Chris Uggen's Blog: May 2006

Monday, May 29, 2006

hot n' heavy

the mad city marathon is in the books for 2006. it was 90 degrees and humid, so many of us were seriously questioning our choice of leisure activities. we midwesterners have been training in 40 degree weather for the past few months, so most of us wilted badly. they eventually called the race when they ran out of medical assistance.

still, there were many highlights:

1. kids with hoses. every block or two, a family would set up a hose or makeshift shower to spray down the runners. the little kids seemed to enjoy this a lot -- some even brought out their super-soakers.

2. rainbows. i'm not sure whether anybody else saw rainbows in the mist from these showers, but it was a beautiful image to me.

3. massage. i cramped up pretty badly after the race, so the massage tent was heavenly. when i apologized for my deep funkitude, my student masseuse laughed and looked on the bright side: sweaty runners don't need lotion. [ewwwww.]

4. lakeshore path. it was cool and shaded along the lake -- a route i'd taken about 3000 times as a graduate and undergraduate student. i gave a smile and salute to the social science building.

5. the coolest tattoo i've ever seen. as i slowed a bit mid-race, a solidly-built young man steamed by at a strong pace. he was sporting a full-back tattoo of two angel's wings. it could have signified running and flying, good and evil, or some wind-beneath-his-wings thing. but the artwork was fantastic and the image was arresting.

6. finishing. even after they had pulled up the cones and called the race, the runners kept filing in -- 5 hours, 6 hours, 7 hours from the start.

7. volunteers. all the volunteers seemed to be in good spirits, and young esperanza staffed the water/gatorade station at mile 24. she was proud that men's winner joe kurian selected her gatorade over all the other outstretched hands. despite the aforementioned funkitude, she even gave me a hug as i waddled past.

i set a personal record, but not in a good way. it took me about 4 hours and 27 minutes to finish, which is almost an hour over my times in recent years. still, i had the same sweet feeling at the finish line.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

stadium-arcadium*

minngov tim pawlenty, my runnin' rival, signed off on a new ballpark for my beloved twins tonight. earlier this week, he also signed off on a new football stadium for the minnversity.

football and baseball stadiums are polarizing propositions. i've straddled the fence for years, but finally came out with a bold pro-ballpark stance during my gubernatorial debate with t-paw and jonathon the impaler. while i'm less convinced that the minnversity needs a new football stadium, i remain cautiously optimistic that both stadiums could become decent community-building public works projects. or maybe i'm just putting a durkheimian gloss on my personal desire to sit in the sun and watch a ballgame in 2010.

these stands put me on t-paw's side, in stark opposition to the enormous noncomformist. barring injury, my lad thinks he has a fighting chance of actually playing in one of the new stadiums. still, he's vehemently opposed to public funding, accusing me of profligate spending that saddles his generation with the burden of my own self-indulgence. and i must admit he's got a pretty good point there (aside: yeah, i'm proud when the kids box me in with principled arguments).

yes, i know that i'm in the minority on this one. we ballpark supporters represent the sentimental don't-care-what-it-costs rubes, jock profiteers, and greedhead developers. the opposition is made up of a powerful coalition of righty cheapskates and lefty anti-corporate welfare-staters-but-not-for-these-guys (not to mention certain radical left tackles).

in truth, i'm conflicted and guilty about supporting a new ballpark. i would rather earmark such funds for transportation infrastructure, public schools, public safety, and health care. nevertheless, even if every arts and entertainment project in the state were mothballed, i'm skeptical that we'd really see greater investments in transportation infrastructure, public schools, public safety, and health care.

ralph nader thinks so. he wrote an op-ed today imploring t-paw to reject the ballpark bill. moreover, he jumped into bed with the spooky taxpayer's league (motto: "no new taxes, no old taxes, we're keepin' it all")to do so:

How can you possibly defend such disenfranchisement of local voters to enrich a commercial entertainment company? Even if you are a supporter of the public subsidization of stadiums for the benefit of private, monopoly entertainment, there is certainly no justification, other than autocracy, to deny residents the right to vote on having a tax levied upon them for such a purpose. But judging from past pledges, you are not a supporter of taxpayer funded stadiums. According to Citizens for a Stadium Tax Referendum, you pledged to specifically oppose public funding for professional sports facilities. And according to the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, you signed a Taxpayer Protection Pledge promising to "oppose and veto any and all efforts to increase taxes."

i'm intrigued that a ballpark brings mr. nader out of the woodwork when he's kept quiet over myriad other (ahem) controversial expenditures. does he really think t-paw should "veto any and all efforts to increase taxes?" why is ballpark spending (and not, say, NASA spending or even halliburton spending) such a political lightning rod? is it the magnitude of the expenditure? obscene player salaries? something tells me that attention to pro- and anti-ballpark vitriol might tell us something about political and cultural divides that run a little deeper.

*note: kinda liked the new rhcp album. kinda loved john frusciante's guitaristry.

Friday, May 26, 2006

gar lockrem and arts education

one of my favorite high school teachers passed away this weekend. gar lockrem taught at henry sibley senior high school for the past 400 years. he was my music teacher in the early 1980s and my mother's art teacher and choir director in the late 1950s. i mostly recall mr. lockrem as an old dude who connected unusually well with the long-haired rockers who signed up for his music theory course.

ok, so i don't remember all that much music theory. but i can still plunk out my piano compositions from the course and i learned just enough about classical music to pass for semi-cultured at faculty gatherings. mr. lockrem would read hokey motivational books to cynical teenagers with wide-eyed sincerity and a look that said: is this a great world, or what! what i mostly remember about gar -- and he was cool with a 17-year-old dirtball calling him "gar" -- was that i felt okay about being in high school during his class.

these are tough times for arts education, so i can't help but worry about the counterfactual case of what schools would be like without teachers such as gar lockrem. like wayne coyne, my high school experience would have been brutal without drama, poetry, and music. i wasn't a great student then, but these courses gave the space and encouragement and confidence that somehow helped me morph into a scholar.

when a counselor suggested i wasn't quite ready for college, the drama teacher (mr. veale) said, "you must go to madison. you will blooooom in madison." so i went! when i was struggling with delinquency and court appearances, the poetry teacher (we called her "apple") said, "you've gotta publish this stuff, you've just gotta." so i tried! and gar lockrem was reading us zig ziglar and telling wild stories about mozart.

my mother must have been similarly inspired by mr. lockrem -- she spoke of him often and became an art teacher too. one can never trace all the direct and indirect ways in which a teacher influences students, but i should note that mom passed the inspiration along to sis, who teaches art in nyc. like most high school students, i had absolutely zero chance of making a living as an actor, poet, or musician. still, i can't imagine getting through high school without arts courses and teachers such as mr. lockrem.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

wayne coyne's commencement address

wayne coyne, the flamingest lip, delivered the commencement address at his old high school this year in oklahoma city. if you have 12 minutes to spare, you might enjoy watching mr. coyne's speech. youtube gives us part one and part two.

i took notes in the beginning. as is customary with the lips, however, i became pleasantly disoriented, stopped thinking, and just enjoyed the show.

