Chris Uggen's Blog: February 2009

Friday, February 27, 2009

soul that could melt a stone

the pioneer press headline was no exaggeration: With death of Bill Holm, Minnesota loses a piece of its soul.

holm was sensitive like robert bly and garrison keillor, but he had soul like wilson pickett -- soul for days.

the obits are praising his sharp essays, box elder bug variations, and the heart can be filled anywhere on earth. all great stuff, but i go for the poetry. three selections:


What is the pain like? says the pretty girl with the clipboard.
Like a serrated bread knife sawing at the top of the rib cage, punctuated with
sudden blows from an ax or a meat cleaver.
What the girl wanted was "not too bad" or "pretty bad", or even "bad", an
anonymous quality, sans detail, sans metaphor.
A little stoicism might have cheered her up.
Are you claustrophobic? She says with another nod at the clipboard.
Of course, I answer, Isn't everyone if they are still alive?
Can I give you something for it?
Only the lead gift in the twilight if that's what it comes to.
Never mind.
How do you feel, she asks, after she has slid my supine body into the tight white sarcophagus.
Like a character in a Poe story.
No, I work for Dr. Moe.
Not much lit in the med-tech course, I suppose.
Lots of people like music, she nods cheerfully.
What have you got?
Easy listening, soft rock, country...
No Mahler Ninth? No C# minor quartet?
Give me the news, I say. Ashcroft and the collapsing stock market seems about right.
It's noisy, she warns.
She has a gift for understatement.
It's like being squeezed in an airless plastic coffin dropped on the floor of a sheet metal factory
stamping out auto parts or shell casings. Irregular metallic thumping and whanging.
Only an hour left, she says after ten years.
Just lay real still. We're getting good pictures.
Not since the Middle Ages has anyone thought of a machine quite like this,
a modern rack or iron maiden to take pictures of the spine, the organs, the bones, the muscles.
Torquemada would have used it to take pictures of your opinions.
He would have offered his heretics prayer but neither easy listening nor Valium.
He thought it God's will. We think it science.
This is, I suppose, progress of a kind.
One way or another, you wind up diagnosed.
Either that or burned at the stake, another kind of diagnosis.

Wedding Poem For Schele and Phil

A marriage is risky business these days
Says some old and prudent voice inside.
We don't need twenty children anymore
To keep the family line alive,
Or gather up the hay before the rain.
No law demands respectability.
Love can arrive without certificate or cash.
History and experience both make clear
That men and women do not hear
The music of the world in the same key,
Rather rolling dissonances doomed to clash.

So what is left to justify a marriage?
Maybe only the hunch that half the world
Will ever be present in any room
With just a single pair of eyes to see it.
Whatever is invisible to one
Is to the other an enormous golden lion
Calm and sleeping in the easy chair.
After many years, if things go right
Both lion and emptiness are always there;
The one never true without the other.

But the dark secret of the ones long married,
A pleasure never mentioned to the young,
Is the sweet heat made from two bodies in a bed
Curled together on a winter night,
The smell of the other always in the quilt,
The hand set quietly on the other's flank
That carries news from another world
Light-years away from the one inside
That you always thought you inhabited alone.
The heat in that hand could melt a stone.

How They Die

They dry up,
turn into light.

-Bill Holm.

chris uggen: cheerleading coach

though i'm an admitted cheerleader for my discipline and department, i was surprised to find this cheerzone catalog in my office mailbox. then i enjoyed a good laugh at the address label:
either i've been assigned new job duties at the minnversity -- a plausible scenario in the current budget environment -- or one of you wiseacres added me to the mailing list. the men's offerings are limited, but i've got my eye on a maroon and gold pullover top and pants.

dang semi-literate kids

i'm opposed to all forms of vandalism, of course, but i always figured snoreview was funny and horeview was just crude. and misspelled. i'd prefer to see kids creatively altering the sign's meaning with a couple feet of masking tape -- no permanent damage and no cost to taxpayers! i told my kids that i'd better not catch them vandalizing the big sign up the street. so far, so good, though i go to bed each night with the fear that i'll awaken to a torview sign at 96 and lexington.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

verne gagne turns 83 today

i've been hesitant to blog about the verne gagne case until it made the national news, since the story just breaks our hearts in minnesota. that said, the account is useful for understanding homicide and culpability.

