Chris Uggen's Blog: March 2008

Monday, March 31, 2008

mr. washington and his friends

my seventeen-year-old just got a driver's license, along with regular access to my seventeen-year-old jeep. so, he had to learn a few things. the first order of business was to show him how to pump and, more importantly, purchase gasoline. i normally pay with a credit card at the pump, but we both anted up at the counter so we could split the costs. dang. i'd forgotten how fifty in cash money stings much worse than fifty on the card.

as an academic, i'm not supposed to pay much attention to my personal financial status, though the visceral power of cash over electronic transfers probably explains my preference for paper paychecks over direct deposits. when morale is flagging, it helps to remember that i actually get paid to do this job. and, of course, that the job pays a lot better than any other job i've had.

on this point, a friend in the office suggested we lay in a supply of thin black briefcases for grad and faculty recruitment purposes. we could cash out financial offers or start-up funds in one dollar bills, secure them in 50-note currency straps, and pack them into a stylish attaché case. if a recruit starts to waver, we'd pop it open dramatically, saying, perhaps mr. washington and his friends might change your mind. we don't have huge funds to throw around, but we can usually chip in fifty for gas.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

kept a-rolling

our sunday strib offers a regular feature entitled "how i got this body." this week we hear from richard train of bloomington, the 65-year-old lifter at left.

i was most taken by mr. train's views on working one's way out of pain and injury:

You'd think there's no way a 65-year-old person's body could tolerate [bodybuilding], but one of the things I've really learned is the capability of the human body. About eight years ago, I had arthroscopic surgery on my left knee. The doctor said, 'You've got two years before you need to replace it,' so I babied it and it hurt. Then I started lifting with the leg and the leg got stronger and stronger and that knee never bothered me anymore. The body adapts so well developing muscle -- it's an added feature we don't realize until we go there.

medical experts would surely qualify and might even refute such advice, but mr. train's experiences directly mirror my own. when my knees started barking after i'd done a few marathons in the nineties, resting did little for my knees or my disposition. frustrated, i jumped aboard those curious-looking leg-lift machines at the community center and started working the quads and hammies.

runners tempt injury by claiming good health, so i'd never say that my knees are now fine. like mr. train, however, the leg work has helped me keep a-rolling for the past ten years.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

town hall's oatmeal stout would probably work just as well

have you heard of soc or crim students taking performance-enhancing drugs for their exams or prelims?

olin kerr at volokh tries to get a handle on law students' use of adderall and ritalin to boost performance for studying and exams. here is the extent of use, according to volokh readers:

*It is very rare or never happens: 16% (75)
*Some students use them, but it is uncommon: 37% (175)
*It is common, but fewer than half have used them: 26% (120)
*About half of students have used them: 6% (29)
*More than half have used them: 7% (34)
*Most law students have used them: 4% (21)
*Pretty much everybody does it: 3% (13)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

contexts town hall meeting in st. louis on thursday

contexts is coming to a thursday night town hall meeting at the midwest sociological society's 2008 meetings in st. louis. i'll be there with co-editor doug hartmann, web editor jon smajda, student board member meg krausch, managing editor amy conner. if you're in the neighborhood, you might stop by with questions and ideas.

Presider: Douglas Hartmann (University of Minnesota, Contexts New Co-editor)
Moderator: Susan Stall (Northeastern Illinois University)

Georgiann Davis (University of Illinois at Chicago)
Fernando Gonzalez (Northeastern Illinois University)
Black Hawk Hancock (DePaul University)
Mosi A. Ifatunji (University of Illinois at Chicago)
Boyd Littrell (University of Nebraska at Omaha)
Maria Medvedeva (University of Chicago)
Juan Onesimo Sandoval (Northwestern University)
Dennis Watson (Loyola University Chicago)

Michael Armato (Northeastern Illinois University/Former Associate Editor)
Douglas Hartmann (Contexts Co-Editor)
Amy Johnson Conner (Managing Editor)
Meghan Krausch (Graduate Student Editor)
John Schmalzbauer (Missouri State)
Jon Smajda (Web Editor and Student Board)

When and Where
Thursday, March 27 from 8:00 to 9:30 pm.
Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark: Grand Salon E & F, 2nd Floor
For more information, see the
MSS 2008 program.

Handouts & Links
Not all links working yet.
Author Guidelines (PDF)
Application for Contexts Blogs (PDF)

Contexts Blogs:
Contexts Crawler
Contexts Discoveries

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

chronicle weighs in on the challenges of prison research

the chronicle of higher education offers a fine article on some of the difficulties facing prison researchers. the minnesota department of corrections and the university's internal review board have been very supportive of my research, so i'm counting my blessings.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

iowa's back...

congrats to the iowa wrestlers who succeeded my gophs tonight as 2008 ncaa champs. i caught a few of the epic finals, especially the full-on heavyweight battle between ohio state's j.d. bergman and northwestern's dustin fox.

the multi-talented mr. bergman and osu were runners-up tonight, but they get 10 out of 10 for style. here's a display of their benefit-show ballet, backflip, n' breakin' virtuosity. i could offer a gender/race analysis of the video (esp. re: imagining how its content might've differed 20 years ago), but what really strikes me is how wrestling celebrates both the bigs and the smalls.

i love the competitive matches, of course, but one can often catch more seriously balletic moves between the competition at tournaments. neither partner offers resistance in warm-ups or drill sessions, so spectators can really see how or why a signature move might work in a match. for anyone curious about such things, here's some old video of the great john smith drilling with the great dave schultz.

