Chris Uggen's Blog: April 2006

Sunday, April 30, 2006

deviant leisure

for about 360 days per year, running is my li'l domain of freedom. for the other 5, however, i'm running because i feel as though i have to meet some training goal. at this moment, it shifts from leisure to work (and not cool self-actualizing work, either, but the dreaded domain of drudgery and constraint).

i felt like i had to go long today because the madison marathon is four weeks away and i skipped my long (and short) runs while traveling last week. unfortunately, it was about 45 degrees and raining steadily all morning. it was a very blustery day, as pooh would say, and i felt like a bear of little brain as i waddled into the rain.

i certainly didn't feel like running. completely soaked by the end of the driveway, i had to question what kind of deviant running junkie would go for a four-hour slog on a day like today?

as usual, however, my mood improved with the miles. of course, i made a few concessions to the typhoon. first, i stopped for a snickers and gatorade around mile 13. i actually used a convenience store hand-dryer to dry out a few bills for the clerk (this worked surprisingly well). second, i buried my less-than-waterproof walkman inside my shirt. i couldn't change the stations much, but at least it kept going. third, the trails were lonesome but beautiful. it was the greenest day of 2006 in minnesota and there was a hint of lilac in the air.

after a hot shower and big food, i was glad to have slogged it out. somehow, impossibly, i even got a little sunburned in the rain today. my lad returned in a similar state from a midwest rugby tournament this weekend. he rode a bus for 20 hours just to smash into other burly dudes on a muddy field in the indiana rain. i guess i could relate.

while only fools run in a rainstorm when nobody is chasing them, such fools are distinctive as well as deviant. now i can just taper (run less and less each week) until the marathon and try to avoid injury. more importantly, though, i'm all done with "have-to" running for at least the next five or six months. deviant leisure beats deviant work any day.

Friday, April 28, 2006

i'm with the band...

i'm loving my visit to penn state. jeremy staff and mike massoglia, two friends and former advisees, are now on faculty. there is nothing cooler than seeing your grad students with their grad students.

i gave a talk today that seemed to go pretty well, but the highlight was sitting in with lost faculties, the penn state band featuring wayne osgood, paul amato, rich and sharon felson, and the amazing sam richards on drums.

my playing might charitably be called rusty (or, less charitably, sucky) but i had great fun nonetheless. they do stuff like who do you love? roadhouse blues, folsom prison blues, walk don't run, pipeline, and rich's original professor blues. they let the visitor sing lead on angie and feel a whole lot better. i had forgotten how much fun it was to just bang out rhythm guitar with a fine drummer. i gotta do that more often.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

how many of your students are doing the reading?

over a fine dinner with jeff draine and irene wong, i asked whether their penn students did all of the reading assigned for coursework. jeff replied that he doubted it, but quickly noted that his inside-out students indeed do all the reading.

jeff teaches in the inside-out prison exchange program, which takes university undergrads behind prison walls to attend class with inmates. in jeff's experience, the "inside" or incarcerated students often lead the way. this sets a high bar for preparation and participation that can motivate the "outside" students to work a little more diligently than they otherwise would.

i could envision such a pattern holding for my minnversity undergrads as well. if they heard inmates critiquing code of the streets, for example, they'd be more likely to dig into it to form their own opinions (especially if the critique somehow challenged ol' doc uggen's reading of the text). my pubcrim colleague michelle took the inside-out training program last summer, so i'm looking forward to some firsthand blogging on her experiences teaching in the program next year.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

so is this where harold melvin and the blue notes hung out?

i'm speaking on locked out and related topics in pennsylvania this week. all are welcome, so please stop by and say hey if you are in the neighborhood. here's the plan:

penn: thursday 4/27 at 10 am.

room D26 caster building (school of social policy and practice), 3701 locust walk in philadelphia from 10-12.

penn state: friday 4/28 at noon.

room 406 oswald tower (sociology and crime, law & justice) in university park from 12 to 1.

the most important holiday of the year?

today, april 26, is administrative professional's day a/k/a secretary's day. like defense secretary rumsfeld, i eagerly await the shower of prizes and recognition that will surely come my way as ASC executive secretary.

let me assure you that administrative professional's day is no hallmark holiday. the wikipedia entry lists the standard gifts as candy, flowers, a card, and "occasionally, extra time off." this will not stand. i work too hard typing minutes to be placated by a vermont teddy bear.

i've been secretary since 2003, so i have some expertise in this area. let me propose the following officially approved administrative professional's day gifts:

1. an extension cord for my laptop so i can sit at the big table
2. a large quantity of small-batch bourbon
3. a significant clothing allowance
4. comp me a couple nights at the conference hotel. club level, please
5. a secretary's secretary who would perform all actual work and work-like duties
6. a personalized stainless-steel ice-cream scooper
7. i guess i wouldn't mind a few flowers, candy, and cards

i fly to philadelphia today and state college on thursday, so i won't collect my gifts until returning this weekend. the next stop is dc on may 2, when i'll take rummy out for a little lunch and commiseration.