verne gagne was a fine wrestler, both real and professional. he won the state tourney at robbinsdale, then two ncaa championships at the minnversity as an undersized heavyweight. he then went on to the '48 olympics and a long and surprisingly distinguished career as a pro. after working the circuit for about a decade, mr. gagne formed the AWA in 1960, holding the title and dispatching all challengers every saturday morning throughout my formative years.

mr. gagne favored real or technical wrestlers, which meant that he freakin' hated the idea of skill-deficient bodybuilders like hulk hogan becoming champions. growing up, i recall mr. gagne as a perpetually middle-aged curmudgeon from about 1960-1995. hulkamania, of course, won the cultural battle. so, today's professional wrestlers bear little resemblance to the ncaa champs of mr. gagne's era (but see lesnar 2000).

today, mr. gagne is in the later stages of alzheimer's, a disease associated with anger, fearfulness, verbal outbursts, and physical violence. on january 26th, he tossed his 97-year-old roommate to the floor. mr. helmut gutmann, who worked at the VA and taught chemistry at the minnversity, died shortly thereafter. what are the police and prosecutors supposed to do with a case like this?

without question, the case is a homicide -- one human being killing another -- but mr. gagne will not be prosecuted. without getting into the state-by-state specifics of the insanity defense and culpability standards, criminal prosecutions of alzheimer's patients have been exceedingly rare. they might be able to determine right from wrong at the time of the act, but their memory problems make it all but impossible for them to participate in their own defense. by all accounts, mr. gagne simply cannot remember what happens from moment to moment. i suppose mr. gutmann's family could sue the home for negligence, but it doesn't appear that mr. gagne will be prosecuted.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

cast a little vote and you land in jail

a minnesota probationer who voted in violation of state disenfranchisement law has been sentenced to a year in jail. since all but 30 days of the sentence is "stayed," the rest of the time won't be imposed unless he violates whatever conditions the court sets.

some will say he got off easy, i suppose, since he could've gotten a much longer sentence and another felony conviction. regardless of the sentence, however, i still can't believe that we're locking people up for voting. via minnpost:

Willems voted in Roseau County in November. Election officials didn't recognize him as an illegal voter, but he had told his probation officer -- as he was required to do -- where he would be that day. The probation officer later broke the news to him that voting was a no-no and informed county officials.

Willems originally was charged with a felony for his illegal vote, but the charge was reduced to a gross misdemeanor. He was sentenced Monday in Roseau County Court to one year in jail with all but 30 days stayed for three years.

Monday, February 23, 2009

the wreck of the ol' brown fedora

i made a quick run to washington for a national institute of justice study group meeting -- my first post-election visit.

winds were heavy, so it was a white-knuckle ride into d.c. national. the iowan next to me looked a bit seasick, but i was ok -- humming a familiar tune always quiets my stomach.
in the confusion after landing, i'm afraid i left an old friend on the plane -- a vintage brown fedora, picked up on state street a couple decades ago. it went something like this:

When the service cart came, the old flight attendant on deck,
Saying fellas it's too rough to feed ya.
At 7 PM, my main hat brim caved in,
She said, fellas it's been good to know ya.

The Captain wired in, he had wind shear coming in,
And the good ship and crew was in peril.
And later that night, D.C. lights now in sight,
Came the loss of the Ol' Brown Fedora.

Does anyone know where the love of God goes,
When the gales of February come stealin'?
Northwest 1710 never gives up her dead,
When the Baggage Service closes at 11.

okay, so maybe i'm just a little concerned about the potential loss of hat-related mojo. i'll check with northwest's baggage service before tomorrow's flight home. if the ol' fedora is no longer with us, i'll take it as signaling a new and hatless era of hope and change.

mojo is back in play! when i arrived at the airport tonight, the ol' fedora was waiting at the baggage service office. she's been through a lot the past 24 hours, but we both are so excited to be reunited.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

peter donnelly on how juries are fooled by statistics

via heather and TED, a short video that might be good for intro crim or stats:

Saturday, February 21, 2009

as the snow flies (closed-circuit to andy)

running through some beautiful fresh snow this morning put me in mind of that pretty li'l rhcp riff.

