Chris Uggen's Blog: January 2008

Thursday, January 31, 2008

mighty clouds of joy

contexts web editor jon smajda has been setting up tag clouds for a few of our blogs. i know i'm a little late to this particular party, but i always appreciate a good data reduction device.

the cloud at left represents the 2007 state of the union address and i've already seen several versions of the 2008 version. one can also derive some intriguing maps from such speeches.

for a historical perspective, check out the clouds for major presidential speeches from 1789 to 2007 (just work that slider thing on top).

seeing this, i'm now curious about all manner of year-by-year historical clouds: the billboard top-40, the american sociological review, the cbs evening news, my post-report card speeches to the kids ...

UPDATE: i just learned about jay's fine post on the '08 cloud at montclair.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


as a minnesota runner, i try to get outside whenever the temperature reaches double digits (if temp GE 10 and LE 99). today was definitely not a day to run outside.

my lad, on the other hand, seems to relish sub-zero runs. tor charged into the darkness tonight in just a few layers of sweats and a stocking cap. with the temp at 12 below and the windchill at -37, he was very icy when he returned. when i asked why he felt compelled to run tonight, he said that it just felt so badass to run along the highway with so much ice hanging off his face.

yeah, it sounds kind of badass to me too. but not badass enough to get me out of the house and/or office in this weather.

talk about yer lame pro-sems

i did a guest shot yesterday in our proseminar for first-year grad students. fun group. as it happens, i just finished writing a chapter with heather hlavka, called no more lame pro-sems, in which we offer 15 theses to reinvigorate professionalization seminars for graduate students.

of course, i completely ignored every single one of those theses when i was a presenter rather than an organizer. instead, i just tried to connect, reverting at times to stream of consciousness and free association. for example, when students sensibly suggested ergonomic improvements to our data center workstations, i mentioned how i'd just learned that a student's left arm went numb after too many hours at the keyboard and how the department must remedy the situation.

since this student also happened to be a fine guitar player, his story reminded me of an ancient spinal-tap-meets-sid-and-nancy tale about one of my favorite guitarists. the story made absolutely no sense in the context of a proseminar on professional development, but there it was.
see, tommy bolin had more talent in his li'l pinky than...well, all our l'il pinkies put together. that's why he's in the guitar pantheon and we still pound away with two fingers and a cloud of dust. i always thought that most guitarists just played too hard, but tommy bolin seemed to play with a li'l sensitivity or touch as well as speed and attack. unfortunately, the young man who was pursued so ardently by billy cobham, deep purple, jeff beck, and the james gang sounds absolutely terrible on certain iconic live recordings. here's the story, according to the more-or-less official tommy bolin archives:

Tommy, who usually snorted heroin and was afraid of needles, had begun occasionally injecting the drug and did so in Jakarta. This resulted in some temporary damage to his arm, a numbness that would affect his upcoming performances in Japan. This was especially unfortunate because Deep Purple’s Japanese record company was insisting on a live album, and the group’s first chance to highlight the group’s live abilities to record buyers was to a large extent blown with the release of Last Concert In Japan.

predictably, the talented mr. bolin was dead within the year. you can still find youtube audio from his seventies-era rawkers and ballads, mostly substance-themed cries for help. and you can still buy a tribute guitar that features his playful visage.

i'd have to squint pretty hard to find any lesson for grad students or prosem instructors in that story, but i guess it does support my assertions about attending to the emotions of one's worklife. and, of course, attending to the ergonomics of the data center. i'd hate to see students plodding through the sociological equivalent of last concert in japan.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

nothing says romance like vodka, swisher sweets, and livelinks

saturday's pi-press reported on two local robberies involving a chatline. in each case, dudes traveled to a minneapolis apartment to visit a woman they'd met on livelinks.

insomniacs are likely familiar with late-night television ads for livelinks. these typically feature attractive semi-clothed college-age women writhing flirtatiously while chatting on the phone.

when the local men arrived to meet the woman with whom they'd been speaking, they were greeted by a bat-wielding boyfriend and quickly relieved of their wallets and credit cards. according to the affidavit,

the woman told the man to bring DVDs, vodka and Swisher Sweets cigars. "Once he arrived, the female met him at the door," the affidavit says. "She asked him for 20 dollars, which he gave her, then a male appeared from another room." Dude came with a gun in one hand, a bat in the other," the victim told the Pioneer Press.

fortunately, nobody was seriously hurt. this is a good scam because it is easy to attract men to a female stranger's apartment, especially when they have visions of late-night commercials dancing in their heads. this is a terrible and short-lived scam, however, because the men are not so complicit that they would be reluctant to contact the police. and, of course, they could provide the police with very good directions to the address.

do you think the cigars were for the sweet talker or for the gun/bat-wielding boyfriend?

