Chris Uggen's Blog: December 2009

Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 homicide drop

Matt McKinney offers a good analysis of the declining twin cities homicide rate in this morning's Strib . I plotted the data for Minneapolis (purple, population = 390,000) and St. Paul (gold, population = 287,000) in the chart below. With two days left on the calendar, we've had 19 homicides in Minneapolis and 14 in St. Paul, a big drop since the murderapolis days of the mid-1990s. Since the population in both cities has grown a bit since 1980, these drops would look even steeper if I plotted them as rates.
The Minneapolis numbers are especially low -- by my count, almost two standard deviations (sd = 16.2) below the 28-year mean of 50.4 homicides per year. The St. Paul numbers are about one standard deviation (sd = 5.8) below the 26-year mean of 20.0. Based on recent trends, I'd be (very pleasantly) surprised if the Minneapolis number dropped below 20 again next year.

In the twin cities, as elsewhere, homicide victims and offenders are disproportionately young African American men, so shifts in the homicide rate among this age/race/gender group sometimes have a big effect on the aggregate numbers. If I were to do any analysis of these data series, I'd start with a local breakout by age and weapon use.

The national gun homicide rate, shown in the bureau of justice statistics figures below, has fluctuated far more than the non-gun rate over the past 30 years -- especially among young males. I'd guess (and it is only a guess) that gun homicides among males aged 14-24 must have declined to near zero in Minneapolis this year. I can speculate about why this would be the case (e.g., aggressive enforcement of weapons offenses and corresponding shifts in the social acceptability of gun-carrying by young men), but I'd best check the data before piling one speculation atop another speculation.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

chestnuts roasting on the reverb tank

At this point in the season, we've all had our fill of certain holiday classics. But I always save just a little room for sweet n' snarly surf guitar versions, like this God Rest Ye by upst8 or the Ventures' Sleigh Ride. Here's an update of the latter (with a side of George Benson), from my favorite amigurumi ukulele band:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

video wonkfest on criminal records

I just screened a new hour-long video, Sentenced For Life? The Right Focus on... Crime, Justice and Second Chances produced by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.

There's an abbreviated transcript online, along with the full-length video in Windows Media Player and QuickTime formats. I enjoyed the other panelists and host, Rondah Kinchlow, who gave me lots of room to talk about research on criminal records and disenfranchisement.

There were a couple pointy disagreements around the table, but far fewer than one might expect in a panel with a legislator, prosecutor, sociologist, and non-profit rep. It is probably too local and too wonky for general consumption, but I found the general tone and willingness to dive into nitty-gritty details refreshing. Here's my concluding comment/question:

And what I'm hearing now on these issues, that I wasn't hearing ten years ago, is much more realism, much more pragmatism, and much more talking across the aisle—as opposed to you having pie-in-the-sky researchers saying, "Well, close all the prisons," without any regard to public safety. I don't hear that anymore. And I certainly don't hear people completely denying or having a knee-jerk punitive attitude that, "No, we'll lock 'em up forever, and we'll just keep 'em there." Those sorts of things have gone away, and so now we're dealing with the hard part, right? We've got to figure out, well, how do we proceed. What's the best way to protect public safety, but also to ensure justice and some sort of balance between the rights of private citizens, the rights of employers, the rights of the state?

Monday, December 21, 2009

the snake

In the new December issue of Sociological Theory, Mark Gould writes,

I contend that George Herbert Mead's Theory is incapable of explaining the interactions in a song by Oscar Brown Jr., "The Snake," and that a satisfactory explanation of these actions, which illuminate everyday conduct familiar to us all, requires the conceptualization of personality systems grounded in affect and cultural systems understood as symbolic logics that make intelligible certain activities.

In addition to being a prolific songwriter, Mr. Brown, Jr. was a regular on Studs Terkel's radio show in the 1940s, attended the University of Wisconsin at age 16, and made several runs for political office in Illinois. I've always been partial to Al Wilson's (1968) version of The Snake (due, in part, to some swingin' production by secret agent man, Johnny Rivers), but I never figured to see the lyrics appendixed in Sociological Theory.

I enjoyed the article, but couldn't help wondering what popular songs wouldn't offer a critique of cognitive and rational-choice theories -- and whether the gender story in the song had greater bearing on theories of cultural meaning.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

soaking the rubes

On my long Saturday runs, I often stop for a li'l convenience store Gatorade. Over the years, I've spent more and more time waiting in line behind the lottery players. According to the Wall Street Journal, U.S. lottery sales have risen from about $20 billion in 1992 to over $77 billion in 2008. With the current recession, however, they may be declining in some states.

