Chris Uggen's Blog: July 2006

Monday, July 31, 2006

who needs ac?

when i moaned that my new office wasn't air conditioned on sundays, my medsoc friend elaine sent me this twenty-author piece from international journal of obesity, as summarized in slate.

the authors, s. w. keith, d. t. redden, p. t. katzmarzyk, m. m. boggiano, e. c. hanlon, r. m. benca, d. ruden, a. pietrobelli, j. l. barger, k. r. fontaine, c. wang, l. j. aronne, s. m. wright, m. baskin, n. v. dhurandhar, m. c. lijoi, c. m. grilo, m. deluca, a. o. westfall and d. b. allison (do you think professors lijoi and grilo fought over the coveted 16th author position?) suggest some non-obvious contributors to the secular increase in obesity, including diminished sleep, chemicals that mess up our hormones, declining tobacco use, and antidepressants.

perhaps most intriguingly, they point to heating and air conditioning as a potential culprit. if ambient temperatures are a stable 70ish degrees year round, we needn't expend energy to maintain our body temperature. plus, when the temp hits triple digits in minnesota, we really shouldn't be all that hungry, right? i'm hedging my bets, so i made sure to fix the office AC.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

failing prelims, failing comps, failing quals

graduate students in sociology and criminology must typically pass some sort of qualifying examination before writing their dissertation. some students pass over them like speed bumps, others crash but pass them eventually, and a fair number crack up, write themselves off as totaled, and leave academia for good.

as the scan at left makes clear, i was in the second category. it was a fair exam and i'm in no way bitter about the experience. i'm writing about it now in case someone else finds themselves in my air pegasus' this summer. let me state it as simply and clearly as i can: just because you fail an exam doesn't mean that you won't become a good professor.

for those who've never failed an exam, this probably seems too obvious to mention. still, it is easy to doubt yourself, especially if you are not really sure you belong in grad school in the first place. moreover, there is a huge asymmetry in the positive and negative information that people self-disclose. for example, i proudly list the exam that i "passed with distinction" in the honors and awards section of my cv, though i haven't reported "failed 1991 preliminary examination in social stratification." maybe i should.

at wisconsin, the prelim procedure involves two six-hour departmental written examinations, along with an oral. at chicago, there is also a very general comprehensive exam that everyone must take at the start of their second year. at minnesota, we ask students to produce and defend a paper that critically evaluates the state of knowledge in their areas of specialization -- something like an annual review of sociology article. most other departments seem to adopt some variant of these approaches.

a written exam system such as wisconsin's might be toughest on those working in new areas or the interstices of the discipline, since they will be tested on stuff that is worlds away from their own work. i really like the idea of the chicago system -- identifying the core of sociology that the department believes every student should know -- but can imagine this is a contentious process for the faculty and daunting for the students. our system seems to work very well for students who are already reading voraciously in their areas, writing articles, and attending professional meetings, but less well for others.

i can't say that i thought seriously about quitting academic life after failing the prelim, though the tortured scrawl on this page suggests that it stang me pretty good. i hadn't been a sociology major as an undergrad and since i had applied to the wizversity's creative writing and social work programs as well as sociology, i did consider dusting off that novel and renewing acquaintances in the madison social service community. but i had too much financial and social support to leave sociology, as well as the knowledge that several sociologists i respected had also failed the exam. the latter knowledge helped a lot.

so, i sucked it up and studied hard for the next stratification prelim. you know how a computer's welcome screen sometimes gets burned into a cheap crt monitor? to this day, there's a path diagram of the sewell, haller, and ohlendorf (1970) status attainment model similarly etched onto my memory.

i still believe that the system was fair and that the standards were appropriately applied in my case. that said, allen ginsberg surely had some exposure to grad comps, quals, and prelims:

"i have seen the best minds of my generation ...
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating ...
who were expelled from the academies for crazy ...
whole intellects disgorged in total recall for seven days and nights with brilliant eyes, meat for the Synagogue cast on the pavement ...
to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human prose and stand before you speechless and intelligent and shaking with shame, rejected yet confessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm of thought in his naked and endless head ..."

just because you fail an exam doesn't mean that you won't be a good professor. as the chronicle is constantly reminding us, there are plenty of good reasons to quit academic life. failing a prelim is not among them.

Friday, July 28, 2006

faculty positions at minnesota

new chairs love to have open lines available in their departments. this year, minnesota sociology has an open-area position for a senior scholar and a new open-rank position for a specialist in immigration, broadly defined.

we'll be advertising and schmoozing at the asa meetings, but i thought i'd start spreading the news. to receive full consideration for either position, of course, applicants will be asked to identify the diet, habitat, and reproductive characteristics of the rodent at left.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

saint nick

i was up late last night in youtube musicgeek heaven. the highlight was unearthing this low-quality american bandstand tape of nick lowe's my heart hurts. i was writing for the daily cardinal when this video was recorded, during my madison almost famous period. before a show on this tour, i spent a wonderful evening with mr. lowe, talking music, eating pizza, and playing missile command somewhere on university avenue.

befitting his persona as a writer, mr. lowe was impossibly gracious -- the same rare mix of sweetness, wit, idealism, fun, and rough-around-the-edges dudedom that comes across in songs such as what's so funny 'bout peace love and understanding? toward the end of our conversation, he began to interview me -- about school, girlfriends, music, writing -- and scribbled a few notes that he stuck in the pocket of some road-weary jeans.

