of immigration

    rob sampson has a fascinating op-ed on immigration and crime in the times this week. sampson argues that increasing immigration in the 1990s may have had something to do with declining crime rates.

    this is a provocative argument, but plausible so long as the baseline homicide rate of u.s.-born citizens exceeds the average homicide rate of the new immigrants.

    such an effect is perhaps easier to see with a gender example. imagine that 75 percent of the new immigrants were women and, of course, that women commit fewer homicides than men. the incoming low-homicide group would pull down the overall rate in the larger population.

    as long as the newcomers are less violent than the society they enter, immigration will similarly push down homicide rates. on this dimension at least, our newcomers appear to have had a civilizing influence on american life.

    as for the author, i cannot think of a finer american sociologist than robert j. sampson. his status as a card-carrying criminologist might color my perceptions, but his record speaks for itself -- and humbles the rest of us. surely he has helped me over the years and it is in my interest to speak well of him. nevertheless, i think i can look at sampson's oeuvre critically and objectively because we think about social life in very different ways. in any case, the fact that he is writing op-eds bodes well for public sociologies and criminologies.

    Monday, March 13, 2006

    new eyes

    like many minnesotans, i traveled south for spring break. i'm writing from canada, after speaking today at the university of toronto centre of criminology.

    it was my first presentation of the felon voting book outside the united states. until i was putting slides together with an eye to my canadian hosts, i hadn't realized just what a peculiarly american story we were telling. some tell me that canada and minnesota aren't terribly different on most dimensions. still, after a quick two-hour flight, the history of felon voting restrictions in the states looks strange and twisty indeed. i guess that's why we subtitled it "felon disenfranchisement and american democracy."

    i've long known, of course, that the u.s. has the strictest felon voting laws and the highest rate of criminal punishment in the world. but the story also requires reference to racial conflict and the civil war, low american rates of political participation, and the generally punitive attitudes of americans on crime. even the american conception of felony takes in a broad range of behaviors (e.g., some forms of drug possession and theft) that may not be considered serious offenses in other nations.

    i'm still working to get my head around international variation in felon voting restrictions, but by any measure the united states really stands alone on this issue. we wrote about this, of course, but it is another matter to try to explain it. proust wrote that traveling is not about "seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." after thinking about felon voting for almost nine years, i figured i'd have to travel a bit farther to gain a new frame of reference.

    Saturday, March 11, 2006

    wrestling and trying

    sorry. i'll apologize in advance: this is one of those obnoxious proud parent posts. tor brought home some hardware from tonight's wrestling banquet, so i thought i'd share a few pictures. he was named junior varsity mvp and lettered as a freshman, leading his mounds view team in victories and pins.

    this is cool, but it doesn't engender pride. i'm proud because he tried and because he cared. as a parent this is pretty much all you care about (and yell about). you'll see, if you haven't already. you end up saying things like "please, just show me something, kid." even when they do well, it can be frustrating when you don't think you're seeing their best efforts. or any effort whatsoever. so my son and daughter learned terms like half-assed and doggin' it before they could tie their shoes.

    where do parents find pride and contentment? probably not where they'd expect. for academics, parent-teacher conferences can be disasters. even when the kids do well, how on earth can they impress their profdads and profmoms? we were selected on the basis of absurd school performance. we were all hunched down beneath the right-hand tail of the academic distribution. heritability or no, this sets a frustrating and sometimes impossible standard for our kids.

    for most of us, athletics present no such problems! my best year in wrestling i lost about as many as i won. i do recall trying hard, though. at a burly 6'5", tor could easily overwhelm football linemen and baseball fences. still, i never got the sense that he really tried in these sports. when he wanted to wrestle, i thought he'd be destroyed by behemoths his own size who tried harder and outworked him. but he actually smote them! he struggled mightily against guys who were much older and stronger (and, sometimes, much nastier and smellier) and he stuck them on pure effort.

    so, now i know that he can try just as hard as i try, and just maybe he's trying harder. as a parent, that's about as good as it gets. the pictures above are from his first varsity match, but the one to the left is my favorite. it comes from the last round of the day's last match in a grueling sectional tournament. it reminds me that the other guys are trying too.

    i was going to close by writing something like, "of course, i don't expect him to become a professional wrestler." hmmm. given the nature of professional wrestling -- and the nature of tor -- i would not dismiss the possibility so quickly. hey, i'm cool as long as he doesn't half-ass it...