Friday, March 21, 2008

ninth and hennepin b/w god's bathroom floor

a city pages blogger just popped me between the eyes with this lively photo of block e in '73, guaranteed to bring sweet and sour memories for old minnesotans. back then, it was seedy, sexy, scary, showy, and skeezy. today? not so much.*

as a west st. paul kid, i recall wide-eyed and wonderful trips to this part of hennepin avenue. then, as an intern investigator with the public defender, i spent more time with the area's crime. though i saw too much trouble there to really romanticize the place, moby's big electric sign still brings a li'l electric charge.

tom waits wrote the block's official soundtrack in r-rated tributes such as ninth and hennepin and christmas card from a hooker in minneapolis. if i squint hard enough through today's spring snow, i can almost see the drunks, punks, and hustlers of old hennepin from my office window.

waits is great, but the scene puts me in mind of atmosphere's contemporary tales of junkie redemption and minneapolis pride.

*for further study, james lileks offers a fine historical photo essay.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

college and tattoos

i've been doing the dutiful chair thing throughout our spring break, but i've got to skip town tomorrow. i'm taking the lad to see a couple of the wisconsin colleges with whom he's been flirting.

we won't be emulating the dudes in the mug shots at left, but part of me envies floyd (48) and justin (21) beebe. tor and i have discussed matching father-son tattoos, but we've struggled with creative differences -- same thing happens when we try to play guitar together, btw. he just wants a li'l strawberry on his bicep, which is only funny/cool if you're a 6'6" athlete playing against type. me, i'd prefer some sort of love-themed tat, anyplace that a judge (or a dean) wouldn't see it.

aw heck, if he's serious about the strawberry, i'll just get the darn strawberry. that's love-themed enough for me.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

snyder v. louisiana

in snyder v. louisiana, the u.s. supreme court has overturned a murder conviction based on racial discrimination in jury selection. i haven't been following the court very closely these days, but i think the 7-2 decision might come as a surprise.

here's jeannie shawl's story and helpful links at jurist:

The US Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a Louisiana death sentence should be overturned because the trial judge "committed clear error" in ruling on the defendant's objection to a prosecution peremptory jury challenge, which the defendant argued was based on race. The ruling came in Snyder v. Louisiana, where Allen Snyder was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder. The Supreme Court reversed the Louisiana Supreme Court's decision to let Snyder's conviction stand.

The Snyder case gained notoriety when the prosecutor drew comparisons between the proceeding and the trial of OJ Simpson during sentencing when urging the jury to impose the death penalty. Snyder had argued that the prosecutor improperly used the comparison to create a race-based rationale for imposing the death penalty, but that issue was not addressed by the Supreme Court. Read the Court's opinion per Justice Alito, along with a dissent from Justice Thomas. AP has more. SCOTUSblog has additional coverage.

yeah, but how does he get on with the wait staff?

this weekend, i hit esperanza with my bit about judging prospective suitors by their interactions with hardworking folks in service positions.

as an ex-busboy / dishwasher / cook / server, i suggested she watch her friends closely as they interact with, say, the wait staff at panino's. in my view, if someone who acts nice to you acts like a high-maintenance jerk in a restaurant, then it won't be long before s/he starts acting like a high-maintenance jerk with you.

that's when it hit me: i bet you can learn a lot about the research luminaries in our discipline by observing how they treat the undergrads paying their ginormous salaries. at the very least, you might pick up something not mentioned on their cv. so, i had some fun at ratemyprofessors tonight looking up my favorite scholars and departments. the sample size is small and few of the luminaries are actually teaching undergrads, but the student comments are instructive. it was especially fun to see former advisees kicking butt in the classroom as well as the journals. sorta made my night.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

final four vasectomies: all that and a bag of frozen peas

by now you've seen the stories or heard the radio spots: urologists are pitching march madness as the perfect time to finally take care of that vasectomy.*

"Research shows four out of five guys want to schedule their vasectomy before a major sports event," the Oregon Urology Institute declares in new radio ads. "When March Madness approaches you need an excuse ... to stay at home in front of the big screen," the clinic's radio ad says. "Get your vasectomy at Oregon Urology Institute the day before the tournament starts. It's snip city."

yeesh, the clinic's customers even get a "recovery kit" with sports magazines, fresh pizza, and a bag of frozen peas. such ads prey on dudedom's greatest weaknesses and vulnerabilities. i'd rail against a tubal ligation pitch based on similarly gendered stereotypes, so i'm not even gonna raise the issue of the cultural equivalent to the male final four. yet, the whole idea seems familiar somehow -- maybe there was something like this in a recent margaret atwood novel.

in any case, the pitch didn't work on me. since i haven't filled out a final four bracket in years, i'd never trade sterilization for the prospect of four days of uninterrupted hoop action. though the idea of sports-bar recovery rooms might be a little tempting, my perspective changed when i googled vasectomy and returned both nightmarish images and a cascade of ads for vasectomy reversal surgery. though i'm personally committed to the idea of permanent male birth control, there's a vas deferens between principle and practice.**

*this represents the second in an occasional series on inarguably clever yet personally troubling ideas.
**ouch. sorry, couldn't resist. at least i kept it out of the title line.