Monday, April 24, 2006

guns n' axes

there are many responses to decades of violence, destruction, and pain. yahoonews reports on cesar lopez, a colombian musician who decided to fashion weapons into instruments such as electric guitars.

it seems like a riff on woody's "this machine kills fascists" guitar, but mr. lopez got the idea after seeing a soldier hold a rifle as he would a guitar. as part of the battalion of immediate artistic reaction, mr. lopez takes to the streets to play music after guerilla attacks in Bogota.

i just had to hear his guitar, so i clicked on the story's video link. mr. lopez's guitar sounds steely and well-oiled, exaggerating his finger squeaks. that is, it sounds like a gun. he won't stop the violence, but his axe transmutes human misery into something challenging and, arguably, beautiful. that is, it sounds like art.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

tip for the crim meetings

i've just returned from los angeles, where the 2006 american society of criminology meetings will be held. each year the ASC holds its midyear executive board meeting in the conference facilities for the upcoming november meeting. that way, the board can get a taste of the facilities and hammer down meeting details as it does its business.

the 2006 meetings will take place at the convention center, which means that the ASC booked rooms in three or four expensive hotels and will bus participants back and forth. i figure that the room block will fill fast, so i thought i'd pass along a little inside information.

after my stay this weekend, i can personally give a strong endorsement to the biltmore. the rooms are cool, with ancient curvy bathtubs and other amenities. but the truly inspiring spots are the art-deco lobbies, fountains, wrought-iron work, and pool area.

in the 1930s the academy awards were held at the biltmore, so there are great black-and-white photos of tyrone power, walt disney, and martha raye hanging about. plus, they still film scenes from the west wing and commander in chief in the boardroom and other spots in the hotel.

in my humble opinion, the whole place has a funky charm and nine billion times more texture than most conference hotels. see you in the bar...

Saturday, April 22, 2006

iggy redux

mr. iggy pop turned 59 on friday and once again i forgot to send a card. i thought i'd take the occasion to reprint an entry from july on iggy's npr interview with ms. terry gross.

the rerun starts here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 21, 2006

headin' for the boarding gate i'm feelin' pretty low

slow blogging ahead. somehow i stacked my schedule to do a bunch of travel this month.

usually i travel in fall or summer, but a series of very cool opportunities popped up this month. not that anyone is interested, but...

friday 4/21: el lay. american society of criminology board meetings friday and saturday.

thursday 4/27: philadelphia. speaking at 10 on civic reintegration for jeff draine's reentry training program. i might get to do a book signing (my very first) that afternoon/evening.

friday 4/28: happy valley, pa. talk at penn state sociology and visit with friends and colleagues

wednesday 5/3: dee cee. ncovr (national coalition on violence research) meeting on desistance.

wednesday 5/18: nyc. demos book event.

wednesday 5/24 - detroit rock city. michigan poverty center conference

sunday 5/28 - madison. marathon. yikes. this is gonna be a sloooooow one.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

i hear you're minin' for the c.i.a., they wouldn't have you in the maf-i-a

talkleft led me to a washington times story (i know, i know, but that's what makes it interesting) on c.i.a. data mining techniques for blogs and other open source materials. i'm a little creeped out, of course, but also intrigued by the research challenge involved in sifting through masses of information.

on the creepy side, i started blogging with the idea that a few close friends might see my words, maybe a grad student or two, sometimes my dad... could the c.i.a. possibly be interested in anything i write? nah, but there's a non-zero probability the f.b.i. might have stopped by once or twice.

on the research side, it has to be a keyword thing, right? if one repeatedly types in the appropriate combination of words or phrases, i'd bet that any blog could attract an audience in the central intelligence agency.

the c.i.a. gets blasted from the left (evil spies!), the right (if you had just been more ruthless, we wouldn't have these problems!), and all points in between. heck, i've even heard so-called progressives criticize the organization for being too stingy with assassination.

for the record, i've known at least a few good people who have served the c.i.a. as analysts or information specialists. taking what they could share at face value, their main job seemed to involve data reduction, whether through quantitative data mining or qualitative newspaper-reading and interviewing.

analysts must prepare cogent briefs or reports from mountains of information on, say, the political situation in sarkhan. ideally, these reports would extract the big-picture trend or finding and link it to analogous processes occurring in related settings. the directive is to render all this information useful for a generalist audience and, possibly, for policymaking -- whether for good or for evil.

hmmm. is it heretical to ask whether such efforts parallel those of social scientists?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

which stuff deserves your full attention?

i assume duties as a piece of furniture consisting of a seat, legs, back, and often arms, designed to accommodate one person on july 1. i can already see one challenge ahead: how do i properly allocate attention to the big issues and not drown in the waves of information already lapping upon my shores? i've got some ideas for the department (and, more immodestly, the discipline) and i don't want to lose them in the daily deluge.

for some people this sort of thing seems to come naturally. not me. i didn't pick up on the "which stuff do i really need to read and pay attention to?" question until my third or fourth year in profdom. i had always tried to read everything and do the best possible job on every assignment. this was very tough for me to sustain as a new assistant professor.

i'm not sure anyone can really do a thorough job on everything as a new professor. if you read every university email sent your way, for example, you will probably never read (much less write) another journal article. the university doesn't want you to stop reading journal articles, of course; they expect you to develop a system to ferret out the need-to-know stuff quickly and dispense with the rest.

of course, on one rare occasion when i didn't read something that appeared in my mailbox, a senior professor came down on me pretty hard. henceforth, i read everything, took notes on it, and came to meetings ready to discuss its merits. i only quit doing this when told i was "putting way too much effort" into committee reports -- "write 'em up and move 'em out," s/he said.

based on my transition from grad student to assistant professor, i'll likely overinvest in minutiae early in my term as a piece of furniture consisting of a seat, legs, back, and often arms, designed to accommodate one person. being somewhat capable of learning, however, i'll aim to quickly calibrate my new antennae to determine what matters, what doesn't matter quite so much, and what's a full-on FEMA emergency meriting my full freaked-out attention.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

archive that sound

jeremy freese recently proposed that we archive our computer code as well as our data on all published research. i've always wished that musicians would do something similar in their liner notes. purports to identify the gear heard on your favorite music and then offer you ebay links to hook you up with said gear. the offerings are skewed to distinctive classic rawk guitar sounds, with a few other instruments thrown in for completeness. if you are not geek enough to identify the hammond b3 organ on like a rolling stone, then you'd likely be bored by the whole concept.

for this geek, it all sets up as a nice data source. here are my preliminary empirical generalizations:

1. first-generation punks and protopunks kept it simple and classic

babylon - ny dolls
blitzkrieg bop - ramones (nothin' fancy)
god save the queen - pistols
i walk the line - joaquin cash (midcentury cool)
mystery train - elvis (echosonic?)
search and destroy - stooges (bass)
you really got me - kinks (razor blade or no, they're not really punks)

2. later alt-demigods go for really cheap vintage gear

boys don't cry - cure (woolworths?)
last night - strokes (stompboxes)
lithium - nirvana (jag+muff)
take me out - franz (amps older than their parents)

3. amps matter

brown sugar - stones (keef on sg)
candy says - velvets (sunn workstations)
layla - derek (tweed)
pride - u2 (bono vox/edge vox)
suzie q - creedence (aww, man. check out those Kustoms)

4. we need a slide guitar anthem for the new millenium

free bird - skynyrd (can you still get coricidin bottles?)
loser - beck (bottleneck)

5. putatively disposable stompboxes will live forever

bohemian rhapsody - queen (home on the rangemaster)
purple haze - jimi (fuzz face)
sweet child o' mine - guns (don't be a crybaby)
ziggy stardust - bowie (mick ronson's 'ear-splitting, honky, intergalactic-arachnid sound')

6. wanna big sound? heavy is as heavy does

byob - system (mo' sg)
enter sandman - metallica (riff of a thousand kickoffs)
rhymin' and stealin' - beasties (metal samples)
teen spirit - nirvana (big drums)
when the levee breaks - zep (BIG drums)
won't get fooled again - who (it's all in the cables)

7. sometimes a bass is not a bass

blister in the sun - femmes (distinctive bassline, eh?)
light my fire - doors (who needs a bass player?)
seven nation army - stripes (bass-like)
sympathy - stones (keef on bass?)

8. it takes a musical genius to rock the clavinet and theremin

good vibrations - beach boys (all-time top-10 on the theremin)
let's get it on - marvin (mic)
superstition - stevie (funkclavinet)

i'm not much interested in duplicating these sounds, but it is cool to know from whence they came. if you squint hard, you might see a style, culture, and social networks project in here somewhere.

Monday, April 17, 2006

killing sex offenders, volume II

a vigilante gunned down two released sex offenders last august in bellingham, washington. this sunday, joseph l. gray and william elliott were shot to death in maine, apparently by a young canadian man who shot himself when surrounded by officers. once again, the press cites a state sex offender registry as leading the killer to the victims.

both mr. gray and mr. elliott were listed on maine's online registry of convicted sex offenders. one can access the offender's name, address, date of birth, height, weight, and place of employment, as well as a color photograph. i learned that mr. elliott lived at 953 main street in east corinth, he was last convicted in 2002, served four months in jail, and had been on probation since that time. similar detail was provided for mr. gray, who was last convicted in massachusetts in 1992.

as a i wrote last year, the bellingham murderer sent a hand-written note to the seattle times, detailing his crimes and how he targeted the offenders. here's what the since-convicted killer wrote on the subject:

"the State of Washington, like many states now lists sexual deviants on the Net. And on most of these sites it shares with us what sexual crimes these men have been caught for, and most are so sick you wonder how they can be free ... In closing, we cannot tell the public so-and-so is 'likely' going to hurt another child, and here is his address then expect us to sit back and wait to see what child is next"

in a forthcoming article with jeff manza and melissa thompson, i ask whether felons constitute a criminal class, a status group, or a caste (at the time, maine was actually providing less detailed information online than states such as florida). we argue that caste-like relations best apply to hyperstigmatized sex offenders such as mr. gray and mr. elliott.

in my opinion, these murders contribute to the prevailing sense of hopelessness and permanent stigmatization felt by sex offenders, whether serving a life sentence in prison or a spell of probation for a less serious offense. in this regard, i've got nothing to add beyond what i wrote last fall:

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

do such registries prevent more crime than they cause? who should be listed and for how long? in the name of public safety, dangerous information about many of us could be posted online -- is there a compelling rationale for listing sex offenders and not murderers or arsonists or drunken drivers? is there anything in your past that your neighbors ought to know about?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

metal folk protest?

check out the scroll on "i just finished a new record...a power trio with trumpet and 100 voices ... i think it is a metal version of phil ochs and bob dylan ...metal folk protest? .... it's called living with war .. we will be releasing lyrics on this ticker...

evidently, mr. young wrote and recorded living with war in an intensive three-day session. according to jonathon demme, who directed the new-ish heart of gold film, “it is a brilliant electric assault, accompanied by a 100-voice choir, on Bush and the war in Iraq.”

i'm not sure how much mr. young -- or any of us, for that matter -- has got left in the tank. when moved by the events of the day, however, he has a history of producing great work in short bursts. james mcdonough's bio, shakey, tells one such story. after hearing about kent state, mr. young went off to the woods for an hour before coming back with ohio.

i'm happiest, however, to hear that black sheets of electric neil will once again rain down upon me. heart of gold, prairie wind, greendale et al. were warm, but not exactly searing to those of us raised on hurricanes and rust. the new album is said to feature old black (pictured above), rick rosas on bass, and chad cromwell on drums.

i know that many bands are working anti-bush screeds into their stage patter. still, it would be nice to turn on the radio and hear something besides american idiot that even acknowledges the war. i probably wouldn't enjoy love songs to donald rumsfeld, but i'm not too particular about political content when neil young is tearing off leads on old black. shakey may be the only artist to have done fine work during his pro-farmer, anti-cortez, pro-reagan, and anti-skynyrd stages.

