Chris Uggen's Blog: January 2007

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

midterm evaluations and small groups

during my term as a piece of furniture consisting of a seat, legs, back, and often arms, designed to accommodate one person, i'm at least partially responsible for the content of faculty meetings. at the request of undergraduate advisor ann miller, we allocated fifteen minutes of monday's meeting to a presentation on the use of mid-semester course evaluations.

a representative from the minnversity's center for teaching and learning introduced a model called student feedback through consensus. here's how it works: a consultant comes to your class, asks students what's working and what changes they would recommend, and meets with you confidentially to share the results. in the next lecture, you can then reflect the students' concerns, reiterate your priorities, and explain your response to the recommendations.

i'm not sure i'll use a consultant, but i always try to evaluate my courses as i teach them. i distribute midterm evaluation forms, with the first few questions mirroring those on my official end-of-semester evaluation forms. the front side of the form consists of likert-type items (e.g., the lectures are clear and well-organized; the professor is available to me outside of class; the professor resembles "beavis"), with some open-ended items on the reverse (e.g., would you like me to lecture more on readings? more discussion of hot topics? more theory applications and examples? whaddayawant?; do you think the exam format and grading have been fair? why or why not?).

when i reflect their responses, it gives me the chance to show the diversity of tastes and expectations in the class (e.g., some people really like my riffs on theory) and to reiterate my priorities and goals for the semester. i am usually open to changing test formats and will occasionally trim a reading or two, but students typically request much simpler changes. for example, i've been asked to put black-and-white rather than color handouts online, saving them a few dollars in printer cartridges. i also try to throw a few fun questions into the mix, which seems to liven up the discussion.

i'm convinced that midterm evaluations can simultaneously enhance student learning and one's end-of-semester evaluations. they provide a quick heads-up on students who are really upset and an opportunity to clarify misinterpretations or make good on mistakes. for example, a student last year felt my delinquency class had an anti-immigrant bias, primarily because my social disorganization theory lectures and readings tied immigration to disorder and high crime rates. i appreciated the opportunity to get another shot at teaching these ideas and the students seemed to appreciate a more thorough discussion of immigration and crime. they certainly nailed the disorganization question on their final exams.

despite my support for midterm evaluations, i was a little nervous during monday's faculty meeting. at the start of the midterm evaluation presentation, our speaker asked our busy faculty to form small groups and set them to work on a task. uh-oh, i thought. even though many of us ask students to form small groups for class exercises, i didn't know whether her task would fly. how would your colleagues react if they were asked to get into small groups at the next faculty meeting?

i'm happy to report that the exercise was useful and thought-provoking. i'm even happier to report that my colleagues jumped into the unexpected task with good will and a bit of enthusiasm (perhaps because the speaker was well-organized and stuck to her allotted fifteen minutes). even so, i can imagine a few professors in a few departments being somewhat less cooperative. we didn't complete any evaluations for the session, but i suspect they would have been quite positive.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

goffman, wrestling, and herpes gladiatorum

sad news today for the lad and my favorite high school sport. effective immediately, the minnesota state high school league suspended all wrestling for the next eight days due to an outbreak of an infectious skin disease called herpes gladiatorum. yeesh. gladiator herpes?

within minutes, the story was breathlessly reported on usa today, espn, and all the local teevee stations, sometimes with grotesque accompanying images. of course, simple cold sores and carbuncles look just as nasty when they're blown up on page 1.

though i wasn't so concerned about the 24 reported cases of the disease, i was a little worried that the negative public attention might affect the 7,500 wrestlers affected by the decision. in goffman's terms, physical deformities or "abominations of the body" can be profoundly stigmatizing. the periodic reports of such outbreaks render all wrestlers discreditable, while the rashes or lesions -- more commonly from ringworm or impetigo rather than herpes -- mark a few unfortunate wrestlers as discredited. adolescents have a tough enough time with body image, so widespread reports of skin diseases likely exacerbate their concerns. i'm sure that some wrestlers fail to self-disclose their skin problems for fear of embarrassment or lost opportunity.

i was a bit nervous when i first heard the reports, since the armchair epidemiologists identify patient zero as a heavyweight in a rochester tournament in which (i thought) my son had wrestled (see photo above). one can imagine how a skin disease could spread rapidly in the sport. such tournaments unite teams from around the country, who bang into each other with great force before moving on to wrestle a bunch of other teams in their hometowns. heavies are particularly vulnerable, since they get abrasions around their faces when locking up. fortunately, my lad is hyper-vigilant about skin care and there's been no sign of herpes on his team.

though i know that a few ex-wrestlers read the blog, i've tried to refrain from writing too much about the sport that i've really come to appreciate. but i've become a booster and will have to write something serious about it eventually. more personally, i've seen tor work harder than i could have imagined, rising at 5 for the day's first practice and battling to a 16-11 record as varsity heavyweight before his 16th birthday. if the season ended today, he can at least recall a wonderful match on friday: he entered with the score tied 30-30 in front of a boisterous home crowd. his first-round pin gave his team the victory and #1 seed in the section and he got a nice pic in the local shopper. it was the sort of beautiful sports fantasy that i hope he'll remember.

but he seemed to take news of the shutdown pretty well. when i got home tonight, i quickly discovered that the "no contact" rule does not extend to my household. my large lad took me down a half-dozen times, as is his custom. when i told him i didn't want to catch any skin diseases (okay, so i might have mentioned leprosy in passing), he countered with a wet willy and a particularly tough cradle. unless he finds another sparring partner, it could be a looooong eight days.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

of run hunt, lombo, senor smoke, and sexyback

the minneapolis temperature dropped well below zero this morning, but baseball talk crackled in the cold, cold air.

1. inbox. alec ewald emailed to check on a paper, but closed by noting that pitchers and catchers report in a month.

2. pedestrians. twinsfest arrived, bringing the great juan berenguer and legions of his fans back to the metrodome.*

3. walkman. during an interview with sports curmudgeon patrick reusse, 2006 batting champ joe mauer copped to attending last night's justin timberlake show with 2006 mvp justin morneau. in light of their spectacular success as roomies, such socializing would appear to bode well for the upcoming season.

