Chris Uggen's Blog: May 2008

Friday, May 30, 2008

age-by-passenger interactions in driver death rates

wcco tv offered a terribly sad story on a young woman who died in a two-car collision yesterday. the piece followed-up with a brief discussion of graduated licensing, which places restrictions on the youngest and least experienced drivers.

one such restriction is the number of passengers that new drivers can transport. the wcco report showed a striking figure, similar to the department of transportation graphic shown below. for 16 and 17 year old drivers, death rates increase dramatically with the number of passengers in the car. for those aged 30 to 59, however, the number of passengers is unrelated to death rates.

distractibility is the hypothesized mechanism linking passengers to death rates for young drivers. i'd throw substance use into the mix as well, since the number of passengers is likely associated with alcohol and other substance use. in addition, i'd bet that peer passengers have a different effect than parent or sibling passengers -- disaggregating by type of passenger might shed further light on the mechanism. as a 30-to-59 year old, my passengers today are often my kids. i still drive more recklessly with my buddies than i do with my kids, but i now spend much less time driving around with my buddies (what buddies?) than i did at age 16 or 17. if i'm correct, passenger type might be just as important as passenger numbers.

while i'm not sure whether a legal limitation on the number of passengers will reduce teen driving fatalities, the bivariate association is clear. when the figure flashed on the screen at my house, i couldn't help overhearing the lad's phone conversation. he was arranging to pick up a buddy or two before school. drive safe and keep the music down, dudes.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

$10k tax credit in philadelphia for hiring ex-prisoners

i've posted before about the crippling employment problems of former felons, many of whom have shared first-hand testimony here. a fine associated press report by kathy matheson details philadelphia's municipal tax credit program for hiring former prisoners. in my view, the program represents a bold and courageous move by mayor michael nutter and the city of brotherly love.

but not a real green suit, that's cruel

perusing magazines in concourse c, i came across another strong recession indicator on the cover of gq magazine: a not-at-all-snarky feature on the best suits under $500, including a snappy $89 number from target. five hundred bucks remains a goodly sum for most of us, of course, but the gentlemen's quarterly typically features pocket squares that retail for about a grand. further research shows that esquire has followed suit, so to speak, with a similar $500 suit feature.

but my next suit is coming from sears -- yes, that sears, still in business after all these years. according to treehugger and boingboing, sears is introducing a machine-washable $200 suit made from recycled plastic sody bottles. the manufacturer even provides carbon footprint information right there on the tag. as i recall, my very first suit was from sears -- a rust-colored polyester model with bell bottoms, righteous lapels, and fancy white stitching. it looked great (great, i tell you!), but it probably didn't breathe as well as the new sears/EcoGIR plastic-bottle suit pictured above.

i've got more faith in the cheap-chic marketing folks at target than their counterparts at sears, but i'd be tempted to invest in the manufacturer if the suit looks and feels even halfway decent. what says 2009 better than inexpensive, green, machine-washable business clothing? many men have to buy a suit at some point, and they'd prefer not to pay a lot of money for it. buying recycled allows them to exercise this preference as a value choice.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

new arrivals buck the trend

inside higher ed is reporting on two studies regarding low rates of childbearing among female academics.

first, a population association of america paper by nicholas wolfinger, mary ann mason, and marc goulden finds that academics -- and especially female academics -- are less likely to have children than are semi-comparable professionals such as physicians or attorneys. second, an american anthropological association report finds that male anthropologists are more likely to be parents, but female anthropologists are more likely to shoulder greater responsibility for child care and other family obligations. my sense is that these results won't shock folks who read this blog, though the magnitude of the estimated gender differences may surprise some.

in light of such news, i'm real happy to announce the births of eva jane barrows (b. 5/19/08) and luke alexander shannon (b. 5/26/08). julie and sarah and their families are doing well and looking forward to a beautiful summer. i'm sure they'd welcome your warm wishes and congratulations. impressively, they both also managed to finish their end-of-semester grading last week. as julie put it in an email, "I'll not soon forget grading final exams on the way to the hospital!" such comments show both the time-intensive demands of academic life and the incredible organizational and multi-tasking skills of many grad student parents.

nevertheless, the studies reported by inside higher ed suggest that students who have kids in grad school are still facing barriers and that such barriers are higher for female academics than for male academics. although i'm procreation-friendly as an advisor -- with luke and eva making for 12 kids among 13 advisees -- there's absolutely no truth to the rumor that students who work with me are required to have children.

Monday, May 26, 2008

sweet race

emotions run high after a race, so it is almost unfair to propose marriage at the finish line. still, i think this cap times story is the cutest ever...