Friday, April 14, 2006

me talk Easter one day

as the most important Christian religious holiday, easter is a serious subject. for me, easter also brings to mind fond memories of st. james lutheran church, egg-seeking missions with my kids, and david sedaris.

i first encountered sedaris' jesus shaves while unsuspectingly skimming esquire in some forgotten airport. until i tried to to hold back my laughter that day, surrounded by grumpy strangers in a public space, the adjective "sidesplitting" meant nothing to me. my eyes watered, i snorted and chortled in quick bursts, and, yes, my sides actually split.

maybe you've read jesus shaves in me talk pretty one day, sedaris' best-selling collection of autobiographical essays in 2000. if you haven't seen it (or haven't seen it in some time), you might enjoy the passage below. i've excerpted liberally, so please buy one of his collections if you haven't already (another personal favorite is you can't kill the rooster, his elegy to brotherly love).

in jesus shaves, sedaris uses the Easter story to illustrate communication barriers that arise from language, culture, and (in this case) religious traditions. the setting is his beginning french class:

[instructor] And what does one do on Easter? Would anyone like to tell us?"

The Italian nanny was attempting to answer the question when the Moroccan student interrupted, shouting, "Excuse me, but what's an Easter?"

Despite her having grown up in a Muslim country, it seemed she might have heard it mentioned once or twice, but no. "I mean it," she said. "I have no idea what you people are talking about."

The teacher then called upon the rest of us to explain.

The Poles led the charge to the best of their ability. "It is," said one, "a party for the little boy of God who call his self Jesus and . . . oh, sh*t."

She faltered, and her fellow countryman came to her aid.

"He call his self Jesus, and then he be die one day on two . . . morsels of . . . lumber."

The rest of the class jumped in, offering bits of information that would have given the pope an aneurysm.

"He die one day, and then he go above of my head to live with your father."

"He weared the long hair, and after he died, the first day he come back here for to say hello to the peoples."

"He nice, the Jesus."

"He make the good things, and on the Easter we be sad because somebody makes him dead today."

Part of the problem had to do with grammar. Simple nouns such as cross and resurrection were beyond our grasp, let alone such complicated reflexive phrases as "To give of yourself your only begotten son." Faced with the challenge of explaining the cornerstone of Christianity, we did what any self-respecting group of people might do. We talked about food instead.

"Easter is a party for to eat of the lamb," the Italian nanny explained. "One, too, may eat of the chocolate."

"And who brings the chocolate?" the teacher asked.

I knew the word, and so I raised my hand, saying, "The Rabbit of Easter. He bring of the chocolate."

My classmates reacted as though I'd attributed the delivery to the Antichrist. They were mortified.

"A rabbit?" The teacher, assuming I'd used the wrong word, positioned her index fingers on top of her head, wiggling them as though they were ears. "You mean one of these? A rabbit rabbit?"

"Well, sure," I said. "He come in the night when one sleep on a bed. With a hand he have the basket and foods."

The teacher sadly shook her head, as if this explained everything that was wrong with my country. "No, no," she said. "Here in France the chocolate is brought by the big bell that flies in from Rome."

I called for a time-out. "But how do the bell know where you live?"

"Well," she said, "how does a rabbit?"

It was a decent point, but at least a rabbit has eyes. That's a start. Rabbits move from place to place, while most bells can only go back and forth--and they can't even do that on their own power. On top of that, the Easter Bunny has character; he's someone you'd like to meet and shake hands with. A bell has all the personality of a cast-iron skillet. It's like saying that come Christmas, a magic dustpan flies in from the North Pole, led by eight flying cinder blocks. Who wants to stay up all night so they can see a bell? And why fly one in from Rome when they've got more bells than they know what to do with right here in Paris? That's the most implausible aspect of the whole story, as there's no way the bells of France would allow a foreign worker to fly in and take their jobs. That Roman bell would be lucky to get work cleaning up after a French bell's dog -and even then he'd need papers. It just didn't add up.

Nothing we said was of any help to the Moroccan student. A dead man with long hair supposedly living with her father, a leg of lamb served with palm fronds and chocolate. Confused and disgusted, she shrugged her massive shoulders and turned her attention back to the comic book she kept hidden beneath her binder. I wondered then if, without the language barrier, my classmates and I could have done a better job making sense of Christianity, an idea that sounds pretty far-fetched to begin with.

In communicating any religious belief, the operative word is faith, a concept illustrated by our very presence in that classroom. Why bother struggling with the grammar lessons of a six-year-old if each of us didn't believe that, against all reason, we might eventually improve? If I could hope to one day carry on a fluent conversation, it was a relatively short leap to believing that a rabbit might visit my home in the middle of the night, leaving behind a handful of chocolate kisses and a carton of menthol cigarettes. So why stop there? If I could believe in myself, why not give other improbabilities the benefit of the doubt? I accepted the idea that an omniscient God had cast me in his own image and that he watched over me and guided me from one place to the next. The virgin birth, the resurrection, and the countless miracles -my heart expanded to encompass all the wonders and possibilities of the universe.

A bell, though, that's f*ed up.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

conference timetables and the means of correct training

my kids' schools try all sorts of approaches to parent-teacher conferences. the elementary, middle, and high schools in our district are all fine public institutions with good parental involvement. as class sizes rise, however, it becomes institutionally more difficult to provide the sort of individualized feedback demanded by parents.

the last few years the schools adopted a fuzzy-logic approach in which parents arrive within a time window and simply flow to available teachers as spots open up. that worked ok, but the suck-up parents tended to monopolize the teachers' time (ok, mr. hofsparger, if jimmy does all the extra credit, will he get an A-plus-plus?). once the school organized a simple meet n' greet-style celebration of student progress with cookies; i recall this with some bitterness because i saw no call for celebration on that particular report card. i even refused the cookies.

this year, the middle school adopted a more traditional approach, allotting a little individual time for each parent. the teachers were well-organized and lined up with their student progress reports in the cafeteria and in the gymnasium, which is about a 5-minute walk from the cafeteria. here is the timetable for my middle schooler's parent-teacher conference this morning:

8:50-8:55 (Reading) Cafeteria
8:55-9:00 (Math) Gym
9:00-9:05 (Language Arts) Cafeteria
9:05-9:10 (Health) Gym
9:10-9:15 (Social Studies) Cafeteria
9:15-9:20 (Science) Cafeteria

it was efficient, i suppose, but pretty much a blur except for the running back and forth. we exchanged pleasantries and several teachers made comments showing that they really knew and cared about my daughter. so, that was cool. i also got lots of spreadsheet-style data on daily assignments. the simple task of recording so much data must suck up a large portion of the teachers' time. it seems that every kid gets a grade every day in every class for everything they do. everything. [some kids despise this with every fiber of their beings. if you happen to have a kid in this category, let me suggest that you not share discipline and punish and learning to labor with them until college. trust me on this.]

i had my boots on this morning and i desperately wanted to clomp madly through the hallways to dramatize the silliness of scheduling five-minute appointments in separate area codes with no time allotted for travel. it would have been fun to push the other parents out of the way, toss a flurry of papers in the hallway, and arrive for my little appointments looking desperately disheveled.

of course, this sort of deviant parental behavior has proven devastatingly embarrassing to my daughter in the past. instead, i'll try to problem-solve for the district. for next year, i'm going to suggest holding the conferences at minneapolis-st. paul international airport. the teachers can assemble alongside the moving sidewalks and the parents can file through in alphabetical order. a simple thumbs up or thumbs down as they hand us the spreadsheets should suffice.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

blurbs that reverb

since the publication of locked out, i've given and received numerous blurbs. this week, i got an email blurbing a passage from one of my reviews:

“This book is a stunning achievement.”
—Christopher Uggen, Contexts

my comment isn't hyperbole. a multi-method tour de force tracking a cohort of delinquent boys for sixty freaking years is a stunning achievement. still, i wish i'd said something less trite; more people probably saw that blurb than anything else i've written. "this book is a stunning achievement" could apply to any book, including, apparently, the second edition of the crisis intervention handbook: assessment, treatment, and research and retro stud: muscle movie posters from around the world.

preferably, the publisher would have pulled something that demonstrated that i had actually read the book (i did too! how can you be so cynical?). because my brief contexts review didn't give them much with which to work, i can't blame the press. here's the longer passage i would have selected:

"Laub and Sampson continually remind us of the essential humanity of their subjects. Many readers will no doubt hear the voices of their fathers or grandfathers in the quotations, even in those from persistent offenders such as “Patrick” or “Boston Billy.” Nevertheless, Laub and Sampson also convey the sharp “edge” of these older men, many of whom still think of themselves as hell-raisers."

unfortunately, i didn't write anything pithy or blurbable. i said some pithy, blurbable stuff at an authors meet critics session, but that doesn't count. i also tried to quote social distortion's ball and chain (Well it's been ten years and a thousand tears/And look at the mess I'm in/A broken nose and a broken heart/An empty bottle of gin), but that too was axed in the editing process. so, i guess that harvard worked with what they had.

i also wrote a back-cover blurb for a new handbook at about the time that oxford emailed me the blurbs for my book with jeff manza. wondering how to phrase my praise, i had fun taking the nice things people said about locked out and adapting them to the books that i was supposed to blurb, substituting phrases such as "restorative justice" and "civil liberties" for "felon disenfranchisement." it went something like this:

"Few issues undermine the legitimacy of democratic systems more than civil liberties. The Handbook of Civil Liberties examines the legal, political, and social-historical context of this peculiarly American dilemma. The book is masterful, a must-read for those who seek answers to why and how civil liberties exist and what can be done to hasten their demise."

"Energetically researched and clearly written, The Handbook of Civil Liberties is a major contribution to public debate about the vexed issue of civil liberties. It sheds light into one of the dark corners of American political life, suggesting that civil liberties remain a significant shortcoming of our democracy."

"In this brilliant and timely book The Handbook of Civil Liberties probes the roots of this phenomenon in American history, especially our racial history, and they show us how civil liberties continue to distort American democracy, and to influence electoral outcomes."

trust me, this was a lot funnier back when civil liberties were still a positively valued social good. try substituting "puppies" for felon disenfranchisement and you'll see what i mean:

"Few issues undermine the legitimacy of democratic systems more than puppies. The Handbook of Puppies examines the legal, political, and social-historical context of this peculiarly American dilemma. The book is masterful, a must-read for those who seek answers to why and how puppies exist and what can be done to hasten their demise."

now isn't that a lot more thoughtful and nuanced than calling the handbook of puppies "a stunning achievement?" i bet it would sell more books, too.

thanks for not breaking my son, cole

i've been doing too many kidposts lately, but this falls under the brush-with-greatness heading. tor has been wrestling freestyle with some of the top-ranked minnversity guys. tonight, the lad locked up with ncaa heavyweight champion cole konrad.

conrad was undefeated this year, going 41-0 and joining the legendary vern gagne (1949), leonard levy (1941), and brock lesner (2000) as national heavyweight champs from minnesota. i didn't see what happened tonight, but mr. conrad's record clearly remains intact after clashing with the enormous nonconformist.

according to the strib, conrad was 5'9" at tor's age, but now he's listed at 6'4" and 285. i was hoping the experience would be humbling for the similarly-proportioned lad, but not much is humbling at 15. i can't share all of tor's observations on the experience (he doesn't tell me much as it is, so i've gotta be careful), but he did pass along a few thoughts on measuring himself against the best:

1. konrad is "ungodly fast" for a heavyweight, putting tor on his back immediately when the lad reached in for an underhook.

2. upper-body strength represents another big difference. tor said konrad's legs weren't much bigger than mine (well, they are my best feature), but that he could maintain complete control from up-top.

3. tor characterizes konrad as a "true heavyweight." i think this means that, like the lad, he likes to relax a little between drills. for example, tor was threatened with grievous bodily harm if he made konrad sweat.

