Chris Uggen's Blog: April 2007

Monday, April 30, 2007

take back the news

heather hlavka has a piece in the daily today, highlighting an organization called take back the news and their efforts to challenge media representations of rape and sexual assault. although rates of sexual assault have declined significantly over the past 15 years, the first-person accounts powerfully illustrate the long-term effects on survivors. if you would like to contribute to the project, you can donate through paypal or share your own story online.

Friday, April 27, 2007

a couple friendly places in atlanta

i'm in atlanta for the midyear criminology meetings, doing a bit of the society's business and scouting the location for november. i've got two recommendations already:

for good southern cooking, i can endorse agnes and muriel's -- the chicken, ribs, meatloaf, fried tomatoes, greens, and banana pudding are all highly recommended.

after dinner, gary lafree and i wandered over to blind willie's on highland avenue. the vibe was warm and the house band was tight -- blues n' reverb, but little else to clutter up the sound. plus, some fine dancing and friendly staff. both spots definitely merit return visits this winter.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

rugby pics

elkhart in springtime

i just said goodbye to the lad for the weekend. his rugby club is off to beautiful elkhart, indiana tonight for some big tournament. they plan to drive all night, so he's taking the terrestrial version of a redeye flight. i'd love to chaperone such trips/junkets at some point, but he's only a sophomore so i've got a couple more years. i don't know whether tor prefers rugby to football, but i know that he likes carrying the ball -- and a big man just ain't gonna be carrying the ball in american football. plus, i can't imagine they'll get much sleep on that bus tonight (or tomorrow, or saturday, or sunday...). i don't pretend to understand the game, but it sure looks like fun. last year, the lad was a "prop," which is a bit tricky at his height. he says that life on the second line is more fun, though he seems to come home just as gnarly as he did last year. i just tell him to try to avoid any concussions and/or permanent damage. he claims it is safer with no helmets, but you wouldn't know it by his hair in this picture:

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

MKTG 3010

seth werner of the minnversity's fine carlson school of management is teaching marketing research this semester. doug and i have had the honor and privilege of participating in this class as clients this week, as seth's students offer presentations on marketing sociology and contexts-like publications. it would have taken years for us to learn what seth's students presented from 9:55 to 11:35 on tuesday. five more groups will be presenting on thursday and i can't freakin' wait to hear what they're gonna tell us. more to come...

food that brings out the work in you

we're all staggering to the finish line this time of year, so it can be tough to squeeze in meetings. ron aminzade, a great department chair and social movements scholar, taught me that food can bring people and projects together. as chair, i'm usually willing to purchase food for meetings but often have difficulty managing the logistics. maybe i should just hold meetings in restaurants and forget about the logistics.

last night i learned how meeting-food should be done. mike and i raced downtown for a 5:30 gathering with friends and co-PIs ebony and hilary at the council. they greeted us with a cornucopia of grumpy's classics: rings, wings, nachos, and skins. we got some work done on the timeline for our new project, of course, but we also established the research site as chris' happy place. the council is literally across the street from home twins' games and great bar food. i can't wait to start cranking on our new grant this summer.

Monday, April 23, 2007

teaching impact

friend and colleague joel samaha received a big teaching award today. at the minnversity, a big award can be operationalized as involving (a) university-wide competition, and (b) a significant bump in recurring salary. joel is a history Ph.D. and attorney, who once taught u.s. and world history in chicago public schools.

for the past four decades, however, joel's quasi-socratic method has inspired hundreds of minnesota undergrads each semester. in lectures that often exceed 300 students, he learns all their names and often much more than their names. in assembling joel's dossier, i marveled at the letters from former students -- big-city police chiefs, judges, and community leaders. joel somehow gets them all to think well and clearly about the tenuous balance between individual liberty and public safety, and about relations between citizens and the state more generally. decades later, many of his students can quickly call to mind specific lectures or course materials that fundamentally changed their view of the world and their place within it.

i can't imagine that anyone has had a greater impact on the administration of justice in this state than joel, but his impact extends far beyond minnesota -- his publisher tells me that joel's criminal law, criminal procedure, and criminal justice texts are used in 468 colleges and universities in 48 states. wherever he goes, joel is stopped and thanked on a pretty-much-daily basis by former students. i can't imagine how that feels, though i was once pulled over by a police officer who had taken my delinquency class at wisconsin. after sizing up the rusty car i was driving, he took pity and let me off with a warning. do you think joel has ever gotten a ticket?