much to my surprise, mr. lowe did me a completely irrational and unexpected kindness when he took the stage in minneapolis the following night, dedicating my heart hurts to my girlfriend back home. there was absolutely nothing in it for him -- my article had already been written and few would read it anyway -- just an opportunity to play cupid for a kid far from home.



you can see more of this side of mr. lowe in the cruel to be kind video, which is sort of a popumentary of his wedding to carlene carter. if this brings a smile, check out some early nick in brinsley schwarz's surrender to the rhythm or his quieter recent work. for me, the videos are a nice reminder to do someone a completely irrational and unexpected kindness when the opportunity presents itself. there's a fighting chance they will remember it decades later and look for opportunities to spread the love themselves. just ask yourself: what would nick lowe do?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

bodyworlds

bodyworlds, an anatomical exhibition of real human bodies, is at the science museum of minnesota through labor day. i'm sure the exhibit has inspired many to overwrought prose, and i'm certainly no exception. here are five simplistic personal observations:

1. the film preceding the exhibit showed the bodies in social groups (families, workplaces, schools). aside from a pregnant woman and child, however, the exhibit tended to treat them as atomized individuals. the bodies were engrossing but, in my opinion, the little props and costumes (a cigarette, a hat, a torch) did little to put the magnificent bodies in a social context. instead, they just looked like the sort of clumsy props and costumes that an unimaginative adolescent might append to a snowman. one could imagine making some bold statements by arraying bodies in war or in love or in somehow showing the underneath-it-all sameness of members of various social groups.

2. plastinated muscles look a lot like roast beef. our bones look like those of chickens or other animals. we are more than meat, of course, but we are undeniably meat. again, my impressions were likely colored by the individualized presentation (as well as by all the restaurant work i did in my teens and twenties).

3. the exhibit certainly engaged my intellect, but didn't do much for my soul. i walked out of the museum exhausted and feeling a little empty. i can see why religious leaders have frowned on such naked portrayals of the body as meat or machine. did i miss a more ennobling feature or message? the mother and child was amazing but the "behind the curtain" exhibit of fetal deformities seemed gratuitous and unnecessary -- a cheap carnival freak show with new age music and lighting.

4. that said, the basketball player (shown in the poster above) is an inspiring display of power and strength. his body likely ranks as one of the most beautiful things i have seen in a museum. in his honor, i did six extra sets at the gym today. my shoulder hurts right now and, thanks to careful study of the exhibit, i now know exactly where and why it hurts.

5. ok, this is a trite junior-high-level observation, but might be worth reiterating: without skin and the little fatty layer beneath the skin, faces are virtually indistinguishable. i know that faces are superficial, of course, but came away amazed at how absurdly trivial they are when you come right down to it. humans make a big deal out of a bit of skin and fat at the top of our bodies. do we really fall in love with another's face? or do we connect with something behind the face -- the sweetness, wit, compassion, peace, empathy, longing, warmth, appreciation, intelligence -- that has more to do with soul than body?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

tapes n' tapes, tonight n' tonight

local heroes tapes n' tapes are scheduled to appear on the david letterman show this evening. you can expect to hear insistor, the rather insistent single.

musicians in vibrant but unprofitable scenes such as minneapolis must play with multiple bands by choice and necessity. one band's ascent to full-time status can thus cost another band dearly. in this case, the rise of tapes n' tapes means that bassist/singer/guitarist/producer erik appelwick is leaving the hopefuls. here's hoping that the creative mr. appelwick has the sort of jack white-like career that permits him to oscillate wildly between the jagged tapes n' tapes, the powerpoppy hopefuls, and, i dunno, maybe loretta lynn's next project.

tonight's letterman guests : greg kinnear, reptile expert dr. darrel frost, tapes 'n tapes

Monday, July 24, 2006

benevolent leadership or spreading the love?

although i did some time as an m.i.s. manager after college, i had little administrative experience prior to becoming a department chair. now i'm thinking a bit harder about how departments and organizations prosper. social scientists tend to dismiss biz-pop writing on such subjects, but i seem to get a little something out of even the trashiest airport business books. in truth, i get a lot out of writers such as jim collins, even if they simply help me name a process or style that i've thought about before.

in my opinion, even the lesser biz books often hold clever testable ideas -- along with a few tortured cliches and metaphors, of course. still, the evidentiary base is often unconvincing to social scientists. in fact, "going beyond the data" is almost a defining characteristic of the genre (the penultimate chapter of such books is sometimes even titled going beyond the data). still, i'd guess that the people who write management books probably know about as much about their subject as the people who write sociology and criminology books know about their subjects. and c'mon, who are we to complain about jargon or cliches in other fields?

all this throat-clearing is simply to note that i came across the concept of benevolent leadership in james citrin and richard smith's 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers (if you want the short version of the book, you might just have some fun with the extraordinary executive quiz). the basic idea is that good leaders focus intently on making the people around them successful. my grad students would recognize the concept as spreading the love. it is a simple point, of course, but one especially well-suited to academic departments.

jim collins uses similar language in describing level-5 leaders. they don't trip over their own egos, but channel their ambitions into the institution and its people. this is tougher than it sounds, because it sometimes means ceding authority, taking the hit when things go wrong, and failing to get credit when things go right. the latter point is problematic for most academics, who would like to be cited, frequently and publicly, for any idea they might have thought about maybe having someday.

as for spreading the love, students and colleagues should trust that you are looking out for them and genuinely celebrating their successes (or, forgive me, feeling the love). under such conditions, they will be more likely to take the sort of risks that will bring them and their departments greater success. here's a citrin and smith blurb that resonates with my sense of the better sociology departments:

It’s easy to know when a benevolent leader is in charge. Information and authority flow freely. Honesty abounds. People feel free to question authority without retribution. Creativity reigns. Each member of the team feels just as accountable to one another as to the leader... they all create an environment of open communication, honesty and confidence, delegating both minor and critical tasks. Moreover, they demonstrate how the success of the team directly benefits each team member.

of course, no faculty member is ever really "in charge" of an academic department and all share a collective responsibility for maintaining department culture. moreover, chairs had darn well better be benevolent leaders, since most will serve a short term and then rotate back into the regular faculty. still, i'd like to learn more about the concept and try to find out what sociologists of work and organizations think of it. people sometimes look at me funny when i talk about spreading the love, much less feeling it. "benevolence" seems to get similar ideas across with fewer connotations.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

who's booed? defining failure

walking through campus yesterday, i noticed a sign at the legendary 400 bar promoting rondell white nights. during said events, one may purchase budweiser longnecks at a price keyed to mr. white's batting average. until recently, this meant one could pick up a bottle of bud for less than two dollars, as mr. white was hitting only .182 on june 30. early in the season, a bottle could be had for 91 cents.

rondell white was the minnesota twins' top free-agent signing this year. the reasonably accomplished veteran is being paid $3.25 million to serve as the team's designated hitter. the beer promotion remains a good deal, i suppose, but it will now cost you $2.33 because mr. white has become a hitting machine this july. he struggled mightily, but twins fans have cheered him all year and offered a standing ovation after his two home runs this wednesday. he ranked it as his biggest baseball thrill after 14 years in the majors:

"It ranks No. 1," White said of how much this game meant to him. "With all the things I've been going through this year and how I've been struggling, it felt really good to come out and help the team and swing the bat well." "It felt great, man," White said. "I've been struggling all season and those fans have been behind me."

yet the affectionate teasing continues. a talk-radio caller came up with this gem: rondell white hit for the cycle: he flew out, grounded out, popped out, and struck out. such love for underperforming veterans isn't that unusual in minnesota. a generation ago, twins catcher tim laudner was affectionately known as "buck-ninety" because he only hit .191 during the strange and wonderful 1987 world series run. we loved timmy loads and identified with his work ethic and frustration.

i couldn't help compare the local affection for mr. white with alex rodriguez's experience in the bronx this year. yankees fans have booed a-rod mercilessly all season. so why is a-rod booed and rondell cheered?

1. performance? nope. here are a few performance indicators for the record:

alex rodriguez: 349 at bats, 21 homers, 71 rbi, .284 batting average, .386 obp, 9 stolen bases

rondell white: 204 at bats, 3 homers, 25 rbi, .221 batting average, .250 obp, 1 stolen base

2. salary? maybe. mr. rodriguez earns $25 million per year to mr. white's $3.25 million. on the other hand, one could argue that mr. white's salary represents a sizable chunk of the twins' meager payroll and the bulk of their discretionary free-agent spending. while the yankees can afford to carry an overpriced underperformer, the twins have little margin for error.

3. player expectations? maybe. at 30, mr. rodriguez is already a sure hall-of-famer and one of the greatest players in the history of the game. mr. white has had a solid but unspectacular career, never driving in more than 82 runs in a season. nevertheless, the gap between 2006 performance and career average is far greater for mr. white than for mr. rodriguez. for example, he is 65 points below his career batting average, relative to a 22 point shortfall for mr. rodriguez.

4. team expectations? maybe. yankees fans and management expect to field a winner, but the twins were also predicted to finish at or near the top of the division.

5. local culture? maybe. twins fans may be less passionate than yankees fans and minnesotans are likely to criticize one another in a passive-aggressive way (hence, rondell white night rather than a cascade of boos). on the other hand, minnesota football fans seem to boo anyone and everyone, so i wouldn't completely attribute mr. white's warm reception to our lake wobegon civic culture.

6. media? mr. white is generally portrayed as a nice guy ("one of us") in the local press. i haven't tracked mr. rodriguez's coverage in nyc, but it is likely less friendly.

so, anything else? if you were estimating a logistic regression model predicting which players were booed, which variables would be most predictive?

Friday, July 21, 2006

sleep now

a new pew internet & american life report offers fresh survey data on america's 12 million bloggers. the good folks at pew didn't ask about sleep patterns, but i'd wager that insomnia and bloggers go together like megalomania and supervillains. it isn't a prerequisite, exactly, but you've gotta expect a close correlation.

on that note, the blog muse offers this, by joyce:

Sleep Now, O Sleep Now

Sleep now, O sleep now,
O you unquiet heart!
A voice crying "Sleep now"
Is heard in my heart.

The voice of the winter
Is heard at the door.
O sleep, for the winter
Is crying "Sleep no more."

My kiss will give peace now
And quiet to your heart -- -
Sleep on in peace now,
O you unquiet heart!