Monday, March 17, 2008

pell's bells: college aid for sex offenders

i'm not going to argue that convicted sex offenders should be the first in line for student financial aid*, but i'd like to offer a few snarky comments on today's associated press story on college aid for sex predators.

c'mon the story practically writes itself: take a stigmatized deviant group, document some group members deriving a benefit from a government program, record the sanctimonious outrage of an obscure legislator, and start those fingers a-waggin'.

MADISON, Wis. - James Sturtz is not your ordinary college student struggling to pay tuition. The 48-year-old rapist is one of Iowa's most dangerous sex offenders, locked up in a state-run treatment center for fear he will attack again if released.

intriguing lead, but it glosses over the whole civil commitment issue. see, mr. sturtz was sent to prison and completed his sentence. he remains locked up for fear he will attack again, but he's supposed to be a patient in a treatment center rather than an inmate in a prison. are readers so accustomed to sweeping punishments that treament centers have become synonymous with prisons?

Yet he has received thousands of dollars in federal aid to take college courses through the mail. Across the nation, dozens of sexual predators have been taking higher education classes at taxpayer expense while confined by the courts to treatment centers. Critics say they are exploiting a loophole to receive Pell Grants, the nation's premier financial aid program for low-income students.
somebody seems to be exploiting a loophole in this case, but i'm not sure the guys in the treatment center are the ones to blame. had they been released after fulfilling the obligations of their criminal sentences, they'd be eligible for pell assistance, but they were involuntarily committed to an indefinite spell of treatment. and just how many cases of pell-abusin' sex offenders are we talking about here? dozens implies something more than twelve, but there is little evidence to suggest great expenditure or abuse.
Prison inmates are ineligible for Pell Grants under a 1994 law. Students convicted of certain drug offenses are also ineligible. But sexual predators qualify once they are transferred from prison to treatment centers.
this is a "last shall be first" passage, implying that sex offenders are the least deserving among the undeserving. the article doesn't ask whether prisoners should be eligible for student aid, or whether students should continue to lose assistance because they have been convicted of misdemeanor marijuana possession.
"This is the most insane waste of taxpayer money that I have seen in my eight years in Congress," said Rep. Ric Keller, R-Fla., who is pushing to stop the practice... Keller's plan would affect 20 states that allow authorities to hold violent sex offenders indefinitely after they have served their prison sentences. He predicted the measure would save taxpayers millions.
i won't quibble with representative keller's math, but i'm not convinced that cutting off such aid would save millions. let's say three dozen inmates have received pell grants. the average award would have to be about $56,000 for us to save $2,000,000. since the maximum pell award is $4,310, however, we'd need at least 464 recipients to get near two million.

the bigger issue here is that 20 states hold people indefinitely after they have served their prison sentences. the representative is justifiably concerned about money, but he might also want to take a close look at the per diems on these treatment centers. many more millions could be saved by the judicious release of a small number of these people after they have done their time.
...At the Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center in Mauston, Wis., six patients are getting Pell Grants, and others did so in the past. Some patients used their grants for living expenses that were already being covered by the state's taxpayers, according to administrators.

"I think that the current practice — which results in large checks being sent to the patients for living expenses — is pretty much indefensible," director Steve Watters wrote in an e-mail to an aide last year.

In Iowa, 14 offenders in the Cherokee Mental Health Institute have received Pell Grants in recent years, said administrator Jason Smith. He said nine of them dropped courses after receiving money.

i'd agree that the current practice is indefensible, since administrators should be able to determine whether the money is being spent on educational expenses. on the other hand, it is not unprecedented for students to drop courses after receiving financial aid, especially in the absence of academic advising or support.
So far, none of the 72 predators in the Iowa center has been released since it opened in 1999. Sturtz admitted he is not ready for freedom anytime soon.

"It wasn't about the money for me, man. It was about the education," he said. "God knows I'm going to need all the help to get a job."
now we're getting somewhere. although these sex offenders are purportedly in treatment, we know that they will never be released. i've got no sympathy for those convicted again and again for horrible crimes. nevertheless, when mr. sturtz talks about getting a job on the outside, i can't help but think, "the poor sap still believes he might actually get out."

right now, sex offenders are stuck in a creepy constitutional no-man's land between legal punishment and medical-treatment-without-parole. there may be no easy answer that would preserve both public safety and individual rights, but i'd suggest the following: give 'em lengthy but indeterminate sentences, with the range determined by a legislature and/or sentencing commission, in-prison treatment, and -- if treatment goes well and a qualified board so rules -- a realistic hope of discretionary parole.

*seriously, mr. o'reilly. i'm not going to argue this position, so your producers can just stop calling about it.

max weber and political neophytes

in a minneapolis star-tribune op-ed on political rookies seeking high offices, larry jacobs invokes max weber's (1919) politics as a vocation:
The legendary German sociologist Max Weber explained that the "vocation of politics" requires an aptitude to engage in the "strong and slow boring of hard boards." Successful apprenticeships in politics can instill a healthy skepticism about searching out quick fixes and simulating representation in place of genuine community engagement.

The hard work of fashioning government policy in a process designed to invite conflict among divergent perspectives requires the skills of a specialized craft -- the ability to search out compromises that achieve mutual gains, the patience to pursue gradual but meaningful progress, and sustained and strong bonds with constituents.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

the last line still reverberates, three decades later

june jordan, via cole:

Poem for South African Women (1980)

Our own shadows disappear as the feet of thousands
by the tens of thousands pound the fallow land
into new dust that
rising like a marvelous pollen will be
even as the first woman whispering
imagination to the trees around her made
for righteous fruit
from such deliberate defense of life
as no other still
will claim inferior to any other safety
in the world

The whispers too they
intimate to the inmost ear of every spirit
now aroused they
carousing in ferocious affirmation
of all peaceable and loving amplitude
sound a certainly unbounded heat
from a baptismal smoke where yes
there will be fire

And the babies cease alarm as mothers
raising arms
and heart high as the stars so far unseen
nevertheless hurl into the universe
a moving force
irreversible as light years
traveling to the open eye

And who will join this standing up
and the ones who stood without sweet company
will sing and sing
back into the mountains and
if necessary
even under the sea:

we are the ones we have been waiting for.

