Chris Uggen's Blog: July 2007

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

conjugal visits and civil rights law

conjugal visits for prisoners have long been suggested as a means to preserve family bonds (with those on the outside) while providing an additional incentive for decent behavior (with those on the inside). i've yet to see a methodologically bulletproof test of their effects, but i'd characterize the research evidence on these questions as "spotty." in this area, as in others, we could use some randomized trials.

nevertheless, i'm definitely taken with the idea of prisoners earning private time with their loved ones, particularly in the weeks and months preceding release. unfortunately, such programs are rare today. in light of prison overcrowding, budget pressures, and concerns about visitors bringing s.t.d.s and contraband into prisons, only a handful of states operate conjugal visit programs today.

where such visits are offered, however, there appears to be a move to extend them beyond heterosexual marital relationships. california recently became the first state to establish overnight conjugal visits for same-sex partners. just this week, institutions in mexico city adopted a similar policy. in california, visits are only permitted for registered domestic partners who are not themselves in custody, and the domestic partnership must have been established before admission to prison. moreover, such visits are not permitted for sex offenders, condemned inmates, or those without a parole date. those with violent offenses against a minor or a family member are also ineligible.

even with such restrictions, the program helps some inmates reconnect with an important source of outside support -- and sometimes their only source of outside support. msnbc quoted one california inmate as follows:

"I got to spend 2 1/2 days one-on-one with my partner, my best friend, my confidant, my life partner. It wasn't about the sex ... You can actually just relax and get to know your partner again."

as a reentry, reintegration, and recidivism-reduction strategy, that's probably not a bad use of a weekend.

perceptual/laundry bias

rumor has it that a minnesota basketball icon is bound for boston. i'm opposed to any trade of mr. garnett (or prince, or walter mondale, or bob dylan, for that matter) but particularly opposed to any trade involving the celtics.

i've got nothing against boston, but let's face it: wolves general manager kevin mchale appears to be incapable of rendering an objective assessment of anyone or anything sporting celtic green. you see, mr. mchale enjoyed a truly beautiful run with boston, earning a reputation as one of the nba's top-50 all-time players and picking up three rings in his storied thirteen-year career.

based on his earlier trades, however, i've developed a simple hypothesis: mr. mchale suffers from a perceptual bias with regard to the boston franchise. because he played with a magnificent cast of team-first celtics in the 1980s, mr. mchale still associates green-and-white laundry with winning and happiness. when mr. mchale observes his former team, he sees only glory days rather than the mediocrity that characterizes the current collection of celtics.

when an underachieving gunner such as ricky davis dons celtic green, for example, mr. mchale envisions cedric "cornbread" maxwell coming through in the clutch. why, that's not seven-footer mark blount drifting from the paint, it's the great robert parrish! marcus banks? nah, that's dennis johnson.

well, you get the picture. the rumors suggest that the wolves will gain gerald green (trading partner danny ainge?), sebastian telfair (jerry sichting and/or gerald henderson), veteran center theo ratliff (bill walton), and up-and-comer al jefferson (heaven help us, larry bird), and perhaps ryan gomes (scott wedman or mchale himself) and a draft choice or two.

maybe it will all turn out just fine, but i've got the same sinking feeling i had when the wolves drafted ndudi ebi a few years ago. i wonder whether young mr. ebi wore a celtics jersey to his first wolves workout ...

Sunday, July 29, 2007

gangs in the military

cbs news ran reports this week on gangs in the military and gangs employing military training in their criminal activities. the juxtaposition of military and street gang iconography, as in this picture of marine corporal shavon striggles at parris island, raises all sorts of disturbing and provocative questions.

in discussing gangs in the military, most will look immediately to the 125,000 recent recruits entering the service with criminal records. in making this leap, i'd suggest two cautions:

first, many of these recruits surely had some history of gang involvement, but just as surely had left ganglife behind. the best longitudinal data i've seen suggests that gang affiliations are rarely the lifelong commitments suggested in popular culture. relative to other former gang members, those that enter intensive military training might be expected to shed such affiliations especially quickly.

second, while one needn't look far to find evocative images such as gang graffiti and hand signs around military personnel, the official gang incident numbers remain quite small: 16 reports of investigation (ROI) and 44 other suspected gang incidents in 2006. in short, though i'm glad the military is vigilant on this issue, the rest of us would probably do well to keep such threats in perspective.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

the venerable southern death belt: prison mortality, 2001-2005

while prison is a bad place to live, it is an even worse place to die. if you spend much time talking with inmates, it won't be long before you hear the phrase, "i don't want to die in prison." long sentences and an aging inmate population, however, suggest that rates of prison death are likely to rise in coming years. of course, the vast majority of inmates will ultimately be released to their communities. nevertheless, the specter of dying behind bars is likely becoming more realistic.

if you want to learn more about this phenomenon, the amazingly efficient professionals at the bureau of justice statistics have developed a useful new deaths in custody site. according to bjs, there were about 15,308 deaths in state prisons from 2001-2005, with illness listed as the cause in most (12,630) of them.

the prison mortality rate ranges from 126 per 100,000 prisoners in north dakota to 410 in louisiana. after looking at the state list, i was taken by the strong geographic patterning of prison mortality. in particular, midwestern states tend to have far lower prison mortality rates than southern states.

i'm not sure to what extent this pattern can be attributed to differentials in sentencing practices, health care, or the sociodemographic characteristics of inmates, but there is strong evidence for some sort of regionalization.

the map below is based on the interquartile range for the state mortality data, with the lowest quartile (fewer than 211 deaths per 100k) shaded yellow and the highest death quartile (more than 275 deaths per 100k) shaded red.

a contiguous line of states from pennsylvania to louisiana and back up to kansas has death rates in the top quartile, whereas a clump of states in the upper midwest all show far lower death rates. this map bears some resemblance to overall incarceration patterns -- with maine and north dakota anchoring one end of the distribution and louisiana the other.

note that these statistics do not consider executions. had these been added to the prison death numbers, there would be even stronger evidence of a southern death belt. or, more positively, of a life belt elsewhere. only twelve states are without a death penalty on the books, but eight of these (north dakota, iowa, rhode island, hawaii, minnesota, alaska, wisconsin, and maine) fall into the lowest quartile for prison death rates. of the six states with the lowest prison death rate, none have a death penalty.

the above pattern of results suggests to me that executions and life sentences are complements rather than substitutes. states that categorically refuse to kill prisoners are less likely, rather than more likely, to let them die in prison.