Friday, January 25, 2008

symmetry: 33-7 vs. 7-34

i'm boycotting my star-crossed timberwolves this season, but taking a passing interest in tonight's game against the celtics. my wolfies traded kevin garnett, a/k/a the big ticket, to the beantowners this season, with depressingly predictable results.

the celtics won 29% of the time last year and 83% of the time this year; the wolfies won 39% of the time last year and 17% of the time this year. in terms of 2007-2008 wins and losses, the teams have eerily symmetrical records: 33-7 for boston versus 7-34 for minnesota. i'm sure that prosperity is juuuuust around the corner for long-suffering wolves fans.

your deadbolt won't protect you...

i've done little blogging about the kids lately, so i thought i'd share these pics of the enormous nonconformist's recent home improvement project.

see, our garage door keypad froze solid in the subzero temps of the recent cold snap. when tor got off the school bus last week -- without coat, hat, or gloves, of course -- he found himself locked out at -5 fahrenheit. so, he walked around the perimeter of our well-secured house, searching for an opening.

finding no opening, the lad tried the steel side door on the garage, shown above with the security system sticker and deadbolt. when he gave the door a good shove, the deadbolt held firm. unfortunately, the door's frame quickly splintered into kindling, as shown in the first picture.

needless to say, hanging the new door will serve as a perfect father-son weekend bonding activity. since he didn't actually do anything wrong here (better to break in than to freeze to death, i suppose), i won't ask him to chip in for the new door. nevertheless, i'm not a complete pushover. that fist-sized hole in the drywall that mysteriously appeared after sunday's packers-giants game? that's an altogether different matter.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

ideal-typical case of policy change?

sociological criminologists sometimes point to moral panics and sensational cases as the impetus for sweeping changes in criminal codes. i don't know whether this is the case in connecticut, but the times and the courant both point to a particularly heinous crime as the motor driving big changes in that state's criminal justice system.

the republican-american just flat comes out and says it. here's their lead:

The legislature's Democratic majority proposed a package of comprehensive changes to the criminal justice system in Connecticut today.

The crime bill is a response to last summer's triple homicide and home invasion in Cheshire. Lawmakers are meeting in special session today to consider the legislation.

hmm. i'm pretty sure that triple homicide is already against the law, even in connecticut, but perhaps the legislature needs to tighten up prohibitions against home invasion. so, some of the changes involved the crimes at issue:

The legislation includes the following provisions:

  • Create a new crime of home invasion.
  • Revise the burglary statute.
the real problem, in this as in other heinous cases, appears to be a breakdown in the screening process prior to release. by social science standards, criminologists can actually predict which inmates are likely to reoffend rather well. but social science standards -- a 95 percent certainty that a given releasee will not commit another heinous offense -- just aren't good enough in such circumstances. so, the CT governor ordered a moratorium on parole for violent offenders, while the legislature went to work to fix the problem. here's what they came up with:

  • Rework the persistent offender statute.
  • Reconfigure the Board of Pardons and Parole.
  • Mandate secure video connections at state prisons for parole hearings.
  • Require the court and prison systems provide 270 additional beds for diversionary and prison re-entry programs.
  • Command the court and prison systems provide 24 beds in secured treatment centers for sex offenders.
  • Require the prison system to monitor 300 more inmates by global positioning satellite technology.
  • Mandate the development of a centralized, integrated criminal justice tracking and information database.
that's a long and ambitious list of parole reforms. as is their wont, lawmakers also widened the net just a bit, adding the following provisions and mandates:

  • Orders the court, prison and parole systems to devise how to assess the risks of offenders of re-offending.
  • Directs the court system to create an Internet registry for outstanding arrest warrants for violation of probation.
  • Expands the rights of crime victims and their immediate families.
  • Makes juvenile court records available to Board of Pardons and Parole and the Department of Correction.
  • Requires the court system establish a statewide automated victim information and notification system.
  • Establishes a committee to propose incentives for municipalities to host transitional housing for released offenders.
  • Requires annual reporting to the legislature on developments in the criminal justice system.
  • Sets up a diversionary program for persons with psychiatric disabilities accused of crimes or motor vehicle violations.
  • Authorizes $19 million in transfers in the state's two-year, $36 billion budget to finance some initiatives.