Friday, March 14, 2008


academics can get burnt-out this time of year, but academic administrators seem to crispify like ants under the magnifying glass in the noonday sun. i was wearing my administrator hat at a big morning today, advocating for the department in an annual budget meeting with the college dean.

all is well, but the process can be exhausting. there's little time to blog about 'em, but i should note at least five of the pick-me-ups i got this evening:

1. i learned much from eszter's talk on digital inequality and a fine dinner with smart companions.

2. knowing well my crispiness and personal zigitude, amy hit me with the conchords' bowie song this afternoon. nice.

3. good news from a big journal arrived in the mail.

4. we're celebrating the end of data collection and saying goodbye to some great research staff on the project-i'm-supposed-to-shut-up-about-until-we're-outta-the-field, indicating actual progress on said project (but you didn't hear it from me). anyway, party at my house tomorrow night to express a li'l gratitude to some hardworking young researchers.

5. a most-welcome spring break arrives tomorrow evening. i promised to bang out a couple dumpsterloads of unfinished business in the next 10 days, but i'm almost feeling optimistic about it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

goffmann and the disciplines

erving goffman figured rather prominently in today's research meeting and in today's inbox. with regard to the latter, a friend directed me to danah boyd's blog and this fine quote on disciplinary one-upmanship (one-uppersonship?):

I have no universal cure for the ills of sociology. A multitude of myopias limit the glimpse we get of our subject matter. To define one source of blindness and bias as central is engagingly optimistic. Whatever our substantive focus and whatever our methodological persuasion, all we can do I believe is to keep faith with the spirit of natural science, and lurch along, seriously kidding ourselves that our rut has a forward direction. We have not been given the credence and weight that economists lately have acquired, but we can almost match them when it comes to the failure of rigorously calculated predictions. Certainly our systematic theories are every bit as vacuous as theirs: we manage to ignore almost as many critical variables as they do. We do not have the esprit that anthropologists have, but our subject matter at least has not been obliterated by the spread of the world economy. So we have an undiminished opportunity to overlook the relevant facts with our very own eyes. We can't get graduate students who score as high as those who go into Psychology, and at its best the training the latter get seems more professional and more thorough than what we provide. So we haven't managed to produce in our students the high level of trained incompetence that psychologists have achieved in theirs, although, God knows, we're working on it.

-- Erving Goffman in "The Interaction Order" (1983) reproduced in
The Goffman Reader (p. xvii)

thirteen weeks of bliss: a slider-specific diet

having just posted on morgan spurlock's supersize me, i must mention a more ambitious experiment conducted by the minnversity's jesse mcclendon in the 1930s. whereas mr. spurlock ate mcdonald's food every day for a single month, mr. mcclendon's subject (bernard flesche) ate nothing but white castle hamburgers for a full three months. whereas mr. spurlock had access to the full cornucopia of items on the modern-day mcdonald's menu, mr. flesche subsisted exclusively on hamburgers and water.

relative to a supersized mcdonald's meal, of course, the castle's sliders look downright nutritious: 135 calories, 7 grams of fat, 11 grams of carbs, and 6 grams of protein. including, of course, a pickle slice. according to the news release by jack el-hai,

Flesche lasted through all 13 weeks of his White Castle hamburger binge. "The student maintained good health throughout the three-month period and was eating 20 to 24 hamburgers a day during the last few weeks," fast-food mogul Ingram stated, adding that the research proved that customers "could eat nothing but our sandwiches and water, and fully develop all [their] physical and mental faculties."

Flesche went on to practice medicine in Lake City, Minnesota. He died from heart problems at the age of 54. One immediate and chronic effect of his participation in the study: "He never willingly ate hamburgers again," says his daughter.

three questions:

1. i'm heartened that the student "maintained good health," but isn't it a bit unusual for doctors to die of heart problems at age 54?
2. that's a mighty suspicious qualifier in the postscript. whaddaya mean he never willingly ate hamburgers again?
3. were the castle's notorious side effects observed? or must subjects wash 'em down with pbr to induce this response?

senate passes second chance act of 2007

via the sentencing project:

The Senate passed the Second Chance Act of 2007 late Tuesday, which will ease the re-entry process for individuals leaving prison by providing funding for prisoner mentoring programs, job training and rehabilitative treatment. The legislation, introduced in the Senate by Sens. Joseph Biden (D-DE), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Sam Brownback (R-KS), now awaits approval by President Bush - who in his 2004 State of the Union address advocated for a $300 million Prisoner Re-entry Initiative.
The legislation was passed by a voice vote after the Senate adopted a concurrent resolution, H Con Res 270, which included minor changes to the measure. The U.S. House of Representatives voted 347 to 62 to pass the Second Chance Act of 2007 in November.
The Second Chance Act will help provide necessary services to the nearly 700,000 people leaving prison each year by increasing funding designed to protect public safety and reduce recidivism rates. The bill's provisions authorize $362 million to expand assistance for people currently incarcerated, those returning to their communities after incarceration, and children with parents in prison. The services to be funded under the bill include:

*mentoring programs for adults and juveniles leaving prison;
*drug treatment during and after incarceration, including family-based treatment for incarcerated parents;
*education and job training in prison;
*alternatives to incarceration for parents convicted of non-violent drug offenses;
*supportive programming for children of incarcerated parents; and early release for certain elderly prisoners convicted of non-violent offenses.