James Joyce

note: the jacques moitoret portrait is available here.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

more sweet than bitter

not to get all field of dreamsy on you, but ...

a dad once told his son that he hadn't realized that the last time they played catch would be the last time they played catch, just as he hadn't realized that the last time he sat on dad's lap would be the last time he sat on dad's lap. raising kids is funny that way. savor the ordinary everyday moments as they occur, because when they're gone, they're gone. and then they won't seem ordinary at all.

i attended my lad's very last baseball game this week, painfully aware that it was indeed the very last one. for close to a decade, i've savored baseball on summer nights. it has gotten me out of the office a couple nights per week, to sit in the summer sun with friends and neighbors. i love watching his other events and daughter's basketball games, plays, and performances (i'm currently in negotiations to upload her singing the coolest original song ever), but baseball has always been a great restorative to me.

tor is a fine first baseman, with soft hands, nimble feet, and a looooooong stretch that lets him snare any ball violating u.s. airspace. on occasion, he also hits very looooooong home runs. his coaches and teammates recall the rare but spectacular longballs rocketing over the fence to ricochet off cars in the parking lot. i'll also remember his amiable base-side manner on first, bringing a smile and a laugh to the opposing hitters as they stopped by to visit. my favorite plays, though, were the beautiful defensive gems that saved a game or at least kept a teammate from picking up an error. if one did sneak past him during warmups, he'd try to enlist a young kid to chase it down (i ain't chasin' it).

his play and nature invariably remind minnesota parents of another big, amiable, smooth-fielding first baseman. but now he's even bigger than big herbie and has quite literally outgrown the game. of 16,567 major league baseball players in the baseball archive, only 226 (1 percent) were taller and only 3 were heavier (walter young, jumbo brown, and calvin pickering, for those scoring at home). so maybe he's right that football, wrestling, and rugby are better choices. i'm holding out hope that he'll return to slow-pitch softball, where size, soft hands, and amiability are great virtues.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

research analyst job

this looks like a nice opportunity. the minnesota judicial center has a job opening that might fit a very talented recent grad with good quantitative skills. the deadline is 7/31/06.

JUD RESEARCH ANALYST 1
$ 18.73-$ 29.02 hourly, $ 39,108-$ 60,593 annually

less rape

as a social scientist, i sometimes get frustrated when i hear academics lament that "nothing ever changes" when they have good data in front of them screaming that lots of things change. i recently heard the argument that racial discrimination at the polls is "as bad or worse" than it had been during passage of the voting rights act of 1965. i'm no expert in this area, but hasn't there been a significant narrowing of the white / african american turnout gap from 1964 to 2004? things might not change as we want them to and they might not change as quickly as we would prefer, but they do change.

so, here is some good news about a crime of great concern. after seeing a washington post article on the long-term decline in rape in the united states, i thought i'd take a closer look at the data. according to the best available victimization data, rates of rape have dropped from 2.5 per thousand in 1973 to .4 per thousand in 2004. although 40 rapes per 100,000 persons age 12 and over is still way too many, an 84 percent drop in a terrible crime is good news indeed.


although reporting rates have increased over the years, most rapes still go unreported. that's why the national crime victimization survey data shown above are a better indicator than the fbi's uniform crime reports, which are based on calls to police. the ucr shows an increase in reports of forcible rape during the 1980s but a steady decline since the early 1990s, from a peak of 43 per 100,000 total population in 1992 to a rate of approximately 32 per 100,000 since 2000.


though the long-term downward trend is more pronounced in the ncvs, by either measure rape has dropped precipitously in the past fifteen years. when i teach differential association and social learning theories of crime, i often ask students whether they encounter "definitions favorable to rape" (many can relate such experiences) or how rapists might employ techniques of neutralization based upon the tacit approval of rape in the larger culture (there are no shortage of examples here, either). as rape has become statistically more rare in the united states, my sense is that it has also become more deviant in a normative sense.

although rape can and should be reduced further, i'd hope that there will be some downward rigidity to this trend. i don't see an end to rape anywhere in sight, but i'd like to think some more-or-less durable changes in u.s. gender relations over the past few generations will keep rates from rising again. but then i realize that characterizing social change as more-or-less durable ain't that far from the stability assumptions of those who say "nothing ever changes." so, i'll just admit that i don't know what the future holds, report the good news, and suggest there's cause for vigilance as well as recognition.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

a starter's pistol for diana moon glampers

hunter kemper won the life time fitness triathlon yesterday in minneapolis. mr. kemper took home $80,000 for winning the men's race, $90,000 for winning the overall race, and a toyota worth approximately $30,000. emma snowsill, the women's winner, took home $80,000.

the difference stems from the race's equalizer format, in which female athletes are given a head start calibrated to produce a "sprint to the finish" among the top male and female athletes. somewhat nostalgically, the race is even billed as a battle of the sexes.

this year's equalizer was 9 minutes and 49 seconds, and mr. kemper's finishing time was 1:49. the equalizer is evidently recalibrated each year, from 11:03 in 2004 (when loretta harrop won by 2:44) to 9:32 last year. thus far, three men and two women have taken home the large overall purse.

as a decidedly non-competitive runner, this format has always creeped me out. more generally, i rebel against the idea of equalizing based on ascribed characteristics (age, race, and national origin spring immediately to mind) and then declaring an overall "winner." i'm not sure whether it is the harrison bergeron-style handicapping, the imprecision in the handicapping process, or the ninety grand that rests on the outcome, but i come away thinking that the format trivializes the efforts of both male and female winners.

other than familiarity, i don't know why i resist the idea of handicapping to produce an overall winner but remain comfortable with different qualifying times for male and female runners and awards specific to age-groups. of course, i've never "sprinted to the finish" with the hopes of taking home anything other than a cheap trophy or age-group medallion. would the real athletes prefer that $140,000 be awarded to the top male and the top female finisher, rather than the current "winner take most" division of $200,000 and $80,000? or, maybe i'm just soft and the equalizer doesn't go far enough. do you think they'd want a chance to take home all the money?

Saturday, July 15, 2006

most important problem ('round here)

the minneapolis strib reported today on their poll of 813 minnesotans. they ask a variant of the common "most important problem" item used by gallup and others. such indicators are notoriously unstable with regard to crime and drug use (see katherine beckett's work for more on this) and quite sensitive to political and media appeals.

here are this year's most frequent responses, in descending order of importance:

Education (22%), Taxes (15%), Other/nothing (11%), No opinion (8%), Budget deficit (6%), General economy (5%), Gas prices (5%), Health care (5%), Crime (4%), Immigrants (4%), Roads (4%), Government/politicians (3%), Unemployment (3%), Environment (2%), Welfare system (2%), Moral values (1%), Drugs (less than 1%), Family values (less than 1%), Farm issues (less than 1%), and Sports issues (less than 1%).


the trend data suggest some intriguing local patterns (to see a better XY version, click here). first, my personal concern about state underinvestment in education seems to be broadly held. nobody worried about education in minnesota in 1985, but concerns have steadily risen until it has become the #1 most important problem. second, crime worries have dropped significantly since the "murderapolis" days of the 1990s. the low current levels of concern might surprise some, given the recent attention to the issue. third, "farm issues" have dropped off the radar completely -- from 27 percent in 1985 to less than 1 percent today. fourth, despite all the recent teeth-gnashing over same-sex marriage, only 1 percent of the population see "family values" and "moral values" as the state's most important problem.

in short, the biggest changes in the past twenty years seem to be the rising concern about education (which rose from 1% to 22%), the steep decline in farm issues (dropping from 27% to 1%), and the drop in taxation concerns (from 24% to 15%). i'm not sure whether it is a hopeful sign or simply minnesota nice, but about a fifth of the state's residents said either "other/nothing" (11%) or "no opinion" (8%) when asked about the most important problem facing the state. here are the trend data for these items. in the late 1990s, about 40 percent of people had no worries or no problems. were times that good? or did they just say something like "winter" when asked which problem was most important to them?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

that's just sick (sign me up)

the august issue of runner's world features a story on the exquisite pain of pike's peak, detailing the joys and suffering inherent in running a marathon up a mountain.

the pike's peak marathon climbs over 7,700 feet to reach a 14,110 foot tall peak. evidently, most runners take one-half hour longer than their usual full marathon time just to negotiate the half-marathon ascent. though the top three miles are said to require some rockclimbing-under-conditions-of-oxygen-deprivation skills, most folks actually get hurt coming down the hill.

the exquisite pain descriptor seems both silly and apt, but i haven't stopped thinking about this race since reading the article. it might take me 8 hours, but i've gotta try this one...

civil rights and civilian review openings

the minneapolis civil rights department is calling for participation on two important civil rights boards:

I am sending out this email to encourage those in the Minneapolis community interested in Civil Rights and the police accountability issues to apply for the open positions with the Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission and the Minneapolis Civilian Police Review Authority. Both of these organizations are in need of individuals of color!!! If you are interested in these opportunities, please visit the links or feel free to contact the Minneapolis Civil Rights Department at 612.673.2031!!! Applications are due on July 28, 2006. Please forward this email on to anyone interested in the opportunity.

Thank you,

Michael K. Browne
Interim Director
Mpls. Civil Rights Dep't

more taxes, please

i got a letter from joel kramer yesterday, welcoming me to growth & justice, a "progressive economic think tank." the organization made news (or, more precisely, purchased news) by taking out a full-page advertisement in the minneapolis star-tribune, exhorting minnesotans to push for tax increases.

everyone from the greedhead right to the radical left finds it sooooo easy to savage such proposals. call me a rube, dupe, chump, mark, patsy, pigeon, sap, sucker, or schlemiel, but i signed up. growing up in minnesota in the 1960s and 1970s, i learned all about bipartisan heartland social democracy -- a dignified floor of social benefits, a clean environment, universal access to great public education, and the strong infrastructure and workforce needed for our businesses to crush in competitive markets. actually, i think that was the local Republican party platform when i was in elementary school.

of course, the wealthy members of the growth and justice board could simply dump wheelbarrows of their own surplus cash into the state's coffers and leave the rest of us alone, but i believe that their collective public efforts have the potential to do some good.

first, such efforts might help counter local mimicry of the undeniable national trend toward greater inequality of wealth and income. as inheritance taxes have been recast as death taxes, there are few willing to embrace a counter-ideology of meritocracy (that is, if passing along a $1.5 million estate to one's heirs and then remitting a percentage of the remainder even counts as meritocracy). in contrast, there are plenty of organizations clamoring to reduce all manner of taxes and applaud minnesota's rapid descent in state taxation. national figures such as warren buffet and bill clinton have publicly asked washington to please stop reducing their taxes, so there's no reason that minnesotans can't do the same.

second, there's every reason that minnesotans should be leading rather than following this movement. like it or not, my home state thrived on high taxes and great infrastructure. not to mention the sort of modest, bipartisan, incremental reforms that simply try to get the train rolling in the right direction. under the growth & justice proposal, those earning more than $275,000 would pay the state an additional 2 cents in taxes for every dollar earned, or $6,000 in taxes for someone earning $300,000. other income groups would pay proportionally less, of course, and state taxes would not increase for those earning less than $45,000 (which seems a pretty low floor, i'll admit).

yes, i'm a politically naive, economically illiterate, middle-class suburban hypocrite whose sociological training leads him to assign way too big a role to civic culture, ideology, and paul bunyan-esque minnesota mythmaking. but that still doesn't mean that i shouldn't pay more in taxes, or help spread the word that a few of us are willing to pay more for a better minnesota. other rubes, dupes, chumps, marks, patsies, pigeons, saps, suckers, and schlemiels can sign up here.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

prisonization animation

mark fiore has a new cartoon titled the united states of incarceration. although mr. fiore's treatment of criminal punishment can be criticized on several grounds, it illustrates how non-criminologists are connecting the dots between large-scale incarceration, poverty, inequality, and abuse.

i might find fault with his numbers, but i can't disagree with mr. fiore's tagline: i'm happy just the way things are, because problems on the inside travel near and far -- like right to your neighborhood!