    Friday, March 10, 2006

    workin' for cca

    corrections corporation of america bills itself as prison privatization at its best. would you invest in an incarceration company? should your university?

    the yale daily news reports that their graduate employees and students organization is calling for the university to divest from cca. you might recall campus divestment protests over holdings in south africa and other nations. for example, all companies doing business in sudan were recently dropped from yale's portfolio. although cca lobbies to increase prison sentences, however, the university argues that cca's work does not constitute the sort of "grave social injury" that would trigger divestment.

    i haven't invested in private prisons. i suppose that i might if i believed that they were incarcerating more effectively or more humanely than the state. yale student daniel pozen makes the case that, relative to nonprofit and public management, private for-profit prisons underperform on recidivism. to date, i don't think we have a definitive recidivism study on this topic. still, i don't see much evidence here for greater effectiveness.

    the second question to ask is whether you or your university is actually making any money on cca. probably not. as an investment, cca has been losing ground to broad indexes such as the s&p500 for the past five years.

    Thursday, March 09, 2006


    on this sunny spring day in minnesota, local celebrities are selling little yellow flowers in the skyways. the daffodils offer a much-needed shot of spring, while benefiting the american cancer society.

    wordsworth gave us the image of a lonely poet happening upon a crowd of dancing daffodils two centuries ago; they still work for me. if you find yourself in vacant or in pensive mood, they're just the thing to fix you up.

    the daffodils

    I WANDER'D lonely as a cloud
    That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
    When all at once I saw a crowd,
    A host, of golden daffodils;
    Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
    Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

    Continuous as the stars that shine
    And twinkle on the Milky Way,
    They stretch'd in never-ending line
    Along the margin of a bay:
    Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
    Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

    The waves beside them danced; but they
    Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
    A poet could not but be gay,
    In such a jocund company:
    I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
    What wealth the show to me had brought:

    For oft, when on my couch I lie
    In vacant or in pensive mood,
    They flash upon that inward eye
    Which is the bliss of solitude;
    And then my heart with pleasure fills,
    And dances with the daffodils.

    -words from william wordsworth, c. 1804
    -photo from kate webb at

    Wednesday, March 08, 2006

    book media and toronto travel

    i'm off to toronto this weekend to speak at the centre of criminology on locked out. the talk will be 12:30-2 monday in the centre's lounge on the eighth floor of roberts library.

    my advance copy of locked out arrived yesterday and i'm really happy with oxford's production work. i'm too terrified of finding mistakes to actually read the text (i'm the same way with my articles), but my figures, maps, and graphics all look the way i'd hoped they would look. the cover and jacket photos are pretty cool too.

    i'm most concerned about accuracy and getting things right, of course. but after that, i'll admit that i'm like the pathetic lead singer in almost famous: "i trust you, so i'm just gonna lay this right on ya. just make us look cool." still, i try not to micromanage interviews and press releases -- i figure they can tell me what they think is important about the work. at times i've been misunderstood in interviews or had things taken out of context, but i don't think i've ever been misquoted.

    nina shepard, who does media relations for sociology, wrote a nice press release for locked out. deane morrison of the university news service also did a nice story on the book. i've done a few interviews in the past couple days, one with wcco radio in minneapolis and a longer piece with kpft in houston. the latter was really fun -- pokey anderson, the show's host was terrific.

    Tuesday, March 07, 2006

    a good day to laugh a little

    kirby puckett died last night. without question, he was the most popular athlete in minnesota throughout the 1980s and 1990s. he's faced tough times and criticism the past few years, but only love and loss overflows today.

    anyone who visited the metrodome remembers bob casey's signature introduction: now batting for the twins, the centerfielder, number 34 ...." ballplayers, beat reporters, batboys, and almost anybody who crossed mr. puckett's path remember him for his generosity and for the needle -- his good-natured ribbing had a way of breaking down social distance. he'd take a little jab but invite one right back. kirby puckett was an instigator and a master of clubhouse chemistry.

    before game 6 of the 1991 world series, he famously said, "get on my back boys, i'll carry you tonight." and he did so, with a spectacular rising catch and an extra-inning homer. before the 1987 and 1991 championships, minnesota had a well-deserved reputation for second place finishes (4 vikings super bowl losses) and vice presidencies (walter mondale, hubert humphrey). in some small way that is impossible to document, explain, or defend, my hometown seemed to change for the better when kirby's twins finished first.

    i always picture kirby puckett laughing, sometimes with kent hrbek or gary gaetti, but just as often with rookies brought up from the minors. he also laughed with folks on the street -- any folks on any street. everybody in the twin cities seems to have a kirby puckett story. by all reports, if you delivered something to his house, you might be invited in for a sandwich. if he signed an autograph for your kid, he might engage you in a long conversation years later. people like my cousin mike, who often changed his oil at a quick lube place, had wonderful things to say.