The reform bill was widely supported by civil rights, criminal justice, law enforcement and religious organizations and had broad bipartisan support in both the Senate and House of Representatives.

cool series on self-experimentation

as a chronic and long-term self-experimenter, i'm happy to see scientific american take note of morgan spurlock, seth roberts, and other visionaries of the age.

seriously. the whole trick is to do something to yourself and then keep track of what happens. no irb, no guilt, no regrets. graph paper helps.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

nothing is certain but taxes and wrestling

argh. just finished the taxes tonight, so i'm unwinding with a few inspirational wrestling vids. though the long lad didn't wrestle this year, it remains my favorite sport.

1. at 103, dustin carter of ohio.
2. at 103, olivia neal of north carolina.
3. at 112, ben morgan (yup, marty's nephew) of minnesota.
4. at 189, michael spriggs of maryland.
5. and, at either 215 or 285, you will hear tors and rumors of tors, but the end is not yet.

Monday, March 10, 2008

normative consensus and the seven social sins

according to bloomberg news, the vatican has crafted a brand new list of seven social sins to complement the seven cardinal vices catalogued in the sixth century.

such lists can sometimes reveal changing conceptions of deviance and conformity and emerging areas of normative consensus or conflict. but this new list is way broader than, say, the ten commandments or even the most expansive criminal code. according to bishop gianfranco girotti,

"You offend God not only by stealing, taking the Lord's name in vain or coveting your neighbor's wife, but also by wrecking the environment, carrying out morally debatable experiments that manipulate DNA or harm embryos."

whoa! since i'm sort of in the business of carrying out morally debatable experiments, i'm hardly an unbiased observer. nevertheless, the seven new social sins are:

1. "Bioethical" violations such as birth control
2. "Morally dubious'' experiments such as stem cell research
3. Drug abuse
4. Polluting the environment
5. Contributing to widening divide between rich and poor
6. Excessive wealth
7. Creating poverty

hmmm. these all look a bit like hubris to me -- as though the church is calling out modern men and women for tampering with god's plan for our bodies and our social and physical environment. i'm also seeing way too much overlap between the new list and the old one.* maybe i'm thinking like a lawyer, but wouldn't the church be safer in identifying the new sins as concrete representations of broad concepts identified centuries ago?

for example, i'd categorize excessive wealth and creating poverty as greed; drug abuse, pollution, and fostering inequality as gluttony; and, stem cell research as pride. i'm a little stuck on how to categorize birth control, but the harried father in me might define it as a combination of lust plus sloth.

in any case, i'm guessing that these seven social sins won't have the same legs as the seven cardinal vices. while it is relatively easy to gain social consensus against abstractions such as lust and gluttony, i'd expect a good bit more conflict over concrete behaviors such as drug use and birth control.

*the original seven deadly sins are pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, and sloth.

hopscotch to oblivion

when i googled "black humor" to check my usage in a contexts email, i came across the lovely image at left. nice. i just clicked write past the thousand words on the page.

hopscotch to oblivion was taken by andy wright in barcelona (2003). wouldn't this make a great cover image?

Sunday, March 09, 2008

tv b-gone

if mitch altman didn't exist, kilgore trout would've had to invent him. mr. altman is the creative visionary behind tv-b-gone, a small device that pushes back against the ubiquitous presence of television sets in public spaces.

have you ever been stuck in an airport, for example, where every seating area was organized around a television that nobody appeared to be watching? for the past year or so, mr. altman has created and marketed a cheap device that allows you to simply turn it off.

of course, such a device can lead to great mischief and annoyance when used irresponsibly (some poor dude at best buy has to run around and turn all those sets back on). i'm a bit surprised i haven't heard by now of some tv b-gone-related disaster that could have been avoided, but for a turned-off television monitor. in any case, mr. altman encourages customers to use his product for good and not for evil:

When other people gather for the purpose of watching TV together – say, in a sports bar – we see no reason to interrupt their pleasure. But TVs are often kept turned on without anyone consciously paying any attention to them, or sometimes without anyone wanting them on. TV-B-Gone® remotes work on TVs in those places too - laundromats, waiting rooms, shops, restaurants. Turning off a TV may not even be noticed in many places, except by you, or a few others who welcome the pleasant, peaceful silence. We recommend seeking others' approval if you think switching a TV off (or on) may bother them.

four things impress me about the device and mr. altman: (1) he sells it for just twenty bucks (with batteries); (2) the dang thing works; (3) he has a cool b52s-like theme song; and, (4) he's pitching a philosophy as well as a product.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

what to do when you meet a sighted guitarist

as the frustrated guitarist remarked at a jeff healey concert, "dude ain't blind, he's just unburdened by sight." with mr. healey's sad passing, i thought i'd share this joyous li'l clip (also feat. dr. john, omar hakim, and marcus miller) -- and a like-minded memo from margaret klein, our college's new hr director.