i checked youtube for helpful instruction or lessons, but got lost in all the creative reinterpretations. there was friendly advice, funny dudes, inspirational youth and li'l kids, a painful house/electro mix, string quartets, piano and bass interpretations, easy versions, and a few acoustic variants.

as a teacher, i love seeing the different teaching philosophies expressed in the videos. as a student, i love being able to switch teachers when i want to try a different approach. unfortunately, after giving it a half-hour or so, i'm still a few steps behind that nine-year-old. but here's a version i might try to build upon -- a nice classical guitar mix that adroitly combines the guitar and vocal lines.

run n' gun + stephanie herbst lucke

i'm sorry to hear the good folks at run n' fun were robbed at gunpoint the other night. the brigands were surely disappointed with the till, since specialty running stores are labors of love. i can't imagine they keep much cash on hand, but local runners love run n' fun because the knowledgeable staff care more about your p.r.s than pushing product.

it seems the same suspects hit a natural foods store as well, suggesting that a fair-trade coffeehouse, luthier, or children's bookstore may be next on the list. haven't these guys heard of willie sutton?

in cheerier running news, i noticed stephanie herbst-lucke gracing the march runner's world cover (above). she won four minnesota state high school championships before moving on to wisconsin during my undergrad years there. she had a storied college career, setting national records as a sophomore before burning out and leaving the team as a junior. her intensity and athletic temperament reminds me of a large lad i know -- she hates to lose more than she loves to win and she'd rather bag it than half-ass it.

but what a magnificent runner. when she'd blow by me on the lakeshore path or west end of campus, it was all i could do not to stare. she ran tall, taking long and powerful strides that just ate up the ground. now, after three kids and a couple decades away from competition, she's registering absurd times at 43 -- like a 32:55 10k in minneapolis last august. though i could imagine her rewriting the masters record book, i could also imagine her shutting it down the instant she isn't feeling it anymore.

this gives me at least three reasons to root for her tomorrow in the yokohama international women's ekiden: she's a native minnesotan, a former badger, and (most importantly), a fellow fortysomething racing against kids half her age.

Friday, February 20, 2009

cheap suits for tough times

as i scarfed down my lunchtime tacos, the dow fell to its lowest point since 1997. ahh, 1997. back then i followed the market differently than today -- paying more attention to my investments than to my department's endowments. as the tech bubble expanded in the clinton years, investors made the basic attribution error of assuming we were A#1 world-champeen stock-pickers just because we were making money. in fact, peter lynch sold a lot of books in the early 1990s telling us to exploit our "local knowledge" and invest in what we know:

"Your investor's edge is not something you get from Wall Street experts. It's something you already have. You can outperform the experts if you use your edge by investing in companies or industries you already understand."

"If you stay half-alert, you can pick the spectacular performers right from your place of business or out of the neighborhood shopping mall, and long before Wall Street discovers them."

empowering stuff, right? and easy to believe when all but the leakiest boats are rising. i never had much to invest, but loved that advice. here's an example: back when i was buying computers for a small non-profit, i'd pay a premium for ibm because the clones were flimsy and sold out of warehouses. i'd go to jimmy's comp-u-shack for my home pc, but buy a dozen expensive big blue machines for the office. then i saw the compaq line -- sturdy and powerful, with fine documentation, warranties, and distribution -- all at a bargain price. buying compaq was a small risk, i suppose, but i got much love from colleagues for saving money that could be better spent on staff or clients.

if buying compaq over ibm was a no-brainer for me, i knew my counterparts in other organizations would make the same choice in coming months. so, i scraped together enough for a few shares and made a little profit. i've had similar luck buying into good experiences with retailers like home depot (but lousy luck buying into restaurants like famous dave's). as a criminologist, i might've made money by spotting trends in, say, private prisons or tasers, but i really don't want to invest in private prisons or tasers. still, i appreciate mr. lynch's populocapitalist vision of spotting trends in day-to-day life.

it seems downright foolish to buy retail stocks today, but my gut is telling me to buy men's wearhouse at ten bucks per share. i stopped by MW in january, searching for an interim suit to tide me over until aforementioned gut returns to its right and proper 33 inches. my favorite local shop is heimie's haberdashery, which has served me well (but not cheaply) for at least 25 years.* here are five reasons, apart from the awesome commercials, that i'd take a crazy gamble on men's wearhouse:

1. look around: suits are back.

2. recession and austerity. even stylish and more affluent men are uncomfortable spending $1000 on a suit or -- just as importantly -- looking like they spent $1000 on a suit in these austere times. men's wearhouse offers jackets around $100 and respectable suits in the $250-$350 range.

3. service orientation. the service and tailoring can't compare with heimie's, but the staff was smart, friendly, and attentive. they treat inexperienced purchasers, such as those buying a first suit for an interview or a wedding, with particular care. since dudes were walking in nervous and walking out smiling, i suspect they'll be back for more. men's wearhouse can also turn around alterations in hours or days, rather than the two weeks it would take at nordstrom or similar shops.

4. everyone from gardy to grads shops there. twins manager ron gardenhire was at the roseville shop when i visited. although he earns good money, mr. gardenhire is otherwise a fairly typical men's wearhouse customer. he came in with his wife on monday to make a rare suit purchase for a thursday banquet, joking that he wanted a three-piece "in camo." my salesperson assures me that the young and hyper-affluent batting champ joe mauer shops there as well. heck, even a brilliant grad student who despises the idea of suits, clothes, and shopping reported a positive experience at MW. these folks clearly know their customers and treat them well.

5. accessorizing. by the time i'd left the dressing room, a "color specialist" (or something like that) had selected four shirt and tie combinations in my size -- some with pocket squares, links, and other accessories. these too were inexpensive, but presented attractively in a low-pressure setting. i didn't buy many of her picks, but it was easy to say yes to a few -- she really nailed the colors and patterns, adding a few higher-profit items to the ticket.

6. mark-downs and follow-ups. my purchase made me eligible to get the next purchase at a sizeable discount. i suspect i'll be getting more invitations and opportunities to buy.

i still haven't put any money into MW stock, since the numbers don't look great and the company's holdings include stores i know nothing about -- after hours tux rental, k & g, and moore's. still, i noticed they recently made fortune's top 100 companies to work for list. if i don't hear any more bad news, i'll likely dip my toe in the water with a small investment.

* buying my first suit at heimie's -- then located in a converted der wienerschnitzel restaurant on robert street -- was like a ritual entry into manhood. i still recall the pinups on the changing room wall, the round little dude with the measuring tape and cigar, and the raymond chandler-style banter. no wonder i'm still buying suits.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

seemingly unrelated crim news

1. i've long marveled at the false precision offered by scientific experts in courtroom testimony -- you know, our evidence confirms that there is a one in fourteen-gazillion chance that these prints came from someone other than the defendant, mr. uggen. once again, the national academy of sciences is calling for reforms in this area. the times calls a forthcoming NAS report "a sweeping critique of many forensic methods that the police and prosecutors rely on, including fingerprinting, firearms identification and analysis of bite marks, blood spatter, hair and handwriting."

2. a truly inspiring sociological criminologist wins the 2009 stockholm prize -- make that two truly inspiring sociological criminologists.

3. a new pew center report by mark hugo lopez and michael t. light documents some major shifts in the race, ethnicity, and national origin of u.s. federal prisoners.

4. while michael phelps wasn't taken into custody, his famous photo spurred arrest of seven fellow partiers. though mr. phelps lost a lucrative endorsement deal with kelloggs, he'll surely pick up some exciting new sponsors. apparently the bonggate seven won't be so lucky -- they're just stuck with a misdemeanor record and out of pocket $570.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

the new cover

contexts is sporting a new cover design this winter, thanks in large part to the fine students in seth werner's marketing research class.

we all learned a ton when contexts served as a client for these marketing undergrads. the students were split into groups, each tackling an area like blogs, podcasts, distribution, photography, or art. the most dramatic presentation involved our cover art, as a group set up a display to show us how our existing contexts covers actually appeared from their perch in row 5 at barnes & noble and row 3 at borders. brilliant! all you could see was white space, with a stray "s" for distraction. i laughed a li'l how could we have missed something so basic laugh and, later, beamed when i saw our design team's full-page mock-ups.

as professors, we tend to think of ourselves as experts on everything. but, of course, most of us just know the insane minutiae within a carefully circumscribed area of expertise. those marketing undergrads knew a whole bunch of stuff that our contexts team had scarcely considered. and when our underlying assumptions were laid bare and verbalized -- we sort of thought, you know, that like if we made a really cool sociology magazine that everyone would, like, find it and, you know, totally get into it and buy it -- we realized how much they had to teach us.

but enough about the style. the cover story is a fine piece from katherine mccoy, a wisconsin ph.d. student, writing on the sociology of private military contractors. here's the lead:

Throughout most of the 20th century, warring nation-states generally had two options to increase their military strength. They could create a coalition—as the United States did in World War II—or institute a draft—as it did in Vietnam.

Today, though, countries have a third option. Rent.

big windows to let in the sun

an officer once told me how cleanup companies scrub crime scenes before nasty homes are put on the market, removing all (visible) evidence of homicides, meth labs, and other messy illegality. even in times of real estate crisis and hi-def hgtv, however, realtors don't always show homes at their very best. the two photos below come from, with links to the actual listings advertising the homes for sale.

moorpark, california -- 4 beds, 3 baths, $449,900, extremely motivated seller.

st. paul, minnesota -- 3 beds, 2.0 baths @ 153,000.
nice. you couldn't spend fifteen bucks for a gallon of white latex and a can o' kilz?

understanding that folks actually lived in these houses, these are some of the saddest pictures i've seen. one can either laugh at the realtors or cry for the owners. call me a homer, but i'm hearing paul's here comes a regular and grant's 2541 -- cuz these houses have nothing to do with the "our house" of csny or madness.

Monday, February 16, 2009

lott v. levitt and the meaning of replication

via volokh: the seventh circuit u.s. court of appeals has affirmed the dismissal of john lott's libel suit against steven levitt. the case hinges on the following critique of mr. lott's more guns, less crime in freakonomics:

Then there was the troubling allegation that Lott actually invented some of the survey data that support his more-guns/less-crime theory. Regardless of whether the data were faked, Lott’s admittedly intriguing hypothesis doesn’t seem to be true. When other scholars have tried to replicate his results, they found that right-to-carry laws simply don’t bring down crime.

reading this, i figured the case might hinge on the allegation of falsified data in the first sentence. instead, it came down to the meaning of replication in the last sentence. in truth, that last sentence is very close to my own reading of the literature -- and my lecture descriptions of mr. lott's (admittedly intriguing) more guns/less crime hypothesis. i'd joke that i'm tempted to sue professor levitt and mr. dubner for plagiarizing my lecture notes, but i suspect they're in no mood for jokes about lawsuits.

in my view, we social scientists have dodged a real bullet on this one. were mr. lott to prevail in this case, the chilling effect on faculty speech would do the impossible: it would add a whole new level of weasel words to our literature reviews, rendering them even more boring and hesitant. they'd look something like the following:

"When certain other scholars may have tried to partially replicate his results, some found that in some cases right-to-carry laws sort of don't significantly bring down some forms of crime. Or not."

in any case, justice evans' brief and well-written opinion might make fine reading in a proseminar class on professional ethics. a few passages:

John Lott, an academic and economist, believes that his reputation was sullied by Freakonomics, the popular and off-beat book written by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. Lott’s name was mentioned in one paragraph of the 200-page book, and understood this passage to be an accusation of scholarly dishonesty. Offended, he filed suit against Levitt and HarperCollins, the publisher of the book, claiming that he had been defamed. The district court dismissed this claim after concluding that the passage could reasonably be read as a refutation of Lott’s controversial theories and not a swipe at his integrity. Lott now appeals...

Lott contends that Levitt’s refutation of his more-guns/less-crime hypothesis can be read only as a smear of his professional reputation and is therefore defamatory per se. Using an academic definition of “replicate,” Lott maintains that the passage means that others repeated, to a tee, his technical analysis but were unable to duplicate his results, suggesting that he either faked his data or performed his analysis incompetently...

The book relies on anecdotal evidence and describes with only the broadest strokes the statistical methodologies used. In this context, it is reasonable to read “replicate” in more generic terms. That is, the sentence could mean that scholars tried to reach the same conclusion as Lott, using different models, data, and assumptions, but could not do so. This reading does not imply that Lott falsified his results or was incompetent; instead, it suggests only that scholars have disagreed with Lott’s findings about the controversial relationship between guns and crime. By concluding that this more generic definition of “replicate” is reasonable, we are not assuming that the reader is a simpleton. After all, econometrics is far from conventional wisdom. We are, however, taking into account the context of the statement and acknowledging that the natural and obvious meaning of “replicate” can lie outside the realm of academia for this broadly appealing book.

Friday, February 13, 2009

dramatizing budget cuts

in light of minnesota's anticipated $7 billion state deficit, agency heads and administrators are scrambling to minimize cuts to their units. mark brunswick of the strib reports on how the state department of corrections used dramatic video evidence to resist cuts:

Dealing with a current $10 million budget cut, Minnesota Corrections Commissioner Joan Fabian has made an impassioned pitch about the perils of slicing any more funding ... In the last six years it has had $85 million in operational cuts and reduced staff by over 300 positions. Double bunking to save money at prisons in St. Cloud and Stillwater have proved problematic. Cuts in recreation time for prisoners has led to violence, according to the department... To make her point, Fabian presented video footage taken from prison security cameras, showing a guard head-butted unprovoked, another guard sprayed with hot water and honey and then assaulted, and inmate fights in cell block areas where responding guards are armed with nothing more than a chemical irritant...

while i'm upset to see such dehumanizing conditions for both correctional officers and inmates, part of me wishes that the university could safeguard our interests by showing legislators our own dramatic footage of overstuffed classrooms and crumbling infrastructure. nevertheless, my university experience also makes me somewhat sympathetic to corrections administrators -- across-the-board freezes and budget cuts hurt lean units (such as MN DOC and my home department of sociology) more than fat ones. if a department is already running near peak efficiency, even a minor cut carves muscle and bone from the operation.

while i've argued that the u.s. overincarcerates its citizens, my home state continues to maintain a relatively lean prison system. this makes it difficult to cut costs (e.g., via early release programs) without jeopardizing public safety. with the national imprisonment rate at 509 per 100,000, most states are incarcerating hundreds or thousands of prisoners who might be good candidates for early release or community supervision. minnesota is currently reserving incarceration for the .19% of the population that tends to persist in more serious or frequent criminal activity -- this is less than half the rate in neighboring wisconsin and less than one-fourth the rate of high-incarceration southern states.

while i'm sympathetic to the difficulties of cutting minnesota corrections expenditures below current levels, i'd hate to see any department's video sway the legislators -- especially in light of the governor's proposed 11% cut to higher education, health care, and other state units.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

terrifying privileges and a sortable list of millionaire dropouts

today i enjoyed the terrifying privilege of presenting my research to the minnversity's provosts, deans, and named professors. when the too-kind emcee noted my chair duties, i said that i try to sell job candidates on the spectacularly good intellectual environment 'round here. as i see it, i might've cut a better deal some other place, but there's nowhere on earth where i would have been simultaneously pushed to do better work and indulged in my forays into more creative work.

in my view, faculty must be simultaneously pushed and indulged -- pushed to follow through on our boldest ideas, and indulged when we chase down our craziest blind alleys. pushing without indulgence leads to reams of meaningless publications and grants-for-grants' sake. indulgence without pushing leads to pretty much absolutely nothing.

during the talk, i thought back to how i nearly dropped out of high school. twice. the first time i hopped the 'hound to escape some pressing delinquency-related issues (dad eventually tracked me down and talked me back home). the second time i was offered a head cook position -- a pretty big promotion at the time -- at a robert street restaurant (dad said it sounded really good but that i might want to try college. thanks, dad).

all this got me thinking about high school and college dropouts. here's an inspirational list of millionaire dropouts, sortable by name (from roman abramovich to malcolm x), occupation, and degree. i never tell tor or esperanza that they need a college or a high school degree. instead, i explain that there's some really cool stuff in high school and college that they might want to check out. in my family, at least, the soft sell works best.

a second second chance day on the hill

the second annual second chance day on the hill is on -- tomorrow at 10 am, in the minnesota state capitol rotunda. i sure wish i could be there again this year, but i'm booked for a luncheon talk on felon voting rights at the minnversity. i promise to give a shout-out to 2nd chance in my speech to the bigwigs. last year's event inspired me for months. from the organizers:

It doesn’t cost anything to give someone a second chance. Feb. 11 at 10 a.m., hundreds of ex-offenders and their families and supporters will gather at the state capitol for the Second Chance Day on the Hill. Please join us for this opportunity to hear the stories of those who have struggled to move beyond their past, become contributing members of our community and redeem themselves. Sign up to receive e-mails about and/or to help with the 2009 Second Chance Day on the Hill. Join hundreds of others and advocate for change.

Feb. 11 @ 10 a.m. Capitol Rotunda, St. Paul, Minn.
Join hundreds, and advocate for change. Hear the stories of those who have struggled to move beyond their past, become contributing members of our community and redeem themselves.

Wednesday @ 10:00am MN State Capitol Rotunda 75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd St. Paul, MN 55155 For more parking information or directions to the state capitol please visit:

Second Chance Day on the Hill principles:
1. End punishment upon completion of sentence
2. Regulate availability of criminal records
3. Diagnose and treat mental health and chemical addiction
4. Include impact of collateral sanctions in plea agreements
5. Limit the impact of incarceration on children and families
6. Increase access to employment
7. Secure detention should be a last resort for youth
8. Restore voting rights upon release from prison

Monday, February 09, 2009

united states executions, 1930-2008

via the u.s. department of justice, bureau of justice statistics.

thirty-seven u.s. inmates were executed in 2008, the fewest since 1994. nevertheless, 3,220 people remained on death row at year-end 2007. the latter number has also been declining since the mid-1990s, though at a far slower rate than executions. click the figures if you'd like to see the raw data.

parental pride

a few love my kids weekend updates:

1. esperanza is doing really well in speech competition.
a. i'm especially happy that she's getting fine scores with her prison readings.
b. and happy, too, that she thanked me for some early encouragement.

2. as for the lad, i try not to abuse my facebook friend status but i've gotta mention the following:
a. the save naked fridays group he started on thursday has already attracted 430 members. i don't think i could get 430 people to join anything.
b. his bob ross was the second coming of christ group is off to a slower start, as is his fan club. maybe it helps to have naked in the title.

Friday, February 06, 2009

rob warren's mn house testimony

i've been using the term "engaged scholarship" to describe research that simultaneously fulfills a professional and public mission. here's an example from the minnesota house of representatives, in which rob warren engages the policy sphere with peer-reviewed social science evidence and a user-friendly website. you can call it public soc, professional soc, policy soc, or critical soc, or maybe just sociology that matters. a press-release is below, but you fast-forward to the dapper gentleman's full testimony about an hour into the session on the 28th.

No clear benefits to high stakes tests

Members of the House K-12 Education Policy and Oversight Committee began to deconstruct the high-stakes assessment dilemma by hearing research on test effectiveness. (
Watch the meeting.)

Dr. John Robert Warren, associate professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, told policymakers his three-year study of such testing in 23 states indicates a clear pattern: States set high standards but back off as “political will erodes” in the face of failure rates and legal challenges. Resulting “compromise solutions” neither help graduation rates nor boost student achievement, he said.

Rep. Randy Demmer (R-Hayfield) asked Warren if there was a “bell curve” in his national studies indicating some rare example of effective high-stakes, high standards testing, “or are we in uncharted waters?” he asked.

“Uncharted waters,” Warren replied.

He said legislators could choose to maintain high standards and high stakes testing if they are willing to live with the likely outcome of lower graduation rates, at least in the short term, but that there is no clear fiscal or pedagogical benefit to doing so.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

relish unsoftness: metal laundry tips

first ron asheton, now lux interior, and, truth be told, lemmy can't be far behind. though the the artists will perish, metal laundry tips can at least preserve your stooges, cramps, and motörhead black-t's in utter darkness.

via boing and scott truemetal maxwell:

I am here to bestow the darkest secrets of Laundromancy upon thee. I have consulted tomes of ancient wisdom (i.e., I asked my mom) in preparing this guide. May it serve you well... in darkness:

1) WOOLITE IST KRIEG. Your precious metal shirts are meant to be handwashed, so as to preserve the ink prints and the integrity of the fabric. Woolite is expensive, but it is an investment in your metal cred. In recent years, WOOLITE DARK has been introduced, formulated for dark clothes exclusively. USE IT! Immortal would endorse no less.

2) COLD WASH ONLY. Allow your clothes to soak in waters as cold as the rivers of Blashyrkh itself, without agitation. HAND WASH, or use the "hand washables" cycle on your washing machine. Your precious metal shirts get enough violent agitation when you're wearing them in the mosh pit.

3) NEVER USE FABRIC SOFTENER ON METAL SHIRTS. "Softener" on a metal shirt? Are you kidding? Does the Snuggle bear really look like he knows the difference between Iron Maiden and Iron Angel? Not only should true metalheads welcome and relish Unsoftness, but fabric softener works by expanding the fibers of the fabric, thereby subjecting your battle armor to undue wear and tear. There's time for that later.

4) AIR DRY ONLY. Dryers are false metal. The cold north winds will serve you well. But keep them out of the sun's rays! The sun, as always, is the enemy of darkness.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

development and tomato plants

i enjoyed a good meeting this morning with sociology's fine development officer -- development, of course, being a euphemism for fundraising. i know that i'm supposed to hate fundraising, but i really like spending time with the friends and alums who support the department. they've all got interesting stories to tell and they're often interested in my tales of sociological research and public criminology. plus, they're generally more entrepreneurial and less risk-averse than the average academic, so it is easy to share a conversation and a laugh at a dinner reception or football game.

like most everybody else, risk-taking entrepreneurs have been hit hard by the economic downturn. i know several good men and women who built businesses over decades, only to see them decimated in the past couple of months. can you imagine telling your staff and hard-working long-term employees that you can't pay them anymore? to run a 40-person operation with a 5-person skeleton crew? or, to bolt the doors and wait for the creditors? by contrast, we at the minnversity -- especially those of us with tenured appointments -- have been insulated from economic crises.

seeking some inspirational verse for a friend in such a position, i hit on some dramatic military settings (e.g., generals breaking bad news to the troops), but nothing that fit her situation. the folks i know seem more like devout gardeners than generals, so i'll offer up this poem from louise glück:

by Louise Glück

In your extended absence, you permit me
use of earth, anticipating
some return on investment. I must report
failure in my assignment, principally
regarding the tomato plants.
I think I should not be encouraged to grow
tomatoes. Or, if I am, you should withhold
the heavy rains, the cold nights that come
so often here, while other regions get
twelve weeks of summer. All this
belongs to you: on the other hand,
I planted the seeds, I watched the first shoots
like wings tearing the soil, and it was my heart
broken by the blight, the black spot so quickly
multiplying in the rows. I doubt
you have a heart, in our understanding of
that term. You who do not discriminate
between the dead and the living, who are, in consequence,
immune to foreshadowing, you may not know
how much terror we bear, the spotted leaf,
the red leaves of the maple falling
even in August, in early darkness: I am responsible
for these vines.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

pubcrim writing and arts residency

via realcostofprisons:

Blue Mountain Center is pleased to invite you and your colleagues to apply to a special two week session, May 8-25, that will be dedicated to artists and writers who are working on material pertaining to incarceration: the system itself, the alternatives, the inmates, the stories, the data, etc. ...

To apply, simply submit a letter postmarked by February 23 to:

Ben Strader
Blue Mountain Center PO Box 109
Blue Mountain Lake, NY 12812-0109
or to

The letter should include:
(A) a brief description of what you plan to work on at BMC,
(B) your history with the issue,
(C) a list of two references who are familiar with prison issues and with your work,
(D) A short (up to 10 pages) writing sample. Artists should send 5 jpeg slides on a CD.

(If you have been a Resident at BMC previously, it is not necessary to include C or D. Three pages is ample for A and B.)

15 people will be invited to participate in the session. We welcome applications from non-fiction and fiction writers, activists, poets, filmmakers, playwrights, and artists of all kinds. There is no application fee or cost for the program. Residents will work on their individual projects as they do during the regular season; but they will also be encouraged to share their perspectives, ideas and approaches with one another. Please go to for basic information about BMC's Residency Program. This session and it's application process are distinct from our regular residency program.

Monday, February 02, 2009

three new blogs at

three cool new blogs at

"talk to the invisible hand” at brooke harrington's economic sociology, a blog examining the social underpinnings of money and markets.

the crawler's amelia cotton corl has launched a much-needed blog about teaching sociology, titled teaching the social world.

and, laura noren's graphic sociology analyzes the visual presentation of social data from the perspective of social science practice. each post consists of a chart, table, interactive graphic or other visual display of sociologically relevant data and an analysis of the success of the graphic in terms of being clear, comprehensive, compelling and an accurate portrayal of the written content.