    i never had much personal contact. i saw him walk through the old county stadium parking lot -- after a game in which he absolutely destroyed the brewers -- and his smiles and handshakes were returned eagerly by the good people of milwaukee. a few years later, my preschool son wrote him a letter after he was hit by a pitch and broke his jaw. young tor sent him warm wishes and, to soothe his jaw, a child's recipe for chocolate malts ("first go get the green malt maker from downstairs..."). he must have gotten thousands of similar cards.

    kirby puckett grew up in chicago's robert taylor homes, then worked in a ford plant before attending junior college. though he didn't get close to a bachelor's degree, mr. puckett has done a great deal for higher education in minnesota. in 1994, he donated $250,000 to establish the puckett scholars program at the minnversity. to date, 45 students of color have received renewable annual awards of up to $20,000 over four years. nice legacy.

    my favorite baseball writer, the cranky and curmudgeonly patrick reusse, crafted a fine obituary today. when i think of puckett's death, however, i'll carry the television image of a watery-eyed reusse being interviewed by mark rosen after the stroke. baseball shouldn't matter so much, but there are a lot of watery-eyed minnesotans today. if that crusty old ex-alcoholic SOB can well up, then i guess i can too. but then i'm going to laugh a little -- and give a friendly pucklike needle to friends and students who cross my path.

    Sunday, March 05, 2006

    roadside refuse as leading delinquency indicators

    every spring when the minnesota snow melts, all manner of items surface on the roadside. as a running criminologist, i like to observe changes in the quantity and type of items discarded by young people. in spring i run a big loop around shoreview (west to arden hills, north up lexington to lino lakes, east on county road j to north oaks, south on hodson to vadnais heights, and back west to shoreview). along all of these roads i find the detritus of recent delinquency, though most of it is quickly cleaned up each spring.

    suburban high school kids don't have much private space, so they tend to do stuff in cars and then throw said stuff out of cars quickly thereafter. i'm therefore thinking about compiling an index of leading delinquency indicators that will use winter trash to predict summer delinquency.

    based on yesterday's run, i'd say that beer is down and liquor is way up. there were lots of cheap plastic whiskey bottles along the road -- mostly pints, but i did see what looked like an empty fifth of tanqueray on the north oaks side. i didn't see any sudafed boxes or other methaphernalia this year, but two years ago i found a heavy concentration near a large apartment complex. similarly, i only saw a couple reddi-wip (or similar) cans, suggesting that the kids are huffing less propellant than they had 5 or 10 years ago. maybe high school test scores will be up too!

    more distressingly, kids are putting loud pipes on their trucks and cars again and yelling unintelligible things out the window to unsuspecting strangers. at least no drivers have trained a red laser dot on this runner recently. this spooked me a bit on a night run several years ago. i don't see much graffiti in shoreview, but someone had rearranged the letters on a church sign on hodson road -- worshippers were greeted sunday morning with a message that featured "69" quite prominently.

    as a parent, i don't know whether to feel more worried or less worried when i see condoms along the road. i'm seeing fewer lately, but don't know whether this indicates greater abstinence or risktaking. perhaps it could be the former, since i haven't seen any discarded underwear along the road for some time. i still find lots of mysterious single shoes, of course.
    if my leading indicators have any predictive power, the liquor bottles lead me to expect more alcohol poisoning and d.u.i. arrests this summer. on the upside, the decline in sudafed boxes is probably good news. one of my favorite local runners actually carries a trash bag along much of this route. i applaud his civic-mindedness, but will have to get up earlier to ensure that he doesn't contaminate my data.

    i'm actually thinking about making such systematic data collection a paper or project option in my deviance and delinquency classes. what conclusions might students draw from the detritus of delinquency in their towns and neighborhoods? it would have some secondary environmental benefits, of course, and many of my students would know exactly where to look.

    Saturday, March 04, 2006

    mister softie v. google

    students often ask professors for advice that extends way beyond their expertise. last week i couldn't resist commenting in an area in which my non-expertise is well-established: stockpicking. i tried to talk a student out of buying google stock for two reasons, both of which came up on talkradio today: google's current dominance could slip away quickly and the stock is still too expensive.

    google continues to gain market share over other yahoos, and its cultural dominance is evidenced in verb form (to google). my student believed in the company and its products, watching the price drop from $475 per share to $378 per share from january to march. she saw this as a chance at buying three shares with her limited funds. i saw this as a chance at catching a falling knife. satisfying if you can pull it off, of course, but potentially quite painful.