my name is .... wayne and i've been a part of the local rock group the flaming lips for going on 23 years now...

i am not technically a high school graduate myself...

it is well documented that i worked at long john silver's and sold pot out of my apartment...

instead of becoming a drug dealer, i began to pursue art and music and discovered something that i really, really love...

the students who asked me to speak here today have not made a mistake...

an accumulation of what i have been doing has made me after all these years what i become...

we are not what we dream, we are what we do. all we have is action and we can only learn from experience. so if we can only learn from experience, what use is all this knowledge? knowledge tells us what to think and when we know what to think we take the first step toward knowing what to do...doing and thinking leads to learning...

we do not know what we will become. we can control what we do...

fresh human urine...

like throwing a hot dog to stop a tornado...

to understand and to be understood is to be free... [daniel johnston]

the lips touch down at the minnesota state fair this august 24. along with the usual confetti and animal costumes, mr. coyne's set design gives the band a spaceship and the audience a multitude of lasers. this is gonna go great with my cheese curds.

the banquet circuit

when ballplayers come into camp overweight, the banquet circuit is often blamed. this is my readymade excuse for sunday's marathon: i just hit the banquet circuit a little too hard this year.

jackie robinson evidently irked manager leo durocher when he arrived a bit heavy to spring training after his pioneering 1947 season. i'm sure that mr. robinson was in terrific demand for speaking (and, hence, eating) engagements throughout his life, but that first off-season must have been a doozy.

academics have their own banquet circuits, entertaining job candidates and other visitors. when hosting such visits, i generally find the entertaining time by raiding the exercise time budget. and, of course, i eat way too much when i'm hosting visitors or visiting myself.

i'm just back from a quick trip to michigan, for a reentry meeting sponsored by the national poverty center. it was a terrific conference intellectually, bringing me up to speed on an astounding number of well-designed reentry evaluations. that said, my body is telling me i've been on the banquet circuit too much this year. i sometimes eat reasonably healthy dinners, but tend to consume stuff i'd never eat at home (and do so all the time) when on the road.

unlike mr. robinson, i haven't been eating for a noble cause such as bridging the nation's deep racial divisions. certainly nobody benefits if i load up on pastry in the morning, cookies in the afternoon, and room-service cheeseburgers in the middle of the night. i just haven't yet reached a level of emotional maturity where i can pass up a big tray of unlimited yummy pastry. maybe next year.

when i'm trudging along at mile 18 this weekend, i'll visualize jackie robinson. we don't have anything else in common (though i might've clashed a bit with durocher too), but we'll always share the banquet circuit.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

u.s. incarceration at midyear 2005

the bureau of justice statistics has released midyear 2005 incarceration numbers. since june 30, 2004, imprisonment has risen by about 1.6 percent, while jail populations grew by 4.7 percent. women now make up 7 percent of the prison population and 13 percent of jail inmates. louisiana and georgia incarcerate the greatest percentage of their residents (with more than 1 percent in prison or jail), while maine and minnesota have the lowest rates (with about 0.3 percent of their state residents incarcerated).

nevertheless, even low incarceration states look high in international perspective. roy walmsley's latest world population list helps put these numbers in context. japan's rate is 58 per 100,000, norway's rate is 65, germany's is 96, saudi arabia's is 110, canada's is 116, england's is 142, mexico's is 182. you get the idea.

based on the 2005 data, the u.s. will continue to lead the world with a rate of 738 per 100,000 residents, outdistancing up-and-comers such as Belarus, (532 per 100,000), Turkmenistan (489), Cuba (487), Suriname (437), and South Africa (413).

walmsley's analysis shows great heterogeneity within and across continents:

• the median rate for western African countries is 52 whereas for southern African countries it is 324;
• the median rate for south American countries is 152 whereas for Caribbean countries it is 324;
• the median rate for south central Asian countries (mainly the Indian sub-continent) is 55 whereas for (ex-Soviet) central Asian countries it is 386;
• the median rate for southern European countries is 80 whereas for central and eastern European countries it is 184;
• in Oceania (including Australia and New Zealand) the median rate is 111.


criminologists have predicted a "leveling off" in u.s. incarceration for several years now, but we continue to see non-trivial increases in both the number (56,428 more inmates than last year) and rate (from 725 to 738 per 100,000) of incarceration. both represent all-time records.

chris' cosmo quiz for collaborators

last thursday at demos, i did a joint presentation with jeff manza. we tend to give individual talks and develop them independently, so a joint presentation was a rare treat.

i've truly enjoyed working with jeff but i've been extremely fortunate with all of my collaborators -- undergraduate students, grad students, postdocs, and junior and senior faculty. really! the only times things haven't worked out, i've dropped the ball due to preoccupation with other projects. i've written that good collaborations seem to require complementary skills and enough like-mindedness to vibe together. how can you spot good potential partners?

you can probably learn much of what you need to know about a potential collaborator by (1) reading something they've written; and, (2) sharing a meal. i'll leave the analysis of written work to your own judgment, but this restaurant behavior quiz might offer some insights into criterion number two. i've written the quiz for male collaborators, but you can change the he to she or s/he as needed.

1. did he treat the server decently? this could be signaling that he treats others with mutual trust and respect. if he sends back written instructions to the chef about the proper preparation of a cheeseburger, in contrast, he might try to micromanage your contributions to the project.

_ rude as hell and a little scary -- like when animals attack: 0 points
_ decently, i guess, i didn't really notice: 1 point
_ very understanding, he must've worked in a restaurant: 2 points


2. did he stick you (or, worse, his students) with the check or stiff the server with a tiny tip? this wouldn't portend generosity in my book. it might also mean that he thinks you owe him something just for hanging out with you. you don't want a collaborator who would minimize your contributions to the project. he should be quick to point out that "my partner really did the heavy lifting here" and, when needed, "I've gotta shoulder the blame for screwing up on that one."

_ he took a call and took off before the check came: 0 points
_ split it down the middle and tipped 20 percent: 1 point
_ he paid this one and i'll get the next one: 2 points
_ i took this one and he'll grab the next one: 2 points

_ he stuck a fork through my hand when i reached for the check: -3 points

3. did he complain about being chronically overworked? if so, it could indicate incompatible work styles and ethic or inadequate time to pick up a new project. choose a collaborator who has shown some positive energy (e.g., by bringing several other projects home) and/or the proper incentive (e.g., job market, tenure) to finish the project.

_ he has not slept since 1979: 0 points [yes, this will knock down my score]
_ he yawned once but apologized for it, blaming travel fatigue: 1 point
_ he seemed really excited about getting going on the project: 2 points


4. did he rain furious anger down upon colleagues, teachers, and students as soon as they were out of earshot? uh-oh. this person may not have the patience or compassion you'll need to get over a rough patch. sometimes life interrupts the most careful plans. you'll feel better working with those willing to forgive your excesses and understand your other (over)commitments.

_ apparently, he has always been surrounded by idiots and cretins: 0 points
_ he really didn't say much about his colleagues or students: 1 point
_ you can see he loves his mentors, colleagues, and students: 2 points


5. did you laugh? you don't have to launch a lifelong friendship, but it is nice to work with people whose company you genuinely enjoy. the best collaborators take the work seriously but are comfortable laughing at themselves. social scientists require ego sufficient to get on with our audacious work, but not so much ego that we can't take a step without tripping over it.