i cannot speak to the wisdom of each individual change, but such a package would certainly strike me as a disconnected hodge-podge of requirements and really hard-to-meet mandates. for partisan reasons, the editors of the republican-american probably intended to portray the reforms as a costly boondoggle.

from a distance, however, i believe that the proposed changes are probably well-intentioned efforts to reorganize a system to prevent a single criminal event. unfortunately, such changes are likely to bring with them a broad range of unintended consequences, with unknown effects on public safety.

even in the unlikely event that the proposed changes are enacted, fully funded, and implemented, however, they are all designed to prevent the last heinous crime. this means that, in all likelihood, they will do little to prevent the next heinous crime.

Monday, January 21, 2008

krugman on responses to recession

i'm watching the polls as much as the primaries this election season, with a crass, bottom-line eye to the electability of my party's candidates in the november general election. i've resorted to this soulless, if pragmatic, approach because i believe that between-party differences swamp within-party differences.

i've only recently begun to work through the issues that would allow me to distinguish among my party's roster of minimally acceptable candidates. i took a li'l online quiz, which told me that my views didn't quite match those of the candidate i'd been supporting (due, in part, to missing data problems, as said candidate has apparently taken disappointingly few actual positions).

though i pay special attention to candidates' crime policies, i generally vote based on how i think they would guide the economy. it seems like a particularly important time to elect a president who gets the global economy. and really, is it ever a bad time to elect an economically literate chief executive? in any case, paul krugman offers a useful and thought-provoking review here, based on what candidates have said about how they would respond to recession.

i'm not sure i buy his conclusions, but i certainly appreciate mr. krugman's analysis. he offers enough basic information to pique the interest of readers and start them digging for specific policy positions. though i'm not sure who could write it, i'd greatly appreciate a parallel analysis of candidates' positions on iraq.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

tom johnson

friend and collaborator tom johnson has announced that he is stepping down as president of the council on crime and justice.

i've worked closely with the council in recent years, as we share the same vision of engaged scholarship and public criminology. tom's resignation letter well expresses this vision: (1) "to shed a brighter, more informed light on the causes and consequences of crime and violence" and, importantly, (2) to "enhance public safety by bringing about a more just society."

the strib is marking this transition with an op-ed this morning, praising tom as "a tireless advocate for the disenfranchised and a passionate community leader." the former minneapolis city council member and county attorney will return to private practice with gray, plant, and mooty this march. fortunately, the new council president will enter with a terrific team in place, including a first-rate research staff.

bon (h)iver means good winter

where do you go when your heart is broken? maybe a spare cabin in the wisconsin woods, where you can ride out the winter with a '64 silvertone guitar, a four-track recorder, and a half-bottle of whiskey to see you through the coldest nights. if you keep howling into the four-track, the wolves outside might even join in on the chorus.

according to another fine chris riemenschneider profile, that's pretty much what mr. justin vernon did last winter. he holed up to lick his wounds and somehow recorded for emma, forever ago in that lonesome cabin. come spring, he emerged as indie-sensation bon iver.

it is 14 degrees below zero in shoreview, minnesota right now, and i'm listening to bon iver's wolves and skinny love as my freezing house cracks, creaks, groans, and occasionally even booms in the background. perfect. i guess you either feel this nick drake/elliott smith hyper-sensitive stuff or you despise it. i can understand either reaction.

if you'd like to hear more, mr. vernon/iver will probably be visiting your town by winter's end. you might also look for his national release on february 19th.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

racial impact statements

marc mauer, executive director of the sentencing project, takes a page from the environmental movement in the latest issue of the ohio state journal of criminal law.

his new article on racial impact statements argues that the racially disparate effects of changes in sentencing policy are often entirely predictable. unlike most environmental impact statements, however, we generally have the data at hand to conduct a reasonable racial impact analysis at very low cost to the public.

here's the abstract:

The extreme racial disparities in rates of incarceration in the United States result from a complex set of factors. Among these are sentencing and drug policies which, intended or not, produce disproportionate racial/ethnic effects. In retrospect, it is clear that many of these effects could have been predicted prior to the adoption of the legislation. In order to reduce the scale of unwarranted disparities, policymakers should address the potential racial impact of proposed legislation prior to enactment, rather than after the fact when any necessary reform is more difficult to achieve. One means of accomplishing this would be through the establishment of "Racial Impact Statements." Similar to fiscal or environmental impact statements, such a policy would enable legislators and the public to anticipate any unwarranted racial disparities and to consider alternative policies that could accomplish the goals of the legislation without causing undue racial effects.

the ideal-typical example, of course, comes from the marked disparities in punishment for crack versus powder cocaine. more mauer:

Had Congress required that an impact statement be produced, it would have demonstrated that an estimated 4000 defendants a year would be sentenced to five and ten-year mandatory prison terms, 80% of whom would have been African American. A modest amount of additional data from government agencies would have documented that these rates were far higher than the black proportion of crack users or sellers in the general population. The question for policymakers would then have been whether the disparity was "unwarranted" because of the racial effects or "warranted" due to the need to provide public safety resources for the African-American community.

marc then discusses how racial impact statements can address both proportional disparity and population disparity. whereas the former involves a shift in the racial distribution of those serving time for a particular offense, the latter marks changes in the overall race-specific incarceration rate.

for example, if wisconsin passed a law that mandated a year in prison for serving margarine in a tavern, it would likely decrease proportional disparity (e.g., african americans might represent 30 percent of those serving time for this offense rather than, say, 35 percent under the existing discretionary system), but increase population disparity (e.g., it would nevertheless put more african americans behind bars, raising the race-specific incarceration rate from, say, 1,980 per 100,000 to 1,985 per 100,000).

regardless of the standard for assessing disparities, however, racial impact statements are intended to provide a basic context for assessing racial impacts when contemplating measures to protect public safety. why bother? shouldn't the criminal code be color-blind? well, the rate of incarceration for african american males is currently about 3,042 per 100,000, relative to about 487 per 100,000 for white males. before we take any action that worsens such disparities, it seems reasonable to have a thoughtful discussion about balancing such costs against the likely gain in public safety.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

you could teach a course in juvenile delinquency...

i've been visiting sara wakefield at uc-irvine the past couple days, where i've enjoyed sunny california weather, a fun presentation, and some terrific conversations about public criminology.

this is just the restorative i needed before embarking on a busy spring semester. as bob's big boy makes clear, i'll begin teaching my undergrad delinquency course next week, with a great new teaching assistant on board.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

prisoners to be chipped like dogs

according to the independent (via talkleft), the british ministry of justice is "planning to implant "machine-readable" microchips under the skin of thousands of offenders as part of an expansion of the electronic tagging scheme that would create more space in British jails."

the proposal is purportedly motivated by prison overcrowding, as "the prison population soared from 60,000 in 1997 to 80,000 today." even at 80k, however, the incarceration rate in england and wales of 148 per 100,000 is only one-fifth the united states rate of 750 per 100,000. given the costs of incarceration and recent technological advances, we'll surely see more of this technology in the states as well.

while many of us recoil at the idea of implanting people with tracking devices, i'd be first in line for such a device at my own sentencing hearing. think about it: would you rather do six months in the county jail or wear a temporary implant that allows you to go about your business? what about an implant versus a year in a maximum-security state penitentiary?

in fact, i'd even prefer a temporary implant to a bulky ankle bracelet or other external electronic monitoring device. in social interactions, one would be far less stigmatized while wearing an implant -- in goffman's terms, this represents a big move from discredited to discreditable status. temporary is the key qualifier here, of course, with the assumption that any such device would be fully removed at the conclusion of one's sentence.

i'm not advocating implants, but any discussion of their use should take into account the interests and the grim alternatives faced by the men and women who would be wearing them. i can imagine a slippery policy slope in which the practice is first applied to volunteers from heavily stigmatized groups and then generalized outward. if i'm correct, that means high-risk sex offenders will be the first to wear such implants. in the end, however, i suspect we'll all be wearing 'em.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

rock the vote: huffington fundrace data

when i learned (via volokh) about huffington's searchable database of 2008 campaign contributions, i couldn't resist checking out my colleagues.

