Chris Uggen's Blog: August 2007

Friday, August 31, 2007

outsiders and maryland prisoner reentry

greg garland of the baltimore sun offers a nicely detailed report on recent changes in prison release practices in maryland:

Most inmates in the rural prisons in Western Maryland and on the Eastern Shore are from the Baltimore-Washington metro area. When an inmate's sentence ends, he is given $50 in cash and dropped off at a bus station. Under the new policy, corrections officials say, inmates will be transported to a prison in Baltimore or one closer to their home community a day or so before discharge.

the change appears to be motivated, in part, by a desire to facilitate reintegration of prisoners in baltimore and, in part, to appease outstate political leaders. for example, the mayor of hagerstown doesn't want any baltimore residents released into his community.

The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown recently published an opinion piece by the mayor, in which he responded to a letter to the editor an inmate had written on the issue of prisoner releases in Hagerstown. "The bottom line is this," Mayor Bruchey wrote. "If you weren't a resident of Hagerstown or Washington County before your incarceration, we definitely don't want you as one when you are released."

ouch. so, is there any evidence that former inmates from baltimore are responsible for a crime wave in hagerstown or elsewhere? not so much:

a study done by the department found only eight of the 622 inmates from other areas who were released from prisons near Hagerstown and Cumberland between January and June of this year remained in the area. The five prisons in those two communities house about 9,000 inmates. Six of the eight were working in jobs that they started before their release, and the other two have family in the area, corrections officials said.

rainiest august ever

dang, that makes it official. tuesday's li'l storm pushed us over the top and into record territory. the 9.32 inches of rainfall this month makes this the rainiest august in minnesota history.

here's a rain poem, with a sad twist, by karen head:

autumn rain

Sounds like applause —
not the kind you hear
center-stage, crowds roaring,
but the same sound
as it ricochets off the bricks
that separate the theatre
and the bar next door
where you sit alone
waiting for someone,
or something, not coming.

when bronze is golden

ok, i know that's a hokey title for a post, but sometimes third place truly rocks. duluth native kara goucher took home a bronze medal from the world track and field championships last weekend. her 10,000 meter 32:02 was well behind tirunesh dibaba's winning 31:55, but she ran a beautiful tactical race, pulling clear of jo pavey of great britain and new zealand's kimberly smith on the bell lap.

nice. and maybe even stunning. it was the top performance ever by an american woman in the event. ms. goucher bested better-known runners such as deena kaster and katie mcgregor, inspiring a fine scrapbook post on downthebackstretch.

i'm especially partial to the photo above (credited to getty images). third place in the world ain't bad -- and a bronze medal is well worth celebrating when you know you've run your best race.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

not in my airport!

i felt woefully uninformed when i learned that senator larry craig (r-idaho) was picked up for lewd public restroom behavior at my airport. what's all this about foot-tapping? and blocking the door with one's luggage? this appears to be a well-choreographed old-school tearoom rather than an ill-timed individual act. there was apparently enough activity in this restroom to motivate the rather extensive sting operation that netted the distinguished senator.

highway rest stops i can understand, since locals can drive there with little cost. but isn't the high-surveillance post-9/11 airport a strange place for anonymous hookups? i mean, the only folks who can regularly hang out in such restrooms are airport employees (who do not appear to be a particularly randy bunch) and those with overpriced tickets and planes to catch. are there message boards where one posts invitations such as, "hey boys, i've got two hours between flights at MSP and i'm looking for a good time in a busy restroom. no liberals." the social organization of the activity just doesn't make sense to me, unless there is waaaaay more pent-up demand among weary business travelers than i'd imagined. maybe so, maybe so...

update: i've been waiting for some brave small-l libertarians and small-c conservatives to say, "hey, wait a minute here! just what is senator craig accused of doing? peering? tapping his foot?" but thus far, only senator arlen spector has stepped up to defend senator craig:

"I’d like to see Larry Craig go back to court, seek to withdraw his guilty plea and fight the case. I’ve had some experience in these kinds of matters since my days as Philadelphia district attorney, and with the evidence, Senator Craig wouldn’t be convicted of anything.”

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

family band(s)

after an intense workday, i enjoyed a beautiful minnesota evening at a grandstand concert with my bass-poppin' lad. robert randolph and the family band was opening for the allman brothers. sweet vibe. randolph was terrific and greg allman remains in surprisingly good voice, but guitarist derek trucks was the real revelation. mr. trucks ranks among the most impressive guitarists i've seen in years. he has a lovely touch, a powerful percussive style, nimble fretwork, a wicked vibrato, and he didn't touch a pick the whole night. sometimes i'm amazed at what a person can do with six strings and a block of wood. also, mr. trucks is the nephew of longtime ABB drummer butch trucks, so it was all about family tonight.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

shotspotter maps

this week, we are welcoming a wonderful new cohort of graduate students to the department and our community. as a sociological criminologist, they sometimes ask me about the relative safety of various neighborhoods. usually they ask me such questions immediately after they have signed a long-term lease.

i can offer personal impressions, but generally prefer to back them up with some fresh public-use data. official crime reports, however, can be subject to biases in reporting, enforcement, or processing. one alternative data source is the ShotSpotter technology now used to track gunshots in minneapolis. when sensors detect the sound of gunfire, the system triangulates the location of the gunshot. the police department then plots the data and puts their weekly shots fired maps online, along with precinct-specific maps tracking violent crime and other crime. given the potential biases in other sources of crime data, and the common-if-not-universal aversion to neighborhood gunfire, the new gunshot maps might offer a useful tool for apartment hunters. just remember to look before you lease.

gunshot maps
crime maps

Monday, August 27, 2007

dr. andrew odubote and ambitious dissertations

hey andrew, congratulations! bamidele (andrew) odubote defended his dissertation today, comparing the relationship between parenting styles and delinquency in the u.s. and nigeria. the early literature suggested that authoritative (warm but firm) parenting styles were more advantageous than authoritarian styles, but the evidence was primarily based on middle-class white samples in the united states. andrew's original survey showed that authoritarian styles were associated with lower delinquency among nigerian adolescents -- and that any race differences within the united states paled in comparison to the big between-nation differences. it should make for some strong articles and a terrific book down the road.

we often hear about the challenges of conducting fieldwork on qualitative projects, but quantitative researchers have similar stories to tell. andrew overcame some daunting hurdles to develop, field, code, enter, and analyze an original survey. like many enterprising grad students, he pooled together enough small pots of internal and external money to realize his ambitious project. this is hard work, of course, but there's no substitute for asking exactly the questions one wants to ask, rather than relying on secondary data collected for other purposes. in the end, andrew emerged with a fine dissertation and a terrific data set that will serve him well as an assistant professor at bethel university.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

i wonder what my grad students are posting on youtube...

as of today, almost 7.4 million people have viewed the chocolate rain video on youtube. this puts it right up there with purple rain and hard rain's a-gonna fall for culturally significant rain songs by minnesotans. that's right: city pages is reporting that tay zonday, the writer and voice of chocolate rain, is actually a minnversity graduate student and member of the minneapolis civil rights commission named "adam behnar."

i found no behnar in the directories, but adam bahner serves on the civil rights commission and is listed as a graduate student in the 2003 cohort of the american studies department. a link on an american studies page to tay zonday's youtube channel should remove any doubt as to the identity of the young guy with the major baritone.

here's hoping that mr. bahnar/zonday enjoys his newfound fame and that it somehow proves useful in launching his academic career. i can't say i'm a huge fan, but i'm kind of digging his swing low/amazing grace medley. maybe john mayer, mcgruff the crime dog, darth vader, and green day's tre cool will post responses to that one as well.

hipster olympics, live from williamsburg

Saturday, August 25, 2007

football n' cream

another football dad relayed a tor story in the bleachers this morning:

tor was out running along the highway, when his exasperated strength coach pulled up alongside him in his car. the coach asked, "what are you running for? you've gotta start eating!" he ordered tor into his car and drove directly to dairy queen for ice cream weight-replacement therapy. when tor politely ordered a medium blizzard, it was immediately upgraded to large.

after a year of wrestling and rugby, the lad's weight has dipped to 230, which is considered downright skinny for a 6'6" offensive tackle. we'll see whether he misses the bulk under the friday night lights. tor tells me that i didn't play enough football to comment intelligently on his performance (and he's absolutely correct about that, by the way), but he looked fine in the scrimmage today against some good competition. as the picture suggests, the coaches were taking a loooong look at the first and second units, since the season opens friday at woodbury.

i'm just hoping he stays healthy, has a little fun, and that nobody gets any ideas about toilet-papering the house.

Friday, August 24, 2007

a good dean

steven rosenstone, my college's dean for the past decade, recently announced that he was resigning to take a new position in the minnversity. during such transitions, it is absolutely critical for a good department chair to immediately forget the old boss and start sucking up to the new boss.

aah, i'll start sucking up tomorrow. today, i feel compelled to offer a few words about the dean who shepherded me from assistant professor to department chair. i have a very short window to express such appreciation, however, as it must follow the resignation (so it won't appear that i'm trying to curry favor) but prior to the naming of a successor (when it might appear that i was drawing some invidious comparison).

what qualities of this dean did i appreciate? a quick list:

1. intellectual horsepower. whenever people came to interview in my department, their twenty minutes with steven gave me a big comparative advantage. simply put, he was smarter than deans from other institutions. he could seriously engage the work of an astounding variety of scholars while at the same time offering a compelling vision for the future of his college.

2. risk tolerance. he encouraged faculty to take big intellectual risks -- and he had our backs when some of those risks went bust. as a junior faculty member, his ideal of high-impact scholarship (and that of my provost as well, i should add) was precisely the message i needed to hear. as a department chair, he empowered me to preach the same message to junior faculty.

3. ed cred. before becoming dean, steven published the sort of major scholarly works that confer legitimacy among workers here at the brain mill. when i started writing on voting behavior, for example, it was pretty much impossible not to cite at least one rosenstone piece.

4. straight-up honesty. when we disagreed, he came straight at me.

5. an investment orientation. a good dean understands the difference between spending and investing. steven hated to see people "hoarding" resources when they could put them to work productively. he encouraged faculty to put bold projects together and he rewarded their "sweat equity" with tangible support.

6. an ideas orientation. he was far more concerned with how a scholar's work had shifted thinking in a field than with the number or placement of her publications. the basic unit of analysis was the idea rather than the book or the article.

7. leadership. he nurtured leaders by setting an example that encouraged others to lead, myself included.

8. responsiveness. steven was a decisive and responsive dean, rarely letting issues fester for more than 48 hours. even on more complex matters, he would typically come back with a response that was timely as well as thoughtful.

9. an understanding of externalities. he measured projects by their total effects rather than their basic output in grants or publications. what are the broader impacts of the work on our students or communities?

10. a sucker for quality. when pitched with the opportunity to hire or reward a great scholar, he could often put a deal together.

11. a true believer in the public research mission. he understood and took pride in the mission of a great land-grant public research university, even when that mission conflicted with his immediate interests. for example, all deans know two things: (1) that college rankings are based, in part, on four-year completion rates; and, (2) that kids from more privileged backgrounds are more likely to finish on this timetable. he made sure that his college didn't cream students from the ranks of the privileged, even though it might have helped him in the rankings.

12. heart and soul. even steven's adversaries -- and, trust me, he had a few -- would acknowledge his all-in commitment to his college. in my experience, the average dean lasts about as long as the average nfl running back. in both positions, the constant pummeling takes a quick toll, breaking down most mortals within five years. steven put his heart and soul into the job for a full decade. for that alone, we should be grateful.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

eddie griffin and piling on

former t-wolves forward eddie griffin died last week when his s.u.v. exploded into a freight train. the fiery death raises many questions -- was he drunk? intending to kill himself? -- but it also tells us something about privilege, fame, and culpability.

ike many others, i'd written about mr. griffin when he crashed another s.u.v. into the local santana foods store under truly bizarre circumstances. i'm sure he never saw my blog, of course, but somehow i feel complicit in piling on to an easy target -- an underachieving millionaire with a ton of public problems.

would we feel more compassion for mr. griffin if he had been less wealthy or talented? imagine that he hadn't been the seventh overall pick in the nba draft and that he hadn't signed an $8.1 million contract a few years ago. i suspect that mr. griffin's riches, and perhaps his talent as well, were exaggerated. he certainly left a lot of that money on the table this spring, when the wolves released him for violating the league's substance use policy.

instead, imagine that mr. griffin had been 5'5" tall rather than 6'10" tall, and that he was just one of the legions of young men bouncing between courtrooms and treatment programs for reckless behavior. to be sure, the shorter mr. griffin would have had fewer second chances, fewer people wanting to help him, and far fewer resources to help himself. on the other hand, many of the shorter mr. griffin's troubles would have remained private and, when he stumbled, no strangers would have been there to pile on or wag their fingers. on balance, a shorter mr. griffin might have lived to thirty.

Monday, August 20, 2007

chilling: pz myers sued for negative review

scientific american reports that pharyngula blogger pz myers is being sued for posting a negative review of lifecode by stuart pivar. professor myers, a biologist at the university of minnesota-morris, posted this response to scientific american:

Huh. I'd heard some noise from Pivar threatening to sue, but this is the first I've heard of any formal action being taken. Since I'm a defendant (one who hasn't been notified of his status!) I suppose I should just shut up at this point and let justice run its course.

Since I'm a blogger, though, I can't completely shut up. I will just say that this is Pivar's attempt to squash a negative review of his book, which I posted here. Nothing in the review was motivated by personal malice, and I actually am inclined to favor structuralist arguments in evolution ... but I'm afraid my honest assessment of Pivar's work is that it does not support his conclusions. I still stand by my review, and now I'm a bit disturbed that someone would think criticism of a scientific hypothesis must be defended by silencing its critics.

it turns out that mr. pivar is a businessperson rather than an academic and that he appears to be a particularly litigious businessperson. still, i'm a bit concerned that a suit against an online book reviewer would even be filed, especially since mr. pivar might be considered a "public figure" in the times v. sullivan sense of that phrase. i'd never pull any punches in, say, the ajs book review i'm preparing, but i'd imagine that the threat of lawsuits would have a general chilling effect on free expression, in science as in politics.

gary gaetti day

gary gaetti (pr. guy-yetti) was inducted into the twins' hall of fame today, throwing out the first "pitch" from third base to his old first baseman, kent hrbek. nice to see a rapprochement between the two old running buddies, as the two grew apart over religious differences in 1988.

the g-man or rat was a gold glove fielder, an inspiring team leader, and the crusher of 360 major league home runs, not counting five post-season bombs. two of those came in game 1 of the 1987 american league championship series, helping to propel the twins over a more talented detroit tiger team.

i wasn't the only one moved by mr. gaetti, as he inspired a college-boy cult of sorts -- one that appears to endure to this day. caption for the picture above: the most important man in America and Bill Clinton.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

galloway, schmalloway: training regimens and google pedometer

i was curious to learn how far i ran today, so i traced my route on google maps pedometer. i'd heard about it on eszter's blog, i think, and once again she's directed me to something cool and useful. just type in your address, zoom in and double-click on your starting point, and double-click again each time you turn. i was surprised that i could easily trace my meandering route, including streets, trails, lake paths, and dog parks. the hybrid-satellite version of the map (such as the one shown in the picture) worked best for me.

i don't usually fret too much about mileage, but today was an exception. the twin cities marathon is seven weeks away and i was considering just baggin' it. i hadn't done any long runs since may's madison marathon and i'd been feeling rough the past few mornings.* still, i haven't skipped a tcm since 1994 and the cities are too beautiful to miss on crisp october mornings. so, i resolved to brave today's drizzle and at least try to put in 14 or 15 miles. if i could somehow get past the halfway point without injury, i knew i'd be good for 26.2 in october.

some runners religiously follow training schedules, but i've found it healthier to just run by feel.** if something hurts, take a few days off. if everything feels good, keep going as long as you enjoy it. according to google pedometer, i felt good for exactly 21.30 miles today. so, i'm officially finished training. now i can just enjoy running until october 7.

*on my best mornings, the person in the mirror bears a bizarre facial resemblance to a chubbier and stubblier version of madonna without makeup. when shaving this week, however, i've been staring back at a chubbier and stubblier version of a nick nolte or glen campbell mugshot.

**that said, anyone contemplating a marathon should probably try to work in one longish run each week and to try to stretch that run to about 18 or 20 miles sometime within a month or two of the race. it is probably easiest and safest to build up to this distance gradually and then taper with a couple light weeks prior to the race.


Saturday, August 18, 2007

12.5 years? that would get you out by february of 2020

sure, imprisoning innocent people is not "ideal," but isn't the greater tragedy that we're finding out about it?
- stephen colbert

with classes starting soon, crim instructors might be interested in showing a video clip of stephen colbert's interview with jerry miller. mr. miller was the 200th person exonerated by the group mr. colbert calls "the murder huggers" at the innocence project.

the project put together a special report to commemorate their first 200 exonerations. among the summary statistics:
  • they served an average of 12.5 years in prison
  • 88 percent were convicted of sexual assault and 28 percent were convicted of murder
  • 77 percent were convicted, at least in part, on eyewitness identification
  • 62 percent were african american
  • 60 percent had spent at least a third of their life in prison or on parole when exonerated
  • 45 percent have been compensated financially for their wrongful convictions
  • and, in a classic catch-22, many were denied parole because they refused to accept responsibility for crimes they did not commit

for related resources, you might check out the project's youtube page for some good first-person accounts and the center on wrongful convictions at northwestern law.

*the exoneration total has now climbed to 205.

writer's block?

i was spinning my wheels today, when i heard neil young's mr. soul (actually the last bits of this version) and found enough traction to pull me out of the ditch. i'll try to abstract a few general lessons from the forty-year-old song and the experience:

1. change yer methodology:

an excerpt from the shakey biography offers a beautiful image of mr. young's writing process at the time. he's literally intimidated by the words, as good words are indeed quite powerful, but he somehow crafted tools to help pull those scary words out of himself:

I wrote that [Mr. Soul] on the floor in my little cabin. With a felt-tip pen. On the floor on newspapers in the bathroom...writing on newspapers. It's so easy and it looks so good. You write in black on top of it, and it's hidden because of the black-and-white background. The words can't come out and assert themselves that way. They lay in there, so you're not intimidated by seein' them so clearly.

that's about the most revealing description i've ever seen on writing: respect the words and experiment until you find a way to bring them to the surface.

2. change yer tuning:

a little tweak to the standard mode of presentation can also do wonders for your creativity. mr. young played mr. soul in double-drop-d tuning. turning both the high and low e-strings down a note seems to make a world of difference. dear prudence, masters of war, pachelbel's canon and all apologies are oft-cited examples of this particular tuning, but my favorite example is the drony floydian classic, fearless. once you've messed with drop-d and torqued the strings in other directions, keep bending your instrument until it makes sounds no one has heard before.

3. change yer format:

mr. soul sounds great as a do-it-yerself solo acoustic or as an all-out raver with the band. if you've got a minute and twelve seconds, check out how the buffalo springfield lads endure 1:12 of a smarmy host and (admittedly cool) steven stills posturing before busting out with a lip-synched mr. soul. the same piece can be performed solo or with your buddies -- whatever suits the occasion and yer mood.

4. change yer band:

if your bass player happens to be arrested before a performance, as occurred with buffalo springfield's bruce palmer shortly before their appearance on hollywood palace that night, just find a stool and a friend to help you out. i like the way they kept the newcomer's face off-camera, however, just so mr. palmer wouldn't feel his position had been usurped.

5. don't change yer soul:

despite all these tweaks and changes, the song still reflects the writer. now go get that newspaper and felt-tipped pen...

Friday, August 17, 2007

army suicide rate

the record-high army suicide rate in 2006 is making big news today. how does the army rate of 17 per 100,000 compare with other groups of (mostly) young adults? suicide rates vary significantly by demographic group, with older white males most likely to kill themselves. let's see, the active-duty army is about 86 percent male and 61 percent white. the jail population is about 87 percent male and 44 percent white, while the prison population is about 93 percent male and 35 percent white. i've plotted the suicide rates for each group for the most recent year available. army rates are currently at about the level of prison suicide rates, though both are far lower than jail rates. while the trend in prison and jail suicide is declining, however, army rates appear to be ascending rapidly.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

late summer addition

all good minnesotans savor the summer sun, and atmosphere's slug is no exception. i'll offer his sunshine as a late local contender for best summer song of 2007:

he sets the scene with the hangover from hell and a war-like riff on a toy piano, before conjuring some sweet familiar images in the second verse.

...If I could I would keep this feeling in a plastic jar
Bust it out whenever someone's acting hard
Settle down barbecue in the backyard
The kids get treats and old folks get classic cars
Everyday that gets to pass is a success
And every woman looks better in a sundress
The sunshine's an excuse to shoot hoops
Get juice, show and prove them moves and let loose
I hear voices, I see smiles to match them
Good times and you can feel it in the fashion
Even though the heat cooks up the action
The streets still got butterflies and enough kids to catch em'
Riding my bike around these lakes man
Feelin' like I finally figured out my escape plan
Take it all in the day started off all wrong
But somehow now that hangover is all gone
Ain't nothing like the sound of the leaves
When the breeze penetrates these southside trees

nice. you like? here's a live bit of the man in action and fall tour dates for those so inclined:

9/14/07 Duluth, MN Pizza Luce
9/15/07 Duluth, MN Pizza Luce
9/17/07 Grand Rapids, MI Intersection
9/18/07 Millvale, PA Mr. Small's Theatre
9/20/07 Baltimore, MD Ram's Head Live (Atmosphere, Brother Ali only)
9/21/07 Providence, RI Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel
9/22/07 New Haven, CT Toad’s Place
9/23/07 Carrboro, NC Cat's Cradle
9/24/07 Athens, GA 40 Watt Club
9/26/07 New Orleans, LA Tipitina's
9/27/07 Dallas, TX Loft @ Palladium Ballroom
9/28/07 Lubbock, TX Jake's Sports Cafe
9/29/07 Albuquerque, TBA
10/1/07 Flagstaff, AZ Orpheum Theater
10/2/07 Los Angeles, CA Henry Fonda Theater
10/3/07 Solana Beach, CA Belly Up Tavern
10/4/07 San Luis Obispo, CA Downtown Brewing Co
10/5/07 Bakersfield, CA The Dome
10/6/07 Santa Cruz, CA Catalyst
10/8/07 Bend, OR Midtown Ballroom
10/9/07 Bellingham, WA Nightlight
10/10/07 Boise, ID Venue
10/11/07 Salt Lake City, UT In The Venue
10/12/07 Denver , CO Ogden Theatre
10/13/07 Aspen, CO Belly Up, Aspen
10/15/07 Milwaukee, WI Pabst Theater
10/16/07 Madison, WI Barrymore Theatre

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

extra asa sauce

here's a li'l extra sauce, in the form of three scattered observations from the annual sociology meetings:

1. my dean just forwarded scott jaschik's inside higher ed dispatch from the meetings on tenure standards for research-based public sociology. the piece reports on an asa task force's suggestions, including a sure-to-be-controversial peer review process. i'll refrain from public comment until i educate myself on the issue.

2. an issue of contexts was included with asa conference materials this year. i'm hoping that this will ultimately generate interest in and subscriptions to the magazine, but such results would entail a long causal process:

(1) receive -> (2) notice -> (3) open -> (4) read -> (5) enjoy -> (6) subscribe

conditional on reaching step 4, i'm confident that most attendees would then progress to step 5. i'm less certain, however, about movement from step 5 to step 6, and i can't really be sure that many folks made it past step 1.

3. free hardcover copies of barack obama's the audacity of hope were stacked high near the conference registration desk. i'm not sure why or how they got there, but it felt a bit strange to see a single candidate's book available -- especially when the new asa president has co-edited a fine social science volume with a different candidate. next year, perhaps the association can invite publishers and partisans to contribute books by all the candidates: hilary clinton's living history, perhaps, or rudy giuliani's leadership, or fred thompson's barbeque nation: 350 hot-off-the-grill, tried-and-true recipes from america's backyard.

mmm-mmm. i know which one i'd bring home.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

asa bloggers

soc bloggers might be the coziest li'l subculture you'll find at the sociology meetings, as you might discern from jay livingston's asa blogtogether photo (thanks, jay).* this morning, several of us spoke at a more formal session on blogs and public sociology. the event was pretty dang well-attended for a tuesday 8:30 slot, and i returned home with some terrific ideas for contexts blogs (thanks, especially, jeremy). i also tried to solicit contributions for the print publication. why not? pound for pound, these are some of the finest wordslingers in the discipline.

*yeah, i showed up too, vibing on orgtheory with fabio and omar.

Monday, August 13, 2007

sealing records

like many weary travelers, i mostly encounter usa today when it mysteriously washes up outside my hotel room door. today's edition features a timely op-ed on the merits of sealing certain types of criminal records. the authors are stephen salzburg and margy love -- co-chairs of the american bar association's commission on effective criminal sanctions. the usa today editorial staff offers a prebuttal, arguing against sealing and expungement.

Friday, August 10, 2007

DAN 2007 and 2008: would you prefer day-glo or maroon and gold lame' ?

i'll be handing out minnversity mugs at ASA's departmental alumni night from 9:30 to 11:30 saturday night at the nyc sheraton. i'm hoping that old friends, new friends, and friends-i-haven't-met-yet will stop by to say hey. the grapevine says that the world now has far more coffee mugs than it can put to use, so we may not reorder when our current supply is exhausted. yoonie tells me the cool kids and indie hipsters are wearing fanny packs to shows these days, so i'm considering a major change in merchandise: a minnesota sociology fanny pack may be in your future (colors to be determined).

this year's meeting are tighter than usual, with contexts- and chair-oriented stuff as well as the usual slate of sessions and sections. i pushed enough paper this week to feel okay about leaving the office for a couple days, but didn't push enough paper to feel good about doing so. as i've mentioned before, many conferencegoers develop a meeting-specific persona or, less charitably, they act like big phat phonies. having no special immunity to this phenomenon, i'll be appearing as meeting chris this weekend, with a touch of office chris and blog chris thrown in for good measure. hope to see you there.

neil's ordeals

in a fine interview with colin covert of the strib, neil gaiman offers this absolutely killer comparison:

"Writing a novel is a voyage of discovery," said Neil Gaiman... But turning a novel into a film is like "running a very sharp-edged maze leading through a minefield, with people shooting at you, in a freezing downpour, having no sense of where the exit might be, pursued by hounds, while blindfolded."

can you relate? let's generalize mr. gaiman's descriptive account as follows:

doing X is a process of discovery ...

but doing Y is like running a very sharp-edged maze leading through a minefield, with people shooting at you, in a freezing downpour, having no sense of where the exit might be, pursued by hounds, while blindfolded.

where: X = a challenging task that one can nevertheless perform reasonably well
Y = a big new challenge with great potential for things to go goofy on you

i can plug in loads of variables here, but X=a survey and Y=an audit study spring quickly to mind from this summer's research. what are your Xs and Ys?

[photo by joel koyama, star tribune]

Thursday, August 09, 2007

and the stars look very different today

my family hasn't taken a vacation since (bill) clinton was president, but most summers we can sneak off for a day or two up north.* chairtime has been tight this year, so i'm loathe to leave my post -- even for the annual sociology meetings.

just when i'm agonizing about whether to catch an early flight home on monday, i get the following email regarding a karaoke buddy's upcoming business trip:

Dear Family and Friends: The crew of Space Shuttle Mission STS-120 invites you and your immediate familyto the launch and/or landing of the Space Shuttle Discovery at the Kennedy SpaceCenter (KSC) in Florida. Our mission is currently scheduled to launch no earlier than October 23, 2007. Please RSVP no later than August 10...

wow. turns out, he's going waaaaay up north -- spending six weeks at the international space station. terrifyingly cool. i'd love to hang at the launch, but (quite understandably, of course) nasa can only offer a rough window for the launch date, which happens to coincide with the lad's football playoffs.

still, i've been moonage daydreaming about floating 'round that tin can my own self. the soundtrack sounded something like this. godspeed, brave explorers...

* for native minnesotans, up north is the one true legitimized summer travel destination. lakes are involved, as are mosquitos and campfires.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

play it, steve

i try to steer clear of nostalgia shows, but here's one i can't resist: the legendary booker t and the mgs are playing tonight and tomorrow at the dakota. i've never seen steve cropper live, but i can't wait to put a face to the sound of soul guitar. he's best known for co-authoring dock of the bay with mr. redding and in the midnight hour with mr. pickett, but he's shaved off indelible telecaster riffs on myriad others.

the great drummer al jackson has passed, but booker t. jones and duck dunn will be there, on hammond b-3 and bass, respectively. if you want a warm-up, here's the mg's vibing at the height of their powers, along with the signature hit we can expect to hear at some point in the evening. sweet.
update: steve cohen's got some fine pics from the show, via

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

provided as a public service by the st. paul pioneer press

the st. paul pioneer press has developed a free searchable database for all ramsey county jail bookings. one can quickly and easily search by person, by date, or by offense category. it takes just a few seconds to pull up the full names and birth dates for, say, the 359 people booked for "no proof of insurance misdemeanors" or the 3 robert williams' arrested since january 1, 2007.

as a ramsey county resident, i've gotta admit that i'll be tempted to use these data. i could easily run a search of the older dudes playing in tor's bands and i'd certainly want to check out esperanza's future suitors. as a sociological criminologist, however, this sort of thing makes me very nervous. here's a bit of background on the site and the potential problems it raises.

the description:

This is a database of individuals who were arrested and booked into the Ramsey County Jail since Jan. 1, 2007. The data, obtained from the Ramsey County Jail, is updated Monday through Friday. You can search the data by either a person's name, a type of violation or the date of arrest.

the disclaimers:

Individuals might be listed more than one time on the same date if they have multiple charges against them. Being listed here does not mean they have been charged in court with this offense.... Not all violations are listed here. In addition, inconsistencies in how the information is entered into the database may result in some arrests not be[ing] displayed.

the difficulties:

while data on arrests and bookings are generally considered public information, i'm surprised the pi-press and the jail took it upon themselves to publicize this information. aside from the dubious quality of arrest data in most jurisdictions, many of these folks will never even be charged with crimes, much less convicted.

for example, the gentleman in the photo above was arrested and booked many times -- for trespassing, loitering, disorderly conduct, traffic offenses, parading without a permit, and other heinous crimes. how do you think prospective landlords or employers will respond when such a long record fills their computer screens? most men in cities, myself included, have been arrested at some point. would the minnversity have hired me if someone in HR stumbled on my (juvenile) arrest record in an online search? and don't think you have to live in st. paul to be arrested there. those campus kids planning protests of the 2008 republican national convention, for example, have a fightin' chance of landing in this database as well.

nevertheless, my main problem with the search engine is that it stops with arrest. those landlords and employers would need to do a lot of due diligence to determine whether those arrests ever went anywhere. they won't do it and i can hardly blame them, because the quick search gives them the only screen they think they'd ever need.

Monday, August 06, 2007

teaching and t-shirts

i bluster and complain, but secretly love to catch my kids stealing my clothes. when tor pulls on an old marathon t-shirt for a workout or esperanza converts a threadbare softball jersey to pajamas, i just think: "y'know, they probably wouldn't wear that if i was a completely horrible father." only much later, when said garment is balled-up in a dank corner of the laundry room, will i ask, "dag... what's that funky smell?"

i also love to catch my kids teaching. esperanza mesmerizes her charges as a babysitter. while tor doesn't exactly mesmerize, his bemused tough-guy bit is perfect for coaching. when i found these football camp pictures online, i finally had incontrovertible proof that the big man had, indeed, stolen my prized penn state t-shirt. i can only smile, of course, because both students and teacher look so happy in these shots. and because the shirt was a gift from one of my old students, who is now a fine teacher himself. i hope it isn't too stretched out...

Sunday, August 05, 2007

minorities representing majorities

faces of faith in america, a student journalism collaborative project, offers some thought-provoking and really well-presented multimedia stories. karim bardeesy and anna-katarina gravgaard's piece on religious minorities representing majorities provides especially engaging text, interactive maps, and video profiles. the lead:

Many American politicians tout their Judeo-Christian heritage. Many tell stories of the immigrant experience of their parents. But a precious few are immigrants themselves. And even a smaller number belong to minority faiths, such as Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism. News21 has identified more than 40 such politicians who are, in effect, minorities representing majorities. Below, you will find an interactive map with detailed snapshots of each. Plus, for a closer look at seven of them, click to view the video profiles at right.

i'm not sure whether the forty featured politicians represent an exhaustive list, but at minimum the story sparks good research questions on the spatial distribution of religious and political diversity. i was surprised to learn that five of the forty are minnesotans, including u.s. rep. keith ellison, who is profiled in some detail. why is minnesota a hot spot relative to, say, washington? the map shows zero religious minorities elected in thirteen states between kansas and california (with ND, SD, NE, OK, MT, WY, CO, NM, AZ, UT, ID, NV, and WA all shut out).

perhaps such information is old news to students of immigration and politics, but it packs a punch as presented. if this is student journalism, maybe i should stop wringing my hands over the decline of the daily papers. i'd love to see an undergrad sociology collective take up a similar project.

*satveer chaudhury, patricia ray torres, mee moua, cy thao, and keith ellison.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

majestyk ain't chicken

i'm sharing a panel with my graduate ph.d. advisor (shown at left) at the sociology meetings next week, which sort of ups the ante on my own presentation. i was feeling woefully behind in putting my paper and talk together, when i got the following message from my sensei:

Thanks very much for the reminder. That's great that there will be a laptop for our powerpoint slides. I'm very behind on my presentation, but hope to come up with something informative. FYI, here's a link to a rehearsed version of my talk so far (presented by Doug Zongker):

nice. if he's this far along already, there's no telling what the man will have in a week. you might want to check out this session.

in the meantime, i capped a stressful week revisiting an old favorite tonight: charles bronson in elmore leonard's mr. majestyk (1974). our protagonists are a rugged ex-con melon grower and his labor-organizer love interest, who run afoul of small-time thugs, local law enforcement, and a mobbed-up hit man. but i mostly love it for the old ltds, chryslers, and the toughest '67 ford pickup ever painted yellow. plus the great 70s hair, bizarre racial politics, and funky dialogue. in my view, mr. majestyk features the best dang truck chase in movie history. i know it is the greatest machine-gun n' watermelon scene ever committed to celluloid. maybe i can work something like that into one of my ASA talks...

Thursday, August 02, 2007

second chance act(s)

people have been asking me lately about the status of the "second chance act" for ex-felons. i confess to a bit of confusion. as i understand it, however, there are currently two "second chance acts" before congress.

representative danny davis' (d-il) "second chance act of 2007" (hr 1593) would reauthorize the grant program for reentry of offenders into the community in the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, to improve reentry planning and implementation, and for other purposes. this bill would provide funds for reentry programming and research.

representative charles rangel's (d-ny) "second second chance act" (hr 623) would permit expungement of records of certain nonviolent criminal offenses. expungement is a simple idea, but it has been extremely time- and resource-intensive in practice. hr 623 would make it easier for non-violent first offenders who have served their time to clear their names without expensive legal assistance. expungement would reinstate civil rights, expanding opportunities for housing, education, employment and voting.

i'm interested in both second chance acts as a citizen and as a researcher. what are their chances?

morning after

the morning after the bridge collapse, my minnversity friends seem shaken but mostly relieved that things weren't worse. the mood remains somber, since we still don't know who died or the number and severity of the injuries sustained. nevertheless, we can cling to some inspiring survival stories.

though we're still awaiting word on the extent of the injuries, we're especially relieved that fifty-two kids and nine adults somehow made it out of that listing yellow school bus. we can also crack the barest smile when we hear the matter-of-fact minnesotaspeak in which some survivors describe their harrowing fall.

i'm also proud that at least one of my colleagues was there to provide some real help to those who needed it most. while most of us watched in stunned silence, our own ross macmillan described the scene and his rescue efforts for hannity and colmes and greta van susteren.

the office is (relatively) quiet today, as serious work continues along the river. even with the bit of inspiring news, we could still use a little levity today. via woz: Craig Biggio Blames Media Pressure For Stalling At 285 Hit-By-Pitches. i'm glad to see the onion covering the big stories.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


shortly after 6 tonight, intern hayley and i were returning from a meeting downtown at the council on crime and justice. police officers gestured frantically, fire engines roared down the wrong side of washington avenue, the streetlights were just out and tendrils of smoke rose from the mississippi. it turns out that the big bridge a few blocks north of our washington avenue route had collapsed at 6:05.

when hayley and i found our way back to campus (the police closed things down at bobby and steve's, so we took a circuitous franklin avenue route), i joined some custodian friends on the roof of the social science tower. at first i didn't see it because there was no longer any "it" to be seen. then i could make out the bridge's sheared far end and crumpled near end. i'm still in my 9th floor office, as the sirens rave on and the helicopters buzz around. cars are stuck at a crazy upward angle on what's left of the campus side of the bridge. i suppose it is unsafe to move these vehicles, so the scene looks like a surreal portrait of the near miss. from my window, it seems more like a dukes of hazzard set or the ramp for an evel knievel canyon jump than the remains of the city's main artery north. i can imagine my northern neighbors were driving home across the bridge and, when the bridge wasn't there, they somehow managed to stop a few feet short of thin air. the lucky ones, at least.

along with 140,000 other daily commuters, i'd cursed the I-35W bridge twice a day for twelve years. i hated its narrow lanes, its dangerous iciness in winter, and the reckless high-speed lane changes i'd encounter just before my washington avenue exit. still, i never considered the bridge structurally unsafe. two lanes were closed for construction this summer, with workers cutting concrete most days. the smoke and scary proximity between cars and workers got so bad at rush hour that i'd begun cutting over to the smaller 10th avenue bridge, or snaking up the river road to st. paul. now i'm just praying that the preponderance of other I-35W commuters were making similar moves -- and taking alternate routes when that monster came down.