Friday, July 27, 2007

writing from prison


"The Right to Vote for Convicted Felons" By David Hinman, #0025374, Anamosa State Penitentiary, Post Office Box 10, Anamosa, Iowa 52205-0010. Also see Whittling Away the Time, an article about a wood carving of Anamosa State Penitentiary.
"Justice Works! When its principles are not compromised", A Letter to the Governor by Michael Braae, 270679 W.C.C. AT 105 IMU P.O. Box 900 Shelton, WA 98584
"Indemnification of Prison Guards" By DJ Taylor, #179983 Northern Supermax, P.O. Box 665, Somers, CT 06071.
Letter from Kenneth Keel: Challenging "Three Strikes" Under Human Rights Treaty: International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Concerned USA Citizen's Support To End Life Imprisonment of Nonviolent Offenders Under California's 'Three Strikes' Law, February, 2007
Letter from F. DeAndre Howard, February, 2007. Contact the author at Reg. #07757-089, Federal Correctional Institution, P.O. Box 5000, Pekin, IL 61555-5000
"Comprehensive Incarcerated Person Reform, Rehabilitation and Reentry Act" and Letter. Please feel free to contact the author with your thoughts and comments: Sheldon N. Messer 00A3204, Sing Sing Correctional Facility, 354 Hunter Street, Ossining, New York 10562
"Anatomy of a Prison Riot" by R.M., November 2006
"Waiting to Die - The American Prison Experience" by R. M., November 2006
"A Call for the Abolition of Prisons" by Tiyo Attallah Salah El
"Prisoner Suicides: The Danger of Manufacturing Hopelessness" by Ed Bowser

from the PEN prison writing program:

Doing Time by Steven Bulleit First Prize, Poetry
Sunday evening Mom and Dad unwind on the couch,/ her full black hair lays against Dad’s shoulder./The iconic stopwatch fills the screen, the second hand/sweeps north, folding its final ticks into silence. [More]
"Feeling(s) Cheated" by J.E. Wantz First Prize, Nonfiction/Essay
From 1995 to 2005 I was on Paxil, a medication that, ostensibly, was to help me in the areas of depression and obsessive compulsive thinking. As I look back on the role that this medication has played in my life for the last 10 years I begin to wonder. [More]
Just Another Death by Christina MacNaughton First Place, Memoir
I sit on my bunk as the minutes tick by. The count should have cleared over half an hour ago. Something’s up. In a place where timing and routine and schedule are the axis upon which the world revolves, remaining locked for so long past the standard count time sends Morse code through the heart of every inmate. [More]
Confessions of a Jack-Off Artist" by Clifford Barnes First Prize, Fiction
I like cocaine. No, I love it. It can be pure or stepped on with Inositol, B.C. Powder, or Equal. I’ll cook it up, draw it into the rig, and shoot it. I love bumpin’ coke because I get a feeling like when I was twelve and skeeted for the first time, except the rush is ten-times more intense and lasts about fifteen to twenty minutes.[More]

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

after the offense

american public media's the story offers an extensive profile of local guy tom coles and the sex offenders he has invited into his home. heather h. tipped me off to after the offense, a story about swimming upstream against stigma and a man's enduring belief in redemption.

i'd probably edit the hour-long segment for classroom use, but i could imagine using it in concert with a sex offender recidivism study and a classroom discussion of politics and policy choices.

62 games and 3 plunks

he's 41 years old, he's got his 3,000 hits, and his lifetime pass to the hall of fame is all but punched. so, the pride of the astros has announced that he's hanging 'em up at the end of the season. dang. could craig biggio really just up and quit when he's only 3 plunks shy of the all-time record?

hughie "yeehah" jennings has held baseball's coveted hit-by-pitch record for over a century. mr. biggio is currently stuck on 285 to mr. jennings' 287, but the astro still has 62 games to catch the grandmaster and i'll be cheering him on.

maybe the record means more to me than it does to mr. biggio; but for my ability to take one for the team, my little league on-base percentage would have dipped far south of the mendoza line. still, i'm not the only one exhorting mr. biggio to lean in and crowd the plate. from plunkbiggio:

this site will be looking for those 3. 3 shall be the number of the counting and the number of th[e] counting shall be 3. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out. Okay, 4 or 5 would be great too, but 3 is the magic number.

go get 'em, craig. how often are you gonna use that left elbow in retirement, anyway?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

california prison overcrowding

in response to lawsuits documenting inadequate services for physical and mental health in california prisons, federal judges have ordered creation of a three-judge panel, charged with reducing overcrowding in that state. i'm guessing that the three judges won't be operating out of the triple-bunk setup shown at left, in vacaville's solano prison gymnasium.

according to bjs sources, california is now home to 175,000 state prisoners, far more than any other state and only about 15,000 inmates fewer than the entire federal system. that said, the state's incarceration rate of 476 per 100,000 is still below the national average of 497. nevertheless, the system is expanding rapidly, growing by 8,583 inmates from midyear 2005 to midyear 2006. moreover, california has a higher than average rate of parolees and it returns these parolees to prison at a much higher than average rate, often for technical violations. though governor schwarzenegger just signed a $7.7 billion prison construction bill, it will be tough (and, some say, impossible) for the state to build its way out of these problems.

Monday, July 23, 2007

inspiration in five minutes or less

where can you go to find inspiration in five minutes or less? songs and poems move me, but it can take hours (or days or years or decades) to absorb their effects. sport, in contrast, can sometimes put an immediate lump in my throat. in particular, i get strangely choked up over middle-distance track events.

why the emotional reaction? hmmm. well, running has never come easy to me. plus, unlike most everything i study, all runners start with a more-or-less fair shot at victory. by the finish, of course, they've separated themselves on the basis of talent, preparation, and will. the last lap is typically run on fumes, or guts, or what the enormous nonconformist calls mental toughness.* at this point, some runners come apart at the seams, most resign themselves to a decent or respectable finish, and a few somehow push themselves to something greater.

all of this brings me to a fine little video of alan webb, who set the american mile record of 3:46:91 on saturday.** if you have 3:30 to spare, take a look at this beautiful 1500 from paris last month, set to interpol's pace is the trick. i think the pairing of race and music blows the doors off chariots of fire. see what happens when baala mehdi leaves young mr. webb for dead at the start of the bell lap? if you like that, here's an even better shot of his nitrous-like finishing kick against the great lagat. 3:46? dang. if he stays healthy, there's no telling how low mr. ladd can go.