The time was right for romance at the Madison Marathon finish line Sunday when Dan Hogan met Gaby Canseco with a small jewelry box and a big question: "Will you marry me?"

A shocked Canseco, who had just crossed the line at the Alliant Energy Center after finishing a half-marathon, looked like her knees might buckle. But she managed a nod.

"I had no idea!" Canseco, 24, of Waterford exclaimed. Hogan, 26, of Naperville, Ill., said he chose the finish line of their first race together after the couple tried time and again to run past races only to be thwarted by one thing and another. On Sunday, he raced to the finish line to be there waiting for her.

The couple had not yet thought about a wedding date, they said. "I'm not sure she said 'yes' yet," Hogan said.

take your time, ms. canseco, but you might want to give mr. hogan a few points for romance and creativity.

my race was less eventful, but i had my own hokey marathon moment. about mile 19, i was fading fast and stumbling through madison's gorgeous arboretum. i looked up to see a hawk soaring and swooping above, while nevertheless remaining almost perfectly still. inspired and chastened, i tried to run with an economy of motion, rather than my usual pounding and flailing. this carried me nicely from about 20 to 23, when everything gets a bit easier in a light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel sort of way. the weather was perfect and i finished smiling at 3:51 -- resolving, of course, to do a bit better in the next one.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

forecast calls for pain

it should be thunderstormy and 78 degrees for madison's marathon tomorrow, but it isn't just the weather that's got me worried. there are other cues that this might be a difficult race. for example, for the first time in my long running career, i'm hearing things like, "Good luck, Chris! But if you feel chest pain, stop running!" hmm. plus, gray willie, my running guru, won't be racing this year. it will be the first madison marathon in history without the antipodean speedster. and he likes running in heavy weather. we're both looking forward to tonight's pasta and tomorrow's post-race party.

Friday, May 23, 2008

bobblefoot giveaway this sunday

the saint paul saints, our beloved local nine, will be giving away 2,500 of these fine collector's edition bobblefoot keepsakes at sunday's game at midway stadium.

the saints straight-facedly claim that the bathroom stall promotion was intended to coincide with national tap dance day, since one of the dangling feet is springloaded such that it "taps" or bobbles.

i'm not one to judge folks based on their worst moments (lest i be judged, i suppose), but this promotion seems innocuous to me. the saints don't even mention the distinguished senator from idaho, though the bobblefoot might be construed as an homage to his foot-tapping and wide stance.

last year, the saints took some heat for giving away a michael vick dog chew toy. have they finally crossed the line with this promotion? a pioneer press poll put the question to readers. of 119 votes, 7 percent said "yes, it's nothing to laugh at," 30 percent said "no, it doesn't offend me," and 63 percent said "come on, it's the saints! they gave away a randy moss hood ornament for cryin' out loud! [note: mr. moss had recently run over a traffic officer].

let's see, the game starts at 7:05 sunday. what do you think it would cost to purchase one of these fine bobblefoots on ebay this monday? i'm guessing that some tap dance afficionado would go as high as fifty bucks.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

sound wars and dispersion

artists are growing increasingly dissatisfied with the compressed and ill-defined sound of their music on mp3s and cds. rolling stone reports on the ongoing sound wars:

“We’ve been fighting the limitations of digital audio since it first came out,” says [T-Bone] Burnett, the veteran musician and producer. “The artists lost control of the process, and it just got to the point where the Dude could not abide.”

most of the concerns stem from the practice of MIXING EVERYTHING AT THE SAME VOLUME: EXTRY LOUD. robert levine, also writing in rolling stone, offers a refreshingly comprehensible primer on dynamic range compression in contemporary music.

the basic idea is that every channel, every instrument, and every musician is cranked to eleven these days. this practice gives ya non-stop midrange punchiness throughout a song's duration, delivered with all the sensitivity of metallagher.

the figure above shows waveforms from an ideal-typical example, 2006's i bet that you look good on the dance floor. there's almost no range whatsoever, with the (volume) pedal to the metal throughout.

the next figure is from 1991. hardly a ballad, nirvana's smells like teen spirit still offers much more range. as i recall, madison's good-guy producer butch vig took some heat for double-tracking the guitars on teen spirit, but the resulting hit still offered way more crescendo/decrescendo than today's songs (for those truly obsessed, check out the loudness war or wiki).

next time i teach statistics, i might use similar examples to illustrate the concept of dispersion and variance. think about how your favorite old pieces might be mixed in 2008. hearing miles davis' fifty-year-old so what, the musicians made room for one another by simmering down and heating up (check out the handoff to coltrane around 1:57; then, just for fun, my favorite things a few years later). it wasn't just jazz, of course. everything on the radio seemed to offer greater dispersion in the 1970s than today. what would a rangemaster like al green do? i'm guessing that, like t-bone burnett, the dude would not abide.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

evaluation forms: what could you have done to be a better diner?

the minnversity just adopted a new student rating of teaching evaluation form. we take teaching very seriously in minnesota, paying close attention to evaluation scores. the new form looks ok, i guess, but they dropped my two favorite items: (1) a global indicator asking how would you rate the professor's overall teaching ability?; and (2) the student's assessment of the instructor's knowledge of the subject matter.

i've always preferred global or facet-free questionnaire items in assessing complex phenomena such as job satisfaction, health, fear of crime, and overall teaching ability. these seem to honor the respondent's subjective judgment in a way that some of the new items -- "the instructor was well prepared for class" or "provided feedback on my course performance" or "stimulated my interest" -- do not.

in my view, the worst and most patronizing addition to the form is an open-ended question asking what could you have done to be a better learner? yuck. back in my student days, i would've had a pretty snarky answer (e.g., show up 5 minutes late every class, so that i'd be in synch with the tardy professor). just imagine a restaurant comment card that asked, what could you have done to be a better diner? if education is indeed a service industry, it is in our interest to carve out 10 minutes per semester to hear the unvarnished comments of our customers.

an faq on the new evaluation form directly addresses my question about dropping the "overall teaching ability" indicator:

Why was Question 1 (“How would you rate the instructor’s overall teaching ability?”) not included in the new form?

There are at least four reasons behind dropping this item:
a. Too often, one global item serves as the sole metric for identifying teaching effectiveness. Although this approach is efficient, it also oversimplifies the complex, multidimensional nature of teaching.
b. The item reduces the reliability of what is being measured because many different (perhaps contradictory) teacher characteristics could be envisioned by students as they rate the teacher. Reliable information from ratings requires a clear understanding of the construct being measured.
c. The item lacks diagnostic value, i.e., instructors who score low on this item do not have any direction on what to do to improve their score.
d. Research on global items of teaching indicates that these items do not correlate well with specific items of teaching (e.g., clarity, organization, feedback provision). It is not clear what is being measured or assessed when an item meant to serve as a “summarization of teaching” is poorly related to specific items known to influence good teaching.

translated, i think that means the global assessment is (a) too useful; (b) too general; (c) too evaluative; and, (d) that the new measures we'll use to assess teaching are uncorrelated with student perceptions of "overall teaching ability." nice. i'm happy that we're updating the form, but i wish we would've kept a global student assessment of the instructor's ability to teach.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

demand-side evaluation of john school

criminologists typically adopt a supply-side approach, rather than viewing crime as a problem of demand for illegal goods and services. demand reduction strategies have long been practiced with regard to substance use. if effective, however, the idea might be productively extended to problem landlords and myriad other areas. for prostitution, at least, there's some evidence that simple interventions with consumers might slow demand.

nij and the san francisco chronicle report that the first offender prostitution program (or "john school") might be effective in reducing the demand for prostitution. i say "might" because the clever multi-method analysis (details here) by abt associates isn't really set up to make strong causal claims.

from abt:

In the FOPP, eligible arrestees are given the choice of paying a fee and attending a one-day class (known generically as the "john school"), or being prosecuted. During its more than 12 years of operation, 5,735 men have attended the FOPP's john school. The fees support all of the costs of conducting the john school classes, as well as subsidizing police vice operations, the screening and processing of arrestees, and recovery programs for women and girls involved in commercial sex...

...To evaluate the program's impact on recidivism, Abt Associates staff analyzed time series data for San Francisco and the rest of California for 10 years prior to implementation and 10 years after implementation (1985 through 2005). In San Francisco they found that compared to the 10 years prior to FOPP implementation, a sharp drop in recidivism rates occurred in the year of implementation (1995). Recidivism rates stayed at these lower levels during the 10 years following implementation. A similar pattern was observed in San Diego, with annual average recidivism rates following implementation of a john school at less than half the pre-program levels. There were no statewide trends or shifts in either 1995 or 2000 (the year of San Diego's implementation) that might explain the recidivism rate declines in either San Francisco or San Diego. The results were repeatedly confirmed by applying various multivariate statistical modeling techniques and examining different subsets of the population of arrestees.

there are some ecological leaps in such an analysis, of course, and reliance on an arrest indicator seems problematic to me (e.g., enforcement priorities are locally determined; what if the class just teaches johns to avoid detection?). nevertheless, i like the study and the idea seems promising enough to merit continued systematic evaluation and a search for the mechanisms linking the program to recidivism. might john school work through shaming, deterrence, education, or some other mechanism?

land of 2000 dances

with young wes heading to texas for his kansas-meets-korea wedding, i got to thinking about music.

the first dance at my wedding was waterloo sunset, a sweet, sad, romantic song about observing rather than experiencing a beautiful world. perfect for a sociologist, of course, but a good wedding song should really symbolize the union of two people. that's why i'd consider a mash-up for the first dance -- splicing together a li'l something from the bride and a li'l something from the groom.

everybody is mashing songs together now, but most are pretty lame efforts. if your partner and your guests favor something from the mid-sixties to the early nineties, you might check out a combination by mark vidler -- sophisticated taste, insane attention to detail, and a penchant for juxtaposing unlike forms.

a few wedding suggestions from spliced krispies, mr. vidler's newest video compilation of combinations:
good luck on the nuptials, wes. and, if you take the mash-up advice, you might experiment with a light or heavy mix for the dollar dance.

Monday, May 19, 2008

hellhounds on the trail

we're all pretty much running from something, right? a lot of marathoners seem to use distance running to stay a step ahead of substance use and other problems. runner's world just profiled ultrarunner charlie engel, an ex-crack user who ran 4,500 miles through the sahara in 111 days. it takes major hellhounds on one's trail to average 40 miles per day across a freaking desert.

the denver post similarly profiles the nonprofit activity inspired rehabilitation foundation, as they sponsored 40 first-time runners in the colorado colfax marathon. as a longtime distance runner, i take it on faith that marathons are good for the soul. i've thought about designing a randomized trial in which volunteers would be assigned to either a running support group or an alternative drug treatment comparison group, but i'm reluctant to test my faith -- lest it be crushed against the rocks of a rigorous scientific analysis. nevertheless, i sent the AIR folks a donation and wish them all the best. from their site:

The AIR Foundation was founded in 2007 to help defeat homelessness and addiction in the community through programs that support and inspire rehabilitation through athletic accomplishment and a positive connection to the community. Its unique approach, called “activity inspired rehabilitation,” was an immediate success, increasing the success of rehabilitation programs by as much as 50%.

Today, The AIR Foundation works with homeless shelters, rehabilitation centers and youth outreach programs to provide a physical and goal setting component to rehabilitation. How does Activity Inspired Rehabilitation Work?

  • Goal Setting helps participants stay focused on becoming healthy and productive members of the Denver community.

  • Incremental Accomplishment through training and races builds self-esteem and self-confidence as program members create new identities.

  • Professional Health and Fitness Training creates lasting change in the health and fitness levels of AIR members, building a foundation for a lifetime of health and self-sufficiency.

  • Positive Connection With The Community changes the way members feel about themselves, allowing them to make a positive connection to the people around them and become role models for others in need.

i'm doing a marathon in madison this sunday, so my personal goal for the week is simple, if contradictory: eat a ton of pasta and stay reasonably healthy.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

air america interview at 2 pm on considering faith

i'll be doing a live interview at 2 this afternoon on an air america program called considering faith. ochen kaylan, who created a funny and revealing one-man show on felon voting rights, will be there too, as will host peg chemberlin, executive director of the minnesota council of churches. it should be fun, as long as i can find the studio in eden prairie. here's the blurb from the show's site:

May 18 - Felon Disenfranchisement - Chris Uggen and Ochen Kaylan
Did you know that the United States is the only democracy in the world that denies former prisoners the right to vote? This week we'll be joined by two experts on felon disenfranchisement: one is an author/professor from the University of MN who teaches about these issues in a classroom setting. The other is a writer/producer who teaches about these issues in radio documentaries and theater performance. Professor Chris Uggen is Distinguished McKnight Professor and Chair of Sociology at the University of Minnesota. He studies crime, law, and deviance - especially how former prisoners manage to put their lives back together. With Professor Uggen, we'll also have award-winning radio documentary producer Ochen Kaylan. Kaylan created the critically-acclaimed one-man show on felon disenfranchisement titled “I Voted for Gummi Bears” - an entertaining, yet highly informative piece of theater that will be featured in the new performance series “SPIRIT IN THE HOUSE” opening later this month. We'll visit with Professor Uggen and Ochen Kaylan to talk about the complicated issue of prisoner voting rights.

school suspension gap

speaking of school discipline, james walsh offers a nice analysis of the race gap in school suspensions:

Black students in Minnesota are being suspended at a rate about six times that of white students, according to a Star Tribune analysis of state Department of Education data. Some are sent home for serious misbehavior, like fighting or drugs. But most are suspended for lesser incidents, such as talking in class, goofing around or challenging teachers -- offenses for which there is more disciplinary leeway...

prom/cast party 08

tor was tuxed-out for prom tonight, but he and his friends were good enough to pose for a few pictures with the parents beforehand. i got a few candid shots like the one at left. everybody seemed happy.

they're just heading to the after-party now. tor kept his tux on, but substituted his birkenstocks for the shiny 15-wide "monkey shoes." i'm impressed with the level of social control and parental involvement at prom and other big events. they had to pass a breathalyzer to get into the dance and we got a flyer from the parents hosting the afterparty detailing a few clear but simple rules (e.g., nobody leaves until 6 am). the idea, i think, is harm reduction -- let 'em have some fun, but keep 'em off the roads and out of the hotels.

meanwhile, esperanza just returned from a cast party. she's wrapping up a three-week run with a local theatre company, playing hermia the kitten in cats. since the cast was mostly adults, i was a little nervous about just what sort of party they might be throwing. she had a great time, though, and assures me that the big cats treated the kittens well (it's musical theatre, dad!).

i'm glad tor and esperanza are out having fun, of course, but i'll breathe a little easier when they're both back in the house tomorrow, exhausted.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

no touching at armatage elementary

these are desperate times for school administrators. the strib reports that armatage elementary in minneapolis now maintains an official "no touch" policy:

Originally the rule, circulated to parents Thursday, banned even casual touching such as hand-holding and hugging. But Principal Joan Franks has now refined the policy to target aggressive and "unsafe" behavior such as play-fighting, pushing and shoving. And tag.

yeesh. wouldn't banning hitting be sufficient? as an administrator, i certainly understand the motivations here. as a parent, however, i see how kids need much touch just to get through a long, alienating day in the classroom. for esperanza and her middle-school friends, this takes the form of hugging in the hallways and packing in close together in the lunchroom. for tor and his buddies, this sometimes takes the form of behaviors specifically outlawed: play-fighting, pushing, and shoving (not to mention football, rugby, and wrestling).

i can't make a strong causal argument that touch improves mental health -- perhaps there is a literature addressing this question -- but i can see a clear correlation. when my kids do more touching they seem more socially connected and happier. when my large lad puts me in a headlock or punches my shoulder, we're usually both laughing and i'm feeling pretty good about our relationship.

but those are just my views as a parent. as a sociologist who studies rules and their enforcement, i've got another observation. creating such a no-touch rule will likely create a new class of rule violators and a new cause of action for school discipline. given the gender distribution of behaviors such as play-fighting, pushing, and shoving, i would predict that boys will be disproportionately subject to such discipline. given the race and class distribution of those disciplined for other school misconduct, i would predict that children of color and those from working class families will be disproportionately subject to such discipline. when the minneapolis schools do the next round of hand-wringing about race and gender gaps in school achievement, they might consider the impact of disciplinary practices such as the no-touch rule.

Friday, May 16, 2008

san diego zoo, prison to merge

via sarah shannon and america's finest news source:

SAN DIEGO—Plagued by a lack of funding and growing staff shortages, the San Diego Zoo and Ironwood State Prison were combined earlier this week, bringing local inmates and wildlife together for the first time under the same roof.

The new state-of-the-art facility—which will house 12 separate cell blocks, a reptile house, two weight rooms, and a primate sanctuary—is expected to save the state of California up to $5 million in operation costs over the next year...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

lindner piece on embedded media

greg mitchell at huffington is writing about andrew lindner's just-released contexts piece on embedded media in iraq. it is wonderful to see it get some attention, since (a) the story is well-researched and well-told; (b) mr. lindner is a grad student soon-to-defend his diss; and, (c) from an editor's perspective, he was just a really pleasant dude to work with.

i'm enjoying co-editing contexts, though i still have much to learn. it is a little like being chair. the anxieties and worries pile up until the howling fantods seem close at hand, but it is really satisfying to share in the fun and excitement of big collective projects. whether as chair or editor, i'm finding that encouraging and promoting good work is among the most joyful and self-actualizing activities of academic life.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

1939 marital rating chart: congress good, red nail polish bad

the american psychological association's monitor on psychology and boingboing offer this illuminating glimpse of marital expectations in 1939. some excerpts from the story by nick joyce and david b. baker:

"Marital Rating Scale—Wife's Chart," a test developed in the late 1930s by George W. Crane, MD, PhD, (1901–95) of Northwestern University...was designed to give couples feedback on their marriages. Either husbands or wives could take the test, which rated wives in a variety of areas. For instance, if your wife "uses slang or profanity," she would get a score of five demerits. On the other hand, if she "reacts with pleasure and delight to marital congress," she would receive 10 merits. ... His method was to interview 600 husbands on their wives' positive and negative qualities. Then he listed the 50 demerits and merits that arose most frequently... Crane's views on marriage were well-received at the time. He had 12 bulletins on the subject that could be purchased through mail order. In 1957, he started the Scientific Marriage Foundation—sort of a low-tech version of the popular matchmaking Web site eHarmony—which took a "scientific" approach to marriage.

myrmekiaphila neilyoungi

a quick post before boarding at logan airport. harvard was a great escape from end-of-semester chairduties. i presented some work in progress from the minnesota exits and entries project, which drew some incisive, constructive, and helpful comments. cool too, meeting blog readers who traveled to harvard for the talk. i had great talks with old friends, met some super-sharp students, and enjoyed spring lilacs in boston/cambridge.

i've been off the internets the past few days, but sarah shannon sends word of a nice pop biology story. An east carolina university biologist named jason bond discovered a new species of trapdoor spider (above), which he named after his favorite musician, myrmekiaphila neilyoungi.

as a (neil) young lover, i'm all for the moniker. that said, mr. young doesn't seem especially spidery to me. shouldn't john entwistle or joey ramone or jim stafford get his own spider before neil young? if a new variety of alpaca is discovered, on the other hand, ol' neil should be first in line.

Monday, May 12, 2008

cultural transformation of juno

via fox japan, chika shinohara sends word regarding the japanese release of juno.

chika and i are working on a comparative sexual harassment project, so we've thought a bit about the cultural transformation from u.s. sexual harassment to japanese sekuhara. still, i wasn't sure how the charming story of a snarky teenage mom in minnesota would play in japan. evidently the promotions department is having a little fun with it.

from chika:

juno is advertised really cute.
and if you buy a movie ticket at a movie theater, they will give you a pink and white pregnancy test-looking pass that can be put on your cell phone...

pretty clever, i'd say, since the promotion touches on themes that make juno such an effective-but-kind-of-scary film for adolescents. although i'm eager for 14-year-old esperanza to see juno, for example, she can look forward to a long and uncomfortable conversation if a pregnancy test sticker ever appears on her cell phone.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

a rose is nice and all, but...

when the man at the cemetary offered a single mother's day rose to passing moms, all i could think about was dorothy parker.

a rose is nice, to be sure, but ms. parker suggested that mom might enjoy something a bit more ... extravagant.

one perfect rose

A single flow'r he sent me, since we met.
All tenderly his messenger he chose;
Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet--
One perfect rose.

I knew the language of the floweret;
"My fragile leaves," it said, "his heart enclose."
Love long has taken for his amulet
One perfect rose.

Why is it no one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah no, it's always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.

wicked, yes, but my mom adored dorothy parker. a few more nasty-smart lines of parker's poesy:


Razors pain you; Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you; And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful; Nooses give;
Gas smells awful; You might as well live.

in the happy event that you can visit your mom outside a cemetary, there's still time to send a perfect limousine her way -- you might even throw in a couple roses. and a driver.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


strange experience tonight, watching dazed and confused with my ambivalent randall "pink" floyd-like 17-year-old footballer. on this night, he was also subject to his first contact with law enforcement -- pulled over for venturing into a gated community without the appropriate sticker. he says advice from david brooks' on paradise drive helped him avoid a ticket, but i really don't wanna know details on this one.

the lad spent much of the movie trying to peg me to a particular character and marveling over jocks' carte blanche in the 1970s. perhaps not surprisingly, he was quite familiar with the purplefog-nugentsmith soundtrack -- a nod to the enduring power of classic rawk on local airwaves. i'm not so concerned about exposing him to the film's explicit drug references, i guess, though i'm a li'l uneasy about subjecting an impressionable musician to the runaways and -- heaven help us -- black oak arkansas. but he's 17 now, so i'm easing up on the age-graded censorship. ideally, he's mature enough to handle any subversive content in dazed and confused or, for that matter, on paradise drive.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

geez, and i thought it was the tots at grumpy's

surprising to see the times attribute washington avenue's revitalization to "literature and book arts." don't get me wrong -- open book (at left) is a wondrous minnesota place in a magical minnesota space. i'm just sayin' that maybe the area's broad economic resurgence goes a bit beyond "old-fashioned literature and books" and the fine, slim, poetry volumes from milkweed press. but hey, i'll suspend disbelief. if the times' reporter wants to dig a bit deeper into wash ave culture, however, i'm happy to escort her to grumpy's on meat-raffle night. try the tots -- they're delicious.

undergrad and inmate collaborate on globe op-ed

conor clarke and greg yothers offer a nice boston globe op-ed on felon voting -- the more we imprison, the less we vote. here's the bit i like:

[O]ur experience in class suggests that the opposite is true. We all write the same papers, read the same material by John Locke and Alexis de Tocqueville, and are all equally engaged in debating and discussing everything from the role of the good citizen to America's role in the world. There is no reason to think inmates are uniquely unqualified to wield a vote, and no reason to think they can't.

Yes, going to prison necessarily entails the loss of liberty. But the right to vote is in many ways more important than the right to walk freely down the street: Voting is the most basic check against the coercive power of the state. The places where that coercive power is most starkly exercised, such as prisons, are also the places where that most basic of checks becomes more important. The fact that prisoners have a big stake in governmental choices isn't an argument in favor of disenfranchisement; it's an argument against.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

ginormous question for juvenile justice

juvienation and the washington post report on the case of gary durant, a high school junior:

Should young people who are accused of a crime receive the full force of laws intended for adults, given accumulating evidence that their brains are not fully matured? Pitting attorney against attorney, scientist against scientist, even attorneys against scientists, that question has the potential to redraw courtroom battle lines nationwide.

psychologist larry steinberg of temple, a real authority on adolescent development, is quoted at length:

“there is a whole set of abilities that are still maturing after age 16. It has changed my mind about where the boundary should be drawn between adolescence and adulthood. Even at 21 or 22, kids are still developing competencies.”

shelly schaefer and i have been thinking about this issue in minnesota, where youth adjudicated for serious crimes are often given a blended juvenile/adult sentence (known locally as EJJ, or extended juvenile jurisdiction). they get a standard juvie sentence, but a looooong adult bit hangs over their heads until they successfully complete probation at 21. this month, a young man failed on EJJ, triggering a 72-year (yes, year) sentence. think about it: one irrational decision by a teenager determines whether he's free and clear at 21 or incarcerated until age 90.

as the parent of two teens, i doubt that such sanctions really impel them to "think twice" about the long-term consequences of their behavior. i can't speak for young mr. durant, but from the perspective of the high school junior in my house, i get the sense that 21 really doesn't seem all that far from 90.

talk at harvard, tuesday the 13th at 3:00

chairlife takes a toll on both travels and research, so i'm really excited to escape for a couple days next week. i'll be presenting some new research in harvard's sociology colloquium at 1550 william james hall on tuesday afternoon at 3. please stop on by if you happen to be in the neighborhood -- you'll hear about some all-new semi-secret public criminology works in progress.

the good class

i gave my final lecture today, to a much-loved group of 55 students that i'm gonna miss every tues and thurs at 12:45. every couple years, a teacher gets a class that's a little more fun/serious/intense/honest than yer average collection of students. this one laughed at most of my jokes, didn't complain when lectures went a little long, and asked good hard questions. they even caught the li'l musical intros i played before class. more importantly, of course, they thought hard about sociological criminology and put some good work in on their papers and exams.

i can understand how they might've heard air or al green before, but how does a twenty-year-old know all the words to a song by the sonics, tony joe white, or the seeds? anyway, this was a pretty cool group of future sociologists, cops, social workers, lawyers, probation officers, and journalists. i hope they crush on the final.

Monday, May 05, 2008

fresh sociology -- tomorrow at 4

2007-08 Sociology Workshop Series

This Week:

Chris Uggen, Shelly Schaefer, Arturo Biaocchi, Jeanette Husseman, Tom Walton (Anthropology), and Sarah Shannon

"Design and Early Results from the Minnesota Exits and Entries Project"

Tuesday, May 6
4:00pm - 5:15pm
1114 Social Sciences


Please visit to obtain a schedule of past Sociology Workshop presentations.


Sunday, May 04, 2008

...and always wear a black fedora and cufflinks in the studio

two items on process from the sunday papers.

1. the times offers a nice feature on the fashion choices of detectives. even in new york, few can afford armani. the article was gendered, but it pays for both male and female detectives to convey authority (brooks brothers, jack victor), vibrancy (kenneth cole, hugo boss), and success. if you've got the bucks and want to buy the detective in your life an extravagant gift, i guarantee they'll appreciate a burberry raincoat. the unspoken message: you ain't getting nothing past this detective. i do interviews much differently than homicide detectives, since i'm just trying to get the story. still, i find that prisoners and former prisoners are much more forthcoming when i come dressed for a serious meeting -- looking more like a youngish ceo rather than an academic or, worse, a social worker.

2. in the li'l usa weekend supplement, steve wynn retells a beautiful nugget on frank sinatra's recording process.

One time on the plane, I asked him, "How do you do it?"

He had a Jack Daniels in his hand, and he turned to me and said, "Do what?"

"How do you record a song?" I asked. I wanted to know how the magic was created.

..."I take a sheet with just the lyrics. No music. At that point, I'm looking at a poem. I'm trying to understand the point of view of the person behind the words. I want to understand his emotions. Then I start speaking, not singing, the words so I can experiment and get the right inflections. When I get with the orchestra, I sing the words without a microphone first, so I can adjust the way I've been practicing to the arrangement. I'm looking to fit the emotion behind the song that I've come up with to the music. Then it all comes together. You sing the song. If the take is good, you're done."

since mr. wynn wasn't there in the studio, i can't vouch for the story's accuracy. still, given mr. sinatra's half-sung/half-spoken emotin', the story has some face validity, no?

Saturday, May 03, 2008

sociological images

my favorite newish blog is sociological images, so i'm delighted to see gwen and lisa are now up and running at

their work is wonderfully consistent with the magazine's public outreach mission and visual emphasis. in addition to posting the images themselves, of course, they offer sharp-eyed sociological analysis of gender and inequality.

i've pasted a few of their images into my lecture slides, so the blog is a fine teaching resource. that said, i mostly check it out for their uncanny ability to call out the bizarre wierdness in our taken-for-granted fields of vision. without soc images, for example, i would have remained completely unaware of the disappearing nipple problem in professional wrestling, or what disappearing nipples might tell us about the heteronormative male gaze.

fighting off a bad poem with a good one

there must be pollen in the air this week. just as coughs and colds can sneak up for days in advance, new poems tend to hit me gradually -- like a vague but persistent itchy throat. i'll try to put them off until i've been sufficiently diligent or productive, just as i would put off a bad cold until some major project is finished. eventually, of course, i'll succomb, take my medicine, and be down with a bad poem for a couple of days.

in the meantime, i'm innoculating myself with a good poem. here's a teacher's poem -- for teachers of the sociological imagination as well as teachers of poetry -- by a fine poet named billy collins.

via poets:
Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Friday, May 02, 2008

it's a runner's world...

only four weeks to the madison marathon and i could use a running story for inspiration. here's one from today's strib:

when two men dipped into the till of a local ginkgo coffee shop, mark laliberte of roseville (left) took after the guy with the cash. when he caught up with him, the strib and the local news played up the fact that mr. laliberte has run a few marathons.

Laliberte, a veteran of numerous marathons and triathlons, was up and ready to run in pursuit. He ripped off his jacket and raced down Exchange Street after the suspect. Laliberte can run a mile in 6 minutes, 30 seconds. "I was running faster than that because I knew it was a sprint,'' he said. The suspect ran ahead, looking back over his shoulder. Laliberte was gaining.

"I said, 'That's right, I'm gaining on you. I'm going to catch you. You might as well stop,'" Laliberte said.

The chase ranged over several downtown blocks until the pair hit Ninth Street. That's where Laliberte "horse-collared" the suspect.

for the record, a 6:30 mile isn't going to catch many suspects under the age of 70. that said, marathoners are usually right when they say, "i'm going to catch up with you ... eventually." i always told my kids that i could beat randy moss in a race. oh sure, he'd torch me for the first mile or two, but i'd smoke the great receiver (and occasional smoker) if the race lasted more than three hours.

i'm no vigilante, but i understand why mr. laliberte took after the thief. i dimly recall an afternoon robbery in my days as a cook. it must've been after a busy lunch rush, because there was cash in the till and several cooks hanging out for the change of shift. when word of the robbery hit the kitchen, we each grabbed a knife and poured out the back door (why? i dunno) and down the hill in our whites and aprons. it must've been quite a sight -- there were no marathon runners in the group that day, just sweaty guys with cutlery and hairnets. fortunately for all involved, local law enforcement caught the young man before we did.

i'm now content to leave the chasing of thieves and wide receivers to the professionals, though i stubbornly believe i'd catch up with most of 'em eventually. i may not be in shape for this month's marathon, but i know i can still beat randy moss.