    why not buy google? i'm one of those suckers who buys stuff based on a smart and principled mission statement (well, i warned you i'm no expert). google certainly has that. they believe you can make money without doing evil. hey, that's my mission statement too! or, at least it explains why i became a professor. my best guess is that one could make some short-term money on GOOG, buying on dips and selling shortly thereafter (is that evil?). still, i'd be nervous about any attempt to buy and hold the stock. i like google's products and their mission, but this student can only afford a couple different holdings. why do i recommend google products and philosophy but not google stock? experience and price.

    experience: though i like all things google and use them every day, i wouldn't bet that i'll be using them in five years. when i started professin' in '95, i loved netscape and used it every day as well. remember netscape? it was a terrific browser that held 75 percent of the market. it truly changed the world. but now microsoft's internet explorer holds 80 percent of the market and netscape is long gone. of course, google has clearly learned from netscape and some say they will beat microsoft at its own game. but microsoft is coming in a very serious way:

    "What we're saying is that in six months' time we'll be more relevant in the US marketplace than Google," said Neil Holloway, Microsoft president for Europe, Middle East and Africa.

    i'm not buying mr. softie's bluster (six months? no chance, dude), but microsoft brings a lot of cash and legions of very smart people to any project they deem a priority. and they've been gearing up for this for years.

    price: i'm not experienced valuing stocks, but any way you cut it, google seems overpriced. they'll need tremendous growth just to maintain their current price. google is trading at $378 per share, which is about 75 times their current earnings. this is the sort of ratio that reminds investors of the bust. as a frame of reference, microsoft has a p/e ratio of 22 and yahoo has a p/e ratio of 25.

    it was kind of funny to talk to a student investor who was too young to remember the little tech correction that took the nasdaq from 5000 to 1100 a few years ago. at 5000, everybody but warren buffett chucked p/e ratios into the dustbin of history. i wouldn't short google, since i think it is bad karma to short stocks with cool mission statements (it basically involves betting against a company) and i want google to succeed.

    what did i recommend? i had some ideas, but then i remembered that i don't know what i'm talking about. so, i made a referral instead by suggesting fidelity contrafund and its manager will danoff. here's why: i bet on people rather than companies or stocks or mutual funds. contrafund manager will danoff has pretty much the best record in the business and he's still hungry. his incredible fifteen-year run has beat the market in good times and bad. he bought google at $85 per share, so she (and i) could still own a little piece of the company we both like. danoff's biggest challenge now is dealing with success -- the fund is too big.

    another manager i like is todd mcallister of heritage midcap. mcallister is a ph.d. economist who looks for companies that have monopolized some market niche. i've always been a sucker for theory and his theory seems to work pretty well. of course, i was once seduced by what i thought was a great theory. this not-to-be-named fund solicited picks from about 30 of their analysts and spun them into a fund. the theory didn't work so well in the five years that i stuck around.

    hedging one's bets seems like a good course of action in this case and most mutual fund investors probably own both google and microsoft. a corollary to my "betting on people" theory applies to betting against people. if you really want to bet against bill gates in the coming search engine wars, you're a braver person than i.

    Friday, March 03, 2006

    between hard covers

    oxford is releasing locked out next week, so i've been checking amazon and barnes & noble. after some years of work and some years when we really should have been working, i guess it has finally arrived. i say "i guess" because i haven't actually seen a copy and won't believe it until i do.

    the minnversity is doing a press release on monday, so i'm gearing up for interviews. my all-time A#1 favorite question was about "why i think charles manson should get to decide the next president." if anything similarly interesting happens, i'll blog about it -- either as self-promotion or as damage-control.

    the good folks at the sentencing project emailed a flyer on their distribution list today (thanks much, marc), so i've gotten some warm congratulatory-type wishes from friends. the best note, however, told me of the book's actual theme song! and look, it's an infectious rocker to boot! here's a wmp snippet of crowded house's locked out. jeff and i explore different themes than the brothers finn, but perhaps we can emulate their "carefully crafted songs, meticulous eye for lyrical detail, and gift for melody."

    halls of fame: don't ask us to attend 'cuz we're not all there

    the sex pistols are snubbing the pricey rock and roll hall of fame ceremonies. more quietly, miles davis' son can't afford the induction either. the hall is an easy target for critics, of course, but the inductees list is impressive. at least it recognizes artists such as howlin' wolf who wouldn't get a sniff from the grammys crowd.

    a characteristically eclectic group is enshrined in 2006: black sabbath, blondie, miles davis, lynyrd skynyrd, the sex pistols, and herb alpert & jerry moss. now that would be an interesting concert, at least it would have been in 1977. here are some personal recommendations for each of the new inductees.