*favorite usage: "you're not that slow, dad. i only beat you because you're mentally weak." it was a proud moment for both of us, i assure you.

**i first noticed mr. ladd when he tore off a "here I am!" 3:53 mile as a high schooler and landed on letterman as a preternaturally snarky teenager. after that race, he went riding with the king -- world record-holder hicham el guerrouj -- for a victory lap. now he's chasing mr. el guerrouj's record.

photo: usatoday
video: someone or something called fancyboy productions

Saturday, July 21, 2007

(moral) panic in needle park.

this is the story of a short-lived moral panic and the challenges of leadership positions in law enforcement. earlier this month, the police chief in the peaceful college town of northfield, minnesota, called a press conference to alert the media to an emerging heroin epidemic.

according to media accounts, he estimated that up to 250 heroin users in and around northfield high were feeding habits of up to $800 per day -- and that this group was responsible for a major spike in the local crime rate.

some were called to action, others scoffed, and some of us just scratched our heads. i never doubted that some kids in northfield had tried heroin, but the claims seemed overblown. since 1999, heroin use has declined significantly among high school students. according to the 2006 monitoring the future data, only about 1.4 percent of 12th graders had even tried the drug and only .8 percent had ever done so intravenously.

yes, heroin can be found an hour north in minneapolis and, i suppose, the drug may have found its way to some carleton or st. olaf dorm room, but $800 per day? that's a mother-superior-sized habit. also, the picture painted at the meeting -- of the town's high-achieving valedictorians stealing everything that wasn't nailed down -- just smacked of hyperbole. frankly, in the absence of some corroborating evidence from schools, hospitals, or treatment centers, such claims called to mind reefer madness or, worse, j. peterman.*

now, just a couple weeks later, the good people of northfield and the town's feral youth have questioned the chief's evidence and his claims. and the chief, in turn, has taken an indefinite leave of absence. i don't write to ridicule the chief, because i don't doubt his motives. this didn't strike me as a cynical search for a scapegoat to explain the rise in property crime; nor did it strike me as intentionally hyping a story to garner resources for the department. i just think the chief saw a problem and reacted strongly. who knows? he might be proven right after all. at least the town is having better-informed drug policy discussions.

in my view, this case illustrates the value of asking "where's your data?" before taking big policy steps regarding crime and drug use. as soon as the evidentiary base was examined in northfield, the system seemed to self-correct and the moral panic was averted.

*That's right Elaine. white lotus, yam-yam, shanghai sally...I too once fell under the spell of opium. It was 1979. I was travelling the Yangtzee in search of a Mongolian horsehair vest...

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you shoulda heard those knocked-out jailbirds sing

in this clip, inmates of the provincial detention and rehabilitation center in cebu, philippines, challenge three beliefs held by many criminologists:

1. that criminals have little capacity for organized action.

2. that people on the inside are fundamentally and constitutionally different from people on the outside.

3. that the king's jailhouse rock video is not a faithful representation of contemporary prison life.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

norman borlaug and academic butterflies

norman borlaug received the congressional gold medal this week. the plant pathologist is best known for developing high-yield disease-resistant crops. he joins martin luther king jr., mother teresa, elie wiesel, and nelson mandela as the only people to have received this award, the nobel peace prize, and the presidential medal of freedom.

few scientists or humanitarians have had a bigger global impact in the past century. his work has its critics, though even critics generally credit professor borlaug with saving over a billion people from starvation. not a bad record of productivity, i'd say. while his c.v. and awards are impressive, however, he has never really pursued an academic career path.

the nobel bio describes doctor borlaug in this way:

"An eclectic, pragmatic, goal-oriented scientist, he accepts and discards methods or results in a constant search for more fruitful and effective ones, while at the same time avoiding the pursuit of what he calls "academic butterflies. "

if you're ever in my neighborhood, you can find a reproduction of professor borlaug's handwritten nobel acceptance speech on the minnversity's cooler-than-it-sounds wall of discovery. i was curious about said butterflies, so i dug a bit deeper. he uses the phrase in his 1970 nobel lecture, describing one of his major breakthrough periods in 1940s mexico:

"Research from the outset was production-oriented and restricted to that which was relevant to increasing wheat production. Researches in pursuit of irrelevant academic butterflies [emphasis added] were discouraged, both because of the acute shortage of scientific manpower and because of the need to have data and materials available as soon as possible for use in the production program."

ouch, say the academics. but i've gotta admire the urgency and seriousness with which he approaches his work -- this stuff is just too damn important to worry about "framing" or which potholes that a particular finding might fill in the academic literature. isn't sociological and criminological work of equal importance? shouldn't we focus a bit more on gathering the data and materials needed to produce positive change in the world? professor borlaug goes on to describe his bold dreams and his disillusionment with the academic priorities of the day:

"In my dream I see green, vigorous, high-yielding fields of wheat, rice, maize, sorghums, and millets, which are obtaining, free of expense, 100 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare from nodule-forming, nitrogen-fixing bacteria. These mutant strains of Rhizobium cerealis were developed in 1990 by a massive mutation breeding program with strains of Rhizobium sp. obtained from roots of legumes and other nodule-bearing plants. This scientific discovery has revolutionized agricultural production for the hundreds of millions of humble farmers throughout the world; for they now receive much of the needed fertilizer for their crops directly from these little wondrous microbes that are taking nitrogen from the air and fixing it without cost in the roots of cereals, from which it is transformed into grain...