What to Do When You Meet a Sighted Person
by Kent Ireton (1999) in Minnesota Bulletin

People who use their eyes to receive information about the world are called sighted people or "people who are sighted." Legal "sight" means any visual acuity greater than 20/200 in the better eye with correction or an angle of vision wider than 20 degrees. Sighted people enjoy rich full lives, working, playing, and raising families. They run businesses, hold public office, and teach your children.

How Do Sighted People Get Around?
People who are sighted may walk or ride public transportation, but most choose to travel long distances by operating their own motor vehicles. They have gone through many hours of training to learn the rules of the road in order to further their independence. Once that road to freedom has been mastered, sighted people earn a legal classification and a driver's license, which allows them to operate a private vehicle safely and independently.

How to Assist a Sighted Person
Sighted people are accustomed to viewing the world in visual terms. This means that in many situations they will not be able to communicate orally and may resort to pointing or other gesturing. Subtle facial expressions may also be used to convey feelings in social situations. Calmly alert the sighted person to his or her surroundings by speaking slowly, in a normal tone of voice. Questions directed to the sighted person help focus attention on the verbal rather than the visual communication. At times sighted people may need help finding things, especially when operating a motor vehicle. Your advance knowledge of routes and landmarks, particularly bumps in the road, turns, and traffic lights, will assist the driver in finding the way quickly and easily. Your knowledge of building layouts can also assist the sighted person in navigating complex shopping malls and offices. Sighted people tend to be very proud and will not ask directly for assistance. Be gentle yet firm.

How Do Sighted People Use Computers?
The person who is sighted relies exclusively on visual information. His or her attention span fades quickly when reading long texts. Computer information is presented in a Graphical User Interface or GUI. Coordination of hands and eyes is often a problem for sighted people, so the computer mouse, a handy device that slides along the desk top, eliminates confusing keystrokes. With one button, the sighted person can move around his or her computer screen quickly and easily. People who are sighted are not accustomed to synthetic speech and may have great difficulty understanding even the clearest synthesizer. Be patient and prepared to explain many times the way your computer equipment works.

How Do Sighted People Read?
Sighted people read using a system called Print. This is a series of images drawn in a two-dimensional plane. People who are sighted generally have a poorly developed sense of touch. Braille is completely foreign to the sighted person, and he or she will take longer to learn the code and be severely limited by his or her existing visual sense. Sighted people cannot function well in low lighting conditions and are generally completely helpless in total darkness. Their homes are usually very brightly lit at great expense, as are businesses that cater to the sighted consumer.

How Can I Support a Sighted Person?
People who are sighted do not want your charity. They want to live, work, and play along with you. The best thing you can do to support sighted people in your community is to open yourself to their world. These citizens are vital, contributing members to society. Take a sighted person to lunch today!

faculty disclosing criminal background

inside higher ed reports on criminal background checks for faculty members.

i was surprised a few years ago when a student applying for an academic position sweated-out a very thorough criminal background investigation. during my job search in the mid-1990s, i can't recall any discussion of criminal history -- except for the senior scholar who chided me, saying "young criminologists these days haven't done enough crime to make any sense of it."

i can understand why colleges and universities might want a basic screen on applicants, but my student was called upon to explain every single arrest. on this point, i agree with the senior scholar who interviewed me: screening out criminologists with arrest histories is sort of like screening out economists who've handled currency.

Friday, March 07, 2008

paul campos on pew foundation report

i'm perplexed at the attention to the pew foundation's recent 1-in-100 study, since i figured that by now most of us had at least a dim sense of the social distribution of criminal punishment. the risk is far greater than 1 percent for many segments of the population and far lower than 1 percent for many other segments.

the 1 percent figure is misleading because it aggregates a bunch of zeros with a bunch of 50 percents. c'mon, just think about the denominator for a second. if we exclude those at essentially zero risk of prison, the percentage quickly rises. do you really think that your great grandmother in the birchwood convalescent center is at any risk for incarceration in a state penitentiary? the likelihood of incarceration is far greater for the working-age population, and far, far greater for the working-age male population, and far, far, far greater for the working-age african american male population.

and that's just the denominator. now think about the numerator. we're talking about people sleeping in a cell tonight, and not talking about anyone who slept in a cell last night (but not tonight) and who will sleep in a cell tomorrow night (but not tonight). when you add in the formerly or recently incarcerated, and those who've served lengthy probation sentences, the risk of imprisonment far exceeds 1-in-100. in 2006, melissa, jeff, and i estimated the felon and ex-felon population at 7.5 percent of the adult population, 22 percent of the black adult population, and 33 percent of the black adult male population.

another way to think of such risks concerns the election. according to paul campos:

During football games, the University of Michigan's stadium hosts about 111,000 people. If you filled the place with randomly selected 60-year-old white women, around 10 of them would turn out to be prison inmates. If you did the same with 46-year-old black men, about 5,500 would be current residents of our prisons and jails. In other words, if we took into account only race, gender and age, Obama's chances of being in prison would be 550 times higher than Clinton's. Here's a good question for a presidential debate: "Do you think 46-year-old black men are 550 times more likely to deserve to be in prison than 60-year-old white women?"

