Chris Uggen's Blog: March 2007

Saturday, March 31, 2007

is the increment worth the excrement?

as part of my annual merit review, i need to prepare a self-evaluation of my performance as department chair this weekend. yeesh. this goes to my dean on monday, along with my faculty activity report, and the internal evaluation of our promotion and tenure committee.

though i'm not wild about evaluating myself, the department seems to have a pretty fair merit review process in place. of course, it takes dozens of faculty hours to make fine-grained distinctions about faculty productivity and performance, which can seem inefficient during lean years when there's little money to spread around. that said, fair processes are are often far less efficient than arbitrary or capricious processes -- at least in the short-run.

possessions and the long now

brian eno once said that possessions are a way of turning money into problems.* maybe that's why i never bought a lot of stuff -- anyone capable of conceiving music for airports in 1978 probably has a decent sense of perspective.

this week's possession/problem involves keeping a public calendar and syncing it with my li'l treo. i'm a regular user of umcal, the minnversity's online calendar system. this allows students, faculty, and staff to keep tabs on me and make their own appointments. it is a little scary to be so accountable, of course, but it saves me those hopeless email exchanges in which busy people try to find an open time for meetings.

the system works reasonably well, though i do miss the concept of unscheduled time. since neither treo nor umcal were particularly enthusiastic about this spring's early switchover to daylight savings time, i was unable to synchronize them for a couple weeks. this turned out to be a really big deal, such that disaster and/or hilarity ensued. if the world keeps scheduling you, but you're not hearing about it, you can quickly find yourself double-booked for months or years into the future.

all is back to (what passes for) normal now, though the process has left me a bit spooked. lately, mr. eno has coined a term and an institution called the long now, designed to foster very long-term thinking. for example, the clock of the long now ticks once per year, with a "century hand" that advances every hundred years and a cuckoo that pops out each millenium. i'm gonna try to sync it with my treo to encourage my own long-term thinking. i don't know exactly where i'm supposed to be on march 31, 11007, but i'm guessing there's more than one meeting on the books already.

*more precisely, u2's edge attributes this quote to mr. eno. he may have said it more than once, or he may never have said it at all.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

back in jail

i'm not sure which of my clever students or coworkers ratted me out, but i'm going back to jail on may 17. this is gonna seriously mess up my syttende mai plans.

here's the deal: the good people at the muscular dystrophy association tell me that some well-meaning friend nominated me for one of those jail-n-bail-charity-extortion things. they think i can somehow raise $1,200 to help the kids and adults mda serves in their local clinics. for the research-minded, each $65 contribution buys one minute of mda research to find treatments and cures for neuromuscular diseases. hmm. can that be right? it must be really good research.

don't worry. before committing, i made sure that it was a reputable organization and that mda actually stood for the muscular dystrophy association -- and not, say, the missile defense agency or minnesota department of agriculture or methylenedioxymethamphetamine. if you're so inclined, i set up a page for donations. if i get any, maybe i'll set up a jail n' bail to benefit the felon fund. if each reader just contributes $400, i'll be back on the streets in no time...

purge city

sometimes i think higher education would benefit by applying a few more basic market principles and incentives in the academy. then i read something like this and reconsider my position.

imagine if your department simply purged all faculty members earning salaries "above the market-based salary range for their role." hmmm. this would be a true nightmare scenario for jobs that involve extensive training. for example, most sociologists do 4 years of undergraduate preparation, about 6 more in grad school, then 5 or 6 on probation, before they even have an opportunity to get above-market wages. after a couple years of being compensated at the market rate, however, they could quickly find themselves overpaid and laid off, to be replaced by a cheaper new hire. at circuit university, the displaced professors would get nothing more than "a chance to reapply for their former jobs, at lower pay, after a 10-week delay."

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

i'm gratified that they remember the readings...

...but just a teensy bit jealous that they didn't pick one of my articles. here's an email that blipped across the transom today:

Hello Dr. Uggen, My name is XXX. I was on a flight that changed planes in MN. and I sat next to one of your sociology students who told me about a study that he read about in class. The study involed men with similiar resumes with a felony arrest on some and not others. He said the study showed a white male with a felony was more likely to get a job than an African American without a felony with the same education. I need to track down this study so that I can use it in my doctoral thesis. Can you help?

you betcha, friend, i'm a full-service sociologist! dr. pager clearly did a wonderful job with her mark of a criminal record. which of your assigned readings are so memorable that your undergrads would recommend them to a fellow passenger?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

an appealing evenhandedness

what are the top 5 words you'd hate to read in a review of your work? for me, the list would include terms such as sloppy, vainglorious, reprehensible, feeble, and depraved.

ok, what about words you'd love to see? hmm. that's a bit tougher. i would have believed that i'd most treasure descriptors such as thoughtful or insightful or clever -- assuming, of course, that visionary, sexy, thrilling, and spine-crushingly cool* are off the table.

well, after reading jason deparle's thoughtful** review of locked out in the current new york review of books, i've learned that two phrases are even better than spine-crushingly cool: (1) an appealing evenhandedness; and, (2) exacting and fair.

no, it ain't sexy. at the end of the day, however, a social scientist takes particular pride in conducting research to exacting standards and presenting it in a fair and evenhanded manner. here's hoping people can say the same thing when i pass the boomerang along to a new department chair.***

* spine-crushingly cool is klosterman's fine phrase. uh-oh. once i add one footnote, more are sure to follow. i can write a 30-page paper without any notes, but once i break the seal i'm up to note 39 within a few pages.

** see, isn't thoughtful nice? who wouldn't want to be called thoughtful?

***that is, unless fair is used in the "less than good" sense and "exacting" appears in verb form with reference to extortion (e.g., "though vainglorious and reprehensible, uggen might have been a fair to middling administrator if he hadn't started exacting bribes from graduate students").

Friday, March 23, 2007

lillian colton and seed art

although all good minnesotans have enjoyed her work, few of us knew her name. lillian colton passed away in owatonna on tuesday at the age of 95.

ms. colton was the A#1 all-time champeen crop artist at the minnesota state fair. a fine gallery of her magnificent creations from 1966-present is available online, complete with descriptions of the pine needles, timothy hay seeds, and other materials she used to craft each piece. after taking home 9 best-of-show ribbons in 11 years, ms. colton graciously withdrew from formal competition. instead, she set up her own display in the fair's fine arts building, sharing her secrets with the masses in frequent demonstrations.

ms. colton clearly excelled at portraiture -- just check out bb king and judy garland -- but crop art can be just as edgy and political as other media. as with other great artists, ms. colton inspired generations of followers. i'm sure that many who passed by her displays were moved to put elmer's and seeds to canvas. perhaps they were inspired by the little sign she placed atop her table:

Yes, it takes patience. Yes, it takes time. Yes, it's relaxing.

i don't understand why we can't just get these dubbed

stereogum offers new videos for two of the semester's blogworthy minnesota death songs. are the (dead) videos better than the live (undead?) performances posted earlier?

1. the hold steady: stuck between stations.

there was that night that we thought that john berryman could fly.
but he didn't 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.
these twin city kisses.
sound like clicks and hisses.
and we all come down and drown in the mississippi river.

live v. video
the video is a bit jaunty for a suicide story, but i love the punch line.

2. low's breaker.

our bodies break,
and the blood just spills and spills,
but here we sit debating math.
it's just a shame,
my hand just kills and kills,
there's gotta be an end to that.

live v. video

low's new video offers some anti-greed/imperialism commentary. pretty simple idea, but positively subtle next to scorsese's early anti-war statement. still, the studio sounds just don't grab me like the live n' sloppy versions.

3. UPDATE: the lad, who had been resolutely uninterested in the blog until a classmate called him out as the enormous nonconformist at school last week, was unimpressed by both videos. he's recommending murder by death's brother as a superior death song. nice bass line, good vocal. not bad, son. not bad...

Thursday, March 22, 2007

steve tibbets on akashi kaikyo bridge

ahh, the wonders of gootube. i typed in steve tibbets tonight and out popped this beautiful video. i haven't kept up with mr. tibbets, but his guitarwork on yr was sort of an oasis for me when i was my lad's age. some things make me calm and other things make me happy, but somehow yr did both. i figured i'd pull out the vinyl to see whether it still had the same soothing/stimulating properties.

i'm holding my old cardboard n' vinyl copy now, pulling out the blurry photo insert labeled 1110/2500, which i guess indicates that they didn't press too many of them. i was glad to learn that mr. tibbets is still playing his world/experimental/spiritual stuff and that he's still finding an audience.

reading his clever bio, i learned that our paths had been crossing for years. mr. tibbets' dad was a wizversity labor law prof, and i minored in industrial relations; he hung out at ward-brodt in madison, with me and many other frustrated players; he recorded his first album in a kilt closet at st. paul's macalester college; and, strangely enough, three years ago i was mesmerized and sleep-deprived on the same loooong bridge to kobe shown in the video.

as the album says, use yr headphones...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

how to do an interview like mary lucia

i spent a little time writing about popular music, but always felt more at home with the analysis than with the interview portion of the job. the best music writers, of course, excel on both fronts. like good social scientists, they come back with good stuff and they think well and clearly about it. unlike most social scientists, however, they've also gotta make their subjects look cool.

in a short clip on minnesota stories, the clever and indefatigable mark mallman breaks it down for some would-be journalists at south-by-southwest. he nutshells the distinction between way-more-than-dj mary lucia and the more pedestrian hacks and hangers-on that lob mindless questions at musicians.

the best thing you can do is what mary lucia does. she makes you feel like you're a genius, but at the same time she makes you feel like you're her best friend. she's really interested in what you have to say... she encourages *you* to say something interesting. she's an enabler. she sets it up so that you say something with substance ... that's *your* job.

i'm thinking that annie leibovitz does something similar with photography. it takes smarts, guts and interpersonal skills to pull off something like this. as academics, we spend most of our time trying to make ourselves sound clever and interesting. to the extent that ms. leibovitz and ms. lucia are "enablers," department chairs and deans would do well to follow their lead -- putting those around them in position to say something with substance.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

okcupid and shy pride: why not pretty soon?

press releases ranking cities or states on various characteristics are a sure bet to attract media attention. as a minnesota booster, i'm a huge sucker for anything that identifies us as the healthiest or smartest or exercisin'est or votin'est or home-ownin'est or even the most colon-checkin'est state in the union.

one can't take them seriously, of course, without knowing how such rankings were compiled. aside from a vague disclaimer about not being "scientific," the cheesier press releases don't even mention methodology. sometimes, however, i'll find some face validity in certain rankings. for example, something called has just identified the great state of minnesota as having the nation's loneliest women and shyest men.

i can't speak for lonely women, but is our men's #1 ranking in shyness a surprise to anyone? my first reaction was denial -- oh yeah, cupid? then how do you explain our voter turnout? for cryin' out loud, we're #1 in colonoscopy! this is not shy behavior. ultimately, though, the ratings matched my personal experiences inside and outside of my home state. for example, i'm considered a raging extrovert by minnesota standards but almost creepily shy whenever i cross the state line.

in minnesota, we're brought up to believe that shy is beautiful. yet even bill ward's local story in the strib treated shyness as some sort of disease, ostensibly brought on by "lower self-image." clearly these folks haven't read any of the foundational work in the shy pride movement. here are a few excerpts from garrison keillor's appropriately tentative made-in-minnesota manifesto: shy rights: why not pretty soon?

As you may know, we are not ones to make threats, but it is clear to me that if we don't get some action on this, it could be a darned quiet summer...

Hundreds of thousands of our shy brothers and sisters (and "cousins twice-removed," as militant shys refer to each other) are victimized every year by self-help programs that promise to "cure" shyness through hand-buzzer treatments, shout training, spicy diets, silence-aversion therapy, and every other gimmick in the book. Many of them claim to have "overcome" their shyness, but the sad fact is that they are afraid to say otherwise.

To us in the shy movement, however, shyness is not a disability or disease to be "overcome." It is simply the way we are. And in our own quiet way, we are secretly proud of it. It isn't something we shout about at public rallies and marches. It is Shy Pride. And while we don't have a Shy Pride Week, we do have many private moments when we keep our thoughts to ourselves, such as "Shy is nice," "Walk short," "Be proud — shut up," and "Shy is beautiful, for the most part." ...

Most shy lawyers agree that shys can never obtain justice under our current adversary system of law. The Sixth Amendment, for example, which gives the accused the right to confront his accusers, is anti-shy on the face of it. It effectively denies shy persons the right to accuse anyone of anything.

there's more, but you get the point. i just hope that minnesotans won't be further stigmatized by such rankings. it could be worse, i suppose: according to okcupid, wisconsin men are both shy and lonely.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

march matness: ncaa heavyweights

though our storied men's and women's basketball teams didn't make the big dance, my gophers are still in the hunt for national championships in hockey and wrestling. in wrestling, the minnversity holds a slim lead over iowa state going into tonight's championship round. the title may come down to the heavies, with the minnversity's cole konrad squaring off against aaron anspach of penn state.

watching the lad all season, i've learned to appreciate heavyweight wrestling in general and mr. konrad in particular. the smaller wrestlers are still waaaay quicker, but some of the 285-pounders are both powerful and scary-fast.

there was a time, however, before such a thing as 285-pound weight limits. this year's ncaa tourney brought to mind a ginormous heavyweight from a previous era at iowa state, the gophers' key rival for tonight's championship. chris taylor won two ncaa championships as a cyclone, tipping the scales at more than 400 pounds. in the youtube video above, he's bested at the 1972 olympics by wilfried dietrich, who weighed ... a bit less than that. i remember being inspired by the famous black-and-white poster of the match: with courage, anything is possible.

of course, mr. taylor was no cruel goliath. by all reports, he was a prototypical gentle giant, who died, perhaps predictably, at age 29. that's the real reason i'm glad to have weight limits on the heavies -- i'd hate to see my lad and others risking their health by bulking up to face 400-pounders. when fans suggested that the mounds view heavyweight looked skinny at 260 during the state high school tournament, i started worrying about the long-term health consequences of carrying even more weight. if he ever feels undersized, i'll just play him the taylor/dietrich video. mr. dietrich, at least, made it to age 58.

update: the minnversity wrestling team won the 2007 ncaa championship saturday night:

final team standings:
1. Minnesota, 98.0
2. Iowa State, 88.5
3. Missouri, 80.0
4. Northwestern, 71.5
5. Oklahoma State, 69.0
6. Michigan, 62.0
7. Hofstra, 60.5
8. Iowa, 57.0
9. Edinboro, 56.0
10. Ohio State, 54.5
11. Penn State, 54.0

gopher placewinners:
1st - Cole Konrad (HWT)
3rd - Dustin Schlatter (149)
3rd - Roger Kish (184)
5th - Jayson Ness (125)
6th - C.P. Schlatter (157)

drop in domestic violence

amidst new fears that u.s. crime rates are creeping up again, a great deal of evidence is accumulating to suggest that rates of rape and domestic violence are declining. a nice mclatchy-tribune piece reports the good news and offers some explanations for the drop.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

the rake and homicide in minneapolis

the rake's frank clancy takes up the issue of homicide this month, profiling and mapping all 60 minneapolis murders of 2006.

the numbers show a steep drop since the 100 annual homicides of the murderapolis mid-1990s period. the 60 little stories, however, offer a less sanguine view of public safety in the city.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

careful with that axe, pbs

chuck klosterman complicated my ideas about authenticity by writing a favorable piece on a guns n' roses tribute band in sex, drugs, and cocoa puffs. after hanging with the lads from paradise city, he made a strong case that the ersatz g n' r have made greater sacrifices and demonstrated a more intense and longstanding commitment to the band than did axl, slash and the other original members.

i wouldn't go so far with mini kiss or other tributaries, but mr. klosterman's point is well-taken. i'm personally partial to tributes that morph one artist with another quite dissimilar artist (e.g., metallica + gallagher = metallagher; ramones + abba = gabba; and, an early favorite, elvis + zeppelin + reggae = dread zeppelin). few people could endure an hour of such creativity, of course, but there's always a clever high-concept idea in there somewhere.

but now i see that pbs -- i like pbs almost as much as npr -- has alloted several pledge drive hours to something called australian pink floyd. not pink floyd in australia, mind you, but a band from australia that covers pink floyd songs. are the aging boomers in public broadcasting's core demographic so floyd-starved that, after interminable pledge breaks, they'll be moved to send pbs large sums of money? after viewing a tape of a cover band? yeesh.
well, it seems like a good deal for the australians -- they were charging $42.50 per ticket on their last trip through town. why wouldn't a tape of pink floyd doing its own songs be just as popular? if they want something new, i suppose they could piece together youtube videos from careful with that axe, eugene to the wall, maybe supplemented with an in-studio david gilmour interview. if that proves impractical, they might just cue up one of those dark side of the oz syncs, or pop in a vhs of live at pompeii and ... set the controls for the heart of the sun.

Friday, March 09, 2007

good pub for pubcrim at oregon state

today's eugene register-guard features a great front-page story on michelle inderbitzin's inside-out prison exchange class. michelle brought 15 of her oregon state university students to join 15 oregon state penitentiary students for a course on crime, justice, and public policy. michelle has been posting about the experience over at publiccriminology throughout the quarter (including, for example, some memorable poetry from an inside student). yes, the start-up costs seem daunting -- in terms of training, administration, permissions from deans and department chairs, travel, and security. for both inside students and outside students, however, i can't imagine a more meaningful or powerful vehicle for teaching sociological criminology.

latebirds and 22-pistepirkko

my friend jukka savolainen, a visiting prof from finland, is putting together a cool show tomorrow night, mere blocks from the sociology building. we'll be extending a warm minnesota welcome to two finnish rock bands, the latebirds and 22-pistepirkko at the cedar cultural center. both bands are touring the states on their way to austin for a south-by-southwest showcase. the concert is saturday, march 10 at 7:30 pm. tickets are $12 today and $15 tomorrow, but only $10 with student id. check the cedar for details.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

nice to know that high school students still read newspapers

well, at least they can hold them right-side-up. you might say that minnesota is to high school hockey as texas is to high school football. this joey mcleister picture captures the vibe of the introductions, but there's much, much more happening at the state tournament. here's the caption:

"While feigning disinterest as St. Thomas Academy was introduced, Orono fans (left to right) Angie and Cari Browne (sisters, Angie a junior, Cari a freshman), Adrienne Halverson and Liza Braun (both freshmen) peeked at the Jumbotron before the two teams began hockey tournament play at the Xcel Center."

sweet, huh? i'm not sure how the st. thomas players reacted, but my kids would have loved the whole "feigning disinterest" thing. last week's wrestling tourney may never become the cultural phenomenon that is minnesota hockey, but it felt big-time to me. the mounds view lads took a sound thrashing in the semis but returned with fourth-place hardware. tor loved the entire experience, with the possible exception of the handful of pummeled-into-unconsciousness bits. there's a nice tourney highlight reel, if you can stomach creed for 4:51. i'll keep checking back for hockey updates...

courage and earnell luster

so, let's say you see a thug stomping a woman to death as you walk to your car tonight. would you step in or keep walking? look around nervously? maybe duck into an alley and dial 911, hoping somebody arrives in time to save her?

i'd like to think that i'd have the guts to respond as mr. earnell luster did three weeks ago. from tom ford's strib article:

The scene Earnell Luster, 53, came upon the night after Valentine's Day was chaotic.

Behind an apartment building in south Minneapolis, two women were on the ground, getting repeatedly hit and kicked by a "really, really drunk" 25-year-old man who was ignoring another woman's pleas to stop, police said.

Police don't think Luster knew the attacker, yet what he did next was no surprise to his family.

"Knock it off," Luster is believed to have told Mitchell L. Osterloh, 25. "Don't be hitting those women."

Luster's intervention bought time for someone to help the two women to their feet. But it left Luster the new target of Osterloh's wrath, court documents say.

Luster was knocked to the ground and kicked in the head at least 10 to 15 times.

Luster's family took him off life support Saturday, and Osterloh --originally charged with first-degree assault -- now faces murder charges.

according to the press reports, mr. luster was an ex-marine who loved to fish, leaving behind 7 kids and 4 grandkids. he died a hero this week and we'd do well to honor his name. in that spirit, there's a candlelight vigil for mr. luster at 6 tonight at the corner of east 26th street and longfellow avenue.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

beauty, midnight, vision dies -- auden centenery

wystan hugh auden was born a hundred years ago this month, which oughta draw a few of his well-chosen rhymes to light.

his september 1, 1939 comes back stronger with each cataclysmic world event, especially these closing lines:

...All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

strong and true, in my view. his unknown citizen seems more dated now, though i think sociologists might still profit from a close reading:

He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree

That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint,
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the War till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired,
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn't a scab or odd in his views,
For his Union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows he was once in a hospital but left it cured.
Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Instalment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation.
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their education.
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

kim alexis' seaweed baths in runner's world

my favorite column in each month's runner's world is a feature entitled "i'm a runner," in which unexpected celebs are outed as runners. folks from james carville to bruce dern talk about squeezing the miles into their lives. in his feature, the pistons' rip hamilton claimed he could run a 4:30 mile (sure, dude. i hereby challenge you to this year's gold country 5k. if i beat your putatively 4:30-milin' butt, you've gotta send pistons coach flip saunders back home to the minnversity).

this month features kim alexis, who is identified as "Supermodel, 46, Jacksonville, Florida." when, exactly, did supermodel make the dictionary of occupational titles? i mean, can i just start calling myself a superprofessor or is there some sort of official sanctioning required? in any case, the brief interview was instructive. in particular, i learned that my life is quite a bit different from that of ms. alexis. not better or worse, mind you, just different. a few excerpts:

alexis: By 20, my then husband said to me, "You're fat, go run."
uggen: by 20, i was still a wizversity undergrad. my fellow mifflanders would just pat our burgeoning bellies and say, "bought n' paid for, dude." still, we ran the lakeshore path even in those benighted days.

alexis: I ran my first New York in 1986 after I had just shot the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
uggen: i ran my first Twin Cities in 1995 after i had just gotten a tenure-track job at the minnversity, which is the superprofessor's functional equivalent of the supermodel's SI swimsuit issue.

alexis: After a run, I take a cold seaweed mineral bath -- or I'll go in my pool and tread water.
uggen: after a run, my kids tell me to GO AWAY because i REEK and i need to wash that FUNK off NOW -- or i'll go into the office and tread water.

alexis: When I'm in NYC, I live with Carol Alt, who is a raw foodist. I had to force myself to eat Rykrisp, which has fiber, the night before the New York City Half Marathon.
uggen: when i'm in chicago, i visit buddy guy and mike ditka, who are big foodists. i had to force myself not to inhale an entire barbecued steer, which has protein, the night before the chicago marathon.

unlike me, ms. alexis has regularly graced the pages of runner's world since the 1980s. maybe if i can work in a few seaweed mineral baths, however, i've got a shot at the cover.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

regression to the mean and face validity at forbes

i'm loathe to criticize an all-time great minnversity athlete, but i had to chuckle when i heard that forbes had ranked our own kevin mchale as the very best general manager in professional sports. this simply confirms the widely-held opinion that those great courtside seats are wasted on the rich.

in his 11 years as a general manager, mr. mchale has guided our timberwolves to a .539 regular season winning percentage, or about 54 wins per hundred. this represents a significant improvement over his predecessor’s abysmal are-you-sure-that's-not-a-misprint? percentage of .244. mr. mchale thus crushed his 97 competitors on the key "winning improvement" component of forbes' measure:'s first-ever proprietary look at GMs in the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB grades each GM on two yardsticks. First, there's the performance (regular season winning percentage and postseason wins) during the GM's tenure versus the performance of his predecessor. Second, there's the GM's relative (to the league median) payroll compared with his predecessor's relative payroll.

so, they pretty much just look at changes in winning percentage and the ability to keep the payroll down (this is a business magazine, after all). i like the idea of somehow standardizing by resources or traditions and getting beyond championship trophies in ranking gms, but any sports fan can identify serious flaws in such a system. looking at this as a researcher, i'd probably base my critique on regression to the mean and basic validity concerns.

regression to the mean is the simple tendency for units with extremely high scores at time 1 to decline at time 2 (and for units with extremely low scores at time 1 to rise at time 2). this is based on the idea that measurements are comprised of both a "true score" and an error component. while the true score might be stable, the errors should even out over time and push the overall measure closer to the population mean. in this case, the woofies' winning percentage went from 24% -- c'mon, nobody can be that bad forever -- to somewhere around the population mean of 50%. the concept is also useful in explaining sports voodoo such as the sophomore slump and the sports illustrated jinx. with regard to the forbes example, one can also ask whether mr. mchale should really be judged against the standard of a long-forgotten predecessor. also, shouldn't a move from mediocrity to greatness count for more than a move from hopelessness to mediocrity?

we could challenge the validity of the rankings on many grounds, including their construct validity, content validity, and criterion validity. for me, however, forbes fails even the most cursory and subjective check of face validity -- does it even look like a measure of gm quality to the average sports rube? no, this is akin to devising a ranking of baseball players that puts bombo rivera as the all-time greatest and babe ruth at the 45th percentile.

doesn't the publication have an intern around who might say, "hmmm. mchale as #1, huh? this doesn't look right -- maybe we should throw a couple more variables into the mix." how on earth could a valid measure place the twins' always-doing-more-with-less gm terry ryan in 53rd place? didn't it catch anyone's eye when the top baseball exec on the list (billy beane) was ranked 26th out of 97? oh well, i suppose i wouldn't look to the sporting news for stock advice, so i shouldn't get too upset about forbes stubbing its collective toe on this one. on the other hand, would you really trust a magazine that comes up with such a measure to pick "four growth stocks at a discount" for your portfolio?

isolation and john entwistle

whenever i watch a team sport such as football, i like to follow a single position over a long series of plays. seeing all that an o-lineman or a safety does over three or four series gives a glimpse into their specific roles and responsibilities. moreover, it also offers a glimpse into how the game might be experienced from the player's perspective. since i take the same approach whenever i hear live music, i couldn't resist this whotube video of john 'the ox' entwistle going to work on a classic rock standard. my bass-playin' lad, a flea loyalist, was not particularly impressed with the ox's virtuosity, though he did dig the tone. after seeing this, however, i've now got a long list of songs and players -- flea included -- that i'd like to similarly break down and isolate for further study.

Friday, March 02, 2007

minnesota population center postdocs

steve ruggles sends word that the minnesota pop center is seeking new postdocs on their ipums-usa, ipums–international, the north atlantic population project, and related projects.

they'll start reviewing applications on the fifteenth. full details are online, but here are the basic qualifications:

Qualifications: Ph.D. in a population-related field (e.g. Sociology, Economics, History, Geography, and Public Policy). Excellent computer and communication skills.
Preferred: Competency in quantitative methods and use of statistical software package. For work on IPUMS – USA: experience with U.S. historical census data or with IPUMS – USA. For IPUMS International: experience with non-US census or comparable survey data.
We are especially interested in recruiting outstanding postdocs who could use IPUMS-USA, IPUMS-International or NAPP data in their own research.

maybe cinderella wears 15EE wrestling shoes

i got a couple requests for a wrestling update, so here's the quick version.

good news: the happy overachievers from mounds view advanced to the state's final four at excel center wednesday.

bad news: they face defending champs apple valley tonight at 6:30.

valley hasn't missed a state tourney in 25 years, so they live up to their decades of dominance motto. regardless of the final score, however, i know the boys will rise to the competition. i'll be hoopin' and hollerin' for tor to close out the night with a solid showing against mike dralle, valley's fine senior heavy. the winner gets hastings or anoka in tomorrow night's championship; the loser gets a third-place match at 10 am.

unless coach dan has 14 pairs of glass wrestling slippers in his truck, he'll need a heck of a pep talk to beat valley. i'm no coach, but i'd tell the lads to just turn it loose, tear it up, and remember psalm 23: yea, though i walk through the valley of the shadow of death, i will fear no evil.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

criminal anagrams from a hog-sprung heretic

i enjoy playing with anagrams, rearranging my kids' names to fit some aspect of their personalities. for example, tor stanley uggen has the same letters as both gentle guy on star and let's not anger guy. yeah, that sounds about right.

it won't surprise my students to learn that christopher uggen is actually code for hog-sprung heretic, and, given my minnesota biases, gopher guts enrich. wondering whether similar magic applies for the sociological criminologists i've been teaching in my delinquency class this year, i came up with the following variations without too much trouble. i'm self-censoring here, because some of the really funny ones seemed too cruel or unfair. i trust you can figure them out on your own, if so inclined.

let's start with the classics. cesare lombroso whose criminal man connected primitive features with criminality in 1870, can be nicely anagramed into a slob score more. hmm. that rather nicely sums up atavistic theory, doesn't it?

it is tougher to reconcile clifford shaw's great work with his name. somehow scaffold whir or lads chow riff fail to capture the essence of social disorganization theory. how about my intellectual great grandfather, learning theorist edwin a. sutherland? it pains me to say so, but his critics might view he did learn, was nut or, more charitably, he did learn, aw nuts as all-too-appropriate alternative monikers.

speaking of professor sutherland's critics, i couldn't do much with social control theory's travis hirschi (stir a rich shiv or chris ravish it) or anomie's robert k. merton (torment broker and broken term rot are a little better). i had better luck with howard s. becker, who wrote a classic on marijuana use (saw herb rocked or sacred herb wok) and offered insightful critiques of mainstream sociology (bored whackers).

this week my students are reading meda chesney-lind on feminist criminology and juvenile justice, so her new moniker (she demand nicely) might seem fitting. i couldn't work the "q" into james q. wilson, but the brilliant conservative who wrote thinking about crime can otherwise be cruelly rearranged as jowls is mean.

ok, that's where i draw the line. in fairness, i should also note that christopher uggen can be cruelly rearranged as pure hogs retching. though my personal anagrams can't rival, say, mr. mojo risin’, i guess i'd prefer hog-sprung heretic to pure hogs retching.