Then I wake up and become disillusioned to find that mutation genetics programs are still engaged mostly in such minutiae as putting beards on wheat plants and taking off the hairs [emphasis added].

yeesh. i love my work, but sometimes i feel like a dorky kid chasing butterflies around my well-appointed office. and when i catch them, i suppose, i'll paste little beards on them and submit them electronically for judgment by the scholar-squirrels of academe.

norman borlaug demonstrates the virtues of clear priorities and a commitment to doing research that matters, telling us to dream big and to go hard. that's such an inspiring vision that i may even share his story with my lad tonight. oh yeah, forgot to mention it -- dr. borlaug was also a heavyweight wrestler at the minnversity (back when heavyweights were about half tor's size) and a member of the national collegiate wrestling hall of fame. neither martin luther king jr., nor mother teresa, nor elie wiesel, nor nelson mandela can claim that honor.


here's a clever criminology riff on pharmaceutical ads.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

sentencing project report on racial disparity

updated: 7/19

the sentencing project sent word today of their new report, Uneven Justice: State Rates of Incarceration By Race and Ethnicity. taking data from their tables, i graphed the state ratios of black-to-white incarceration shown below (note: this figure was revised 7/19 to correct a mislabeled state):

the disparity seems to be lowest in hawaii, though -- let's be clear about this -- a ratio of 1.9 still means that african americans are almost twice as likely as whites to be incarcerated in that state. southern states also have relatively low disproportionality ratios, partly due to their higher-than-average incarceration of whites. things are most disparate in iowa, vermont, new jersey, connecticut, wisconsin, and the dakotas, with african americans getting locked up at a rate 10 times that of whites. there is no state in which african american incarceration rates are anywhere near parity with white rates.

the report also computes ratios for hispanics versus non-hispanic whites, though i suspect that data quality varies considerably among the states on this indicator. nevertheless, i graphed these data as well:

comparing the two charts, the first thing i notice is the difference in scale on the y-axes: from 1.9 to 19 for the african american-to-white chart and from .4 to 6.6 on the hispanic-to-white chart. only connecticut, massachusetts, and pennsylvania had hispanic-to-white ratios of greater than 5. moreover, two states reached parity -- a ratio of 1.0 -- and five states had ratios indicating lower incarceration among hispanics than among non-hispanic whites: georgia, alaska, florida, arkansas, west virginia, louisiana, and hawaii. again, such ratios should probably be interpreted with a bit more caution than those presented in the first figure, since ethnicity is inconsistently reported in the criminal justice system.

the state-to-state differences are instructive and sobering, especially for northerners who might be smug or complacent about racial inequality. criminal punishment represents one area in which racial disparity appears far worse in the north than in the south, with mostly-white states such as connecticut leading the way in racial inequality. still, the overall disparities remain the big story: nationally, african american incarceration rates are 5.6 times as high as white rates, while hispanic rates are 1.8 times those of non-hispanic whites.

will you visit me on sunday?

listening to sirius 63 on a roadtrip, i learned that loretta lynn is re-releasing this classic prison song. the original was a fine duet with conway twitty, but the new version features a strong marty stuart performance. she's singing here with teddy wilburn, who is neither conway twitty nor marty stuart. the sentiment is pretty hoky, but i love how this love song humanizes the prison experience -- there, but for the grace of god...

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

the first rule of fight camp is that everybody talks about fight camp

the local press are abuzz over derek boogaard's saskatchwan summer "fight camp." mr. boogaard is the designated enforcer of the minnesota wild, our professional hockey team.

fighting is clearly the camp's focus and mr. boogaard's most marketable professional asset. as the blood-spattered t-shirts make clear, this is not your typical skills camp with a little demo discussing fighting as a necessary evil. this is a fight camp.

i'm most interested in the parents of the 12-18 year-olds in attendance. real hockey moms and dads truck their kids to rinks and camps year round, but savvy parents are probably sending their budding rocket richards and dominik haseks to stickhandling camp or goalie camp. so, who sends their kids to fight camp? a few hypotheses:

1. parents who give in to their kids might reluctantly sign off on fight camp. i can certainly envision some young lads making the camp a real priority and working and/or whining hard to attend. this seems the most likely scenario to me.

2. parents who can only afford fifty bucks might send their kids to fight camp. they get a chance to interact with a famous and/or infamous hockey player but needn't break the bank to do so.

3. parents who think their boys should be doing a bit more masculinity might send their kids to fight camp. if the little nipper has a nice hockey skill set but shrinks from the violence, the parents might see mr. boogaard's camp as an efficient karate-kidlike corrective.

4. parents who think their boys should discipline their violence might send their kids to fight camp. if the young palooka has shown a propensity for wanton violence, a fight camp might be seen as just the thing to discipline or attenuate it before the authorities step into the picture.

i could spin off a few hypotheses on family structure (frustrated hockey dad or single mom?) and social class (emasculated middle-class or working-class focal concern?), but i'd need to know more about hockey and fighting to do so effectively.

a few more questions: do you think attendees are likely to get into more fights next season relative to last season? would participating in a one-day $50 fight camp have any effect on behavior on or off the ice? do teammates view attendance positively or negatively? i imagine that my lad would ridicule any teammates who thought they needed summer school remediation in this area. i know that he'd ridicule any parents who thought that such a camp could toughen up their kids.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

mala verba: putatively innocuous phrases your chair doesn't want to hear

i experienced all manner of fascinating incidents and interactions during my first year as department chair. though the really interesting experiences are completely unfreakingbloggable, i can offer a few general reflections that might help you smoove interactions with your own department chair.

most days, i love serving as chair and truly feel honored that my colleagues trust me to do the job. nevertheless, here are three putatively innocuous expressions that seem to get closed-door conversations off on the wrong foot, along with some suggested alternatives.

1. concerns. my least favorite word these days is the c-word: concerns. concerns are often valid and important, but unlike, say, problems or ideas, there's no directive for action when people express their concerns. and, when chairs simply lend an ear but do not take action, people will feel that their concerns have been ignored. ultimately, a chair is seeking solutions, so a clear statement of the problem is welcome. a direct expression ("i've got a real problem with 8 am classes, chris!") is often more efficient when one feels aggrieved. for less focused concerns, an open-ended query ("can we talk about this policy? here's what i was thinking...") often gets the conversation rolling in a useful direction.