4. he also called konrad a real *** [a coarse term of high praise among wrestlers]. tor claims to have cross-faced the champ "pretty hard" but neither of them were going full-speed.

5. konrad may remember tor's name. the lad evidently pounded the champ's gut when he was relaxing on his back (which, i guess, is what true heavyweights do), eliciting a shout of U-GUN!

i don't often thank minnversity undergrads, but i owe young mr. konrad a special debt of gratitude. thank you for not breaking my son, cole. i can assure you that he learned a little something from the experience tonight.

Monday, April 10, 2006

criminological monkefication

my wildly creative daughter dropped me an ecard from, in which a monkey spake lines she had penned. always a sucker for talking monkeys (insert sociologist/criminologist joke here), i conducted my own experiments. i think talking monkeys could be an effective teaching tool. for example, please allow the primates to lay a little crim theory on you:

let's start with some robert k. merton, from the oft-cited classic that hooked me on sociological criminology in the first place. if that does anything for you, check out edwin sutherland, my intellectual great-grandaddy. of course, one cannot present sutherland these days without offering a travis hirschi-style control theory rebuttal. labeling perspectives, such as those of edwin lemert and howard becker offer an alternative vision based on the societal reaction to rule-breaking behavior. finally, feminist critiques of male-based theories force a fundamental reexamination of the nature of crime, victimization, and survivorship.

well, that gets me through about 10 weeks of the semester. from now on, i'm delivering all my lectures via monkey. maybe someone could work up a li'l marx, durkheim, and weber for soc 101. why didn't i monkify my own work? it doesn't stand up to the classics. for now, i can only dream of someday writing a passage worthy of monkification.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

guitar abominations

i rarely play guitar in public, since guitar abomination is never pretty. i know it is tricky to demonstrate causality, but it almost seems that the experience of hearing me play dramatically reduces confidence in my abilities. the reaction goes something like, "what were you tryin' to do up there, man? i useta think you were cool." plus, i usually save my best playin' and singin' for my musician daughter in the living room.

nevertheless, i'm dusting off the tweed case and venturing out of my living room's friendly confines more often these days. my colleague teresa gowan formed a class band as part of her undergraduate course, hard times and bad behavior: homelessness and marginality in the u.s (and, by the way, is a class band a cool idea or what?). they play old hobo songs and course-related standards such as buddy can you spare a dime? teresa asked me to add a little KERRANG to maggie's farm for our annual department celebration, so last night i brought out the strat (no nickname as yet, but ol' pink is the leading contender).

i also ended up singing purple rain as part of the first-year grad skit. i've always considered myself the earl scheib of bad singing -- he'd paint any car for 99 bucks and i'd sing any song for a beer. even fronting the pipin' hot talcott parsons project, purple rain proved much tougher than anticipated (note to self: just drop the mic and step AWAY from the ballads). last year the skit involved my pained rendition of livin' on a prayer -- which is only 2.5 octaves out of my range. i could blame it on the 30 seconds of prep time, but that's no excuse. there's still only one prince in minneapolis.

but i'm undaunted. the not-really-a-booktour picks up quickly in the next couple weeks, with stops in los angeles, philadelphia, state college, dc, detroit, new york, and baltimore. after a penn state talk on the 28th, i'll play a little with folks such as paul amato, rich felson, wayne osgood, and sam richards. wayne just sent me a set list. it looks like cool stuff that i can probably flay okay (where flay = .5*fake + .5*play). they do lots of dale/ventures/shadows surf instrumentals plus other inspired covers (muddy/johnny/del/buddy and falling in love again(?)). it may not be transcendent, but it does give me something to look forward to this month.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

a wealth of speakers

the minnversity is flush with great speakers this week.

howard winant gave a fascinating talk on new racial studies at tuesday's department workshop.

our life course center celebrates its twentieth anniversary with a miniconference friday. glen elder will give a keynote at 3 but there are great panels throughout the day. speakers include jane mcleod, guillermina jasso, mike shanahan, and some very cool alums.

our annual sociological research institute on saturday will feature loic wacquant, who will speak on carnal sociology. there will be student presentations throughout the day and much rejoicing in the evening.

as if that weren't enough, the political science grads are running a conference on inequality and american democracy both friday and saturday, bringing in kay schlozman, loic wacquant (who is doing double-duty), william darity, rogers smith, and many more.

to my knowledge, all of these events are free and open to all, so stop on by if you're in the neighborhood.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

the air america experience

since a few have asked, here are my top-8 shareable observations on my al franken experience (i'd stretch it to 10 but who really wants 20 percent more filler?).

1. the overall vibe of the franken shop is friendly, busy, can-do, and semi-idealistic. you know how you get a gut sense about whether an organization (or academic department) is on the rise or the decline? this place felt like a small shop on the way up. either that, or the staff is just enjoying the ride while it lasts.

2. about a half-dozen young people were working laptops when i arrived. some could have passed for sociology honors students. one helpfully found information on-the-fly just before we went on the air.

3. jerry garcia. lots of jerry garcia.

4. lunchtime is lunchtime, even for a show that airs from 11-2. almost everybody was eating at their computers over the noon hour. the host popped out between breaks to grab a few bites too.

5. they set mic levels by asking guests what they had for breakfast that morning. can you believe i was the first to say frosted mini-wheats? i'd imagine that lefties generally say that they breakfast on stuff like cruelty-free bagels and bulgar-wheat muffins. i'm glad i didn't respond with the tasteless obscure sports reference that popped into my head (mike tyson's children. [sorry]). frosted mini-wheats is much funnier.

6. as a proud but reputedly phlegmatic norwegian-american, i wasn't aware that i spoke with my hands. turns out that i do, which is quite distracting for radio interviewers. mr. franken likely thought i was trying to relay some sort of elaborate secret signal (e.g., wrap it up quick, dude -- the bulgar muffin is repeating on me!).