Friday, April 20, 2007


as i attend our department's annual s.r.i. celebration tomorrow, esperanza is off to the destination imagination state tournament. d.i. is sort of a theatrical team problem-solving competition. among other activities, the kids write and perform original skits (i mean, really original skits). this is the first year our team has made it to state, with a performance that is smart, funny, and tight. if they keep winning, they'll go to some mega-global competition next month.

meanwhile, i'll be checking in by phone from our sociological research institute. as chair, i'll do a little speechifying at lunch and then host a public conversation on justice with tom johnson at 1:45. my emcee duties get lighter after that, but i'm planning to play and sing a couple of personal favorites with the talcott parsons project late in the evening. maybe esperanza will finish in time to join us -- i could use her help on the high notes.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

geography humor

geographer rebecca colwell, who knows i couldn't find any address without google maps, passes along the following directions:

1. Go to
2. Click "Get directions"
3. In the 'Start' box, type New York
4. In the 'End' Box, type London
5. Click 'Get Directions'
6. Look at Step 23

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

race, inequality, and incarceration

i'm still processing wednesday's conference on race, inequality, and incarceration -- a day of grim but powerful presentations from law, political science, criminal justice, and sociology. two sets of studies were especially striking:

first, political scientists jon hurwitz and mark peffley presented some disturbing experimental public opinion research. for example, they find that whites are significantly less supportive of spending money to "lock up violent criminals" than to "lock up violent inner-city criminals." worse, white support for the death penalty actually freaking rises when respondents are given the additional cue that "Some people say that the death penalty is unfair because most of the people who are executed are African Americans." sixty-five percent of white respondents supported the death penalty in the baseline condition versus 77 percent once race is introduced.

jennifer eberhardt of stanford psychology then presented some of the most powerful experimental research i've seen on visual perception and the racialization of crime. for example, she found that a flashed image of a black face enhances perceivers' ability to detect degraded images of crime-relevant objects such as guns.

as the evidence mounted, i kept reworking my talk so that the day's last session would include at least a sliver of optimism. in the interviews i've done since the conference, however, i've been tongue-tied when talking about race. am i deepening white opposition to reenfranchisement by saying that felon voting laws exact a greater toll on communities of color?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

keep hanging on

another tough comment arrived tonight on an old post on expungement and employment. maybe you feel no sympathy for ex-felons or maybe you think they're exaggerating the pain. i get enough phone calls and letters and emails and first-hand testimony, however, to know that the stigma is real enough to push people over the edge. when a western state extended its five-year registration requirement to a lifetime public stigma, for example, i got a call from a guy at the end of his rope after 4.5 years. and it wasn't the first (or the tenth or the hundredth) time i've heard such desperation.

i posted my response and repeat it below, though it seems pretty lame. i tell myself that life is beautiful and anything is possible, but sometimes i'm just stumped. how would you respond to this message, from a commenter identified as dead soon?

Hello. I've got convictions a-plenty (five I believe at this point). All over a decade old and all centering around writing bad checks. I've worked in tech all my career and can't get a job. I had one at HP and was hired through a temp agency that was not required to run background checks at the time. I doubt that situation exists anywhere in America any more. If you lie about your record you will be found out and probably get fired if not worse. If you tell the truth, well you don't get hired to begin with. My advice? Stay in crime and as often as possible perpitrait those crimes against companies that have turned you down for honest work. What else have you got? See you in the grave as this is my last log on anywhere. I don't want to be a criminal and since losing my last job to a coworker that used my record to get me fired (she was promoted to my job)I give up. I'd say that a full year of no work due to a fifteen year old bad check conviction is enough. Tonight it's a drug smoothy that should end this existence and if it doesn't it's a bullett at 6am sharp as I have my alarm set. I served my time and didn't owe the interest society demanded. My kids couldn't afford it either but at least now they get the insurance. Can't look them in the eye anymore when I can't even get a job that pays the bills. Bye.

damn. try to hang on a little longer, friend -- sometimes you'll see something in the sunrise that wasn't there the night before. i can't know what you've gone through, but some of us have held on by our fingernails through tough nights. thinking about your kids ten years from now sometimes helps, as does the promise of strong coffee and an apple fritter in the morning sun (or maybe a heineken and an egg mcmuffin in the parking lot) -- rewards large and small for making it through the night.

Monday, April 16, 2007

imprisonment rates for 214 countries

the european society of criminology's april newsletter features an andrew coyle piece on imprisonment, reprinting data from roy wamsley's extensive 2007 world prison population list (7th ed.). the data seem well-suited for those seeking a punishment indicator for quantitative analysis, especially for those of us who are loath to impute punishment information or drop nations from the analysis due to missing data.

a few substantive summary points from the report:
  • More than 9.25 million people are held in penal institutions throughout the world, mostly as pre-trial detainees (remand prisoners) or as sentenced prisoners. Almost half of these are in the United States (2.19m), China (1.55m plus pretrial detainees and prisoners in ‘administrative detention’) or Russia (0.87m).
  • The United States has the highest prison population rate in the world, some 738 per 100,000 of the national population, followed by Russia (611), St Kitts & Nevis (547), U.S. Virgin Is. (521), Turkmenistan (c.489), Belize (487), Cuba (c.487), Palau (478), British Virgin Is. (464), Bermuda (463), Bahamas (462), Cayman Is. (453), American Samoa (446), Belarus (426) and Dominica (419). However, more than three fifths of countries (61%) have rates below 150 per 100,000.
  • Prison populations are growing in many parts of the world. Updated information on countries included in previous editions of the World Prison Population List shows that prison populations have risen in 73% of these countries (in 64% of countries in Africa, 84% in the Americas, 81% in Asia, 66% in Europe and 75% in Oceania).

Sunday, April 15, 2007

daniel beaty and fathers in prison

i've seen some amazing papers the past few days, taking in conferences on race, inequality, and incarceration and incarceration and fatherhood. friday's keynote speaker was the osborne association's liz gaynes, a powerful advocate for children with parents in prison. ms. gaynes introduced her talk with the daniel beaty video above. somehow, mr. beaty conveys the staggering loss of the experience within a message of growth and empowerment. if you just want the audio, you can skip the ruby dee intro and go directly to knock knock here.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

everything was beautiful and nothing hurt

in exploring the problem with boys in american high schools, tom chiarella called out kurt vonnegut's slaughterhouse five as the sort of book that might really engage young male readers. mr. vonnegut died yesterday, calling to mind the headstone and epitaph (at left) he drew for that book.

i first read the book and saw that tombstone when i was about my lad's age. i'm pushing the enormous noncomformist to dig deep into kurt, but cobain seems to come easier to him than vonnegut. at 16, i think he'd get a lot from those old slapstick, monkey house, cat's cradle, and slaughterhouse paperbacks on the basement shelves.

mr. vonnegut seemed unlikely to live to 84, given his heavy smoking, depression, and a suicide attempt twenty years ago. from his perspective, smoking and suicide were not unrelated:

The public health authorities never mention the main reason many Americans have for smoking heavily, which is that smoking is a fairly sure, fairly honorable form of suicide.

so it goes. i'm predicting that mr. vonnegut will become unstuck in time, like his character billy pilgrim, popping up in high school english classes for generations of readers. here's hoping that billy, harrison bergeron, kilgore trout, and montana wildhack will long outlive their author.

mr. vonnegut left something for writers as well as readers. here are his eight rules for writing a short story, from his bagombo snuff box:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things -- reveal character or advance the action.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them -- in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Monday, April 09, 2007

big country

i've pared back my traveling as chair, but will get out of town for a frequent-flyer special this week.

wednesday i'm at stanford for race, inequality, and incarceration at the institute for research in the social sciences, doing a panel with bruce western and becky pettit. grim topic, yeah, but i really tried to put together an upbeat talk for this one.
friday i'm at cornell for an incarceration and fatherhood workshop with the sara(h)s -- sarah and sara. both trips should be great, so long as i tackle the 4,716 things on my MUST DO NOW list before tomorrow's flight. also, it turns out that ithaca is really, really far from stanford. that's ok though, i've got complete faith in northwest airlines to get me there on time. in a big country, dreams stay with you.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

i'll just stick with the clearasil, thanks

i took my juvenile delinquency class for a tour of the red wing correctional facility yesterday, the end-of-the-line institution in minnesota. i'm always impressed with the facility's staff, who seem genuinely committed to helping young men under difficult conditions. legions of volunteers share a similar orientation; my personal favorites are the grandmas who come into the cottages to bake cookies for the kids and generally civilize the place.

the tour is great for students because it is led by residents rather than staff. students therefore get the opportunity to interact freely and informally with those serving time in the institution. typically 3 residents will lead groups of 6 or 7 students through the facility, explaining what their daily lives are like, and sometimes asking my students questions about college life. nevertheless, the facility has begun to look more like a prison in recent years, and every prison seems to have a hole. the dayton high-security unit serves that function at red wing.

i always join one of the groups myself, since every year i learn something new from the residents. this year i learned about pepper spray, which is sometimes (infrequently, i'd hope) used to incapacitate or control residents. as we left the high security unit, two of our guides discussed how they could now deliver pepper spray with a "firehose," delivering immediate pain to all exposed skin. "damn," he continued, "but at least that sh** will clear up your acne. i didn't have no acne for a whole week, man. i'm not kidding!"

pain isn't funny, but i felt a connection and had to join them in a laugh -- it sounds exactly like something my teenage boy would say.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

under the bridge downtown / i gave my life away

i just gave an upbeat star-spangled interview about florida's move to enfranchise most former felons. as soon as i hung up the phone, however, minor threat sent word that the state has not completely abandoned the practice of dehumanizing former felons.

you've really gotta see the video to appreciate the story. like many places, miami-dade county has such restrictive rules for housing sex offenders that almost anywhere they live would violate the terms of their release. the shelters won't take them and they can't live anywhere near parks, schools, or daycare centers. yet these folks can't be homeless either, since their release is conditional on occupying a residence from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. according to a local story, a PO gave one poor guy the following directions to his new residence: "Go over the bridge. Once over the bridge, go under it towards the west side as far as he can go."

nice. according to cnn, the former felons are living under a bridge on the julia tuttle causeway, which offers no running water, electricity, or protection from rats and inclement weather. yet a state probation officer makes an early morning visit to the bridge every day to enforce the probation condition that they occupy a residence.

call me a soft-on-crime liberal egghead, but i don't think under the bridge is a viable long-term solution to public safety problems. in the short term, perhaps one of my florida pals could drive by and drop off a tent -- unless camping is against the rules too.

florida disenfranchisement, 1868-2007

dang. it finally happened. from the st. petersburg times:


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Most Florida felons who complete their sentences will have their voting and other civil rights more quickly restored under a rule approved Thursday by Republican Gov. Charlie Crist and the state clemency board.

All but the most violent felons would avoid the need to get on a long list for a hearing before the board, which sometimes takes years.

The board voted 3-1 on the immediate change. Attorney General Bill McCollum, another Republican, strongly objected to altering the Jim Crow-era ban on felons automatically getting their rights back once they finish their sentences.

But Crist was emphatic: "I believe in simple human justice and that when somebody has paid their debt to society, it is paid in full. There's a time to move on, a time to give them an opportunity to have redemption, to have a chance to become productive citizens again." ...

...Still, Crist's plan was a compromise, carving out murderers and other violent felons who would still have to either go before the board for a hearing or at least be subject to review by board members without a hearing in some cases.

..."I believe in appropriate punishment, I'm 'Chaingang Charlie,'" Crist said. "But I believe in justice."

That drew an "Amen" from several in the audience at the meeting, including advocates for felons.

A recent federal lawsuit challenged Florida's rights ban on grounds that it disproportionately affected blacks. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that argument in 2005, noting Florida first banned felon voting in 1845 - before blacks were allowed to vote. The U.S. Supreme Court later let that decision stand.

The ban was put into the state constitution in 1868.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

take me out to that dome

the metrodome's hanging speakers have taken some major shots over the years, courtesy of power hitters such as chili davis, mo vaughn, and david ortiz. at monday's twins opener they were rocked once more, courtesy of a boozy, heartfelt rendition of take me out to the ballgame by twinsfreaks the hold steady.

mtv explains and offers a short video of the recording, but you can link directly to the full-on, full-length audio via stereogum.

i don't see any metrodome dates on the band's summer tour, but i know that singer craig finn will drop by for a few games. here's hoping that a ths/twins double-header is in the works.

laughing waters

whenever i travel from the minnversity to the msp airport, i try to save a little time for a stop at minnehaha falls.

the falls were a huge attraction in the 19th century, with visitors ranging from thoreau to dvorak to twain. mr. clemens even paused in life on the mississippi to note, "the beautiful falls of minnehaha are sufficiently celebrated -- they do not need a life from me, in that direction."

the falls get a bit less attention today, though tor tells me that the view from the rocks behind the falls is still pretty cool. and if you follow them down for about a 15 minute hike, you'll encounter twain's river, the muddy mississippi. wcco's jeanette trompeter filed a fine local story on the falls recently, noting how they inspired henry longfellow's song of hiawatha, albeit from a distance. yeah, longellow's love story is a cheesefest, but it springs from a tradition dating back to the kalevala, a finnish epic niels ingwerson taught us at the wizversity.

In the land of the Dacotahs,
Where the Falls of Minnehaha
Flash and gleam among the oak trees,
Laugh and leap into the valley.
... And he named her from the river,
From the waterfall he named her,
Minnehaha, Laughing Water.

you can still encounter the lovers hiawatha and minnehaha in minnehaha park. and, speaking of cheesy, twentieth century types such as the sweet revisited similar themes with a 1970s (in)sensibility:

Hiawatha didn't bother too much
'Bout Minnie Ha-Ha and her tender touch
Till she took him to the silver stream
Then she whispered words like he had never heard
That made him all shudder inside

yeesh. seventies pop isn't pretty. with all the recent rain, however, the falls should be cooking now. i'm traveling to give a few talks next week, so i'll try to make a little time for a spring visit.

Monday, April 02, 2007

hi everybody!

herb carneal died today at the age of 83. mr. carneal had been the voice of the twins since 1962, so i washed a lot of dishes and ran a lot of miles while listening to his calls.

mr. carneal told us about charmin' harmon's 500th home run, the world series in '87 and '91, and pretty much all things twins for 44 years. players such as jack morris and dave winfield respected mr. carneal because he truly appreciated the difficulty of the game. he would report their mistakes, of course, but would never needlessly embarrass them.

the finest tribute, however, comes from garrison keillor, who drew upon mr. carneal to exemplify the concept of mood audio -- the feeling of having a "really nice person" on the front seat with you. he also immortalized the hall of fame broadcaster with a stanza in the porch song:

Just give me two pillows and a bottle of beer,
And the Twins game on radio next to my ear.
Some hark to the sound of the loon or the teal,
But I love the voice of Herb Carneal.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

my name is tommy, and i became aware this year

i don't know whether he'll make any real noise in 2007 much less 2008, but former wisconsin governor tommy thompson's longshot presidential campaign should be fun to watch. he bills himself as the only reliable conservative in the race, which strikes me as a clever tagline. centrists can read it as the only conservative candidate who is also reliable, while righties can read it as the only candidate who is reliably conservative. it might even hold a certain appeal for lefties -- i mean, at least he's reliable. nice.

mr. thompson currently lacks the money for a serious run and i would imagine that many view his foreign-policy resume as thin. that said, i had enough contact with then-governor thompson in madison to know that he's a formidable politician. in the late-1980s, i clerked in a law firm with ties to his first administration, worked in social services on welfare-to-work stuff, and had a happy little house on 2nd street not far from the governor's mansion on the lake. i'd often see the governor holding meetings at all hours, in places ranging from the east-side ovens of brittany to the downtown hojos and concourse. sometimes i'd even see him getting in a little exercise at an impressively early hour. he was no jogger (well, he was actually the kind of jogger who compels people to stop and ask, are you ok, dude?) but the man could work.

prior to his election in 1987, my demfriends in social services quickly dismissed candidate thompson, saying he lacked the polish necesssary to become governor. oh sure, he could work the county fair beer tent in elroy, they'd continue, but his bit would never fly in madison or milwaukee. i took this to mean that mr. thompson lacked the cultural capital, sharp looks, and smooth manner of, say, tony earl, tom loftus, chuck chvala, or ed garvey. but, oh my! did he ever whip up on those fellows in the gubernatorial elections.

mr. thompson seems a little more telegenic these days, but i suspect the pundits will trot out similar lines about whether he looks suitably presidential or, more likely, suitably vice presidential. mr. thompson also enters the fray with little money or national organization. instead, he's devoting his considerable energies to making a strong early showing in iowa, where his brand of plain-spoken beer-tent politicking might just find an audience (i mean, does rudy giuliani even have a position on e85?). plus, he's the only politician i've seen who doesn't look uncomfortable riding a harley. he remains the longest of shots and darkest of horses, but i sure wouldn't misunderestimate any candidate who works as hard as tommy thompson.