2. demonstrating leadership. i like the term "leadership," but get nervous whenever asked to demonstrate this quality with respect to another colleague or student. demonstrating leadership by making tough choices -- and taking the hit when things go badly -- is all part of the job. unfortunately, some will equate "demonstrating leadership" with bringing your hammer down to smite their enemies. in my experience, true zero-sum scenarios that necessitate hammers are more the exception than the rule in higher education. plus, most chairs only have rubber hammers in their toolbox. they will be much more eager to help you when they can find a solution that does no harm to your colleagues.

3. on your toes. responsible department administration requires a system of checks and balances to keep chairs in line. deans, executive committees, individual faculty members, staff, and students all provide formal and informal oversight to ensure that chairs act in accord with the department's best long-term interests.* chair's sometimes chafe at these restrictions, but they really chafe when informed (however good-naturedly) that some action was taken to "keep them on their toes." staying on one's toes is easy in the short-term, but this position gets really stressful when held day and night for months on end. good chairs are already on their toes ... and those toes are tired. so, rather than asking to review a report to keep your chair on her toes, you might ask whether she'd like help drafting the section about which you are concerned. it isn't exactly a foot massage, but her toes will welcome any relief you can provide.

* the "best long-term interests of the department" or BLTIotD is my day-to-day decision rule. once convinced that a line of action is in the BLTIotD, i'll generally pursue it wholeheartedly.

[the graphic above is taken from verbotomy.]

Sunday, July 15, 2007

hiring bass players

sis, j.d., and leif are visiting from brooklyn, where they've recently opened a second oslo coffee shop in williamsburg. j.d. says they're hiring a lot of musicians these days, since musicians are quite plentiful in williamsburg and their hours nicely complement those of the shop.

j.d. and sis speak highly of all their employees but offered a few general observations about which types of musicians are especially well-suited to their business. in particular, oslo tends to favor bass players -- which is absolutely terrific news for the enormous nonconformist. why bassists?

1. unlike guitarists, there's only one bassist per band, so the same employees won't need time off work simultaneously.

2. unlike drummers, they tend to play with only one band at a time, making scheduling more predictable.

3. unlike lead singers, they don't typically demand the spotlight. one rarely encounters major ego problems with bass players.

i'd also wager that bass players can lift heavier objects than other classes of musicians, hauling around all that massive ampeg gear. i'd further add something about bass players being rock-steady team players, but this would be extrapolating significantly beyond my data and personal experiences. plus, i don't want to get j.d. into any hot water with his fine co-workers or with the equal employment opportunity commission -- drummers might constitute a protected class for employment discrimination purposes.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

times op-ed on juvenile justice

the ny times offered a strong op-ed on juvenile justice this week. in my juvenile delinquency class, i discuss the 1974 juvenile justice and delinquency prevention act, which should have removed juveniles from adult jails. unfortunately, the practice of housing kids in adult facilities has continued unabated, with predictable and disturbing results.

Friday, July 13, 2007

per, newspapers, and american democracy

my cousin per peterson is marrying a wonderful person tomorrow, so i'm off to tiny garvin, minnesota for the big celebration. per is a classic newspaper guy, a news editor and columnist for the marshall independent.

i thought of per as i retrieved my anorexic minneapolis star-tribune from the battered green box at the end of the driveway this morning. my beloved strib recently cut about half its staff and so reduced, in equal proportion, its significance in my community. the sports section, for example, is a hollow shell of its glorious former self. why there's even advertising on the front page of said section. but i'm most concerned about coverage of local news and politics. i still don't see how anyone can cast a responsible vote in a state or municipal election without a subscription to the local daily.

the strib's circulation has dropped to about 380,000 (640k on sunday), so management cites poverty and poor readership as reasons for trimming the sails. still, it breaks my heart to see a grand old paper reducing itself to the significance of a lightweight weekly shopper. moreover, 380,000 readers still strikes me as a decent readership. if the great strib is reducing itself to nonsignificance, how the heck are local papers outside top 20 media markets managing to make it? fortunately, for marshall minnesota and, i suppose, for american democracy, cousin per's marshall independent is scratching and surviving on a daily circulation of 7,515. here's hoping the good people of marshall will enjoy an independent local daily for years to come.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

seeking a new assistant to

visitors to our fair department quickly pick up on the quality and professionalism of our terrific staff. in fact, i'm commissioning a sign for the reception area, celebrating this culture of professionalism and performance:


our chief-of-staff and assistant-to-the-chair, carol rachac, deserves much of the credit for fostering such a productive work environment. she's certainly been a wonderful partner for me during my first year in the chair's chair. after next week, however, carol will move on to an associate program director position at the minnversity.

although nobody could replace carol, we are seeking a new assistant to the chair. in the interim, we've got good people working hard to keep things humming along to our normal tight standards. still, i'll rest a whole lot easier once were back to full strength.

the job is posted here, but i'll note a few highlights:

Position Title: Assistant to the Chair
Job Code: 9353
Requisition Number: 149321

Salary depends on experience, but the average "assistant to" earns about $65,200 in the college.

This is a 100% time position and reports to the Chair of the Department of Sociology. We seek a key administrator who supports and enhances the mission of the Department of Sociology. The department's budget is over four million dollars annually. Our community consists of 32 faculty, approximately 75 graduate students, and over 600 undergraduate majors. During our 100 plus year history, we have established a tradition of internationalism, interdisciplinarity and civic-mindedness.

25% Assist the Chair of Sociology with strategic planning to achieve the best use of department resources (operational budget, human resources, and space) to meet instructional, research and administrative needs. Coordinate the development of operational budget with Chair, Executive Committee, and senior accountant. Serve as Chief of Staff, coordinating all aspects of department management.

25% Prepare and schedule the department's curriculum offerings, course assignments and teaching assistant assignments for academic year and summer session. Submit recommendations on graduate curricular offerings to the department's Curriculum Committee. Mediate employment related disputes.

15% Manage personnel in department. Includes full supervisory authority for developing job descriptions and performance standards; coordinating searches; hiring; training; orienting; assigning, monitoring and adjusting workloads; problem-solving; disciplining; terminating and settling grievances. Serve as department contact for concerns of all employee groups (civil service, bargaining unit, P/A and faculty). Guide and coach graduate instructors and teaching assistants with issues related to employment.

15% Understand, communicate and interpret policies. Serve as the primary department resource for chair, faculty and staff on University and College administrative policies and procedures such as promotion and tenure; faculty searches; sabbaticals; annual review of probationary faculty; annual report of outside professional activities and business procedures. Interpret, develop and implement department policy and procedure as needed.

10% Direct budget activities through coordinated effort with the College, the University Foundation, the Office of Research Administration and Technology and other units on campus. Monitor monthly statements, reports for consistency in spending plans and advise chair on the budget process. Oversee grant administration through close communication with the senior accountant. Support faculty research activities. Provide consultation and assign resources for the conduct of research.

5% Coordinate department development and outreach activities with the College Office of External Relations, Development, and University Relations. Identify stories with potential for regional and national media outreach. Coordinate production of annual development magazine. Monitor and update department web presentation. Support the Volunteer Advisory Board meetings and activities. Oversee the presentation of events that involve alumni and donors.

5% Serve as a liaison on behalf of Chair, faculty, staff, and students with other University units and outside agencies. Work with Chair and faculty to establish and maintain important external relationships with professional academic organizations. Coordinate data collection for responding to external surveys.

Required Qualifications:
- Bachelors degree required.
- Minimum of five years human resource and financial management experience, including supervision, in higher education or complex organization setting with expanding responsibilities
-Strong computer skills with word processing, spreadsheets, on-line data manipulations and reporting, and databases.
-Two years of non-student supervisory experience
-Knowledge of at least one of the following: academic searches, promotion and tenure, curriculum scheduling, or graduate programs administration
-Demonstrated commitment to diversity
- Excellent verbal and written communication skills, including the ability to communicate effectively with diverse individuals and constituencies

Preferred Qualifications:
- Advanced degree preferred in higher education administration, management, social science or a related field.
- Experience working with faculty, staff and students in a higher education setting.
- Outstanding management, interpersonal and organizational skills.
-Experience with complex human resource and organizational issues and ability to maintain confidentiality.
-Proven track record of mentoring and developing staff in their efforts to maximize their professional potential.
-Progressive experience supporting administration in an academic setting.
-Proven financial, administrative and operations leadership skills with a collaborative management style and the ability to work effectively with senior administrators, faculty and staff.
- Demonstrated ability to take initiative and work independently.
- Ability to manage multiple complex tasks simultaneously while maintaining accuracy, appropriate attention to detail, and timely completion of projects.
- High degree of professionalism.
- Demonstrated leadership skills.

A complete application includes a cover letter, resume, statement of equal opportunity accomplishments (one page maximum), and contact information for three professional references. Send questions regarding this position to Yoonie Helbig at The Department of Sociology strives to provide a productive work environment for women and men from varying racial, ethnic, social, and national backgrounds. Applications from people of color are strongly encouraged. For additional information, please visit the Department of Sociology website, at

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

li'l leif's favorite street sweeper video

2006 i.s.i. journal citation rankings for criminology n' penology

org theory reports this week on the new isi web of knowledge journal impact ratings for sociology, so i thought i'd check out the updated criminology and penology rankings. as the figure indicates, criminology once again ranks at the top of the list, with an impact factor of 2.1. this means that, on average, criminology articles published in the past two years were cited a little more than two times in 2006, relative to about 1.3 citations per quant crim article and one citation per justice quarterly article.

the ratings shift around from year to year, since a "hit" hundred-citation article in, say, policing would rocket that journal up the charts. this year, i'm a bit surprised by the high ranking of sexual abuse: a journal of research and treatment, but see few other surprises on the list. in my opinion, good articles appear in every one of these journals, though the top-ranked journals might be more consistent in publishing high-quality articles from stem to stern in every volume.

how should you consider such measures in assessing journal quality? i'd advise a multi-method approach. the best and most thoughtful discussion i've seen on ranking journal quality comes from the auburn university library. i'll paraphrase liberally:

1. Citation Analysis
A high number of citations generally indicates a high level of quality. Cited reference searching enables you to find articles from journals that have cited a book, a patent or another article. Through a cited reference search, you can discover how a known idea or innovation has been confirmed, applied, improved, extended or corrected...
Citation Analysis Debate

Impact Factor
Impact factor is based on the number of times that articles in a journal are cited in the two years following the year of publication...
High impact factor or highly cited journals are considered more prestigious and important. JCR Fact Sheet Impact Factor Debate

Prestige and Reputation of the Journal
The prestige and reputation of the association, society, or organization publishing a journal can be a determining factor. Theoretically, the most prestigious scholarly associations such as APA, IEEE, etc. publish the best, most important, research in the field and therefore their journals have more prestige and weight than others...

In-Depth Knowledge of the field and Journals in the field
...Few people have knowledge of, and familiarity with all scholarly journals in a discipline ...However, among sub-disciplines, it becomes more possible to possess in-depth familiarity with the journals. If someone does truly possess this knowledge, their opinion, of which are the “best” journals in a discipline is worth a great deal in assessment.

Acceptance/Rejection Rate of the Journal
...Low acceptance rate, high rejection rate journals are considered the best and most prestigious journals. ...Many journals and societies have web pages that give publication data and style requirements and often includes acceptance/rejection rates. The paper copy of the journal occasionally includes this data and will always provide current contact information.
Periodical Guide

Indexing Services covering the Journal
Whether a journal is indexed in the major indexing/abstracting service in the field is another criteria that can be used to assess the worth and quality of a journal.

7. Total Circulation of the Journal
...High readership and circulation could be markers of a journal's quality and/or popularity. Circulation numbers can be often be found in Ulrich's International Periodicals Directory or might be obtained from the journal publisher's website.

the white-collar execution of zheng xiaoyu

zheng xiaoyu has been executed. the former head of china's food and drug safety agency had been convicted of accepting bribes from pharmaceutical companies this may.

leftist criminologists often rail against the light sentences given to white-collar criminals in the united states, particularly when measured against the lengthy prison time served by those convicted of street crimes. this sort of disproportionality case is most convincing with respect to drug convictions and property crimes. it doesn't take a marxist to notice that poor people who steal $2,000 worth of property sometimes do longer (and harder) time than executives who steal $2,000,000 emptying a pension fund.

i suppose that a few criminologists will read zheng xiaoyu's execution as evidence that an appropriate consideration of social harm has been given its due weight at sentencing. more cynically, of course, most of us will interpret this execution as signaling that scapegoats will be found and crucified whenever big-time market interests are threatened -- in china, as elsewhere.

either way, i doubt that this execution will do much to purge the diethylene glycol from your counterfeit colgate or the melamine from your cat food.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

good hennepin county research job

Job Title: Planning Analyst, Senior
Closing Date: 7/19/07 5:00 PM

Salary: $41,976 - $63,900 annually
Job Type: Full-time
Location: Downtown Minneapolis

Department: Strategic Initiatives & Community Engagement

Monday, July 09, 2007

we are volunteers of america

having written a bit about volunteering and the relation between prosocial and antisocial behavior, i try to follow trends in civic participation. my eye was thus caught by a strib story about the corporation for national and community service ranking minneapolis-st. paul as the volunteeringest of 50 big metros in 2007. volunteer rates ranged from 14.4% in las vegas to 40.5% in our fair cities. the data on participation rates are taken from the census bureau's september volunteer supplement to the current population survey. the volunteer rankings and rates:

1 Minneapolis/St. Paul 40.5
2 Salt Lake City 38.4
3 Austin, Texas 38.1
4 Omaha 37.8
5 Seattle 36.3
6 Portland, Ore. 35.8
7 Kansas City, Mo. 34.9
8 Milwaukee 34.4
9 Charlotte, N.C. 34.3
10 Tulsa, Okla. 33.7
11 Cincinnati 33.4
12 Columbus, Ohio 33.3
13 Pittsburgh 32.6
14 Bridgeport, Conn. 32.3
15 Washington 31.9
16 Louisville, Ky. 31.6
17 Denver 31.5
18 St. Louis 30.9
19 Nashville 30.5
20 Dallas 30.3
20 Oklahoma City 30.3
22 New Haven, Conn. 30.2
23 Hartford, Conn. 29.6
23 San Francisco 29.6
25 San Diego 29.2
26 Baltimore 28.6
Nationally 28.1
27 Albuquerque 27.8
28 Indianapolis 27.7
29 Richmond, Va. 27.6
30 Boston 27.5
30 Cleveland 27.5
32 Chicago 27.4
32 San Jose, Calif. 27.4
34 Detroit 27.0
35 San Antonio 26.7
36 Philadelphia 26.6
37 Sacramento 26.5
38 Atlanta 26.1
39 Houston 25.8
39 Tampa, Fla. 25.8
41 Phoenix 23.5
42 Honolulu 23.3
42 Providence, R.I. 23.3
44 Los Angeles 22.3
45 Orlando, Fla. 22.2
46 Riverside, Calif. 20.6
47 Virginia Beach, Va. 19.3
48 New York 18.7
49 Miami 16.1
50 Las Vegas 14.4

i'm sure a good social scientist could find interesting correlates of volunteer participation rates, but the report identifies the following factors:

• high education levels, linked to greater civic involvement.
• short commuting times, leaving more time for residents to volunteer.
• high home ownership, which promotes attachment to the community.
• high concentration of nonprofit organizations, providing opportunities to volunteer.
i'm just happy they didn't identify sanctimoniousness as a strong predictor...

Saturday, July 07, 2007

a probable cause standard for in-car surveillance

nate chapnick of offers a nice piece on surveillance systems and in-car cameras that allow parents to monitor their teen drivers. one firm will track your car's sudden movements, record the data on a website, and assign your kid a "risk score."

i once scoffed at such surveillance measures. then i thought about the two teenagers in my house hurtling down the road in three-thousand pounds of steel.

the data tell us that when teenagers die, they are likely to die behind the wheel. the centers for disease control report that "motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens, accounting for 36% of all deaths in this age group" and that "the risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among 16- to 19-year-olds than among any other age group .... per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely than older drivers to crash."

though i understand these risks, i'm too much of a small-l libertarian to monitor my kids electronically. i've decided to adopt a probable cause standard for implementing such surveillance. that means that i won't hassle with such stuff unless and until i have information sufficient to warrant a prudent person's belief that tor or esperanza had been delinquent or that evidence of delinquency or contraband would be found in a search.

but that doesn't mean that i won't take steps short of full-on surveillance, such as implementing curfews, based on a less-stringent reasonable suspicion standard. if i judge that a reasonable parent in my circumstances could reasonably believe that tor or esperanza has been, is, or is about to be, engaged in delinquent activity, i will strike down upon them with great rulemaking and furious anger. plus, i'll take the keys.

come to think of it, my kids don't really need to drive at all. if they broach the probable cause standard and behave so irresponsibly that i feel the need to purchase an in-car surveillance system, i'll just hold the keys until they can afford to buy it for me. that'll teach 'em.

Friday, July 06, 2007

summer fruit

others enjoy summer, yes, but minnesotans embrace the season as a sensual carnival. imagine being locked for months in a walk-in freezer, when suddenly the door opens up to a lush garden of blue lakes and bright vegetation.

contrary to popular belief, it gets hot in minnesota, with the temperature rising to 97 tomorrow. i think poet louise rill beautifully captures the sights and sounds of a warm midwestern summer's day:

Summer II*

Delicate, uncertain spring is past
Hot, lush grass bursts forth
Heat presses cheeks
Licking humid limbs
Fern uncurls
Slow opening up
Reach to touch
Rush of sap...
Opening lily bud
Pistils dangle, quaking
Pollen dusting, sticking, smearing
Drowsy bees
Sup nectar drops
Fat, guiltless summer
Spills abundant seeds
And sated, sleeps
Beneath the leafy trees.

the images here are lovely, but summer is all about taste, smell, and touch. with regard to the former, garrison keillor properly praises minnesota rhubarb, tomatoes, peppers, and sweet corn. i've got a real sweet tooth, however, and a corresponding passion for summer cherries, berries, and melons.

ahh, ms. rill has something to say on the subject of fruit as well:

On my creamy silk pillow
pale as moonlight
I will bring to you a basket
heaped with apricots
soft peaches
crescents of honeydew
ripe raspberries
red as bites
and pink fleshed papaya
spilling glistening seeds
onto a bed of fresh leaves...

well now! i told you midwestern summers are hot. a suggestion: gather your summer fruits at a farmer's market this weekend, then share this poem, aloud, with someone dear.