Thursday, March 06, 2008

1.3 seconds

lifting at the local community center the other day, i catch sight of my lad from across the room. it takes about 1.3 seconds before i realize that i'm actually staring at a frickin' mirror rather than my son, which is bizarre and/or delusional because he's 17, 6'6", and considerably more angular than i am. still, the bemused/disgusted/resigned expression on his/my face is definitely all uggen.

this is the first, and almost certainly the last, time that i'll mistake myself for tor. i guess it constitutes the singular moment when our paths are crossing. a few people, such as the perceptive young woman he's been dating, have suggested that we look exactly alike. still, he's turning into a college dude, while i'm turning into a college dude's dad.

any stronger resemblance is tougher for me to see, since the official authorized family biography has drawn a straight line between me and esperanza, and between tor and his athletic, angular mother. it isn't just a physical thing: when my students spend an evening at my house, they see esperanza as my mini-me clone, while they don't know what to make of the lad.

but seeing him in my mirror -- if only for 1.3 seconds -- remixes my view of such things. i see my battles with tor in terms of my battles with my dad (and, let's be clear about this, i ain't just talkin' about verbal sparring around the dinner table) and how my dad surely battled with his dad. this brought me a big ol' bill cosby laugh, of course, foreseeing the gawdawful realization that will surely hit tor in a decade or two: oh crap, i'm turning into my father.

i'm trying to get a little analytic distance on this moment. all told, however, it is about the best 1.3 seconds i've had all year.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


the atlanta journal-constitution reports on rufus terrill, a local tavern owner with a novel approach to neighborhood crime.

He mounted an old meat smoker atop a three-wheel scooter and attached a spotlight, an infrared camera, water cannon and a loudspeaker. He covered the contraption with impact-resistant rubber and painted the whole thing jet black.

in this video clip, the robo-smoker doesn't come off as terribly intimidating. in fact, i can't imagine it surviving long in an actual high-crime neighborhood, since its li'l water gun would never stand up against a sustained attack by a louisville slugger.

in atlanta, as elsewhere, the police generally frown on vigilantism -- even robotic vigilantism-by-proxy:

Atlanta police officials said they haven't received any complaints about the robot. But police spokeswoman Lisa Keyes said Terrill would be committing an assault if he intentionally sprays water on someone when in control of the robot.

i'm not sayin' that there's a racial angle to this story, but there's certainly a socioeconomic angle. the bar is in close proximity to the metro atlanta task force for the homeless and mr. terrill's regulars apparently refer to the robot as the bum-bot. while i can't applaud the use of his private security robot on the public streets, i've got to give mr. terrill 10 out of 10 for ingenuity.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

and now i wanna be your lucky star

rolling stone reports that iggy and the stooges will be performing for madonna at her rock and roll hall of fame induction on monday. i'm hoping that some enterprising mash-up artist will concoct a li'l preview of what this might sound like. i have an easier time hearing it the other way around -- madonna covering, say, the passenger, rather than the stooges doing like a prayer. then again, i'd imagine that mr. osterberg might breathe a little life into like a virgin.

the other "performing for" artists are more predictable. damien rice will be performing on behalf of leonard cohen, james cotton will be doing little walter, patti labelle is playing for gamble and huff, and john mellencamp is performing for john cougar mellencamp. fortunately, the new, hip, with-it ventures can still play those old cool ventures songs just fine. i'll be watching this "performing for" phenomenon closely. in the unlikely event i'm inducted into anything by a professional association -- and the american society of whatever can meet the strict conditions of their backstage tour rider -- perhaps iggy and the stooges would deliver my remarks.

another big phony

despite a student's recommendation, i never got around to reading margaret b. jones' gang memoir, love and consequences. as it turns out, the "refugee from gangland" appears to have made the whole thing up.

via the times:

In a sometimes tearful, often contrite telephone interview from her home on Monday, Ms. Seltzer, 33, who is known as Peggy, admitted that the personal story she told in the book was entirely fabricated. She insisted, though, that many of the details in the book were based on the experiences of close friends she had met over the years while working to reduce gang violence in Los Angeles.

“For whatever reason, I was really torn and I thought it was my opportunity to put a voice to people who people don’t listen to,” Ms. Seltzer said. “I was in a position where at one point people said you should speak for us because nobody else is going to let us in to talk. Maybe it’s an ego thing — I don’t know. I just felt that there was good that I could do and there was no other way that someone would listen to it.”

oh, i get it -- sort of a noble thing. one can't help but think of james frey, who fictionalized a good bit of his memoir a couple years ago. still, it bears repeating: there's nothing more pathetic than a pretend badass.

Monday, March 03, 2008

drug use (mostly) declining, but boomers keep truckin'

president bush released the 2008 national drug control strategy this weekend. the table at left uses data from the venerable monitoring the future study to establish a six-year decline in prevalence rates for the most common licit and illicit drugs.

i was a bit skeptical of this chart at first, since it only shows two years, the mtf only samples in-school youth, and it seems hinky to pool respondents in 8th, 10th, and 12th grade. nevertheless, the downward trend is real -- especially since the peaks of the mid-1990s.

the most recent mtf press release indicates steep declines in marijuana, speed, and meth, alcohol, and cigarettes. drugs "holding steady" from 2006-2007 include powder and crack cocaine, lsd, heroin, ecstasy, steroids, and most of the prescription-type drugs such as oxycontin and vicodin. still, prevalence rates for these drugs were well off their earlier peaks as well.

one finding from the introduction to the national drug control strategy might be of interest to demographers: figure 4. baby boomers are carrying higher rates of drug use with them as they age. i can't link directly to the figure, but here's the accompanying text:

One of the more disturbing data trends identified in the past several years is a dramatic rise in current drug use among adults aged 50-54 (see Figure 4). This trend does not necessarily mean that people are taking up drug use as they enter middle age, but rather that a segment of the population that experienced high rates of drug use in their youth continue to carry high rates of use with them as they get older. While drug use is a burden that the baby boomer generation has borne into middle age, the generation coming of age today will benefit from comparatively lower rates of drug use for the rest of their lives.

this seems like a classic age/cohort/period illustration that might be useful in the classroom. when i report substance use data from the late-1970s and early-1980s, i now tell students that many drugs were more prevalent in their parents' high schools in 1982 than in their own high schools in 2007. i sometimes have difficulty convincing the students of this, which is sort of sweet. when they do believe me, however, i advise them to repeat my lecture around the dinner table at a big family gathering -- you know, like when grandma and grandpa are in the room. that way, both the kids and the elders can have a little fun with the baked-est generation.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

chris simon, chronic offenders, and the hockey recidivist

for the first time in team history, the local call-in shows, letters to the editor, and message boards are awash in criticism of the minnesota wild. minnesota hockey fans are in revolt over the team's recent trade for chris simon (left), the most notorious goon in hockey.

in truth, the term goon doesn't do mr. simon justice. for there is honor among goons and the wild's latest acquisition has consistently violated the clear-cut norms and behavioral expectations of the enforcer role. as a criminologist, i'd characterize mr. simon as a violent recidivist. think that's too strong? here's how the strib summarizes his career accomplishments:

  • 30 games (December 2007): The longest suspension in NHL history, after Simon, playing for the Islanders, stomped on Pittsburgh's Jarkko Ruutu with his skate on Dec. 15.
  • 25 games (March 2007): Then, the longest suspension in league history, for his two-handed stick attack to the face of Rangers forward Ryan Hollweg.
  • 5 preseason games (1994): While with Quebec, swung his stick at Ottawa's Dennis Vial but missed.
  • 3 games (1997): With Washington, he used a racial slur toward Edmonton's Mike Grier, who is black.
  • 2 games (2004): Crosschecked Tampa Bay's Ruslan Fedotenko and then jumped on him and punched him.
  • 2 games (2004): Kneed Dallas' Sergei Zubov.
  • 2 games (2001): Elbowed Florida's Anders Eriksson.
  • 1 game (2000): In the playoffs with the Capitals, he was suspended for crosschecking Pittsburgh's Peter Popovic across the throat.

the press even covers mr. simon as though he were a criminal rather than an athlete. the times, for example, writes that mr. simon needs help and counseling, while sports illustrated calls mr. simon a "hockey recidivist," tracing his criminal history back to the junior leagues:

... In the Ontario junior hockey league Simon was a disciplinary nightmare. Although the OHL was unable to provide records, The Sault Star (of Sault Sainte Marie, Ont.) reported that in 1991-92 he was suspended eight times for a total of 34 games -- 32 by the league and two by the team. The previous season, when the Soo Greyhounds acquired Simon from the Ottawa 67s, he was serving a 12-game suspension for having slashed Niagara Falls Thunder defenseman David Babcock in the face, breaking seven teeth and opening a gash that required 21 stitches.

i always teach a bit on chronic offenders in my delinquency class, citing marvin wolfgang et al.'s (1972) finding that 6 percent of the 1945 philadelphia birth cohort was responsible for 52 percent of that cohort's police contacts. would a similar pattern of chronic offending hold in hockey?

my quick-n-dirty analysis of cbs sports' 2007-2008 penalty statistics indicates that 6 percent of hockey players are responsible for about 21 percent of the penalty minutes. if i throw 30-game suspensions into the mix, of course, the top 6 percent would be responsible for a significantly larger share of the penalty and suspension minutes.

violence is deeply engrained in hockey culture, so minnesotans can appreciate good physical hockey. after all, the real-life hanson brothers learned to play in virginia, minnesota (warning: bad language and worse violence in this clip, but this one seems to feature paul wellstone as a referee). while the violent hansons shocked their fellow players, however, chris simon reminds me of slap shot's other goon: the feared ogie oglethorpe.

i almost expect the wild announcer to introduce him with a riff on jim carr's movie intro: "Oh this young man has had a very trying rookie season, with the litigation, the notoriety, his subsequent deportation to Canada and that country's refusal to accept him. Well, I guess that's more than most 21-year-olds can handle. Number six, Ogie Oglethorpe.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

campbell mcgrath

campbell mcgrath offers some fine new poetry in seven notebooks full of grand statements, li'l observations, and clever self-deprecation. a couple older excerpts and a bit from the new one:

1. guns n' roses

Not a mea culpa, not an apology, but an admission:
there are three minutes in the middle of “Sweet Child o’ Mine”
that still, for all the chopped cotton of the passing years,
for all the muddled victories and defeats of a lifetime,
for all the grief and madness and idiocy of our days,
slay me, just slay me…

2. beauty

Beauty of this world --
walked six miles along the beach,
counting syllables
Beauty of this world,
starlight on the salt meadow --
ah, the moon is full!
Beauty of this world
and the foghorn bemoaning
its mortality.

3. ode to the plantar fascia

...inverted hammock
on which the body rests its burden
like a red-faced tourist
in the shadow
of a coconut palm,
only now is your grievance
made known to me,
only now do I hear your cry,
unenviable membrane,
faithful attendant upon my every stride,
tender sole, antipodal to the soul,
pale mirror to the palm
of this hand,
only now do I honor your service,
and my dignity is hobbled,
only now do I learn to address you by name,
and the Empire