as of january 10, here are the figures for campaign contributions for those who report occupations as professors, lecturers, and deans:

professor: $201,042 to Republicans; $1,291,331 to Democrats
lecturer:$1,850 to Republicans; $36,439 to Democrats
dean: $250 to Republicans; $26,283 to Democrats

in my chosen field of sociology, the numbers are small and skewed by a few donors. i'd guess that, among my peers, contributions to democrats will swamp contributions to republicans in the next few months:

sociologist: $2,300 to Republicans; $1,462 to Democrats
professor of sociology: $0 to Republicans; $660 to Democrats
sociology professor: $0 to Republicans; $225 to Democrats

i also looked up the occupations of friends and family members:

economist: $65,511 to Republicans $141,518 to Democrats
soldier: $10,790 to Republicans; $3,252 to Democrats
police officer: $12,533 to Republicans; $5,828 to Democrats
comedian: $2,000 to Republicans; $6,550 to Democrats
musician: $27,232 to Republicans; $152,288 to Democrats

as a rawkgeek, the musician category really caught my eye. i took the liberty of putting together a few bands, based on the specific musicians contributing to various political candidates. there are four caveats here: (1) we're short on drummers, for understandable reasons; (2) barry manilow gives money to everybody -- $2,300 each to john edwards, hillary clinton, and barack obama, and joe biden, and ron freakin' paul; (3) there were too few musicians to assemble a band for any of the republican candidates (though ron paul also picked up support from fab t-birds guitarist jimmie vaughan).

the rhythm sections seem a little weak, given the paucity of drummers and bass players among the big donors, but i could nevertheless assemble credible all-star bands of contributors to barack obama, hilary clinton, and john edwards. i also list the amount they've given to the candidate. based on their combined repertoire, i suggested a few songs they could play at the inauguration. just let me know if you have other suggestions.

the obaminators: barack obama donors
  • vocals: graham nash (CSNY, hollies) $2,300
  • vocals/lyrics: conor oberst (bright eyes) $2,300
  • vocals: kurt elling $1,250
  • rhythm guitar: nile rogers, (chic) $2,300 (plus $4,600 to chris dodd)
  • lead guitar: derek trucks (allmans) $250
  • lead/rhythm guitar: stone gossard (pearl jam) $2,500
  • keyboards: ramsey lewis (jazzy!) $2,300
  • keys II: bruce hornsby $2,300
  • inauguration set: dreams, alive and le freak
dang. i'd pay to see these guys. sweet vocals, jazz cred, and three of the finest guitarists on the planet: nile rogers, derek trucks, and stone gossard (well, at least two of the finest guitar players on the planet). they just need a rhythm section. i'd suggest clyde stubblefield on drums and larry graham on bass. did i mention that the band includes both derek trucks and nile rogers? dang.

the hillaries: hillary clinton donors
  • vocals/guitar: john bongiovi (sound it out -- that's the guy) $4,600
  • keyboards: neal doughty (reo speedwagon) $2,300
  • keyboards: peter griesar (dave mathews band) $1,500
  • bass: nick zarin-ackerman (the virgins) $4,600
  • inauguration set: living on a prayer and roll with the changes

classic? yes. exciting? not so much. plus, they still need a drummer. i'm thinking we might roll out phil collins, mick fleetwood, or carmen appice for this outfit.

the john eddies: john edwards donors

  • vocals/guitar: john fogerty (creedence) $2,000
  • vocals/guitar: bonnie raitt $2,300
  • drums: lars ulrich (metallica) $2,300
  • violin: boyd tinsley, (dave mathews band) $4,600
  • inauguration set: fortunate son, enter sandman, and have a heart

i like it. sort of a roots-americana populist-metal jam-band vibe. we've already got a drummer here, but we're in need of a bass player. i like lester or flea or maybe the ox for this eclectic outfit, but i wouldn't mind if they let ol' huck sit in on the slow ones.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

2007 semi-annual uniform crime reports data

according to the fbi's semi-annual uniform crime report numbers for 1/1/07 to 6/31/07, both violent crime and property crime have declined since 2006. violence and property crime were also down locally, in both minneapolis and st. paul.

one needs to squint pretty hard to find bad news in these data, which is good news in light of a 2005/2006 uptick in violence. here's hoping that the new numbers, combined with joe biden's early departure, will keep crime from becoming a crazy-making issue in the 2008 elections.

the press release also offers this disclaimer:

Because of the complexities involved, the FBI makes no attempt to interpret the data, which we leave to criminologists and sociologists.

nice. we'll do our best to get it right.

the hundred dollar idea: string-light-of-the-month club

it happens every year. when we packed away our christmas lights tonight, a little magic went back into storage. without the warm glow of the li'l string lights, the mantle seems bare, the curtain rod hangs empty in the dining room, and the buffet and sideboard are just sitting there forlorn. we miss 'em already.

i'm a sociologist, so i have very few million dollar ideas. most of my ideas these days involve grand plans for the rational reconstruction of society that are either worthless or priceless, depending on one's perspective. that said, the occasional hundred dollar idea still pops into my head every once in a while.* here's tonight's century-note idea:

how about a string-light-of-the-month club that brings a year-round glow to hearth and home? as a kid, i was mightily impressed by the exotic comestibles my grandparents received as members of the fruit-of-the-month club. today, there are cheese-, olive oil-, wine-, necktie-, and steak-of-the-month clubs. in such a market, my string-light of the month club seems like a no-brainer. i've already roughed out the schedule:

  • january: snowflakes
  • february: pink, red or white roses
  • march: green shamrocks
  • april: garden gnomes or butterflies
  • may: walleyes and lures for the fishing opener
  • june: red chili peppers, of course
  • july: white stars are tastefully patriotic
  • august: popsicle or tiki party-on-the-patio lights
  • september: autumn leaf garland
  • october: creepy eyes or 'ween queen
  • november: how about a nice grape cluster?
  • december: something festive but secular
    • i'd only use environmentally responsible low-energy bulbs, of course, and i'd ensure that my strings were of sufficient quality to last almost the entire month. this sort of idea would never put harry and david out of business, of course, but it might bring a cool hundred to the distributor and a year-round glow to a few homes.

      * i once had a several hundred thousand dollar idea during my tenure as a systems analyst, but a consulting firm managed to spirit off with the not-quite half-million. i got several firm handshakes, pats on the back, and a very nice lunch out of the deal, though.

      Tuesday, January 08, 2008

      restore my vote

      i got word from stacey gates and minnversity law graduate reginald mitchell (at left) today about the restore my vote project in florida.

      under the leadership of republican governor charlie crist, florida has streamlined the process of voting rights restoration for some former felons. nevertheless, there remains great confusion over who is eligible for which clemency process and whether individuals are actually eligible to vote in upcoming elections. the people for the american way foundation therefore developed the restore my vote website and hotline to help former felons in florida determine whether they are among the 250,000 whose civil rights have been restored. the project also features an outreach component:

      While the clemency board attempts to notify ex-offenders that their rights have been restored, election officials throughout the state are not making a concerted effort to add all persons back to the voter registration rolls. PFAWF is attempting to reach these eligible voters, let them know they have the right to vote, give them guidance on how to register, and work with election officials to support their re-enfranchisement. PFAWF is enlisting the help of the media, election officials, the general public, the religious community, and anyone else who can help us to find the people on this list and give them information about registering to vote.

      confusion over rights restoration is by no means limited to florida (e.g., a minnesota commenter asked about his eligibility in the this blog today). i'm not sure that a national database is advisable, but i'd like to see every state make their basic eligibility criteria more easily accessible.

      Monday, January 07, 2008

      punishments of china (1804)

      i usually rely on european or american examples when teaching the history of punishment (e.g., discipline and punish). if you'd like to move beyond these familiar examples, boing and the digital gallery of the new york public library offer some 200-year-old materials on punishment in china.

      i cannot vouch for their historical accuracy, but the punishments of china: illustrated by twenty-two engravings (published 1804) certainly offers grimly compelling images. the library catalog record lists george henry mason as author, but here is the full citation information for the hamstringing engraving shown above.

      Creator: Dadley, J. -- Engraver
      Image Caption: Hamstringing a malefactor.
      In: The punishments of China : illustrated by twenty-two engravings : with explanations in English and French. (published 1804)
      Library Division:Humanities and Social Sciences Library / Art and Architecture Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs
      Description:[54] p., 22 leaves of plates : 22 col. ill. ; 38 cm.
      Item/Page/Plate Number:Pl. 17
      Specific Material Type:prints
      Subject(s):Costumes -- Chinese
      Punishment & torture -- China
      Collection Guide:Customs and Costume: Surveys and Examples of National Studies, to 1900
      Digital Image ID:1565324
      Digital Record ID:1056437
      Digital Record Published:3-29-2007; updated 10-5-2007
      NYPL Call Number:3-MMR+ (Mason, G. H. Punishments of China)

      Sunday, January 06, 2008

      still perfecting ways of making (something) wax

      on my way out of the office tonight, i attempted to blow out a new candle on my work table. the flame was unusually persistent, so i huffed, and i puffed, and i ... sprayed a great plume of hot green wax all over everything.

      the incident brought a smile for four reasons:

      1. friends know that candles are my weekend indulgence, especially in winter. ann miller, a friend and department administrator who struggles mightily to keep me organized, will get a chuckle from the festive pattern. she gave me the candle.

      2. though none of the splatter actually reached the roof, the episode brought to mind a long-forgotten sealing wax v. ceiling wax debate with the boys in the band. as i recall, this great debate was less lincoln-douglas than st. hubbins-tufnel (we split up soon after, citing creative differences).

      3. the spatter brings a certain arty splendor that the glass table had been sorely lacking.

      4. it reminds me that i tend to make bigger messes when i rush around than when i practice a li'l patience. better to receive this lesson from some cool candle splatter than from, say, a car accident on the commute home. drive safely.

      return on investments in iowa caucus tv advertising

      it must have been truly painful to watch the 10 o'clock news in des moines this year. according to a cnn report of campaign media analysis group data, most of the major presidential candidates spent in excess of one million dollars on iowa television advertising alone. when the smoke cleared after the caucuses, mike huckabee appeared to get the greatest bang for his ad buck.

      i'm certainly no expert in campaign spending research, but i thought it would be fun to plot the bivariate association between advertising dollars and caucus election results. i only found six CMAG data points for the figure above and a linear relationship seems implausible. still, after creating a scatterplot, i couldn't resist peeking at the correlation (r=.45) between a candidate's iowa television spending and the percentage of iowa voters who selected that candidate.

      that leaves a lot of unexplained variation, of course, which means that the candidates got wildly varying rates of return on their advertising investments. whereas mike huckabee paid about $41,000 per percentage point, it cost willard "mitt" romney about $280,000 in advertising dollars per point. senators obama and clinton were only slightly more efficient in turning advertising dollars into a relative vote gain.

      candidates who accept federal matching funds cannot spend more than $45 million on total primary expenditures, which i'm sure accounts for the more modest iowa advertising budgets of john edwards and john mccain. nevertheless, spending on the early primaries can quite literally be characterized as an investment. according to the washington post, a good showing in iowa yields both political momentum and a "deluge of money" from new donors. in at least two senses of the phrase, campaign financing thus appears to be state-dependent.

      one hopes that elections are about much more than advertising dollars, but i can imagine that advertising agencies might view the second chart as an indicator of ad effectiveness or quality. the admakers for winning candidates will no doubt claim at least some of the glory, while admakers for the also-rans must offer some sort of lipstick-on-a-pig defense. my advice? hire the creative geniuses behind this one.

      Friday, January 04, 2008

      on redskins and racism

      this fall, the debate over offensive team nicknames flared up again at the minnversity. nobody objects to our golden gophers nickname -- at least nobody outside the close-knit rodent urophiliac community. nevertheless, many question whether our gophs should continue to take the ice against the fighting sioux of north dakota.

      in contrast to the ongoing campus debates at illinois, florida state, north dakota, and elsewhere, i've heard absolutely no outrage, zero indignation, and nary a protest as the washington redskins prepare for the playoffs this weekend.* isn't redskins the most racist and offensive team name in sport? we're not talking about a borderline moniker like warriors or even chiefs. redskins is a degrading ethnic slur, pure and simple, stubbornly attached to the home football team in Our Nation's Capitol.

      i'm an old-school sports traditionalist, so my first official act as nfl commissioner would be to return the nicknames of the colts and the cards back to the good citizens of baltimore and st. louis, respectively. my second official act, however, would involve harsh economic sanctions on the redskins until they changed the name -- to 'skins, to reds, or to my personal favorite, the washington wonks.

      i've got nothing against the washington football team. as a chubby li'l pee-wee fullback, my hero was the the great riggo. like john riggins, i was a north-south runner (mostly south in my case, now that i think about it). while i could always forgive mr. riggins' ungentlemanly remarks, the redskins nickname just bugs me more and more each year.

      i simply can't see a good argument for keeping such an ugly nickname. tradition? well, the washington team was originally called the braves. the boston braves, in fact. moreover, at least part of the storied redskins tradition is a well-documented history of racism. the team's management so resisted african american players that shirley povich was inspired to report, "Cleveland Browns fullback Jim Brown “integrated the Redskins’ goal line with more than deliberate speed.” in truth, it was not until 1962 that the redskins were integrated, and only then when facing direct threats from the kennedy administration.

      though my childhood hero once led the 'skins to glory, i'll be rooting for seattle's seahawks in tomorrow's game. i'll return to washington fandom, however, once the redskin moniker departs -- whether by lawsuit or by a new owner who shares my vision.

      *i did come across a couple older op-eds: see
      michael tomasky in american prospect and salim muwakkil in alternet.

      Wednesday, January 02, 2008

      milgram's back

      via the situationist and ccjrc:

      Students commonly assume that, even if Milgram’s famous experiment sheds important light on the power of situation today, were his experiment precisely reproduced today, it would not generate comparable results. To oversimplify the argument behind that claim: The power of white lab coats just ain’t what it used to be. Of course, that assertion has been difficult to challenge given that the option of replicating the Milgram experiment has been presumptively unavailable — indeed, it has been the paradigmatic example of why psychology experiments must be reviewed by institutional review boards (”IRBs”).

      Who would even attempt to challenge that presumption? The answer: Jerry Burger, a psychology professor at Santa Clara University. With some slight modifications, Burger manage to obtain permission to replicate Milgram’s experiment — and the results may surprise you...

      in my view, the results are less surprising than the fact that the study gained institutional review board approval. apart from the post, i quickly found a number of related classroom-friendly materials online. you can check professor burger's first-hand account of the irb process, play a 27-minute primetime clip of the new study, and read philip zimbardo's thoughtful summary, ten lessons from the milgram studies (the latter adapted from the lucifer effect, his 2007 book with random house).

      meltdown: chicago v. twin cities marathons

      february's runner's world offers a fine feature on the 2007 lasalle bank chicago marathon, titled meltdown: what really happened in chicago. i was hoping this might be an eric klinenberg piece, since i learned much from his heat wave: a social autopsy of disaster in chicago and i love his writing.

      alas, meltdown was written by david thigpen, a former time correspondent. just as professor klinenberg, however, mr. thigpen dug deep to tell the ecological and institutional story behind another hot day in chicago.

      of course, the consequences of the 2007 chicago marathon -- which was, after all, a leisure activity -- pale in comparison to the hundreds of deaths in the 1995 heat wave. nevertheless, the race was run on the hottest october 7th in chicago's history. over 36,000 runners began the marathon, 185 visited the emergency room, and one died. since october, there have been allegations of mismanagement, with aid stations running dry, lost ambulances, a breakdown in race-day etiquette (e.g., pushin' and shovin' and punchin'), and indecision regarding such basics as who won the race and whether the course was ever officially closed.

      runner's world offered a sidebar to the chicago story, even hotter? same day, same scorching conditions, but no drama at twin cities. if this were a social science article, the twin cities might make for a decent comparative case. according to the sidebar, the rate of medical treatment and hospital transport was actually higher in minneapolis than in chicago. why did similar conditions fail to produce the same drama? there are some critical differences between the races, particularly in the size of the field (twin cities has about 8,100 starters, madison far fewer), but the races share similar weather problems and demographics (with many first-timers and old-timers).

      i happened to run the twin cities marathon on october 7th, the slowest of my marathons over the years (for the record, the 2006 madison marathon seemed just as steamy to me). racers were already sharing gallows humor as we lined up in the chute, sweaty already by 7 am. nevertheless, i've never had any problems finding enough water on the course in minneapolis or madison, and runners seem to get the medical attention they need. in fact, i actually grumbled in last year's marathon post about the overattentive twin cities marathon medical folks, saying "i managed to keep my sorry carcass off the meat wagon for another year -- they were circling like vultures after mile 21..."

      when i ran chicago in the late 1990s, it too seemed well-organized. back then, however, it was significantly smaller. perhaps its rapid growth -- from 10,000 total registrants in 1994 to 33,000 in 2000 to 45,000 last year --brought on logistical problems.

      i don't have the data to conduct a social autopsy of the two races, though such an analysis might make for an interesting kinesiology or management thesis. my point is only that good journalism sometimes calls out for sociological analysis. as eric klinenberg recently demonstrated in heat wave, such an analysis can help uncover the social structure guiding events that might otherwise be considered acts of god or individual pathologies.