7. one shouldn't make inferences from quick conversations, but ... he's so not a jerk. al franken is a look-you-in-the-eye real handshake kind of guy. off-air, he's disarming and open. if he runs for office, he'll win the crucial "which of these jokers would i rather have a beer with?" competition that has bedeviled the Dems in recent national elections.

8. the appearance likely sold a few books. locked out jumped up in amazon's sales rankings from a place alongside building military dioramas, vol. viii to a more respectable position alongside such wide-readership classics as modern antenna design. now if we can sell a third copy...

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

timestamping and malkintents

lawblogger eric muller recently chided foxnewsstar blogger michelle malkin for the timestamps of her posts. professor muller alleges that unknown others are crafting some of ms. malkin's blog posts because they appeared when she was apparently in-flight or possibly even speaking in minneapolis.

hmmm. i'm no fan of ms. malkin's bile with a smile vibe (though she did sort of cite me once) and plagiarism is a serious accusation, but i've got her back on this one. she works a lot, she writes a lot, and her posts appear when they appear. even malkin, the author of in defense of internment: the case for racial profiling in world war II and the war on terror, deserves a little more credit than this. [btw, professor muller offers a withering substantive critique of this book.]

ms. malkin's blog is far more influential (and far more clever) than mine, so i can't envision any cybersleuths caring about my timestamps or calling me out for inconsistencies. still, i'd be a major hypocrite to raise timestamping issues with others. for the record, anyone interested in busting me on similar charges would have a very easy time of it. here's how my suspicious timestamps and other inconsistencies emerge:

1. i start a post, save it as a draft, and post it later. unless i change it manually, the timestamp refers to when the post was begun rather than when it appeared online.

2. like ms. malkin, i have posted from airplanes, wrestling tournaments, and while engaged in other activities that i probably shouldn't mention in a public forum.

3. i often reprint posts from one blog to another and i don't bother to change the timestamp, which might be off by a few hours or a few days.

4. i know this is a no-no for real bloggers, but i edit posts after they appear online. usually this involves fixing typos, writing more succinctly, or changing phrasing for clarity or emphasis. if i make a big substantive change, change my mind, or catch a major error, i'll try to write "UPDATE" at the bottom of the post. ms. malkin would no doubt be savaged for such practices.

5. i just try to write up ideas and put them online as quickly as possible. as a public figure with a popular blog, i'm sure that ms. malkin takes a little more care. still, it is just a blog. i might feel differently if she were charging readers to get a regular dose of "exclusive malkin content" (malkintent?).

maybe i'm taking this too lightly because i see blogs as public diaries -- domains of freedom rather than constraint. do bloggers have more serious responsibilities? what sorts of norms have developed around responsible bloggership? i'm guessing there must be a manual someplace online. am i too cavalier about timestamps and editing?


after seeing this post, i felt snarky for not finding a more flattering picture of ms. malkin. not wanting to run afoul of any blognorms, i won't delete the old one, but will simply append a better picture here.

washington update: sufferin' suffrage rights

i wrote last month about washington's practice of denying voting rights to felons who can't afford to pay state-imposed fines, fees, and court costs. king county superior court judge michael spearman ruled last week that felons who completed their sentence but have not paid back such fines cannot be denied the right to vote:

"The Washington re-enfranchisement scheme which excludes one group of felons from exercising the right to vote, while permitting another, where the sole distinction between them is the ability to pay money bears no rational relation to any stated or apparent governmental purpose."

the state will surely appeal the ruling, but the practice paints an ugly picture for a democracy that prides itself on universal suffrage. plaintiff beverly dubois, convicted on a marijuana charge, has been paying $10 per month since her 2003 release. unfortunately, this doesn't even cover the interest on her fine, so her $1,600 fine has increased to about $2,000. but for this fine, she would be eligible to vote in the state.

most people enter the criminal justice system in poverty. making debtors of felons will make it that much more difficult for them to become stakeholding and tax-paying citizens in good standing. i wrote before that fining the poorest of the poor is either "piling on" to further criminalize the indigent or a misguided attempt to squeeze blood from turnips. in either case, the practice seems strange in a debtor nation -- a nation itself in hock for $8,377,471,102,607.82 .

Monday, April 03, 2006

signs point to 87: twins to go 87-75

87. that's the number that slowly emerged magic 8-ball style from the bluish gunk of my consciousness on my long saturday run. i'm no gambler, but i love making predictions. i see 87 wins for my twins this year, which should keep them in the wild-card race all summer.

i can't imagine that anyone wants my opinion on baseball, but i should probably present a little evidence for the assertion. my optimism is based on starting pitching: slow-starter santana looks to be in fine form already, silva and radke are inning-eaters with winning records, lohse went 5-0 this spring, and the rookie baker looks like radke junior. if any falter, young phenom liriano is ready to bring his 96-mph fastball and knee-buckling change to the rotation as well. for now, he'll be the power lefty in the bullpen, a nice complement to hard-throwing righties such as nathan, crain, and rincon.

as for the new acquisitions, luis castillo is a very nice second baseman. the rest are rookies or small-market dudes from the cut-out bin: rondell white is a good clubhouse guy who can still hit some; rookie right fielder jason kubel might be raking by midseason; and, well, watching tony batista at the plate induces the sort of brainfreeze normally associated with eating ice cream too quickly -- i'll just look away and trust gm terry ryan on this one. torii hunter and shannon stewart are smooth all-around professionals in the outfield. catcher joe "baby jesus" mauer is a joy to watch (sweet swing, great on the bases, letter-perfect behind the plate) and justin morneau will provide some power on first. i'm nervous about the lack of range and political instability of the castro-batista side of the infield, but both can catch it and throw it.