*ms. rill's poetry is available for reproduction, by crediting her (check) and sending a donation to the medical foundation for the victims of torture (check).

Thursday, July 05, 2007

is jogging right wing?

it seems that french president nicolas sarkozy's jogging is striking some critics as "un-French, right-wing and even a ploy to brainwash his citizens." from the times online:

“Is jogging right wing?” wondered Libération, the left-wing newspaper. Alain Finkelkraut, a celebrated philosopher, begged Mr Sarkozy on France 2, the main state television channel, to abandon his “undignified” pursuit. He should take up walking, like Socrates, Arthur Rimbaud, the poet, and other great men, said Mr Finkelkraut. “Western civilisation, in its best sense, was born with the promenade. Walking is a sensitive, spiritual act. Jogging is management of the body. The jogger says I am in control. It has nothing to do with meditation.”

some sports strike me as more authoritarian or narcissistic than others, but jogging? i don't see much political philosophy in the physical act of running, but this is an empirical matter. if le footing is a right-wing pursuit, then right-wing politicians should presumably be superior runners. let's check some wiki data on marathon times to see who's faster.

put your left foot in:

John Edwards, Former U.S. Senator, Marine Corps Marathon 1983 (3:30:18)
Michael Dukakis, Former Mass. Governor, Boston Marathon 1951 (3:31:00)
Joschka Fischer, Former German Foreign Minister, Berlin 2000 (3:41:36)
Al Gore, Former U.S. Vice President, Marine Corps 1997 (4:58:25)
Tom Vilsack, Iowa Governor, Little Rock Marathon 2005 (5:28:39)*
left wing average: 4:14

take your right foot out :

Matthew Parris, Former UK Conservative, London (2:32:57)
Mikuláš Dzurinda, Prime Minister of Slovakia, Malokarpatsky 1986 (2:54:57)
George W. Bush, 43rd U.S. President, Houston 1993 (3:44:52)
Jörg Haider, Austrian leader of Freedom Party, New York 1999 (3:52:??)
Mike Huckabee, Arkansas Governor, Little Rock 2005 (4:39:04)*
Bill Frist, Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader, Marine Corps 1997 (4:54:36)
right wing average: 3:46

dang! in marathons all over the world, right-footed politicians are running about a half-hour faster than left-footed politicians. score another one for the french intellectuals: le running is clearly a right-wing pursuit.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

responsiveness to noble and ignoble appeals

australia has a reputation for producing particularly nasty anti-speeding public service announcements. newsweek's kendall hill reports on a new campaign with a lighter touch:

When you first read the slogan, SPEEDING: NO ONE THINKS BIG OF YOU, you might think it was a reminder that people think poorly of those who break the law. Think again. This new road-safety campaign, launched in Australia last week, is aimed a bit more below the belt—by suggesting those men who speed have small penises. In the television and cinema advertisements, young "hoons"—Aussie-speak for speeding or reckless drivers—are mocked by unimpressed women who wave their little fingers at the drivers in a parody of their manhood.

nice. my reading of the literature leaves me a bit skeptical that any PSAs could alter long-term behavior, especially among hoons. yes, crack cocaine use dropped when kids learned that it wasn't cool, but they didn't need a television ad to convey the message. still, i'm intrigued by comparisons between appeals to our nobler impulses and appeals to rationality or superficiality. the latter seem to hit us where we really live, especially when supported by good science. messages showing how smoking gives you wrinkles or shrinks your manhood might thus be more effective than messages about, say, the deleterious effects of secondary smoke on your loved ones.

watching both ads, i can't help but think about an experiment comparing changes in driving behavior among dudes exposed to pinkie-wagging and dudes exposed to bloody bodies in the ditch. two questions: (1) which approach, if any, would be more effective in the short- and longer-terms? and, (2) is there a functional equivalent to pinkie-wagging that would deter all those female speeders racing past me?

holy tekulve, batman! neshek's on the ballot

local hero pat neshek is one of five finalists for the final american league all-star pitching spot. i've always had a soft spot for sidearmers such as ewell "whip" blackwell, dennis eckersley, and mr. neshek, as well as submariners such as kent tekulve and the sainted dan quisenberry.

i'm sure they're all fine athletes, of course, but pitchers with funky deliveries always struck me as a bit more, well, cerebral than your average garden-variety plain-vanilla over-the-top pitchers.

mr. neshek possesses both a funky delivery and a decent blog, so i'd encourage you to vote early and often. as a middle reliever, he's only registered three wins. but check out that glistening 1.37 e.r.a. and 47 Ks in 39 innings.

J Bonderman DET 9 1 3.58 _98 89
K Escobar___LAA 9 3 3.32 100 80
R Halladay_ TOR 9 3 4.27 103 65
P Neshek____MIN 3 0 1.37 _39 47
H Okajima___BOS 2 0 0.88 _41 37

Monday, July 02, 2007

getting soft or getting smart?

via the sentencing project and talkleft:

in the democratic forum broadcast on pbs last thursday, the 1,756 democratic candidates for president addressed the issue of crime and punishment. watching the video and reading the transcript, one gets the sense that the bloom is officially off the mandatory minimum rose.

aside from eliminating the disparity in crack/powder cocaine sentencing, however, the candidates were a bit light on concrete reforms. breaking news: not one candidate called for greater racial disparity in justice or expansion of the death penalty for expired license plate tabs.

hmmm. what happened to the clinton/gore kill 'em all crime rhetoric of the nineties? is it getting just a little bit safer for democrats to be just a little bit softer on crime? i'll be fascinated to hear the republican response.

in not-unrelated news, the times endorsed the second chance act today, to "provide grants, guidance and assistance to states and localities that are developing programs to reintegrate former inmates into their communities."