The Wall Street Journal story suggests that die-hard gamblers are still playing just as much, but the part-timers have dropped off during the recession. I suspect we'd see the same sort of pattern with alcohol spending: heavy drinkers would drink just as much during a recession -- though they might switch to cheaper stuff -- but moderate drinkers would (because they could) moderate their expenditures.

To try to understand the $77 billion figure in the WSJ chart, I checked out the source data at the U.S. Census Bureau and made a few plots after standardizing by the adult population. I should add a caveat here, since I'm unfamiliar with the accounting procedures and the social science literature on lotteries. But here goes...

By my count, there were $336 in annual state-administered lottery ticket sales per U.S. adult resident in 2008.

Three states run ginormous lotteries: Delaware, West Virginia, and Rhode Island. I'd imagine these are "destination" lotteries, drawing purchasers from neighboring states. If so, the per capita numbers are likely misleading (e.g., $11,960 per adult in Delaware), so I top-coded the first graph at $1,000 per resident.

The census data also listed prizes, administrative costs, and net proceeds available, which might say something about the efficiency of each state's operation. I'm not a fan of state-run lotteries, but I'd hope that after soaking the good rubes they'd at least put a li'l cash back into the state coffers. A simple plot of the proceeds returned per sales dollar suggests that Michigan and Illinois do best on the latter count: they each return about 39 cents for every dollar in sales.

Michigan took in 2.33 billion, paid out 1.35 billion, spent $66 million on administration, leaving $913 million available for the state's financially troubled public schools.

I was not at all surprised to see Minnesota rank low in terms of sales, proceeds, and return to the state coffers. Apart from the three mega-lottery states (who surely make it up in volume), Minnesota, Massachusetts, and South Dakota had the lowest proceeds per dollar sold. At .22, the Minnesota rate is a bit more than half that of Michigan.

Still, I'm a little disappointed to think that there were $411 million in lottery tickets sold in my state last year -- or over a hundred bucks for every man and woman in the state. I'm also a little cheesed off about the ratio. If we'd been running our lottery like Michigan, we'd have $161 million of the proceeds in the coffers (.392*411m), rather than the $92 million currently available to the state.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

holiday parties and unseemliness

The Boston Globe and Every Major Web, Print, and Broadcast Outlet are running stories on the cancellation of holiday parties this season.

I can't vouch for the quality of the Globe's data, but the survey seems about right to me: parties are down 15% since last year and cost is not the primary reason for cancelation.

I suspect that the "other reasons" responsible for cancelling parties are symbolic. It is just unseemly to party immediately before or after the layoff notices are sent, even if there is a little money in the budget for a gathering.

I understand that folks are in a somber mood, but I suspect that regular community-building rituals are especially important in tough times -- particularly when they draw attention to the good work that colleagues have completed under challenging conditions.

I've been told that my department celebrates with greater frequency than others in the Minnversity, as my dean often asks, "what manner of bacchanalia goes on in Sociology this week?" There won't be any bacchanalia at tomorrow's li'l holiday lunch, but I'm looking forward to sharing food and camaraderie with my very good friends and colleagues.

not me

Believe it or not, it took a few seconds to convince the good doorman at D.C.'s Liaison Hotel that he is not me. In fairness, I may have been wearing a look of steely determination and a WWE heavyweight belt at the time. I bet the other Chris is mistaken for a professor all the time.

Monday, December 14, 2009

u.s. correctional populations on 12/31/08

The Bureau of Justice statistics recently released year-end 2008 data for two important data series: Probation and Parole in the United States, 2008 and Prisoners in 2008.

Overall, these populations rose about .5% over 2007 levels, so they are growing at a much slower rate than in the recent past. In fact, the U.S. imprisonment rate actually fell slightly -- from 506 per 100,000 in 2007 to 504 per 100,000 in 2008. All told, there are about 7.3 million Americans under correctional supervision -- about 3.1% of the adult population, or 1 in 31 adults. After a long period of growth that began in the mid-1970s, this rate has remained relatively stable since 2000.