the division has improved this year (even detroit!), so it is tough to know where the twins will finish. i'm hoping that the chicagos and clevelands will thrash one another, the tigers will still be a couple years away, and the royals will be the royals. if not, the "87" i see so clearly and distinctly might indicate losses rather than wins.

while i'm diversioning on baseball, i've got to mention the idiots write about sports post on free etranslators. if you take the team name (e.g., minnesota twins), translate it to spanish (gemelos), then back to english, you get the minnesota binoculars. i'm not sure why anyone would find this amusing, but i did. it seems the translators had the greatest difficulty with idiomatic monikers such as arizona diamondbacks, florida marlins, and texas rangers. here are a few highlights from the comments section:

english->chinese->english yields the following:

Arizona Water Chestnut Grain Back Sidewinders
Boston Red Sulfides/Chicago White Sulfides
Thin Ropes
Los Angeles Deceits
Milwaukee Brewing Alcohols
St. Louis Bishops

english->korean->english evidently gives us:

Arizona Animals Which Are Diamond Pattern
Chicago Young
Florida Chung Prematurely Gray Hairs

Texas Patrolling Guard Unit
Tampa Bay Place Pulleys

wanting to pitch in and do my part for, ummm, science, i dove into the tricky english->norsk->engelsk fray. i used intertran to translate each of the major league ballclubs into norwegian and back to english. here are some of the more interesting norwegian translations:

Cincinnati Horror
Color Rock
Houston Astrologer
Kansas Later Regal
Milwaukee Brew
Seattle Pickle
Texas Circumference

anything can happen over the long season and 2006 is fraught with questions. will the Red Sulfides flourish, now that they've locked up big papi? could the Pickle or the Circumference challenge oakland in the competitive american league west? in the national league, i'm looking for the Horror (...the Horror!) to improve this year, perhaps fighting the Animals Which Are Diamond Pattern for a wild-card slot. but who will win it all in october? my dream series involves the 87-win Binoculars taking the young Brewing Alcohols in a seven-game fall classic.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

rate my professors

i confess that i'm a closet reader. i like how the site exposes hidden information with a DIY grass-roots pirate-radio sensibility. plus, unlike official evaluations, ratemyprofessors is interactive: students can debate each other on the merits of their heroes and villains.

thus far, the site has gathered 5,281,715 ratings on 734,095 professors at 5,754 schools. three caveats: first, the ratings on individual professors come from small and highly selective samples. i'd guess that we hear from students at the tails of the distribution -- those who either loved us or hated us. second, i cannot endorse the idea of being rated on "easiness," since good teachers make hard work seem easy. third, false accusations or misleading information could be posted pretty easily, although it looks as though there are some ways to remove it.

finally, i have no idea whether the site has safeguards that would prevent ballot stuffing or professor self-ratings. the prospect of the latter seems really pathetic, but i can picture many unscrupulous faculty members succombing to temptation: those kids aren't fair! let's see. i'll give myself 5 for clarity, 5 for helpfulness -- no, make that 4 -- best to be realistic. uh, 3 for easiness since i don't want any slackers signing up, and i'm definitely hot. oh yeah, chili-pepper hot.

with all these caveats, ratemyprofessors likely helps students gain some basic information about the clarity and helpfulness of professors -- and the respect that they show students. sometimes the comments are more telling than the evaluations i get from my classes. think about it: wouldn't you be nicer to your profs in their written evaluations but brutally honest if writing for an audience of fellow students? here are some of the funnier ratings identified by the site. the wit and wisdom restores my faith in our undergraduates.

20 You can't cheat in her class because no one knows the answers.
19 His class was like milk, it was good for 2 weeks.
18 Houston, we have a problem. Space cadet of a teacher, isn't quite attached to earth.
17 I would have been better off using the tuition money to heat my apartment last winter.
16 Three of my friends got A's in his class and my friends are dumb.
15 Emotional scarring may fade away, but that big fat F on your transcript won't.
14 Evil computer science teaching robot who crushes humans for pleasure.
13 Miserable professor - I wish I could sum him up without foul language.
12 Instant amnesia walking into this class. I swear he breathes sleeping gas.
11 BORING! But I learned there are 137 tiles on the ceiling.
10 Not only is the book a better teacher, it also has a better personality.
9 Teaches well, invites questions and then insults you for 20 minutes.
8 This teacher was a firecracker in a pond of slithery tadpoles.
7 I learned how to hate a language I already know.
6 Very good course, because I only went to one class.
5 He will destroy you like an academic ninja.
4 Bring a pillow.
3 Your pillow will need a pillow.
2 If I was tested on her family, I would have gotten an A.
1 She hates you already.

could any of these have been written about you? i confess that the space cadet line seems awfully familiar to me. are these rankings a scourge or blessing? are there dangers i haven't mentioned? what would happen if universities routinely published all course evaluation material online?

Saturday, April 01, 2006

do your wurst: juxtaposition of unlike images

runners are usually a rather health-conscious crowd. but check this from the mad city marathon organizers:

Don’t miss the bigger, better Mad City Marathon!
Memorial Day weekend in Madison, Wisconsin couldn’t get any better. Once again, the Mad City Marathon finish line festival has joined with the World's Largest Brat Festival – Brat Fest on Willow Island at the Alliant Energy Center.
Come Run, Eat, Enjoy!

for non-wisconsinites, that's "brot" as in high-fat pork sausage bratwurst, not "brat" as in ill-tempered kid. last year, madisonians consumed 189,432 of said sausages. my post-race meal should raise it to 189,434. they could top 200k if the big man, a madisonian by birth, makes the trip. legend has it that he was plucked as a large infant from a simmering pot of johnsonvilles, onions, and leinenkugel beer (fyi, the tall girl fancies marzipan rather than bratwurst -- we found her in a 50-pound sugar sack in a racine kringle shop in '93).