    if we had a hall of fame for halls of fame, the baseball hall of fame would be inducted on the first ballot. i've therefore also provided suggestions for the rockers' baseball equivalents.

    black sabbath

    recommended listening: volume 4's supernaut is definitive sabbath (1972). metallic perfection and the heaviest. groove. on. record. later covered by ministry. changed. my. life.

    baseball hall equivalent: the hellacious slugger, jimmie foxx, also known as "the beast" and "double-x." overlooked in his day by comparison with george herman "babe" zeppelin.


    recommended listening: x-offender's tale of forbidden cop/criminal love, from the eponymous debut (1976).

    baseball hall equivalent: smooth and stylish jim palmer. both debbie and jimmy had an exhibitionist streak that made them quite comfortable posing in their underwear.

    miles davis

    recommended listening: sivad or funky tonk from live evil (1972). i know that bitches brew likely gave birth to jazz-rock fusion, but live evil sets fusion's hair on fire.

    baseball hall equivalent: like mr. davis, cool papa bell is a mercurial st. louis guy, and his ability to play superbly at any position fits davis' multifaceted game. rod carew is a good match for the kind of blue period, since cool rod played a bat like miles played a trumpet.

    lynyrd skynyrd

    recommended listening: i'll take saturday night special or workin' for mca from 1976's live double, one more from the road. ronnie van zant and band could really sell a song in concert. it took some tough crimson-naped floridians to make such powerful gun control and anti-corporate statements. i bet ronnie would have played working for mca at the induction, though the surviving members won't.

    baseball hall equivalent: southern gentleman catfish hunter and outlaw spitballer gaylord perry are the best fit. enos "country" slaughter is also a candidate, both for his name and his legendary toughness.

    sex pistols

    recommended listening: pretty vacant, never mind the bollocks (1977). the chorus stays with you, eh? the whole album sounds great in 2006, but this one has aged particularly well. we're pretty, pretty va-cant...

    baseball hall equivalent: hack wilson. both band and slugger had short but spectacular careers of awesome power. hack's 191 rbi in 1930 remains the all-time record, but he burned up like a two dollar pistol due to "off-field difficulties." on the marketing side, i'd equate the pistols with bo belinsky, who managed to convert a 28-51 lifetime record into romances with the era's major starlets (mamie van doren, ann-margaret, tina louise, juliet prowse, connie stevens...).

    herb alpert and jerry moss

    recommended listening: as much as i love whipped cream and other delights, i think 1962's el solo toro -- the lonely bull -- is maximum herb.

    baseball hall equivalent: the founders of a & m records have certainly been influential. still, they're not quite as spectacular as bill veeck, the hustling owner of the browns, indians and white sox, or as pathbreaking as branch rickey, who signed jackie robinson to the dodgers.

    you know, maybe 'pistols impresario malcolm mclaren is bill veeck. i suspect that either of them could have hatched disco demolition night. ritual destruction and ten cent beer: what's more punk than that?


    this blog's crime posts also migrate to public criminology, a joint project with michelle inderbitzin. we're just getting started, but we hope to grow the site and concept over time. we've drafted a companion paper on pubcrim for the august sociology meetings, but we'll need to make some edits before posting it. i'll put my crime posts in both places, but will relegate more personal and goofier stuff -- haircuts, alt-rock, obscure sports -- to this uggen blog. [to add further confusion, i'm reposting the book-related felon disenfranchisement pieces at locked out.] in any case, michelle has a good post today on inmates who give birth while incarcerated.

    Thursday, March 02, 2006

    strict obedience as law violation

    crimprofs links to a video that might be useful in teaching sociology of law or deviance. what would happen if four cars spread themselves across all four lanes of a major highway driving at exactly the speed limit? well, some college kids in atlanta undertook a little experiment on the dangers of strict obedience.

    or maybe not. according to the museum of hoaxes write-up, this sort of thing was actually anticipated by georgia lawmakers:

    code 40-6-40, section D: No two vehicles shall impede the normal flow of traffic by traveling side by side at the same time while in adjacent lanes, provided that this Code section shall not be construed to prevent vehicles traveling side by side in adjacent lanes because of congested traffic conditions.

    so, they weren't actually obeying the law. i'm all for social experimentation and merry prankstering, but ... after watching the five minute video, i had the urge to box their impudent little ears. i guess that's probably just my inner dad emerging. despite the dangers, i can't help wondering about manipulating one more experimental condition: what do you think would have happened if atlanta's black college students had pulled this stunt?