Friday, December 11, 2009

hipsters and the life course

Our friends at City Pages offer a cheery end o' the decade look at the 10 things hipsters couldn't ruin: 1. Flannel; 2. Sunglasses; 3. Pabst Blue Ribbon; 4. The Internet; 5. Coffee; 6. Beards; 7. Electronic Music; 8. Macintosh Computers; 9. Irony; and (my personal favorite), 10. Actually Liking Things.

The list is a clever ode to authenticity, distinction, extended adolescence, narcissism, and the leisure class, chiding twentysomething hipsters for mock-enjoying things that we, the authors and readers, genuinely and truly enjoy. All this presumes, of course, that neither authors nor readers were ever insecure loudmouths swilling PBR in foam trucker hats.

Well, maybe not, but we were hipsters -- or at least their generational equivalent, putting the tastes and preferences of peers and elders through the "meatgrinder of cool." When I started reading City Pages (or was it Sweet Potato?), I was an insecure skinny-tie wearing loudmouth, affecting and mock-enjoying the narrow lapels of my father's generation (now inexplicably cool again via Mad Men). I'd guess that every cohort passes through a hipper-than-thou period -- the fads change, but the attitude persists. If there's anything distinctive about the current generation of hipsters, it is their almost mature capacity for self-awareness (see, e.g., hipster olympics, stuff hipsters don't like. stuff hipsters hate).

This seems to go deeper than simple consumption -- it reminds me of a favorite quote from David Foster Wallace on age, cohort, and values:

The intellectualization and aestheticizing of principles and values in this country is one of the things that's gutted our generation. All the things that my parents said to me, like "It's really important not to lie." OK, check, got it. I nod at that but I don't really feel it. Until I get to be about 30 and I realize that if I lie to you, I also can't trust you. I feel that I'm in pain, I'm nervous, I'm lonely and I can't figure out why. Then I realize, "Oh, perhaps the way to deal with this is really not to lie." The idea that something so simple and, really, so aesthetically uninteresting -- which for me meant you pass over it for the interesting, complex stuff -- can actually be nourishing in a way that arch, meta, ironic, pomo stuff can't, that seems to me to be important. That seems to me like something our generation needs to feel.

So I'm guessing that something will change for today's hipsters, just as it changed for David Foster Wallace and for me -- probably by the age of 30 or so, if only because the aging hipster role is so unattractive. But there are consolations for the formerly hip, including the final item on the City Pages list -- actually liking things:

Between the average hipster's love for all things ironic and a shared nostalgia for the more obnoxious parts of '80s and early '90s culture, this decade found twentysomethings parading around in ironic wolf t-shirts, reminiscing about crappy sitcoms, and competing in endless debates over who loves Journey and Styx the most. Somewhere in the mix, we almost forgot how to really, honestly enjoy things without feeling deeply ashamed or writing it off as a "guilty pleasure." Luckily, being a humorless a-hole is only fun for so long, and the majority of us understand that feeling actual joy about something isn't going to kill us.

Chapter 19. Productive like a Cough

Further notes from my mean-spirited and entirely fictitious* academic novel:

Academics who publish are said to be "productive," but Professor X was productive like a cough. Disgorging bile and phlegm at regular intervals, he annoyed everyone within earshot. It was impossible to suppress Professor X, though colleagues dosed him with strong central nervous system depressants in hopes of gaining temporary relief.

*Note. Any Resemblance to Actual Events or Persons Living or Dead is Purely Coincidental.

ADDENDUM: Oh, for heaven's sake, of course I'm not talking about you! And, no, there is no "Professor X." The line just hit me on a plane from MSP to DCA today -- some guy was coughing up, well, something and I thought, "hmm. at least, that's a productive cough." When I thought about how "productive" meant something different to doctors and to academics, I figured it might be a fun way to introduce a villain in a cheezy academic novel. I probably should've given a bit more context here, especially in a time of year when everyone has a cough...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

number 94 with a bullet

I just learned this blog was ranked #89 in newsbobber's top 100 directory of minnesota blogs. By the time I'd checked, it was down to #94 and sinking fast. Ah well, I'm happy to have been momentarily listed alongside pharyngula, powerline, mayo, lileks, 22 words, and overheard in minneapolis. Am I disappointed to fall so far below such good company? Not so much. I'd have been cool with #194.

Q: What do you call the person who graduated last in class in blog school?
A: Blogger, that's what.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

League of Extraordinarily Hard-To-Buy-For Older Gentlemen

Why is Allie's dad so happy? Because he opened a gift bag and found towels. And not just any towels, but man-sized green towels that match the bathroom. Perfect. I've never met Allie's dad and I only found this picture via a creative commons flickr search. Nevertheless, I feel you, my brother.