4. the internets. the astros' craig biggio signed on for another season, continuing his quest for the game's least coveted all-time record.

* it was some kind of wonderful for old twins fans to see steve lombardozzi and dan gladden on the same roster again.

Friday, January 26, 2007

times piece on the felon class

yesterday's sharp new york times editorial picks up on some themes discussed here and in pubcrim. very cool to see social facts escape the maximum security confinement of academic journal articles. here's the piece:

Closing the Revolving Door
The United States is paying a heavy price for the mandatory sentencing fad that swept the country 30 years ago. After a tenfold increase in the nation’s prison population — and a corrections price tag that exceeds $60 billion a year — the states have often been forced to choose between building new prisons or new schools. Worse still, the country has created a growing felon caste, now more than 16 million strong, of felons and ex-felons, who are often driven back to prison by policies that make it impossible for them to find jobs, housing or education.

Congress could begin to address this problem by passing the Second Chance Act, which would offer support services for people who are leaving prison. But it would take more than one new law to undo 30 years of damage:

Researchers have shown that inmates who earn college degrees tend to find jobs and stay out of jail once released. Congress needs to revoke laws that bar inmates from receiving Pell grants and that bar some students with drug convictions from getting other support. Following Washington’s lead, the states have destroyed prison education programs that had long since proved their worth.

People who leave prison without jobs or places to live are unlikely to stay out of jail. Congress should repeal the lifetime ban on providing temporary welfare benefits to people with felony drug convictions. The federal government should strengthen tax credit and bonding programs that encourage employers to hire people with criminal records. States need to stop barring ex-offenders from jobs because of unrelated crimes — or arrests in the distant past that never led to convictions.

Congress should deny a request from the F.B.I. to begin including juvenile arrests that never led to convictions (and offenses like drunkenness or vagrancy) in the millions of rap sheets sent to employers. That would transform single indiscretions into lifetime stigmas.

Curbing recidivism will also require doing a lot more to provide help and medication for the one out of every six inmates who suffer mental illness.

The only real way to reduce the inmate population — and the felon class — is to ensure that imprisonment is a method of last resort. That means abandoning the mandatory sentencing laws that have filled prisons to bursting with nonviolent offenders who are doomed to remain trapped at the very margins of society.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

a minnesota nice nose for news

the great state of minnesota has once again delivered an exceptionally diverse congressional delegation, including republican michelle bachman and democrat keith ellison. i figured that freshmen in congress were given the same advice as new assistant professors at faculty meetings: that is, one should be seen but never heard.

thus far, however, our new delegation has been seen and heard. representative ellison made headlines and history by swearing his oath of office on thomas jefferson's koran. not to be outdone, representative bachman put a minnesota death grip on the chief executive last night. maybe i've been watching too much high school wrestling, but i think the video shows fine technique. from this position, she could have executed a formidable head snap or collar tie.

on balance, i'm glad that everybody speaks up in faculty meetings these days and glad, i suppose, that we didn't elect any wallflowers to congress this year. if nothing else, our new reps might lively up the 2008 convention in st. paul.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

cool grad opportunity for policy work with mathematica

Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.
Summer Fellowship Program
Pursuing Self-Directed, Issues-Oriented Research

Who: Students enrolled in a master's or Ph.D. program in public policy or a social science. Qualified minority students are encouraged to apply.

What: Up to five summer fellowships with a stipend of $6,000 for full participation ($2,000 per month) plus $500 toward project-related expenses.

When: June 1 to August 31, 2007 (approximately)

Where: Princeton, NJ, Washington, DC, and Cambridge, MA

Why: To pursue independent research on a policy issue of relevance to the economic and social problems of minority groups. To expose students to social policy research in a non-academic environment.

How: Submit the following to Human Resources, Princeton office, by March 16, 2007:
• A resume
• A proposal (minimum 2,000 words) for the research project you hope to pursue, including a clear statement of the research question, its relevance to social policy affecting minorities, and the steps necessary to complete the project during the fellowship period
• Undergraduate and graduate transcripts
• Two letters of recommendation, including one from a sponsoring faculty member

For more information, visit our website at:
www.mathematica-mpr.com/employment/summerfellow.asp or contact:

Karen Chaffkin
Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.
P.O.Box 2393
Princeton, NJ 08543-2393
Phone: 609 716-4396
Fax: 609-799-0005
Email: kchaffkin@mathematica-mpr.com

another wrestling politician

the strib offers a nice feature today on first-term minnesota representative bob dettmer. mr. dettmer has coached the fine forest lake wrestling team for thirtysomething years, compiling a record of 366-149-2.

his recent election completes a political trifecta for minnesota wrestlers. we had lefty democrat paul wellstone in the u.s. senate, independent jesse ventura in the governor's office, and now the conservative republican mr. dettmer in district 52A of the minnesota house. i'm hoping that his new responsibilities might leave an opening for the lad's mounds view wrestling team. despite the rigors of the campaign and election, however, forest lake beat mounds view in an early-season match and remains a top 10 team.

Monday, January 22, 2007

love, work, and consensual relationship policies

in response to some difficulties involving the past chief, the minneapolis fire department recently enacted a strict nepotism and romantic relationship policy. workplace romantic relationships raise such complicated and emotional issues that i hesitate to even post on the subject, for fear that someone will respond with a hurtful or libelous public comment. nevertheless, department chairs and managers can't ignore the fact that people who work together often fall in love with one another. or, i suppose, the fact that people who love together often fall into work with one another.

how should organizations respond to these situations? terry collins' article reports a poll by the society of human resource management, showing that less than 30 percent of organizations have formal policies addressing workplace romantic relationships. of those organizations with policies, only 9 percent prohibited dating, while others simply discouraged it (caveat: i don't know this literature and can't vouch for this work, so there are likely better prevalence estimates out there).