Monday, July 10, 2006

baseball talk

baseball's leisurely pace allows ample time for participants to turn words slowly and beautifully. just eavesdrop on any little league bench, and there's a fighting chance you'll still hear crackling bull durham-like dialogue.

one of my all-time favorite short stories is ring lardner's alibi ike. it is an old tale and offensive on gender and ethnicity to modern ears (no moreso than max weber, i suppose), but the dialogue is absurdly good, the imagery is evocative, the diction is spot-on, and completely fresh 90 years after publication.

here's a li'l excerpt:

But I was goin' to tell you about Carey namin' him. We'd been workin' out two weeks and the pitchers was showin' somethin' when this bird joined us. His first day out he stood up there so good and took such a reef at the old pill that he had everyone lookin'. Then him and Carey was together in left field, catchin' fungoes, and it was after we was through for the day that Carey told me about him.

"What do you think of Alibi Ike?" ast Carey.

"Who's that? " I says.

"This here Farrell in the outfield," says Carey.

"He looks like he could hit," I says.

"Yes," says Carey, "but he can't hit near as good as he can apologize."

Then Carey went on to tell me what Ike had been pullin' out there. He'd dropped the first fly ball that was hit to him and told Carey his glove wasn't broke in good yet, and Carey says the glove could easy of been Kid Gleason's gran'father. He made a whale of a catch out o' the next one and Carey says "Nice work!" or somethin' like that, but Ike says he could of caught the ball with his back turned only he slipped when he started after it and, besides that, the air currents fooled him.

"I thought you done well to get to the ball," says Carey.

"I ought to been settin' under it," says Ike.

"What did you hit last year?" Carey ast him.

"I had malaria most o' the season," says Ike. "I wound up with .356."


"Where would I have to go to get malaria?" says Carey, but Ike didn't wise up.

I and Carey and him set at the same table together for supper. It took him half an hour longer'n us to eat because he had to excuse himself every time he lifted his fork.

"Doctor told me I needed starch," he'd say, and then toss a shovelful o' potatoes into him. Or, "They ain't much meat on one o' these chops," he'd tell us, and grab another one. Or he'd say: "Nothin' like onions for a cold," and then he'd dip into the perfumery.

"Better try that apple sauce," says Carey. "It'll help your malaria."

"Whose malaria?" says Ike. He'd forgot already why he didn't only hit .356 last year.

the full story is online if you can spare the time.

the great leroy (satchel) paige, who may have been born 100 years ago this week, was perhaps the finest language maven among the players. the greatest pitcher was also a great barnstorming showman, naming his legendary fastball long tom, while adopting the following monikers for others in his arsenal:

Hesitation Pitch
Bat Dodger
Hurry-Up Ball
Midnight Rider
Four-Day Creeper
Nothin’
Bee Ball
Jump Ball
Trouble Ball
The Two-Hump Blooper
Long Tom
The Barber
Little Tom


minnesota twins phenom francisco liriano is today inspiring similarly colorful descriptors from opposing hitters, so it was nice to read that he's just been named to this year's AL all-star team. mark pesavento's story nicely employs single-word quotes from a few of those who've dug in against mr. liriano:

"Amazing," said wide-eyed Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano.

"Dominant," said breathless Milwaukee Brewers closer Derrick Turnbow.

"Electric," said his normally understated Twins batterymate, Joe Mauer.

"Uncomfortable," said unflappable Chicago White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko.

"Filthy," said silky-smooth Cleveland Indians outfielder Grady Sizemore, shaking his head in disbelief.

"Silly," said awestruck Brewers pitcher Chris Capuano.

"Special," said Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. "We didn't sniff him."

filthy is my favorite. players once said that certain pitchers had nasty stuff. but then how does one describe stuff that's nastier than nasty? filthy, of course. too filthy to sniff, evidently.

Friday, July 07, 2006

punk'd

as students know, i'm not exactly the most voracious reader. that said, i locked onto the corner with the sort of guiltily intense interest with which i listen to shirley manson* and courtney love. set in baltimore, the corner is sort of half-ethnography and half-soap opera, written by baltimore sun reporter david simon and ex-homicide detective edward burns.

after reading their journalistic account, i pumped the ethnographers in my department for information. was it accurate? why wasn't sociology this intriguing? they said it had something to do with where, whether, and how the information was gleaned and/or completely fabricated (e.g., how do they actually know that she lit up a kool on the front steps of the stoop?).

ANYWAY, if you know the book, i believe that i dined this friday at the place young DeAndre worked boilin' crabs. perhaps unsurprisingly, a young gun and his entourage tried to punk me in said establishment. the fellow set his drink on my table, barking all manner of offensiveness to his boys at the bar and his girlfriend via cellphone (and, hence, via my face) . i felt like a competing mammal defending my turf, as a rival urinated/established dominance over the territory that included my half-dozen steamed garlic crabs. i was cool (hey, i'm just visitin', and too harmless to be anything but cool these days), though i paid cash and got out of there quick.

baltimore has some major issues, to be sure, but it is truly a great and beautiful american city. i took time from the meetings to journey to fells point, where david simon's late, lamented homicide was shot. john waters also returns to baltimore just as faulkner did to oxford, mississippi. if you haven't read and/or seen the corner and the charm city, both are highly recommended.

* btw, i'm deluded enough to believe that had i remained in madison and connected with butch vig and shirley manson, playing guitars and writing lyrics for garbage, and (let's be honest here) being the only dude in the band with actual hair, we'd be bigger than u2 by now. if i brought tor in on bass, it would be extra large and chili pepper funky. garbage + uggens = anthemic with a beat.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

lawn society meetings

i'm in baltimore for the annual meetings of the law and society association:

The Law and Society Association, founded in 1964, is a group of scholars from many fields and countries, interested in the place of law in social, political, economic and cultural life. Members bring training in law, sociology, political science, psychology, anthropology, economics, and history as well as in other related areas to the study of sociolegal phenomena.

unfortunately, i always hear the name of the group as lawn society association, which has a slightly different mission:

Our ethos for setting up The Lawn Society is an awareness of the difficulties facing amateur lawn owners trying to obtain unbiased lawn care advice from a reputable source, technical information that takes into account changes in turf culture practices and help that is not linked into any particular product or service.

i present tomorrow at 10:15, but my schedule should provide more unstructured time than i get at the criminology and sociology meetings. i'm therefore optimistic about getting some actual work done. then again, i'm always optimistic about getting some actual work done when i travel, despite all evidence to the contrary.

the association is a smart and friendly group of folks, so there should be some fine sessions. i'm especially looking forward to the plenary on turf culture practices.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

passing of the boomerang / words of wisdom

the name of each minnesota sociology chairperson is engraved at the base of a cool ceremonial boomerang. this reminds me of the hockey players' names carved onto lord stanley's cup, but long-serving chair elio monachesi created the tradition with a different purpose in mind. he offered the boomerang to successors as a "Symbol and Reminder of the Consequences of High Office."

uh-oh. point taken, dr. monachesi. aside from the boomerang metaphor, what advice do you have for a new chair? i've got a big blank blackboard in my new office and i'd love to fill it with some inspiring words of wisdom. for example, a friend who has seen many chairs come and go said this: "just don't get mean. chairs can get real mean."

i was surprised to find my name on the boomerang already, since i've only been in office four days. to learn more about the department's history and past chairs, i ran a google scholar search on each chair and dug up some pictures. the range of research was fascinating, and i was reminded that several chairs had research programs not terribly unlike my own. i also noticed that the department only had two chairs from 1923 to 1970, with f. stuart chapin serving thirty years in office. fortunately, informal term limits have since arisen. there's absolutely no chance that a 72-year-old uggen will still be serving as a piece of furniture consisting of a seat, legs, back, and often arms, designed to accommodate one person.

samuel g. smith, 1890-1914 [pic]
albert e. jenks, 1915-1919 [pic]
arthur j. todd, 1919-1921 [pic]
frank j. bruno, 1921-1922
f. stuart chapin, 1923-1952 [pic]
elio monachesi, 1952-1970 [pic (left)]
george w. bohrnstedt, 1970-1973 [pic]
john p. clark, 1973-1976; 1983-1984 [pic]
richard h. hall, 1976-1977 [pic]
don mctavish, 1977-1980 [pic (right)]
david cooperman, 1980-1983 [pic]
david a. ward, 1984-1988; 1992-1995 [pic]
joseph galaskiewicz, 1988-1989 [pic]
david knoke, 1989-1992 [pic]
william brustein, 1995-1998 [pic]
candace kruttschnitt, 1998-2001; 2005-2006 [pic]
ronald aminzade, 2001-2005 [pic] [better pic]
christopher uggen, 2006- [pic] [better pic]

aside from telling me to get a better picture, do you have any advice or words of wisdom to share?

so that's what they mean by "advance"

i'm just now getting word of the first few days of sales for locked out. hmmm. sales from canada appeared to total a single book (thanks, rosemary). there were also some conspicuously large negative numbers on the 3/31 statement from oxford. i guess that's why the check i cashed long ago said advance on the stub. finding myself deep in the hole to my publisher all seems very rock and roll. we're not in this for the money, but unless one happens to be a best-selling freaconomist, the most reliable way to make money on academic books is probably to take the advance and not write the book (warning: don't try this at home!).

i checked amazon and barnes & noble today and sales have ... slowed. we now find ourselves settling in somewhere around how to make big money grooming small dogs on the amazon charts. a few classes may pick up the book this fall and we'll keep up the talkradio tour through the election if anyone wants to hear from us. we're also doing an authors meet critics session at the social science history meetings in november and at the american society of criminology meetings, also in november. at the same time. 1937.3 miles apart. strangely, jeff is flying to minneapolis for ssha and i will be in los angeles for asc.

i'm still promoting the book, i think. i had another radio interview misadventure today, on-air with louie free for an hour in cleveland. he was a thoughtful and well-prepared interviewer who had read the book in some detail, but i should simply not be permitted to speak at 7 am. somehow i caught myself rambling on for approximately one hour about how i started studying crime and my not-so-delinquent delinquent history. it is never a good sign when the host asks "are you OK?" during the commercial break. in fact, being asked "are you OK?" is probably a pretty reliable indicator that one is most definitely not OK.

i seem to get a little too comfy with friendly and intelligent interviewers and probably come off better when i'm being ambushed or savaged unfairly. i don't care if anyone in the audience buys a book, but i would like to teach them a little something about crime during the 15 minutes in which i have their attention. i think i've been able to do so in about 70 percent of the interviews. in the other 30 percent, i seem to leave 'em bored, bewildered, or bemused. that's a pretty good batting average, but i still feel like taking the bat to the water cooler every time i strike out.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

unsteady eddie

after blogging on athlete misconduct and the nba age-crime curve last year, i tried to sidestep the whole vikings love boat and whizzinator scandals. nevertheless, it is difficult for a criminologist to avoid comment on eddie griffin of my star-crossed t-wolves. mr. griffin just turned 24, but has already accumulated a most impressive criminal history for a young millionaire.

as a houston rocket, he was convicted of marijuana possession, but this hardly seems deviant in the nba. mr. griffin quickly violated probation and, in a separate 2004 incident, he was arrested for assaulting a woman and firing a gun at her. here's where i get off the bus. i'm all for reintegrating substance users -- and for picking up 6-foot-10 shotblockers on the cheap -- but the whole "discharging firearms" thing bespeaks a recklessness that, in hindsight, might have given the wolves a bit more pause.

if you haven't heard about last march's sensational, um, carjacking incident, a new lawsuit and video guarantees that you will soon. i must point out that the specific allegations remain unproven and came to light as part of a civil suit to extract money from mr. griffin. nevertheless, you can watch video of an admittedly drunken mr. griffin slamming his escalade into a vehicle at great speed. the camera then captures him offering to buy a new vehicle for the victim (though he was sober enough to exempt bentleys from said offer), attempting to put on a sweatshirt, and staggering about a local convenience store. the police officers, who each year take home about 1 percent of mr. griffin's $5.6 million annual salary, are overheard saying that he will not get a dwi. i'd imagine that they, and the minneapolis police department more generally, will be asked to explain this decision in some detail.

what makes the incident especially newsworthy, however, is the following allegation in the new lawsuit:

that at the time of the accident and all relevant time frames before, Defendant Griffin was under the influence of alcohol and negligently not paying attention to the direction of travel ahead of him due in part to the fact that he was watching a pornographic DVD which was displayed on a mounted in-dash DVD player, located near the steering column, in his Escalade vehicle. In addition, at the time, with one or both hands, he was manually manipulating his...

oh my. i won't go on, but you probably get the idea. i can't even execute a simple phone call while driving sober at 30 miles per hour and my jeep doesn't even have a cd player. surely only great athletes such as michael jordan or ted williams could possibly have the hand-eye coordination needed to simultaneously drive drunk, watch video, and manually manipulate themselves (though i've heard stories about babe ruth on trains that suggest he might have been up to the task).

i reported before that the age-crime curve peaks at 23-24 for nba players. those data showed a later peak for nba arrests than for the general population, but there's not enough information to really explore why this is so. mr. griffin's wild ride leads one to speculate about a sports culture of entitlement, but his case would appear to be an outlier in many ways. still, it is odd that i've never heard such a colorful tale about a musician, actor, drug dealer, or politician.

i'd like to know whether my wolves must pay mr. griffin the $5.6 million he is scheduled to receive this season or whether they could put it toward, say, ben wallace. although the star-crossed t-wolves have made some pretty silly deals in the past, i hope they had enough foresight to insist on a good-behavior clause for the gun-totin' mr. griffin. i mean, this guy is gonna hurt somebody.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

flagging personal patriotism

i'll carefully raise a flag this tuesday and display it in front of my house. in a statistical sense, at least, this constitutes deviant behavior within several of my salient reference groups. surely few other american sociologists will be flying the stars and stripes this year.

events strike each of us differently, but my decision to display the flag got a little easier after the salim ahmed hamdan decision came down this week. like many americans who cherish civil rights and civil liberties, my personal patriotism has been, errrr, flagging of late. i see the decision -- and an independent judiciary more generally -- as a strong check on the sort of tyranny to which jefferson and madison (remember this one?) devoted so much attention.

i was never much for flag-waving chest-thumping nationalism, but have always appreciated the nation's founding principles -- and the truth and beauty of those grand documents. this is usually the point at which friends chide me for my naiveté and others scold me for my ignorance or complicity in all manner of ugly american atrocities.

as my nation's world image tanks and each day seems to bring a new assault on science and decency, it is tempting to cede inspirational symbols such as flags to the scoundrels and despots. i probably fly the flag for quite different reasons than the ex-marine across the street, but it belongs to both of us (that said, if you're planning to burn one, i wouldn't do it in his yard). for my part, i'm glad to live in a place where my occasionally intemperate speech and behavior enjoy some degree of constitutional protection. more to the point, i'm glad to raise my kids in a place where their occasionally intemperate speech and behavior enjoy some degree of constitutional protection.

as a sociologist, i know that my race and gender have much to do with the effectiveness of such protections in practice. i've never been an activist, though i'm sure my juvenile delinquency, teenage "stop the draft" activities (alongside a then-rassler and budding politician), and expert testimony against the first family would be considered impermissibly subversive in other periods and places. here, the state pays me to do research and writing that often challenge those in power and i make a good living as a state-employed knowledge worker. that's why i'm only half-kidding when i ask: is this a great country, or what?