See, I've recently joined the League of Extraordinarily Hard-To-Buy-For Older Gentlemen who stymie friends and loved ones at gift-giving occasions. We're blessed to have all we need, we no longer fantasize about extravagant hot tubs and XKEs, and we protest the commodification of our remaining flaws -- so, please, back away from that nose-hair trimmer.

If there is a similarly troublesome dad, husband, boyfriend or other manner of old dude in your life, I can assure you that we're really very simple creatures. We're generally happiest with stuff that we can see or feel every day. Like nice towels.

I can only speak for myself, of course, and I have it on good authority that some members of the League of Extraordinarily Hard-To-Buy-For Women may appreciate similar gifts. With the holidays upon us and the threat of opening another nose-hair trimmer looming, I offer twenty gift ideas that might bring an actual smile:


1. The League gives locally and generously. If yer troublesome dude is a local criminologist, for example, he'd relish your applying his gift to 180 degrees, the Sentencing Project, the Council on Crime & Justice, or the Legal Action Center. Heifers are also nice.


2. Fix his old watch, don't buy a new one. It probably just needs a battery or band. Now, if you can somehow restore his father's or grandfather's watch to operation, you might get actual tears.

3. A nice belt, dress or casual, especially if he's down to the last hole on the old one. The black faux-alligator look is always a stylish choice.

4. Classic shades. Aviators are popular, though I prefer clubmasters. Don't pay too much, though, since vintage or knock-offs are fine.


5. Vest, not sweater. Aside from the garish colors and reindeer adorning the front, the real reason guys don't wear gift sweaters is because the sleeves don't fit. For example, the long lad and I both wear "large" sweaters, but his arms are 38-39" long and mine are 32-33" long. We would look terrible wearing an identical sweater, but sporty if we donned the same vest. Also, pick a solid color and soft fabric -- something that would look good under a sporty-coat or with jeans.

6. Socks, not ties. League members refuse to pay more than $5 for a bag o' tube socks, but we really appreciate better socks for running, working outdoors, and dress. Just don't get cute with the patterns.

Stuff he touches every day

7. Man-sized towels, for gym bag or bath (see above).

8. He'll appreciate a good pillow, though he'll likely retain great attachment to the old one -- even if it doesn't smell so good. New pillows can be worked into the rotation like major league pitchers: don't ask them to go the distance until they've had a little success out of the bullpen.

Tools he'll use

9. Many people do not realize that they need a sawz-all until they own a sawz-all.

10. A heavy-duty bench vice for the garage or basement is a great gift when measured in cost-per-pound. It is almost as heavy as a good anvil, but way more useful. Make him guess what it is before he opens it. If you'll be mailing the gift, vice grip locking pliers might be more practical.


11. Roll or bag o' quarters. He'll use these, especially if he keeps them in the car for meters and/or self-defense (but please heed #5: gentlemen do not "beat down" attackers with rolls of quarters).

12. Like me, many members of the League are both patriotic and dorky. We therefore appreciate gifts like these here quarters from the Franklin Mint.


13. Ukelele!

14. The League doesn't usually go in for cute stuff, but no man can resist a wee amplifier. Guitar accessories like strings, picks, and stands are also appreciated.

15. If he's still clinging to old vinyl, pick up an old record changer at goodwill. Or, better yet, dust off that turntable in the basement and set it up with a new cartridge at the needle doctor.


16. Food he can use: a frozen box o' meat, box o' fish, or box o' vegetarian comestibles.

17. Jerky and/or candy. You know, snackage.


18. The gift of stank is controversial within the League, though some of us like a li'l travel-size cologne in our stockings. Armani Code is too pricey though, mostly because he'll like it and will want to purchase more.

19. Candles are either really right or hopelessly wrong. Bourbon pomegranate is really right.

20. Okay, I'll admit I'm the only member of the League to put Softsoap Pink Grapefruit Body Wash on my list, but daughter will no longer let me borrow hers. Very refreshing. And it pairs well with classic grapefruit spoons and, as Allie's dad would aver, man-sized green towels.