along with sexual harassment and conflicts of interest, we discuss the minnversity's policy for nepotism and consensual relationships in my proseminar for new graduate students. i generally ask students (and my new teaching assistants as well) how they would handle different scenarios involving desired versus unwanted attention, such as flirty emails or conversations with their professors or students. i try to focus the discussion on disparities in power and on issues of disclosure. when would they talk to their advisor? how can they avoid conflicts of interest or perceptions of favoritism? who are some good models for managing relationships in a professional and responsible manner? what if the personal relationship ends but the professional relationship continues?

many proseminar students reply that they aren't even remotely attracted to sociologists and that they would never enter into a relationship with another sociologist. but love, of course, often arrives unexpectedly. despite their protests, academics exhibit a pronounced tendency toward assortative mating. our local policy requires that no member of the university community may "directly influence the university employment or academic progress of a university member with whom he or she has a personal relationship." even this sensible rule can be difficult to implement in departments with many faculty couples.

there are some good local procedures for responding to nepotism and personal relationships. yet you won't find a lot of black-and-white prohibitions in formal university policies. instead, you'll find words such as unwise and either-or remedies, such as directives to "structure the conditions of the employment or academic association of the related parties to avoid or eliminate prohibited activities or by avoiding the personal relationship that may lead to prohibited activities." this allows us to accommodate the many good and healthy personal relationships between academics, but it leaves a lot of wiggle room in borderline cases.

the new fire department policy, in contrast, ends on a sharp and explicit note. according to the strib article, the chief is simply not permitted to have sex with other firefighters. the fire chief, assistant chiefs and deputy chiefs "may not be initially appointed or remain in these management positions" if they have a sexual or romantic relationship in the department. though i like the clarity of such a prohibition, it seems difficult to justify and enforce in a university setting (if not a firehouse). applying such a logic to academic departments, anyone with a personal relationship in the department would be ineligible to become chair. of course, i know a few faculty couples who would cheer such a rule. and a few colleagues who might even start a relationship to avoid such administrative duties.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

nas-ty ostinato

did anyone else get a big smile when nas built hip hop is dead around in-a-gadda-da-vida's righteous ostinato? whatta riff.

i no longer have iron butterfly's original 17-minute monster version handy, but youtube delivers the short n' tight radio hit (in groovy color if you prefer). the guitar sound is heavy psychedelic, epic and iconic, but nothing like the big les paul crunch or soaring strat sound i associate with the period. so where'd they get it? as near as i can tell, the key ingredients are a creative seventeen-year-old, a mosrite guitar, a vox super beatle amp, and a fuzzrite stompbox. mosrites are most associated with surf guitarists such as the ventures, typically played with much more reverb than distortion. but the butterfly riff is pure magic. since it's as easy as smoke on the water, everyone with a guitar should certainly give it a try. here's an easy tab by m. holladay:

There is the part everyone knows:
E----------------------------------------
B----------------------------------------
G------------------------2--1--0---------
D---0---0---3p2------0------------3------
A----------------3-----------------------
E----------------------------------------

This is repeated over.. and over.. and over....... For a little variety, sometimes change the last note to a C (3rd fret, A string). Doesn't add much, but even a little helps.

The little ascending part:
E--------------------------------------------------------
B--------------------------------------------------------
G------------------1--2--1--2--3--2--1--2--1h2p1---------
D---0--2--3--2--3--------------------------------3--2----
A--------------------------------------------------------
E--------------------------------------------------------

E-----------------------------------------------------
B-----------------------------------------------------
G-----------------------------------------------------
D---5--5--5-4-3-2--2--2-3-4-5--5--5-4-3-2--2-3-4-5----
A-----------------------------------------------------
E-----------------------------------------------------

E--------------------------------------------
B--------------------------------------------
G---6--6--6-5-4-3--3-3-4-5-6--6--6-5-4-3-----
D--------------------------------------------
A--------------------------------------------
E--------------------------------------------

E----------7--6h7p6---------------------
B---7vvv-------------9--7---------------
G---8vvv-------------------9b11vvvrb9---
D---9vvv--------------------------------
A---------------------------------------
E---------------------------------------

And then just go back into the main part that repeats about a trillion times. Pretty simple song. Two more notes: For a solo, go heavy on the wah and stay in the D minor pentatonic scale (hey, it's overused but in this case, you can't go wrong playing this over that main riff). And then, periodically freak out through the rest of the song-- see what kind of noises you can get your guitar to produce.

Friday, January 19, 2007

from thug to dork for under ten dollars

i jog at night while dressed in black. clever lad, eh? so i was gifted with a cateye ld100 flashing red safety light for christmas. i didn't really want to wear it, but then again i didn't really want to find bits of myself stuck to the undercarriage of a ford f-150 either. so i gave it a try.

as expected, the light seems to increase my visibility to impatient motorists. but there's an unexpected side benefit as well: other walkers and runners now find me infinitely less threatening. see, any hard-running dude in a black hoodie represents a potential threat. but a hard-running dude with a flashing red safety light is immediately recognizable as a harmless dork. surely no predator would draw attention to himself in this way.

it surely makes my late-night encounters more friendly. i'll still cross the street when i come upon a woman walking alone, but there's no longer that awkward moment in which my intentions are subject to question. nevertheless, while the flashing light reassures people, their dogs are another matter. the light doesn't seem to incite them, thank goodness, though a black lab once cocked his head and shot me a sneer, as if to say, whatta dork...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

deported for car theft

when people plead guilty to felonies, they are typically thinking about whether, where, and for how long they will be doing time. most probably know that they will lose other rights and statuses, but they may not realize that the plea can lead to their deportation.

such is the case of luis alexander duenas-alvarez, a native of peru and permanent legal resident in the united states. he served three years for car theft in california, when immigration officials moved to deport him. this week, in gonzales vs. duenas-alvarez, the u.s. supreme court made it easier to deport aggravated felons, such as mr. duenas-alvarez. the ruling reverses the u.s. 9th circuit court of appeals, which had held that california's law applied deportation too broadly.

i've written a lot about how convicted criminals can lose the right to vote, but i'm also interested in the myriad other collateral consequences of conviction -- affecting employment, family life, housing, educational opportunities, receipt of public assistance and even citizenship status. deportation affects a relatively small number of convicted felons, though it surely ranks among the most serious and disruptive of the collateral sanctions.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

did john berryman love the golden gophers?

sometimes i get the feeling that the hold steady singer craig finn has been following me around since high school, scounging for material. take this fine recent performance of stuck between stations (or this one) from boys and girls in america.

mr. finn name-drops former minnversity poet john berryman, who leapt to his death 35 years ago from the same ol' washington avenue bridge that many of us traverse every day. here's a portion of finn's lyrics:

the devil and john berryman took a walk together
they ended up on washington talking to the river
he said "I surrounded myself with doctors and deep thinkers
but big heads with soft bodies make for lousy lovers".
there was that night that we thought that john berryman could fly.
but he didnt so he died.
she said "you're pretty good with words but words won't save your life"
and they didn't so he died.

he was drunk and exhausted but he was critically acclaimed and respected.
he loved the golden gophers but he hated all the drawn out winters.
he likes the warm feeling but he's tired of all the dehydration.
most nights were kind of fuzzy but that last night he had total retention.

these twin city kisses.
sound like clicks and hisses.
and we all come down and drown in the mississippi river.

we drink
we dry up.
we crumble into dust.

we get wet we corrode
we get covered in rust.


not bad for an uptempo bar-band raver, eh? disappointing to hear, however, that the literate mr. finn feels so connected with the hard-drinking and similarly "critically acclaimed and respected" mr. berryman. brandon stosuy and others catch echoes of mr. berryman's poems in mr. finn's lyrics:

Buoyant, chockfull of stories, Henry lingered
at party after party, a bitter-ender.
Long when the rest were asleep
he had much to relate, more to debate
if anyone would keep him company
toward fragrant dawn.
John Berryman, “Dream Song 182”

He skated up & down in front of her house
Wishing he could, sir, die,
while being bullied & he dreamt he could fly
John Berryman, “Dream Song 11”

poke around a bit and you'll find that mr. berryman wrote some daaaaaark poetry. you want dark? mr. berryman didn't even make the mississippi's storied waters, landing instead in the muddy rocks. next time i cross the bridge, however, i won't be thinking of suicide poems. instead, i'll see the bright chaotic structure that burst out of those muddy rocks. and i'll hear mr. berryman's winking elegy for william carlos williams:

Dream Song 324 (An Elegy for W.C.W., the lovely man)

Henry in Ireland to Bill underground:
Rest well, who worked so hard, who made a good sound
constantly, for so many years:
your high-jinks delighted the continents & our ears:
you had so many girls your life was a triumph
and you loved your one wife.

At dawn you rose & wrote--the books poured forth--
you delivered infinite babies, in one great birth--
and your generosity
to juniors made you deeply loved, deeply:
if envy was a Henry trademark, he would envy you,
especially the being through.

Too many journeys lie for him ahead,
too many galleys & page-proofs to be read,
he would like to lie down
in your sweet silence, to whom was not denied
the mysterious late excellence which is the crown
of our trials & our last bride.

bernard harcourt's times op-ed

bernard harcourt, my gracious host on a recent visit to chicago law, offered a provocative op-ed in the times this week. shouldn't sociological criminologists be able to offer some explanation for the figure at left, showing the aggregate rate of institutionalization for prisons and mental hospitals? in my opinion, the questions posed by professor harcourt might also make for some outstanding dissertations:

Why did we diagnose deviance in such radically different ways over the course of the 20th century? Do we need to be imprisoning at such high rates, or were we right, 50 years ago, to hospitalize instead? Why were so many women hospitalized? Why have they been replaced by young black men? Have both prisons and mental hospitals included large numbers of unnecessarily incarcerated individuals?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

scouting the mustang duals

after perusing my online calendar, a colleague noted that my activities seem limited to work and kids' sports this winter. with regard to the latter, i'll be dishing up concessions or taking tickets at the mustang duals on saturday. the good guys from mounds view will welcome wrestlers from eagan, little falls, milaca, columbia heights, spring lake park, minneapolis roosevelt, and maple grove.

as near as i can tell online, the heavyweight class will be loaded, which brings me to the subject of scouting and online information about high school athletes. i couldn't identify every likely opponent, but i quickly learned that the lad should face seasoned grapplers alex diaz of eagan (rated #4 by the guillotine), carter ash of milaca (#9 in AA), and dylan bue of little falls. it is strange to see your high schooler's name pop up on message boards and stat sheets, but such is the nature of modern high school sports. the lads seem to take it in stride -- even when the comments seem out of line -- but parents and boosters worry over upcoming opponents.

aside from their won-loss records, here are some of the risk factors or correlates of dominating performance that i've observed in researching my son's opponents this year:

1. medals. if an image search yields numerous pictures of the opponent standing atop podiums draped in flavor flav-grade medallions, he might be a pretty tough wrestler.

2. captions. if the opponent's photo is consistently captioned with Another Pin for Klawhammer! or Tommy takes Tourney on the team's website, he might be a pretty tough wrestler.

3. dates. if the opponent's name appears on results pages spanning a decade -- including a state tournament appearance as a nine-year old in 1997 -- he might be a pretty tough wrestler.

4. grand family surnames. if the opponent is only the most recent in a multigenerational line of the school's illustrious record-holders -- for example, chuck shinglepecker, brother of eddie and son of the legendary buck shinglepecker -- he might be a pretty tough wrestler.

of course, not every team has a website. nevertheless, the sensitive fan can also pick up on certain subtle cues upon arrival at the gym.

5. displays. if a five-foot shrine to the opponent is posted near the entrance to the high school, perhaps involving an official proclamation from the mayor, he might be a pretty tough wrestler.

6. cheers. if you witness an elaborate multi-verse cheer for the opponent, particularly one that inspires enthusiastic participation from the spectators, he might be a pretty tough wrestler.

7. theme music. wrestlers today select their own theme music at dual meets, with most opting for pummeling thrash or metal of the enter sandman ilk. if the opponent instead proceeds to something cinematic, such as a morricone theme or darth vader's imperial march, he might be a pretty tough wrestler.*

8. attendance. if attendance spikes dramatically as the opponent is introduced, with young and old standing on bleachers and craning their necks to delight in the spectacle, he might be a pretty tough wrestler.

i could pad the list to ten by adding proximity to the coach and size of entourage, but these seem to bear little relation to performance. somatotype and facial expressions aren't terribly predictive either. for example, laughter indicates anxiety as often as confidence, a look of stern regard often melts away quickly on the mat, and sometimes the best wrestlers are least impressive physically. with more seasoning and tutelage from other wrestling parents, i'm sure i'll begin to pick up on other cues.

i've resolved to limit my scouting activities, however, since the lad has developed a healthy disregard for the accomplishments of his opponents -- not to mention his healthy disregard for the sport-related opinions of his considerably less accomplished father. but i'll continue to make annoying armchair sociological observations at his matches. he does his thing, i do mine.

*tor has excelled with a freaky-styley era bass jam this year, although he has threatened to employ i'm too sexy once he develops a strong enough record to back up such a selection. i'll believe it when i hear it.

Monday, January 15, 2007

juvenile delinquency starts now

i'm welcoming 80 new juvenile delinquency students on tuesday. having taught some variant of the course since '93, i've got lots of delinquency alums in the community -- as social workers, officers, lawyers, and even sociology professors. cooler still, two former delinquency student just got engaged to one another. will this semester's students find love and fulfilling careers? i'm not sayin', i'm just sayin'...

Sunday, January 14, 2007

there ain't no plastic on harriet island

i was sooo looking forward to sledding and skating with my brooklyn-born li'l nephew this year. i dusted off the old thunderbolt toboggan and cleared the backyard hill of brush and debris. sadly, the snow was scarce and the rinks were swampy. by the time young leif headed back to laguardia, the cities were still brown, the sedge had wither’d from the lake, and no birds sang.

this year, i've had winter fever since october. minnesota lifers simultaneously bemoan and embrace the season, with cross-country ski races, frozen 5ks, ice palaces, art shanties, winter carnivals, boot hockey, huge ice fishing contests, and swank downtown ice bars. this only works, of course, if we get an actual winter. we can joke about the local benefits of global warming, but make no mistake: the absence of formidable winters represents a deep threat to our collective identity. what are we without the cold? i mean, we're mild enough already.
when a newcomer (i haven't checked this, but it just had to be a newcomer) suggested using plastic blocks to create an ice maze, the good citizens reacted with disgust and righteous indignation. according to a spokesperson cited in the wcco story, "Let's quell this rumor. There ain't no plastic on Harriet Island," said Kate Kelly, president and CEO of the St. Paul Festival and Heritage Foundation. "You should see the hate mail I'm getting."

so you can see why this week's cool temperatures were greeted warmly. i ran thirteen miles in full winter regalia today, in preparation for the winter carnival's half-marathon next weekend. it was crisp and sunny at about 10 degrees, which was warm enough to be comfortable at a good pace but just cold enough to freeze the opening to my water bottle. the cool weather and lack of precipitation has also left the rinks in perfect condition, so the skaters and hockey players were making ample use of every outdoor rink i passed.
the forecast calls for 4-6" tonight, but i won't unpack the skis just yet. if we don't get a little snow by february, i'll be restless as a pent-up sled dog. maybe they'll air condition the ice bar...

Saturday, January 13, 2007

smile a while for sara

after much agonizing over wonderful choices, sara wakefield has accepted a position at uc-irvine. i hope sara, randy, and riley take a little time to celebrate before jumping back into dissertationland.

aside from the weather, irvine seems like a perfect spot for a sociological criminologist. as native minnesotans, the wakefields must now acclimate to those harsh orange county winters.

i've worked with sara forever and i'll miss her a lot. but i'll save any serious g'byes for the dissertation defense this summer. we've got some fun collaborative work ahead too, including a research review for nij, some writing on parenting and crime, and our kitty forman -- the early years screenplay. congrats, sara.

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fight night

ok, so i'm on record as characterizing ultimate fighting as straight-up pornography, perhaps a step or two below cockfighting on the debasement scale. so how did i find myself sipping a bud with dougie fresh at the matt vanda - tony bonsante fight tonight?

it was probably the magnificent local angle and the hyping thereof. aside from being white guys from minnesota, they couldn't have differed more sharply in style and strategy. matt "the predator" vanda is a burly east-sider from st. paul (that's him in the picture) who entered the ring with a 35-2 record and a ton of knockouts. tony bonsante is a tough but smooth fighter from up north in crosby-ironton, best known as the single dad on nbc's boxing reality show the contender. the fight was artfully hyped as bad blood, playing up such differences.

in the end, mr. vanda was less reckless than i'd imagined -- i kept expecting him to break through and drop the older mr. bonsante. nevertheless, the latter's footwork and reach advantage kept the powerful mr. vanda at bay throughout the fight. mr. bonsante seemed to take advantage of every opening, finally knocking down mr. vanda in the tenth. for this night, at least, tony bonsante was the better fighter. his victory is expected to earn him a shot against IBA world middleweight champion john duddy this march at madison square garden.

i saw some good fighters on the undercard as well, including local phenom wilton hilario. let's see... an unsung rookie landed a wild haymaker knockout at 2:59 of the final round; there was the great scott ledoux, holding court as boxing commissioner; there was an eightysomething trainer being lifted into bonsante's corner to relay instructions between rounds; there was a hard-drinkin' and loud-yellin' boxing crowd. but the main event was the main event. mr. bonsante and mr. vanda fought hard and honorably.

at best, i figured that fight night would be a guilty pleasure. at worst, i feared it might be an endless series of ugly human transactions. in the end, however, i simply enjoyed myself and left with a little more respect for boxers and their craft. but you'll still never catch me at an ultimate fighting event...

note: good fights can yield great pictures -- up-close, dramatic, stop-action, full-color photographs. the strib has a nice little slideshow, though you may need to register to see it.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

wanna get tased?

have you caught the recent press regarding the taser c2, the new consumer taser that comes in pink? i supervised a graduate research partnership with jesse wozniak this summer, in which he attended a taser convention in las vegas and wrote an electrifying paper on policing, masculinity, and tasers.

mr. wozniak will be presenting the shocking results (sorry woz, couldn't resist) at our department workshop this tuesday at 4 in 1114 social sciences. there is absolutely no truth to the rumor that his new advisor will be tased during the presentation. here's the 'stract:


Real Men Use Non-Lethals: Masculinity and the Framing of Police Weaponry

This presentation centers on an examination of masculinity formation in the police subculture. Using first-hand ethnographic accounts of a major non-lethal weapons manufacturer's annual sales and educational conference, I explore how the introduction of "less-masculine" weapons are marketed to coalesce with the hypermasculine police subculture. Connell's (1995) theories of masculinity are tested to understand how such a tightly-defined subculture absorbs such challenges to its core values and re-imagines itself to keep those core values intact.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

nij and employment programs

i'm just back from a national institute of justice conference in dee cee. the orienting question was what have we learned from longitudinal research? and, parenthetically, was it worth it?

my talk reviewed research on employment and crime. i learned much, but the highlight was a discussion with reynaldo decerega, a new youth development specialist at the department of labor. he described programs designed to place young people with records into high-growth industries. i've long lamented that job training in juvenile facilities seem to be preparing delinquent youth for the job market of the 1940s. it is sad to see kids working hard to learn, say, typesetting on ancient printing presses -- especially when almost everybody on the outside has been setting type on a pc since the 1980s.

mr. decerega offered a few examples of jobs in high-growth industries that would suit young offenders. in particular, he cited a program that moved a former drug dealer into a successful career in cell phone sales and services. hmm. such work takes advantage of an existing skill set and, presumably, cell phones will be around for a few more years. i'm just glad to see some thoughtful attention to the "what kind of training might lead to actual jobs" labor demand question, as well as the "instilling human capital into delinquent youth" labor supply question.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

busy weekend at the cape

both my kids awakened with great expectations saturday morning. by sundown, however, they were both staring down some pretty big disappointments. as a parent, i try to be supportive without aiding and abetting the making of excuses or the pointing of fingers. mostly, of course, i just try to be there.

now that they are teenagers, the stakes seem higher and their disappointments more clearly mirror the sort of disappointments that i face in my putatively adult world (e.g., professional rejections, relationship problems). fortunately, they've also begun to develop more adult-like and constructive ways of dealing with these disappointments. they each hashed it out with close friends in their preferred manner (for one, this involves sharing rapid-fire phone, text, and email messages; for another, this involves sharing an obscene number of tacos at taco john's six-pack saturday).

by the end of the night, i'd heard laughter from them both. all in all, it was a beautiful day.

Friday, January 05, 2007

sweet editor o' mine

i've finally discovered john moe's pop-song correspondences at mcsweeney's. wonderful idea. i particularly enjoyed mr. moe's take on guns n' roses' sweet child o' mine.

for two reasons, i have a soft spot for this big, hooky, slab of popmetal: (1) slash's playful intro riff; and, (2) the expression of male vulnerability in mr. rose's vocal and lyrics, which seemed almost revolutionary for the genre in 1987. the following notes from mr. rose's editor say as much about the difficult work of editing as they do about the song. i'll reprint mr. moe's correspondence at some length, since a short excerpt just wouldn't do it justice.

Notes on "Sweet Child O' Mine," as Delivered to Axl Rose by His Editor.

Just got your manuscript and demo for the song "Sweet Child O' (sic) Mine." I think we need to talk. As your editor, I am responsible for making your songs as cogent as possible, for helping them reach the high editorial standards your public has come to expect. With this one, I am certainly earning my keep. After several attempts to reach you by phone, I am sending along my notes. Please make appropriate fixes as soon as possible, at which point I can send them to copyediting and proofreading in time for your upcoming studio session.

She's got a smile that, it seems to me—Why equivocate? You weaken your point by framing this as a mere personal observation instead of a fact.

Reminds me of childhood memories—Redundant. You either have a memory or you're reminded of something. You're not reminded of a memory. Heavy-metal fans won't stand for such writing, my friend.

Where everything was as fresh as a bright blue sky—I asked around the office and no one is sure a blue sky is "fresh." You could have a blue sky at the end of a long, sweaty day and there would be nothing fresh about it. And she reminds you of a time when things were fresh? Fond reminiscences of freshness are no foundation for love. Fix.

Now and then when I see her face it takes me away to that special place—Again, you're weakening your own argument. Why does the sight of her face transport you only periodically? And is it just her smile or her entire face that does this to you? Because you've already said both. Consistency, Axl!

And if I stared too long, I'd probably break down and cry—Why would you do that? Because you miss the freshness you described earlier? I think the whole "fresh" thing is really tripping you up. Also, crying? Wimpy.

OK, on to the second verse.

She's got eyes of the bluest skies—See, this is just getting worse. Now her eyes are made of sky? Nice imagery, but you just got done saying her smile reminded you of memories of sky. Is this verse actually supposed to be a second draft of the first verse? Am I just confused on formatting? Help!

As if they thought of rain—Axl, eyes can't think of rain. And even if they could, which they can't, why would bluest skies think of rain? Perhaps less imagery of thinking eyes made of sky and more direct exploration of your feelings?

I hate to look into those eyes and see an ounce of pain—Well, hell. I guess in your special Axl World anything is possible. Eyes can be made of sky, ponder the weather, and exhibit pain in amounts that can be weighed.

Her hair reminds me of a warm safe place where as a child I'd hide—Delete. Fix. Do something. You'd hide in a place that reminded you of hair? Never show me such phrases again.

And pray for the thunder and the rain to quietly pass me by—Whew. OK, listen to me now: Thunder can't quietly do anything. It's thunder. And, more importantly, do you really want to come across as a wuss who's constantly on the verge of weeping and skittering into hair caves to escape from rain? Is this a song about love or climatic anxiety? You need to work these things out.

Finally, Axl, I think we might have had a misunderstanding regarding my previous notes. When I wrote in colored pencil "Where do we go now?" I wasn't offering that as a lyric. I was simply observing that, in narrative terms, the song needed to progress in some way. You love the girl, she's helping you work through some issues, whatever. So where do we go now? But instead of providing a satisfactory conclusion, you simply took my note and repeated it over and over again before ultimately just stating the title of the song. This is unacceptable. Don't ask us, the listeners, where we go. That's up to you as the writer! Tell us where we go now! ...

Thursday, January 04, 2007

pubcrim II

after grappling with newblogger on the publiccriminology.org site for a couple days, michelle and i decided to bag it and launch pubcrim II. there's no archive yet, but she just put up a cool post on her new inside-out course at oregon state (oregon state pen, that is, as well as oregon state u).

would you teach any differently if you did your next course in prison? if you were teaching a class of 50% prisoners and 50% university students? i've long wanted to run an inside-out course, but never put in the required training (now that i think about it, this is precisely the same reason i haven't run an ironman triathlon. well, that and the swimming). michelle promises to post updates on her experiences with the course at pubcrim II, and i'll keep posting my sociological criminology stuff there as well.*


*for the record, the archive is still available at www.pubcrim.blogspot.com, but the new site is at www.publiccriminology.blogspot.com. i've reset the forwarding, so you can also reach the latter from www.publiccriminology.org and www.publiccriminology.net.

the free-for-all in mcclatchy hall?

david grusky kindly invited me to participate in a debate with larry bobo at stanford's new center for the study of poverty and inequality. i had just posted about being uncomfortable with debating and my ridiculously conciliatory mode of argument, but i couldn't resist this particular opportunity.

though we don't know each other well, i've leaned heavily on professor bobo's work. when we overlapped at wisconsin, i recall us sharing a brief boxing conversation with ross matsueda. that's why i suggested adapting this poster format to advertise the debate. professor bobo can appear as the champion liston and i'll take the role of the unknown challenger, mr. clay.*

i'm not sure exactly what we'll be debating or when (whether?) our schedules will allow us to follow through with it, but we'll need a catchy title. how about the fiasco in palo alto or the free-for-all in mcclatchy hall?

*i know he had excellent reasons for making the change, but was there ever a stronger sports moniker than cassius clay? i mean, it ain't like changing one's name from something pedestrian like bobby moore. if tor or hope ever change their perfectly befitting names, i'll be devastated. and don't even get me started on lew alcindor. names this good should go into a pool when they are cast aside, to be selected by other players. i bet mark blount would be a formidable center with a moniker like lew alcindor.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

soc of deviance in the real world?

my biggest fear as an instructor -- the one that summons the late-night howling fantods -- is that i will somehow manage to teach students nothing they can take beyond the classroom. i confronted this fear directly last month at the conclusion of my sociology of deviance class. as a two-point bonus question on my final exam, i asked students for a specific example showing how they used course materials outside of my class during the semester.

i teach from two competing logics in the course. first, i try to give them a durkheimian sociological realism, emphasizing social facts and the methods we use to obtain them. second, i employ a constructionist emphasis on labels, power, rulemaking, and careers in deviance. it was cool to see students employ both logics in their answers:

“My boyfriend is in prison and I am constantly asking him about things I learned in class, such as excuses and justifications of rapists, how prison culture convinces people to re-offend, stigmas of certain inmates such as child molesters, intense homophobia in the inmate population, etc. I have used course materials to sociologically analyze his ‘deviance’ and how he will manage the stigma and escape the deviant label once his is reintegrated into society.”

“I constantly seem to be having discussion about gay marriage and the current raging debate. On a society level, I believe that GLBT lifestyles are seen as deviant, but I think that we are starting to see a definite stratification of acceptance based on generation. In these discussions, I always try to show people the construction of deviance, and how any group can decide that an action is deviant, but that deviance and deviant label actions change over time.”

“We watched ‘The Woodsmen’ around the same time we were studying sexual variants and abuse in Abnormal Psychology. I am a Psych major so it’s always interesting look[ing] at the same behavior at the individual level psychologically and then in the larger social context, sociologically.”

“My boyfriend was flipping through one of my Cosmopolitan magazines one day when he saw an article about the dangers of men in groups. He didn’t really get it, and I explained about how I just read about how guys in frats will sometimes use alcohol as a weapon and cover up any wrong doing through ‘brotherhood.’ I told him about the Martin and Hummer reading and group-level processes.”

"I would say the biggest thing I took away was sharing my deviant identity paper with my family."

“I am currently taking social statistics as well, and that class is all about statistical relationships. When we discussed correlates, not as a cause, but as a statistically significant relationship, I could relate the two classes together.”

“This class has provided me with endless conversation at the bar and with my friends. Specifically, we discussed the topics of moral panics and drug scares over a few brews just last weekend. I feel I’ve learned a lot in this class and can ‘hold my own’ in a debate that’s relevant now. Thanks!”

“Just this morning I was telling my partner I was surprised that the 1914 Harrison Act of scheduling drug categories occurred that early. He was amazed too.”

“As a bartender, I witnessed many of this semester’s themes first hand. Saw Hirschi’s theory of self control and alcoholism intersect. I saw the negative stigma associated with alcoholism in full affect and its effect on jobs. I also witnessed techniques of neutralization and vocabularies of motive contribute to deviance in many sphere of social life. These theories helped me identify problems with others and problems with myself.”

“At the Juvenile Detention Center I talked to a young man about what it meant to him to be called juvenile sexual perpetrator. We had a long conversation about his experiences in the JDC with staff because of his crime (rape). He felt that women staff wouldn’t talk to him and only saw him as his crime (master status). I asked him what that label meant to him.”

“I used this material outside of class with regard to my good deeds paper. Even after I turned in my paper, I still tried to do acts of kindness. I attempt to give money to homeless when before I hadn’t.”

“I used the knowledge on suicide in discussion with coworkers to tell them who killed themselves the most, what countries and to bust the myth about how people think suicide rates go up around the holidays"

“I used Merton’s anomie theory to try to justify my piracy of movies on the internet. I told my mom that our society has placed universal goals that we should live in comfort. I also told her that certain people are not advantaged, so they resort to crime to achieve such goals. I said that I am a broke college student so I am considered to be disadvantaged. She still said I was wrong, but she watched the movies with me anyways.”

“I have actually used course material from this great course numerous times in speaking about people that like to dig up ‘hot’ corpses, to asphyxiation, to labeling theory, as in at work as we detained a young man screaming, ‘I’m a down ass gangsta.’ I remarked how he had labeled himself as such from differential association and his subculture."

“My husband and I always debate theories regarding entry into drug dealing (he went ‘away’ for four years for cocaine dealing) and I’d tell him about your research on ex-cons and voting. "

“Applying the movie ‘Fight Club’ to a talk with a female friend, I was able to convince her that males were running out of all male masculinity spheres of behavior through which we can interact solely with other males, with the inclusion of women into the work force and equality of positions of authority, male dominance in the social are under attack. Femininity is leaking into masculinity diluting male championed ideals, leaving them frustrated with no avenues of self expression is the modern world. For Merton, males experience strain with the rational and the feminine.”

“I was having a debate with a friend about how prevalent the GLB commentary is in the U.S. She stated the statistic, ‘1 in 3 people are in the GLB community.’ I stated the NHSL survey and the statistics about how low the reporting actually is. We contributed the reporting to either harassment of just a fear of ‘outing’ themselves.”

“Oddly enough, I talk about this class a lot with friends, and when eating with my family. The most recent tie I made with class and discussions was with my girlfriend. She is at the U of M with a rowing scholarship and is from Lithuania. We talked both about women’s sports and the high suicide rates in her country. She was able to give me insight into both areas.”

“Just last night I was talking to my friend about deviance in terms of careers or a process. I explained mostly about drug trafficking and how its exit can be difficult. We talked about the movie, ‘Blow,’ referring to entertainment as a common ground we could both relate to. "

“I actually use the terms often at work as a mall security guard. For example, last week I was trying to explain why a few kids couldn’t throw things at each other. I remember telling them that [they] couldn’t throw things at other people. They said there were no rules against it. So I told them their actions are deviant and they are violating the norms of the mall. They honestly had no clue what I meant, but at least they couldn’t keep arguing with me and felt like I outsmarted them.”

“When my sister discovered I was taking a class titled, ‘Deviant Behavior,’ she immediately responded, ‘I’m not deviant!’ I immediately corrected her telling her we are all deviants in some way. Deviance, I told her, is a violation of social norms and anytime she or I violated any norm we are deviants ... the overall point is we all are, have been, and will continue to be deviants even if it is as simple as bringing a caffeinated soda into church (a Mormon church) as my sister has done.”

“I volunteer at Ramsey County Jail with the women, and help lead a chemical dependency relapse prevention class. I took a lot from this class and applied it to my work there. For instance, many are in for prostitution and it was very helpful for me to view them as victims/survivors of domestic abuse.”

“In a discussion about if viewing porn is o.k. for boyfriends/girlfriends in a relationship, I was able to talk about statistics of male/female[s] who view it, and how changing norms or sex are on the rise. Ex: more premarital sex and how it’s not as deviant.”

“Near the beginning of the semester I was discussing (or explaining) the labeling theory to my friend. We likened it to the label of him by his friends as an alcoholic/party animal. This label, we discussed, reinforces and encouraged his behavior as such, and even though he has acquired a lifestyle slightly less extreme, he is often enticed and/or expected by them to live up to (or down to depending how you look at it) that standard of behavior.”

“I used several statistics from this class like the Devah Pager study on race and employment as a ‘staggering sociological statistic,’ opener for my students in the lab section of SOC1001 I T.A.ed this fall.”

“What I took from this course the labeling theory that I was able to explain to my parents. You see, the Hmong community lives on reputation and labeling is very common. I sat down and had a conversation, relating to my brother’s deviant actions, about how labeling a person will actually enforce him/her to do more deviant acts. Instead, encourage the person to get out of those deviant acts and do good.”

“I avidly participate in local police ride-alongs and I brought up the topic of labeling theory to an officer. Ummmm yeah didn’t go over very well, he is a racist-XXXX and basically said that just because you ‘step in your own XXXX doesn’t give you an excuse to wipe it off on society’s doormat.’ No really, he said it! Needless to say the conversation was a hostile one and I hope he changes professions.”

“Last weekend I had a discussion with my friends about binge drinking. I told them that binge drinking was defined as 5 or more drinks in one occasion. They thought this was a very low number and I told them that [this] was because they were binge drinkers. If they thought they had enough alcohol after 2 drinks, then they would consider 5 to be binge drinking. However, since 5 drinks is a norm, we would say that 10 drinks in one occasion was binge drinking.”

“This morning actually, my brother’s girlfriend was talking about a girl who committed suicide. I asked how, and came to find out that she tried overdosing a couple times before she ended up strangling herself. I told my brother’s girlfriend that girls usually attempt more suicides than complete them because of what they do. Males complete more of suicides because of the majority of them using firearms.”

i was a bit surprised by the diversity in the responses. students didn't simply parrot back my pet concepts or findings, but seemed to employ some course materials when situations presented themselves in their other classes, their jobs, or socializing with families or friends. i'll definitely use such a question again.

Monday, January 01, 2007

interim pants

i got little work done this new year's day, but somehow found the time to purchase some interim pants from target. i define interim pants [in-ter-uhm pants] as trousers purchased as a temporary or provisional stopgap after the holidays, until one can presumably fit into one's real pants once again in march. or maybe june.

interim pants must be both cheap and roomy. they must be cheap because it would be silly to make a substantial investment in a makeshift arrangement. while they must function as pants, they should clearly fall a step below one's permanent pants in look and feel. interim pants must be roomy because there's no tougher shot to one's self-esteem -- a real body blow, if you will -- than buying bigger pants that are nevertheless still too small.

so, i've gained a little weight since becoming chair but will stubbornly view the new girth as temporary until proven otherwise. unfortunately, january and february are peak time for sedentary spectating at kid-related activity. if i can survive this period without additional gains, i should be good to go for the madison marathon in may. look for me in full prefontaine regalia, perhaps with some sansabelt running shorts.