_ he struck me/made me weep/wouldn't let me go to the bathroom: 0 points
_ yeah, i think we could probably work together: 1 point
_ i wanna party with you, cowboy: +/- 2 points (sign is up to you)


__ total points for questions 1 to 5

0 to 3 points: run. he might make you famous, but notorious is far more likely.
4 to 7 points: try email conversation over a few weeks and see how it goes.
8 to 10 points: yeah! like jagger and richards, this could be fun.

if this were really a cosmo quiz, i'd assign cute names and personality types to each collaborator. in this case, you'd have to weight restaurant behavior alongside the quality and creativity of the person's scholarly work. i would have added something about table manners, but would prefer not to ponder the meaning of my own atrocious manners. what else have i forgotten?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

try teaching eighth-grade English, five classes a day, 35 kids in a class ...

whenever i attend a graduation ceremony, i think about my all-time favorite commencement speech by gary keillor of anoka, minnesota. it was warm, funny, reverent, humble, and full of love -- for the minnversity, the proud parents, the students, and the faculty. we berobed faculty sat behind mr. keillor onstage at northrup auditorium, trying desperately not to laugh too loudly.

mr. keillor taught a creative writing course at the minnversity this year and he's been doing a column titled the old scout for the strib. in my opinion, the quality of the column has been uneven but improving of late, and i especially enjoyed this take on writing from earlier in the month.

we write sooooo little as social scientists, yet we complain sooooo much about writing. here's mr. keillor:

Okay, let me say this once and get it off my chest and never mention it again. I have had it with writers who talk about how painful and harrowing and exhausting and ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE it is for them to put words on paper and how they pace a hole in the carpet, anguish writ large on their marshmallow faces, and feel lucky to have written an entire sentence or two by the end of the day.

It's the purest form of arrogance: Lest you don't notice what a brilliant artist I am, let me tell you how I agonize over my work. To which I say: Get a job. Try teaching eighth-grade English, five classes a day, 35 kids in a class, from September to June, and then tell us about suffering.

The fact of the matter is that the people who struggle most with writing are drunks. They get hammered at night and in the morning their heads are full of pain and adverbs. Writing is hard for them, but so would golf be, or planting alfalfa, or assembling parts in a factory.


[okay, that's a little strong, mr. keillor, but probably fair. here's where it really becomes evident that the old scout has been hanging out with the tenured professoriate:]

The biggest whiners are the writers who get prizes and fellowships for writing stuff that's painful to read, and so they accumulate long resumes and few readers and wind up teaching in universities where they inflict their gloomy pretensions on the young. Writers who write for a living don't complain about the difficulty of it. It does nothing for the reader to know you went through 14 drafts of a book, so why mention it?

The truth, young people, is that writing is no more difficult than building a house, and the only good reason to complain is to discourage younger and more talented writers from climbing on the gravy train and pushing you off. ...

...Clarity is hard. Honesty can be hard. Comedy is always chancy, but then so is profundity. Sometimes one winds up as the other. Illness is, of course, to be avoided, and also megamalls and meetings involving vice presidents. But writing is not painful, no more so than a round of golf. Nobody was harmed in the course of writing this column...

sage advice, i suppose. what do you think? is mr. keillor too harsh here? i complain some about writing but i get a lot more angst-y over fatherhood. fatherhood is hard.

but i'll 'fess up. sadly, i know exactly what he means about getting prizes and fellowships for writing stuff that's painful to read. and please, lord, just strike me down if i ever start inflicting any of my own gloomy pretensions on the young. writing suits me as well as any other endeavor and i'm privileged to do it. i might enjoy teaching eighth-grade English but i wouldn't enjoy the pay cut. and while i might be capable of building a house, i surely wouldn't want to live in it. nope, it's a writer's life for me.

Friday, May 19, 2006

journaling interns -- tell 'em to write it all down

i supervise a fair number of criminal justice internships. i ask my students for two things: (1) a short paper applying some aspect of their liberal arts education to the experience; and, (2) a journal of daily or weekly experiences.

the papers tell me how my course materials are refracted through students' own experiences. the journals give me their blow-by-blow accounts of these experiences. i'm reading two terrific journals now, and they're absolutely fascinating.

the best journals record things like lunch conversations as well as more official work-related activities. the excerpts below are taken from a single journal by an excellent student who did an internship at a highly-regarded agency.

i asked the student (let's call her holly) for permission to reprint these excerpts, but will use pseudonyms and anonymize people and places just to ensure that nothing comes back to haunt her. holly's journal gives a sense for the range of experiences and the mix of formal and informal training and networking one gets on a good internship. you can also see her perceptiveness and personality in the writing and observations.

...I then went to lunch with two other interns (names restaurant). We ended up sitting with two agents from [names agency]. They told us about their jobs, their past jobs + education. Both are very friendly + talkative. [Name] seems like a person who won't put up with any shit. [Name 2] is very easy going + relaxed.

... For lunch we went to this little [place], two blocks from [agency]. We waited for over a hour, but the food was worth it. It also gave me time to talk to [name] about what it takes to be an agent... I can't wait to start applying for jobs. [Name] gave me a website that lists police/investigator positions that are open.

... We arrived on the scene, the local officers had us wait to enter the house because the search warrant hadn't been signed yet. The news crews were already setting up their equipment... Then the two of us went inside to take more measurements. We started in the basement + worked our way room to room. Then we went upstairs to where the body was...

... I called in sick with a bad cold.

... By the way the [agency's] electric stapler is a piece of CRAP. It jams all the time + two out of every three staples won't go through the paper. AARRR!

... [Name] stopped by my cube + asked if I would be willing to help unload + enter in some new shotguns...

... The M-4, I have never shot before. It can be switched from manual, semi-automatic or fully automatic. It was like a machine gun.

... I have an interview with the [city] Police Department! It was the first of several tests + interviews. I passed the written + video tests. I completed the Behavioral Questionnaire -- now I have to fill out a background packet.

... I had to look through several months of files for any thefts of copper wire (the things people steal). I actually found eight reports.

... The coroner came in + told me not to wear my mask. It would stink, but I would be able to breathe better. I went out + they got started. She made a Y down the chest of the male with a scalpel. There is a bright yellow fatty layer under the skin + then the muscles. After pulling that away, she took basically hedgeclippers + clipped each rib + took out the front of the rib cage....

... The use of force training was fun. This time I was the dummy for [agent's name] in the demonstrations + I partnered up with [name] for the baton usage. I supposedly have a high tolerance for pain because the pressure point demo didn't really work on me.

... Man, I'm a dumbass.

... I talked with [agent] about my dilemma with [2 agencies]. he thinks since i'm a girl and have a degree, i will be heavily sought after. he really is a great guy.

... I learned that I'm left-eye dominant but i can still shoot with my right eye.

... He said he could get me some great connection with the [names police department]. This would be great, but I'm not sure I really want to be in the midwest.

... Made another trip to [place] to pick up another truck. Mine smelled like smoke + her's smelled like vomit.

... I sat in on a course for child abuse + sexual abuse.

... We will be making labels + entering everything into a computer. It won't be very fun work...


the full journal is (much) more intriguing and revealing than the excerpts, of course. such well-written journals take me back to both the mundanity and the shock and awe of my internship twenty years ago. my summer as an investigator in the hennepin county (minneapolis) public defender's office was a career turning point, which still shapes my views on crime and inequality. holly seems to have had a similar experience. most students find the journals to be pretty painless and the more reflective papers a bit trickier. if the journals are going well, i'll sometimes ask them to use the papers to analyze the "journal data" (or some portion of it) sociologically.

internships are great for students, but tough for faculty to supervise and evaluate. though i can't carve out much time for independent studies these days, holly and the the other students i supervised this year made it easy and fun. plus, sharing students' excitement in making fateful career and life choices is one of the great underrated perks of academic life.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

ain't got no home

from all reports, the two most immediate challenges facing reentering prisoners involve employment and housing. with regard to the latter issue, the real cost of prisons blog points to an atlanta journal-constitution story on the problems of prisoners with nowhere to go.

in many states, one must list an address just to get out of prison. by necessity, however, these are often very temporary arrangements. for example, one's sister may allow her name to be listed in the pre-release plan, though she has absolutely zero intention of permitting more than an overnight stay. when parole boards or prison officials scrutinize such arrangements, they tend to think twice about releasing the inmate.

anyone studying homeless men in the united states quickly discovers the preponderance of former felons in their ranks. there's simply nowhere else for many of them to go. some politicians, such as john conyers of michigan, have proposed housing projects for former prisoners. this is a reasoned response to a real problem, but former prisoners tell me that halfway houses are often the worst place to go if one wishes to remain crime- or drug-free.

for example, a woman who was about to be released told me that a local halfway house was far scarier to her than the prospect of staying in prison ("I don't want to go there. Everyone is using. There's a crackhouse across the street! I DON'T want to go there!"). i'm sure that there are some better housing options both locally and nationally, but i'm not currently aware of any institutions that could be replicated on a scale that would accommodate over 600,000 releasees per year.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

if you're gonna buy garden stuff this weekend anyway...

i don't usually blog for dollars, but can't resist spreading the word on this one. my lad's mounds view wrestling team has a fundraiser from may 19 to may 22 with linder's nursery.

if you go to any of the 40 linder's shops (check the parking lot of your grocery store) or the main store at 270 west larpenteur avenue this weekend, just tell the cashier you support mounds view wrestling (e.g., are you guys doing some fundraiser for mounds view wrestling or something?). the nursery tracks these purchases and the team gets 15 percent of the total.

you don't really want these guys showing up at your doorstep pushing overpriced candy, do you? parents pay about a $200 activity fee per sport, but the fundraisers cover stuff such as awards, travel, and ringworm treatments (i'm kidding on the last one. sort of). as public schools go these days, mounds view is decently funded. on the other hand, i know that a certain heavyweight's singlet suffered irreparable damage this season. if people don't buy begonias for size this weekend, there's a catastrophic wardrobe malfunction just waiting to happen...

just put me in a wheelchair, get me on a plane

demos is hosting an event for locked out from 12-2 this thursday in new york:

Join Demos, Right to Vote, Brennan Center for Justice, the National Radio Project and the Legal Action Center in welcoming Jeff Manza and Christopher Uggen, co-authors of Locked Out: Felon Disenfranchisement and American Democracy.

The event will be moderated by Rima Vesely-Flad, Director of the Interfaith Coalition of Advocates for Reentry and Employment (ICARE). Register online or call (212) 633-1405 x533

Demos: 220 Fifth Avenue, 5th Floor, New York, NY

demos is a terrific pro-democracy organization, with some fine recent work tracking american inequality. i believe that registration is free, so stop on by if you have the time. i'm flying out at 6 am thursday and returning that night, so i anticipate an action-packed day. i also anticipate great fun with old friends and new, so long as the planes, trains, and automobiles are reasonably cooperative.

Monday, May 15, 2006

poll on domestic surveillance

both felon disenfranchisement and the nsa's domestic surveillance program appear to pit treasured civil rights and liberties against vilified groups that may threaten public safety.

james love has a nice little piece on telephone records of "who calls whom" at huff po today. i have no expert knowledge on any of this, but i'm concerned as a citizen about the selective application of these data against those on any president's enemies list. here's how mr. love puts it:

Can you imagine how interesting it would be to have this type of information on one of your enemies? To know exactly whom they call, and who calls them, and exactly when, going back at least five years? Can you imagine how interesting someone might find these same items, about you?

yikes. i'm already paranoid that the little "click" on my phone is really gene hackman listening from a van outside the social science tower. yes, i can certainly imagine such scenarios all too vividly. so, apparently, can my fellow citizens. a new usa today/gallup poll suggests that civil liberties comes out ahead (51% to 43%) on surveillance, just as it does on disenfranchisement. here's the question:

As you may know, as part of its efforts to investigate terrorism, a federal government agency obtained records from three of the largest U.S. telephone companies in order to create a database of billions of telephone numbers dialed by Americans. ... Based on what you have heard or read about this program to collect phone records, would you say you approve or disapprove of this government program?

Approve - 43%
Disapprove - 51%
No opinion - 6%

this represents a statistically significant difference for a sample of 809 respondents (unfortunately i couldn't gather response rate or any other methodological details from the story). such views are likely to change rapidly, of course, but at least the phone database question seemed to be worded in a fair manner. in particular, righties would like the lead-in ("as part of its efforts to investigate terrorism") and lefties would like the detail on the program's scope ("billions of telephone numbers" and "dialed by Americans"). in my opinion, neither side should be completely happy with the wording on any contentious partisan issue. here are some related items:

[Asked of the approving 43%]: Is that mainly because you do not think the program seriously violates Americans’ civil liberties, (or is it mainly because) you think investigating terrorism is the more important goal, even if it violates some Americans’ civil liberties?

Does not violate civil liberties - 12%
Investigating terrorism is more important, even if it violates civil liberties - 29%
Unsure - 2%

[Asked of the disapproving 51%]: Do you think there would ever be circumstances in which it would be right for the government to create a database of telephone records, or would it not be right for the government to do this under any circumstances?


Yes, there are circumstances in which it would be right - 17%
No, not under any circumstances - 31%
Unsure - 3%


how would you have responded? i'd find myself in the disapproving 51% but probably not in the hardcore libertarian 31% that say "not under any circumstances." off the top of my head, i'd say that the circumstances would involve demonstration of a compelling and specific need, an independent judicial review, and a long list of data assurances. i can imagine the official response to requests for such safeguards:

"well, gosh, if we had all that, we wouldn't need a domestic telephone surveillance database."

or, perhaps:

"data assurances? we ain't got no data assurances. we don't need no data assurances. i don't have to show you any stinking data assurances!"

Sunday, May 14, 2006

mom's day

my mom's been gone since 1993 so she never got to meet hope, who was born in december of that year. nancy lee and hope kathryn are soooo alike in soooo many ways that i almost think of them as sisters.

every mother's day, hope and i find an hour or so to bring some flowers to the cemetary. it is a beautiful spot in early may, with the lilacs in bloom and the little fountains flowing, so we sometimes linger.

as the sun was setting on mom's day a few years ago, we heard three women singing sweetly at a gravesite. they were dressed in church clothes -- bright spring dresses and hats -- and looked to be sisters pouring it out for mom. hope was taken with the moment, and suggested we sing too.

i've got to admit that i wouldn't attempt public singing in a cemetary without a little nudge from hope. but my mom loved vocal music and she would listen to her prized cassettes of seventh-grade choir concerts long past their freshness dates. plus hope has an outstanding voice, much stronger than mine, warm and resonant just like her grandmother's.

i threw my dove acoustic into the jeep today and we did love is a rose [audio] kneeling graveside in the grass. singing with hope, i thought of my mom doing everly brothers' songs with her cousin brian and his guitar. i got my everlys by way of rockpile's nick lowe and dave edmunds. i'd love to tackle rockpile's now and always with hope, but maybe we can work up some straight don and phil for next year too.

Friday, May 12, 2006

10k prize for communitarian essay

the tension between individual liberties and social responsibilities has fascinated me since i was a kid. i remember geeking out reading the brethren (woodward's, not grisham's) in high school, thinking how cool it would be to wrestle with such issues day-to-day on the u.s. supreme court. i still try to keep up with work by amitai etzioni's communitarian network. if you write on such topics, you might be interested in a communitarian network essay contest.

The essay contest has been re-opened beginning April 1, 2006 . Submissions will be accepted until June 30, 2006 , and the winners will be announced shortly thereafter. There will be no further extensions.

Prizes: First prize, $10,000; second prize, $5,000; and third prize, $2,500.
Judges: Daniel Bell, Hans Joas, and Amitai Etzioni.
Eligible: All who are not employees of the Communitarian Network or members of their families.

Essays may deal with philosophical, sociological, or other elements of communitarian thinking. Contestants are free to explore matters concerning theory or specific policies issues on the local, national, or transnational levels. However, it is required that contestants delve into communitarian thinking, especially of the responsive communitarian kind (See http://www2.gwu.edu/~ccps/index.html). Communitarian thinking must be evident throughout the essay; it should nurture and guide the analysis rather then be mentioned in the introduction and conclusion or only evoked occasionally. Essays critical of communitarian thinking are as likely to win a prize as those that seek to augment this line of work or show that its application leads to new insights, public policies, or normative positions.

The essays must be original. NO parts of them can have been previously published or be under consideration for publication elsewhere. The Communitarian Network reserves the right to publish the winning essays.

The Communitarian Network also reserves the right not to award any prizes if the essays received are deemed not to meet the standards set by the Communitarian Network. However, in such a case the prizes will be added to the prizes available in future rounds of the same contest.

Submit essays to The Communitarian Network, 2130 H Street, NW Suite 703 , Washington , DC 20052 . Please address them "Attention: Contest."

danger! high voltage!

ok, i'll admit it. i've been really depressed that i didn't even merit a footnote in david horowitz's the professors: the 101 most dangerous academics in america. here's the publisher's blurb:

Bestselling author David Horowitz reveals a shocking and perverse culture of academics who are poisoning the minds of today's college students. The Professors is a wake-up call to all those who assume that a college education is sans hatred of America and the American military and support for America's terrorist enemies.

so, you can see why i'd like to get a mention. in truth, i agree with horowitz on a couple points: (1) there are few conservative voices in the academy; and, (2) professors can and do abuse their tenured positions.

that said, i've seen little evidence of a "shocking and perverse culture of academics" (but i'll keep looking). i'd also challenge the assertion that academics hate America. we're actually sort of keen on the whole free speech and civil liberties thing. finally, the culture of the academy is anti-mindpoisoning. we walk into a classroom with some modicum of professional responsibility, don't we? some of us even view the relationship between student and teacher as a sacred thang.

well, inside higher ed links to a nice fact-checking report on horowitz's book, defending the honor of those marked as dangerous. i know at least one dangerous prof who made the cut: sam richards, a political sociologist and fine drummer to boot (after playing with him on angie, i wanted to move into his basement). the rebuttal to sam's entry is telling:

Mr. Horowitz claims, Dr. Richards’ “class lessons are reinforced with ‘out-of-class’ assignments that include the viewing of left-wing propaganda films” (305-06).

As Professor Richards points out, Mr. Horowitz “disingenuously fails to note that students also receive credit for attending ‘conservative’ events—including a talk by none other than David Horowitz! In fact, when Mr. Horowitz visited Penn State, I strongly encouraged my liberal students to attend...

...Mr. Horowitz leaves out the parts of Professor Richards’ notes demonstrating that Richards’ true objective is to encourage “thinking that attempts to account for all sides of an argument and tries to go beyond simple answers to complex questions.”

sounds like professional responsibility to me.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

garth eppley

young garth eppley died in a plane crash april 23rd, along with four other indiana university graduate music students. i'm in a count-my-blessings mood these days, so his death reminds me to cherish the kids around me and to enjoy life while it lasts.

mr. eppley was a 25-year-old biker/opera singer and one of those relatives that i wished i'd known. at a family gathering this weekend, i heard tales of his voice, his humor, his bikes, and his adventures. mr. eppley's obits noted his professional accomplishments, sometimes briefly hinting at other interests.

on saturday, the best story i heard involved camping one night with some new biker buds. when they asked what he did for a living, he said he was an opera singer. when they asked him to sing, he sang big. when he was done, his immediate audience was stunned and big applause came echoing back from across the dark lake.

a blog dedicated to his memory paints a more complete picture. a few excerpts:

Garth taught me that sometimes you just have to sit back and not worry about being in control of everything.

While I discovered the joys of musical analysis, I began to mark my music to an extreme level. Garth told me to "Just ________ sing it." He understood that there was a point where music was simply (and complexly) music. This lesson has remained a part of my musical identity. As a musicology student, I sometimes will lose focus on the music and get too involved in the minutia. The line "JFSI" has remained in my head...

Your voice astounded me. The warmth, the depth, the ease in which you sang. I was often baffled at how you pulled it off at times. But pulling it off isn't completely how to describe it. It was almost as if you had outsung expectations.

I just remember studying for M402 with Jeff at their place, when suddenly I hear country music being BLASTED from upstairs, and Garth singing loud and out of tune - not a care in the world - along with it. Then he'd come downstairs, gun-toting, accurately identify the piece and excerpt we were listening to, grab a beer, and head upstairs for more redneck karaoke.

Garth never did anything in moderation... You always wanted to walk with the Gods and we know you are now.

Garth was a wonderful friend; always giving me rides home in that big, scary truck of his, introducing me to unending varieties of American junk food, teaching me to speak "mid-western," providing a shoulder to cry on and a couch to waste time on.Garth was always surprising me. He'd be going on and on about motorbikes or guns, and then say, "Hey- are you wearing Coco Chanel Mademoiselle?" Er, yes.

Your beautiful voice went through my heart and refreshed my soul. You made me laugh, you gave me joy, you are my heart, baby. When I step into heaven and take your hand, you have to sing "Comes a Time", with me like we have done since you were a little boy. I will miss our conversations so much. You knew me and loved me anyway. Love, Mom

What a Gentleman. If anything, that is what was most respectable about Garth, he was a true friend and a true gentleman.

After I had lost mine, he had his hair cut to give to me to make a wig. I remember being so proud that I got to sing with Garth Eppley, and could ALMOST match him in volume.

You had the world in the palm of your hand and were so ridiculously talented. "You don't know what it's like to try to find comfort anywhere... his jacket on a hook..." Yeah the opera lyrics go through my head constantly and for the rest of my life, when I hear it, I will think of you.

he took up the whole room...We recently did a performance for a local high school and Garth arrived with a huge tear in the butt of his jeans...it still cracks me up ...

you were fun, you were crazy, you were uninhibited, you loved the Lord with all your soul and you had that beautiful, beautiful, beautiful voice. In a word – you had a lot of your mom in you. You were tall, you were handsome, you were kind, and you had those gorgeous blue eyes and that beautiful, beautiful, beautiful smile. In other words you had a lot of your dad in you.

I always knew I could count on you. Thanks for taking my kids to soccer or wherever...I would call you and tell you I was in a pinch and you would drop whatever you were doing and say "Don't worry, I'm on it!" ...oh and by the way...our bet..you won.

Adrian said I probably wouldn’t be playing bass guitar now if we hadn’t dated… He’s probably right-

And what a voice-- what a performer! His intense and anguished portrayal of Pilatus in Arvo Part's Passion always gave me chills (the good kind)...Our choral conductor instructed Garth to step out of the ensemble when he had the solo and to turn and glare at the soprano section "like an angry god." He would always stare directly at me with this murderous expression...

I'll always remember my family and I sitting on our porch listening to him play his guitar. He would sit on his porch or be upstairs in his house with the window open and play.

I wonder if it's more unbelievable that you're gone or that someone like you had ever lived?

You played my brother in "The Secret Garden." I was so intimidated at first by your gorgeous voice, tall muscular frame and big personality...I look forward to seeing you in heaven, and counting how many angels you taught to ride motorcycles on the streets of gold.

I remember the time when you sent me a note in class that was marked urgent!!! In the note you asked me to be your girl friend.lol.

when we realized that our names could be in the score forever. You sat there punched a rock fist into the air and said, "I'm gonna be a fucking foot not ein music history!"

I will never forget you -- the man who renewed my faith in tenors. Only you could name a motorcycle by just listening to it drive by.

Two weeks later, and it's still true...you're really gone. I keep waiting for a sarcastic text message or random phonecall, but it hasn't happened, and it won't. You taught me many things. How to corner on a motorcycle. Not to soak a chicken in pure alcohol overnight (no matter how good you might think it's going to taste). That changing a car battery is as easy as changing a light bulb. That cigars taste better in celebration. That Dave Matthew's sounds better the second night. Going to see Lord of the Rings at 12:30am is the only way to see it. That there's nothing wrong with forgetting your words during your senior recital if you have a kickass voice to back it up.


r.i.p.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

muntaquim and hayden cases dismissed

two more cases challenging felon disenfranchisement, muntaqim v. coombe and hayden v. pataki, were dismissed last week by the second circuit u.s. court of appeals. that's jazz hayden at left, who filed the latter suit while incarcerated in new york.

the plaintiffs had argued that felon voting restrictions diluted the voting strength of african american and latino communities, in violation of section two of the voting rights act. i'll need to consult the great legal mind to parse the decisions, but i believe that this is the punch line:

“congress did not intend the voting rights act to cover such provisions” and that applying it in such cases “would alter the constitutional balance between the states and the federal government.”

most judicial challenges to felon disenfranchisement have failed. on the other hand, incremental state-by-state legislative and executive changes have been occurring regularly since the civil rights era. in this connection, catherine weiss of the brennan center has prepared a useful general template titled components of a right to vote bill. her brief summary:

Restoration of Rights: This provision should clearly identify at what point voting rights are restored to people with criminal convictions – upon discharge from prison? upon completion of parole? upon completion of parole or probation? upon completion of sentence plus a waiting period?
Notice: This provision should ensure that criminal defendants are informed: (1) before conviction and sentencing, that they will lose their voting rights; and (2) at the point of restoration, that they are again eligible to register and vote.
Voter Registration: Under this provision, the government agency that has contact with people at the point of restoration (the Department of Corrections, or the Department of Parole or Probation, for example) should take responsibility for assisting them with voluntary voter registration.
Maintaining the Statewide Voter Registration Database: This provision should ensure that names are removed from and then restored to the state’s computerized list of registered voters by electronic information-sharing between corrections agencies and elections agencies.
Education: This section should make the state’s chief election official, usually the secretary of state, responsible for educating other government agencies and the public about the legislation.


because public opinion favors voting rights for ex-felons (80%), probationers (68%), and parolees (60%), legislators may be increasingly receptive to reenfranchising these groups. in contrast, only about 33% support voting rights for currently incarcerated prison inmates.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

seven stages

the minnversity gave me a nice honor tonight. the mind reeled as candace kruttschnitt introduced me to the assembled luminaries:

1. low-grade insecurity. is that my plate or hers? why didn't i shave this morning? should i talk shop with the dean and provost or just smile and nod? do not spill the wine.

2. wonder. dang, candace is good. she's making me sound good. there's no way i would've gotten this if she hadn't written. i hope i'll be a good advocate for my faculty as chair.

3. full-on ragin' insecurity (with radiohead soundtrack): what the hell am i doing here. i don't belong here...

4. acceptance. well, they haven't outed me as an imposter yet. my stuff is ok. i guess it's better to be overrated than underrated.

5. hubris. hey, maybe i deserve more stuff! "oh yes, that part was all me. and another thing about me ... did i mention what i did when i ... me...me...me..."

6. return to baseline. kids -- hope didn't seem very excited about choir and tor hasn't swung a bat in months. i'll call right away from the office. i am so late on that review and i promised i'd do that thing by tuesday. i've had a little wine, but those reviews could use a little wine. i am so freakin' far behind... did i get anything done today?

7. gratitude. is that all i have to worry about? how'd that happen? lots of help. lots of help. parents. my own li'l family. good pubschool edumacation. judicious discretion of a few local peace officers. great wizversity training and attention. amazing minnversity colleagues and support. jeff. fantastic students. grateful. don't forget to say thank you. happy to be here.

Monday, May 08, 2006

huckleberry jam

my good friend and colleague carl malmquist just released a new edition of his authoritative monograph, homicide: a psychiatric perspective.

i was struck by the acknowledgments as well as the text. first, carl recognizes up-front those he met as homicide defendants and patients in his work as a forensic psychiatrist. when they don't omit them altogether, sociologists often fail to acknowledge research participants until after they have thanked everyone from their second cousins to their realtors.

second, carl's acknowledgments begin with this little gem from mark twain's huckleberry finn:

... there ain't nothing more to write about, and i am rotten glad of it, because if I'd a knowed what a trouble it was to make a book I wouldn't a tackled it, and ain't a-going to no more.

i've read these words before, of course, but somehow they seem more salient these days. if you are currently struggling to put a book or a dissertation out of its misery, i'll bet they seem a little salient to you too.

radio ga ga

we're doing a little radio tour for locked out this summer, so i got up early today to appear on daybreak usa and cable radio network. the interviews were fun and the hosts were gracious, so we're off to a decent start. here's the first leg:

May 6, 9 pm: WBZ Boston (Jeff)
May 7, 10 am: KPFA Berkeley (Jeff)
May 8, 8:35 am: USA network/Daybreak, Scott West (Chris)
May 8, 9:50 am: Cable Radio Network, national (Jack Roberts) (Chris)
May 16, 2:30 pm: American Urban Radio (Jeff)
May 22, 7:36 am: Jacksonville, Ed Furbee show (Chris)
May 25, 10:00 am: Tron in the Morning, Colorado Springs (Chris)


we often get calls and emails after such appearances. sometimes they are friendly, sometimes angry, and sometimes we just don't know what to make of them. i didn't hear jeff's bay area interview this weekend, but it sparked the following email:

In the books you have written, you probably have not addressed the initial "con": the courts' use of devious language and legal fictions, which are first responsible for the accused natural person (the "Defendant"), to unwittingly grant jurisdiction to the de facto "courts". (I.e.; statutory, non-Article III. courts.) While this material is distinctly not taught in "law" school, it is the observation of those of us who study the perverse manifestations of what purports to be "Justice" in the U.S.A., that several devices are used by the "courts" to entrap the "guilty" (often of victimless "crimes"), as well as the innocent. These (most briefly), are the use of the Fictitious Plaintiff, Fictitious Defendant, STRAMINEUS HOMO (Strawman), IDEM SONANS, and the deceptive question: "Do you understand the charges?" If some or all of these are unknown to you, you have failed in the very first part of your reportage, or mission. And, most greviously, you have failed to warn future victims of the "Just Us" system of any hint whatsoever, of how to avoid prosecution, in the first place!

i never know how to respond to such comments, except to thank the writers for their interest in my work. "dialogue with interested publics" sounds good in the abstract, but in such cases i often find that i have little to say beyond what i just said -- in the media or in my research. still, i think such radio tours create a nice opening to do a little public criminology outreach work.

NOTE: speaking of radio, the pic and post title are taken from the electric 6 cover of radio gaga. the band has a knack for combining the tasteless with the funny. depending on your perspective, the results are either "tasty" or "funless." the video doesn't quite match the six's classic (pg-13 rated) danger! high voltage!, but a line like "fire in the taco bell" doesn't come along every day.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

keith ellison and crime control

every political candidate must say something about crime, but the level of discourse -- from both the democrat and republican side of the aisle -- seems to have slipped a bit in recent years.

candidate a: i'll make sure that all sex offenders serve at least fifty years, plus a lifetime term of double-secret probation.

candidate b: my opponents advocate coddling the worst of the worst! i propose sentences of at least fifty hundred years.

candidate c: under such a proposal, a cryogenically frozen offender could get off scot-free in five short milennia! fifty hundred years is fine and good, but we need to ensure that the pee-wee hermans of the world never see the light of day. i've introduced a bill that would mandate life without parole, plus fifty gazillion years.

in contrast, state representative keith ellison is one politician who talks more sensibly and pragmatically about crime and punishment. representing minneapolis' north side, mr. ellison has been outspoken on contentious crime issues. he is responsive to his district's demand for better public safety and cognizant of the consequences of punishment for individuals and communities. in particular, he has championed the issue of reenfranchisement and reintegration, as well as sentencing alternatives for drug offenders. i was especially moved by his remarks on the right to vote at a recent conference.

i am not blogging to endorse a particular candidate or party, but i am genuinely excited when i meet a politician who seems responsive to social science knowledge in my area of expertise. when i heard that representative ellison was one of many dems seeking to succeed martin sabo in the u.s. house, i asked my political science buddies whether he had a chance. they uniformly praised his oratory and intelligence but doubted his ability to leapfrog others in the distinguished field. well, mr. ellison just won the democratic party's endorsement for the 5th congressional district this weekend. if he takes the september 12 primary, he would surely be a heavy favorite in the overwhelmingly-democratic district this november.

i don't reside in his district and i've only really discussed crime with mr. ellison, but i came away impressed with his vision and his guts. many politicians are so terrified of being portrayed as soft on crime that they seem to suspend their own basic principles, good judgment, and reasoned analysis. if elected, part of me thinks that representative ellison could help articulate a clear alternative vision of crime, punishment, and public safety. of course, another part of me worries that he'll either have to dilute the vision or risk getting tarred with the "soft on crime" brush.

big ditch birthday

we saw big ditch road tonight, at a basement party for david rachac.

an alt-country band who titled their last album suicide note reader's companion would seem a strange choice for a birthday party. not so. haunting tales of death and depression can be life-affirming, especially when set against a backdrop of distortion, drum fills, and sweet pedal steel.

dan israel did a fine early solo set, but i only caught dead flowers and a couple others. my kids were clearly into big ditch road, and tor seemed mesmerized by open-up-a-vein songs such as 7 hours. opening verse:

took a vacation to the state hospital
my sister came to pick me up
take the meds from a paper cup...

i bought a couple disks (support your local and all) and the lad spirited away the new cd as soon as we got home. i'm unlikely to see it again, but that's ok. if he gets just a hint about forging beauty from pain, the ten bucks is well-spent.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

don't foley that c.v., my friend

my minnesota vikings dismissed personnel director fran foley on wednesday, bringing the short-lived triangle of authority era to an unceremonious close.

some fine investigative journalism found foley fibbed frequently on his resume.

excerpts:

1980-1983 FRAMINGHAM. player; actual: played only 1980-1981.
1984 COLGATE. defensive line coach. actual: graduate assistant.
1985 CITADEL. defensive ends coach. actual: graduate assistant.
1986 RUTGERS. tight ends coach; 1986. actual: graduate assistant.
1987-1990 RUTGERS. resume: director of football operations. actual: administrative assistant.

whoa, that last one is a doozy. the man quoted as saying, "character will be as important as anything we look at as we evaluate players" couldn't sidestep such repeated ... "inaccuracies."

are academic resumes similarly fudged? in my experience, professors are more likely to exaggerate the state of their projects than to fabricate impressive-sounding titles. for example, they might write that a book is in press when it is has yet to be accepted, or list a paper as a publication when it has only been conditionally accepted. still, academics can learn a lot from fran foley, especially those on the job market or those new to their jobs. in such cases, even a hint of dishonest or unethical behavior can sink a candidate.

i sometimes worry about getting lazy in updating my own c.v., but i don’t recall ever telling a stretcher like director of football operations. i may have listed locked out as forthcoming prematurely, but we had a draft, a contract, and a commitment to publish. sometimes i've also left old information on the cv that i didn't have the heart to update right away. if I get a rejection on a paper listed as “under review” or a grant listed as "pending," i don’t immediately jump to change the cv. also, i'm accurately listed as a co-investigator on a grant for which the principal investigator does the vast, vast, majority of the work. it isn't a fib, but i need to be careful not to misrepresent my role in the study.

mr. foley might have been fired for frequent fibs or for dorkish draft-day decisionmaking* or for bullying and berating. my guess, however, is that he became immediately "fireable" as soon as the fibs were discovered. that is, his fibs gave the vikings an opening to terminate his million dollar contract "for cause." so, they may not have really fired him because of the fibs, but they could fire him whenever they wanted once it became clear that he had misrepresented his record. professors who foley their c.v.s could easily find themselves in the same situation someday. those who live by the fib die by the fib.

*ok, yes, i was personally dismayed and chagrined to see my three-time pro bowl quarterback traded for a second-round lineman who had been projected to go in the fourth or fifth round. yeesh!

Friday, May 05, 2006

carrie's question

flying back from dee cee tonight, i had a great conversation with my new friend carrie. she graduated recently with a degree in environmental studies and a sociology minor. i was blabbering on about my book and my discipline, when she raised an important question:

"sociology professors seem to lead such interesting lives and they have wonderfully quirky personalities. but they write the most booooring stuff. how can such interesting people write such boring stuff?"

here are my top 5 responses:

1. ahh, you have read my work.
2. you're obviously mistaken. we lead booooring lives and the only quirks in our personalities are boring old narcissism and neuroses.
3. ummm, it just seems boring. we are really writing as clearly as possible, but our thinking is so advanced that words cannot possibly express our brilliant ideas. [this, of course, would be tough to say with a straight face].
4. hmmm. maybe good writing is beaten out of us in grad school until our prose becomes impenetrable.
5. hmmm. maybe the questions are boring and the bad writing is just a smokescreen.

i still dunno how to answer her, but i guarantee that the question will haunt me. what would you have said?

*unrelated note: wow, public sentiment is currently running pretty strongly against the president and his party. senator norm coleman was up in first class on my plane, but nobody paid any attention to him. i've flown northwest to/from dee cee with walter mondale, martin sabo, paul molitor, and other politicians and luminaries. they've always drawn a small crowd of smiling but taciturn minnesotans. norm was sporting his 100-watt smile tonight, but nobody wanted to shake hands or bask in his celebrity. it got so awkward that carrie thought somebody should give him a hug. i wasn't gonna volunteer.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

when do i stop being a felon?

i'm in washington today, enjoying an ncovr workshop on desistance from crime. after writing a dissertation on the topic in the nineties, it is nice to catch up.

i'm learning much, but one presentation was particularly intriguing for someone studying collateral sanctions such as voting and occupational restrictions. shawn bushway, megan kurlychek, and bobby brame ask the following question: when does a criminal's risk of a new offense decline to the point that it is indistinguishable from those with no record of past offending.

cool question, right? the authors apply event history analysis and life table demography to birth cohort data from philadelphia and racine, plotting the hazard rate of new offenses for young arrestees versus non-arrestees. at the risk of oversimplifying, the basic story is that the rate of a new arrest is approximately equivalent for the offender and non-offender groups after about 7 years. if such findings can be replicated across space and time, it could provide evidence against imposing lifetime bans on former criminal offenders. i believe that papers are forthcoming in criminology & public policy, crime & delinquency, and ampersand & ampersand.

i've got to prep my own talk, so i can only offer a few other notes on the workshop. first, i learned about reference groups and relative deprivation today. on my way to the exercise room, floridian alex piquero took note of my blindingly white legs. in minnesota, of course, i'm considered quite bronzed.

second, the best probably-shouldn' t-blog-about-this stories came from shadd maruna tonight. here's one i can share: aside from my committee and maybe a few select family members, shadd was virtually the only person interested in my early desistance writings. i'll never forget him writing to me (on actual letters, involving stationery and stamps) back when he was doing diss work as a grad student and i was struggling mightily as an assistant professor.

when shadd's letters arrived -- likely with a fresh batch of journal rejections -- his interest was greatly appreciated but a little problematic. at a time when i felt hopelessly and irredeemably lost, along comes a smart dissertator to ask for directions. i wanted to scrawl "go back! go back to etiology!" after reading making good, of course, i'm glad i didn't. somehow we've both managed to publish our work and, after at least seven years, we've yet to desist from desistance.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

map of the new asylums

frontline's the new asylums addresses the deinstitutionalization of state psychiatric hospitals and the reinstitutionalization of the mentally ill in prisons. wgbh compiled a handy interactive map of mental health care in state prison systems, complete with estimated prevalence rates and staffing levels and contact information for administrators in each state.

i can't vouch for all the sources, but the bureau of justice statistics and american correctional association estimates are likely the best available. i haven't screened the video yet, but you can see clips online or order it for $30. i'd consider using it in my deviance class to show the interpenetration of social control systems, but it might also be useful in a social problems or punishment course.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

already one

yikes! i've been blogging for about a year now. i say "about" because sometime last may i guess i started posting regularly. before that i was mostly just stashing longer emails to friends.

when people ask how much time i spend blogging, i lack a good answer. i really lack a good answer for coauthors who ask such questions as they wait for me to turn around a manuscript. i'm therefore a little concerned about my ability to blog regularly after the ceremonial passing of the boomerang and my impending administrative responsibilities.

as is sometimes painfully apparent, most posts take very little time to write. even on the short blurb-like entries i can get a little distracted doing cursory fact-checking or searching for images. nevertheless, such distractions can be serendipitous, informative, and fun.

tonight's distraction concerns pictures of one-year-old kids eating birthday cake. after seeing such faces, i had to spend a little more time listening to an old song called already one.

while such time may be misspent, it doesn't seem wasted. if you ever find yourself in the pit of despair, just do an image search of "one year old" and cake. if you're like me, you might come away thinking there's still a lot of love left in this world.

Monday, May 01, 2006

legalize it?

mexico's senate passed a bill on friday that would decriminalize possession of up to 5 grams of marijuana, 0.5 grams of cocaine, 25 mgs of heroin, and two pounds of peyote. according to the washington post, cnn, and other sources, vicente fox is signaling that he will sign off on changes such as these to mexico's federal penal code:

Article 478: No criminal prosecution will be brought against...
II. Any drug addict or consumer who is found in possession of a narcotic for personal use. Article 474 defines a "consumer" as any person who consumes or uses psychotropic or narcotic substances, and who does not exhibit any symptoms of addiction.


legalization advocates such as ethan nadelman of the drug policy alliance are praising the measure, ostensibly for its potential to reduce low-level police corruption. i strongly favor ratcheting down lengthy drug sentences and collateral sanctions targeting drug offenders, such as housing and financial aid restrictions. nevertheless, the prospect of legal heroin gives me the willies.

although legalization seems to function ok in the netherlands, someone will have to convince me how this is a good deal for mexicans or americans. at best, the move will diminish the social harm associated with harsh and erratic enforcement (though i can imagine, say, san diego kids getting twenty years hard time for stuff they did legally in tijuana). at worst, the prevalence of use will increase and both locals and tourists could pick up some potentially life-changing habits.

given the two-pound peyote limit, one thing is certain: we'll see more carlos castaneda-like writing from students doing spring break in cancun and mazatlan.