Monday, December 07, 2009

sort of like the blob, but with unemployment statistics

via sarah shannon:

Check out LaToya Egwuekwe's time series animation map of US unemployment rates by county, January 2007 to October 2009. Eek. From Ms. Egwuekwe's site:

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 31 million people currently unemployed — that’s including those involuntarily working parttime and those who want a job, but have given up on trying to find one. In the face of the worst economic upheaval since the Great Depression, millions of Americans are hurting. “The Decline: The Geography of a Recession” is a vivid representation of just how much. It’s an interactive map I created as a graduate student at American University, Washington, D.C. Watch the deteriorating transformation of the U.S. economy from January 2007 — approximately one year before the start of the recession — to the most recent unemployment data available today.

Saturday, December 05, 2009


With the first cold wind of the season blowing through town, even native Minnesotans are retreating to the skyways and tunnels that connect us.

Here's the talented Jeremy Messersmith prettying up the 'Mats classic for an anniversary show. The video is too literal, but the ol' song endures: Fourteen perfect lines that say just about all that needs be said about winter, social class, unrequited love, and the transition to adulthood in my fair cities.

City of Music: Jeremy Messersmith performs 'Skyway' presented by MPLS.TV from MPLS.TV on Vimeo.

Friday, December 04, 2009

moral entrepreneurs in a hardcore subculture

Utne's Jeff Guntzel and chunklet present a 40-minute "master class in stage banter" by Fugazi, the principled post-hardcore punk band.

Apart from their music, Fugazi is best known for community activism and an underground DIY ethos, holding their ticket prices to $5 and CD prices to $10, and refusing to deal with mainstream media, merchandising, or record companies.

The stage banter reveals Fugazi as full-on moral entrepreneurs, taking roles as both rule creators and rule enforcers. Though violent moshing and fistfights were pretty much standard practice in the hardcore punk subculture they entered in the 1980s, Fugazi were firmly and consistently anti-violent. And they enforced non-violence at shows, to the point of returning the $5 cover charge to fiestier patrons and sending them on their way.

To take but one example, the excerpt below draws a sharp line between the norms of the subculture (punk rockers) and a world (Fugazi's world) of crusading reform:

"Why are you giving me the finger? Let's talk about it. Because we walk out on stage, I say 'Good evening ladies and gentleman' and you give me the finger. What kind of people are you? Punk rockers? Oh! Fugazi is playing tonight. And in Fugazi's world, we don't use the finger to say hello."

The clips are plenty profane, but consistently clever too. Other clips from the Utne story:

* To an aggressive audience member: "This is insane, unacceptable behavior. We do not provide a soundtrack for violence."

* To a stage diver: "What's your name? David? Please don't come on the stage anymore... David, don't apologize. I know you meant nothing by it."

* To another aggressive audience member: "We were playing in Atlanta last night and everyone seemed to be having a pretty good time. People kept coming up and knocking my mic into my mouth. Finally, I lost a piece of my front tooth and that was a piece of calcium on my front tooth that my body had been working on for 24 years. And in a matter of one second, for this man's kind of moment of ecstasy and fun, he took out that piece of calcium."

* To two more aggressive audience members: "I saw you two guys earlier at the consumer truck and you were eating your ice cream like little boys and I thought, 'Those guys aren't so tough. They're eating ice cream, what a bunch of swell guys! I saw you eating ice cream pal! You're bad now but you were eating an ice cream cone and I saw you. That's the sh** you can't hide! Ice cream eating motherf*****. That's what you are."

Some viewed Fugazi as preachy and I can't say for certain that they changed the music industry, the conduct of concert-goers, or subcultural norms. Nevertheless, Ian MacKaye et al. certainly provided an alternative moral vision of bandlife that continues to draw kids to the crusade.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

everything you wanted to know about death row (but were afraid to ask)

The Bureau of Justice Statistics just released Capital Punishment, 2008 -- Statistical Tables. I've been interested in the graying of prison populations for some time, so I plotted the age at arrest and current age (as of 12/31/08) for U.S. inmates under sentence of death (from Table 7 of the report).

The tables, compiled by Tracy Snell, offer a wealth of mostly-depressing information about the men and (increasingly) women on death row. Sample factoid: as of last week, therre were already 11 more executions in 2009 (48) than in all of 2008 (37).

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

world AIDS day

Sexuality & Society offers a detailed post on World AIDS Day today, with useful links to data from the UN and other sources. The chart below shows the enormous regional variation in the gender distribution of adults living with HIV. Women now constitute about half of all cases around the world, but this ranges from less than 30 percent in Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America to over 60 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa.