Chris Uggen's Blog: January 2010

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Athens, GA

I'm plane-blogging en route to the University of Georgia, where I'm doing a colloquium talk tomorrow. I've been deep into college administrative work lately, so I'm truly looking forward to sharing ideas with new friends and old.

I like to combine a li'l fresh research with more mature lines of work in my talks, so this one is titled Social Research and The Price and Promise of Justice Reform. I'll be saying something about felon voting policy changes and then teeing up policy questions raised by newer experimental work on employment discrimination against people with low-level arrest records. As always, I'll be blabbing about Contexts to anyone who will listen. Please stop on by if you're in the neighborhood. I'll also be pumping longtime residents for stories about the post-REM/B-52s music scene in Athens (Mathew Sweet, Danger Mouse, Widespread Panic, Vic Chesnutt, Of Montreal, Drive-by-Truckers et al.).

Monday, January 18, 2010

Osvaldo Hernandez's criminal record, military service, and pardon

The Times reports that Osvaldo Hernandez, whose weapons conviction barred him from the New York Police Department but not the U.S. Army, has been pardoned by Governor David Paterson.

I learned Mr. Hernandez's story when I met his attorney, Jim Harmon, at a recent Cornell conference on criminal records and employment. The military now conducts a "whole person review" of enlistment eligibility, granting Mr. Hernandez a misconduct waiver. Here's the policy:

The Services will enlist into the Armed Services individuals who are fully qualified to serve. Judgment as to an applicant’s qualifications is reached by virtue of a “whole person” review in which all aspects of an applicant’s qualifications are examined. It is possible, in some cases, that waiver consideration may be warranted. Enlistment waiver practices shall be standardized across the Military Services to ensure consistent and equitable reporting that, in turn, assures reliable and meaningful evaluation of the Department’s performance in managing whole person eligibility reviews.

In contrast, the NYPD has categorically barred anyone with a felony from service. Mr. Hernandez evidently served with great distinction as a paratrooper in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. Now, with the help of various generals, governors, attorneys, and advocates, he hopes to make good on his dream of becoming a New York City police officer.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

purple-colored glasses and conduct unbecoming a minnesotan

Minnesotans are a hardy people, capable of enduring misfortune, fatigue, and exposure to brutal elements without comment or complaint. Yet, as my Vikings play host to America's Team tomorrow, I must publicly acknowledge that we are without question the whiniest football fans on God's green* earth. And we never stop! All week, I've been hearing about the 1975 Drew Pearson push-off of my youth.

As newcomers such as Dan Barreiro have observed, we Minnesotans attribute any sports setback to a vast International Officiating Conspiracy. All fans believe the refs are biased against their team, of course, but Vikings fans see the world through purple-colored glasses. In Green Bay, the schnapps-sippin' grammies in snowmobile suits will boo momentarily after a bad call, but quickly return to the game. In Philly, they boo more lustily but more knowledgeably, ably distinguishing bad calls from good calls that went against their Eagles. In Minnesota, in contrast, we boo reflexively whenever the outcome doesn't go our way. I've got several hypotheses explaining the cultivation of whininess amongst an otherwise strong people.

1. Opinion Leaders. Sid Hartman, dean of Minnesota sportswriters, has been pushing the International Officiating Conspiracy hypothesis since the Lakers were in Minneapolis. The idea has since diffused to numerous proponents in local print and broadcast media, but ol' Sid might be patient zero. Today's column: 'Hail Mary' Should Never Have Happened.

2. Minnesota Nice. In some locales, fans will quickly turn their backs on a poor-performing home team, calling them "bums" (as in Brooklyn) or "dogs" (as in anywhere else the millionaires underperform). But this would be un-Minnesotan. We just aren't the sort to boo our boys or girls, so we must have been robbed by those out-of-town officials.

3. Flyoverland Insecurity. The officiating conspiracy exists, in part, to serve the interests of wealthier and more powerful teams and owners. Didn't you catch former President Bush in the skybox with Jerry Jones and Emmitt Smith?

4. Heartbreak and Misery. I suspect that Vikings fans are whinier than Twins fans because the Vikes were defeated in IV (count 'em, IV) Super Bowls and a tear-inducing NFC championship game, while the Twins at least hung a couple World Series banners. One doesn't hear much whining about officiating at star-crossed Timberwolves games, since the local five are usually trailing by 30 at the half. The referees tend to have little bearing on the outcome of such games, though some fans attribute our failure in the draft lottery to a Vast Ping Pong Ball Conspiracy.

5. There's Something about Footyball. I enjoy high school wrestling and rugby because the fans and participants usually find a li'l honor in defeat as well as victory. It can be beautiful to see an undefeated wrestler lose a close, hard match -- and blame nobody but himself. Wrestling fans grouse loudly about judgment calls, of course, but they're generally either hardcore enough to know the rules and appreciate a good match or clueless enough that they're content to just watch and learn. High school football fans are another matter entirely. They're more likely to greet the ref with a loud "OH, COME ON!!!" no matter how obvious the violation. When my lad Tor played O-line, I knew he and his linemates left just a little bit early on every snap and ever-so-discreetly filled their massive fists with opposing players' jerseys on most downs. On the two or three occasions in which Tor was caught and penalized, I was surprised the surrounding home fans didn't actually see him holding or blowing off the line well before everyone else (his reflexes were good, but not that good). Football is so familiar to Americans that we all think of ourselves as experts -- even if we know very little about how the game is actually experienced by players. To a greater extent than in other sports, perhaps, audiences seem to appreciate the spectacle -- and whining is just part of the game.

I'm optimistic my Vikings will prevail in a close one tomorrow and break my heart in a week or two, though they'll surely be savaged by the Cowboys' tough pass rush and burned by Whitten across the middle and Austin downfield. Should the Cowboys win, I'll expect great whinging about blown calls (if not pathetic winging of whiskey bottles) -- even if the Minnesota offensive line is consistently pushed five yards off the ball, Mr. Favre throws a couple picks, and Mr. Peterson puts the ball on the ground. I just hope we're not still bellyaching about this game in 2045 -- the way we're still whining in 2010 about Drew Pearson pushing-off in '75.

*Technically, Minnesota earth is only "green" for a few weeks in May and June.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Farrakhan v. Gregoire

via the crawler and Seattle Times:

Evidence gathered by friends at the University of Washington -- sociologists Katherine Beckett and Bob Crutchfield -- played a key role in overturning Washington’s law banning incarcerated felons from voting. Much of the litigation to date has focused on former felons who have completed their sentences, rather than current inmates. The case, Farrakhan v. Gregoire, was decided on January 5, 2010.

Having spent a few years doing expert witness work on this issue, I know that it takes good social science evidence, lucid presentation, and dogged persistence to prevail in such cases. The ruling will likely be appealed, but it represents a major step toward a more inclusive democracy.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

I like big X and I cannot lie, where X = (eyes, lips...)

fleshmap compiled mentions of body parts by the frequency with which they occur in various musical genres.
The resulting map helps visualize how the body is represented in varying cultural expressions.
It probably isn't too difficult to identify hip hop here, but can you tell which of the maps were drawn from country, alternative and jazz songs?


Monday, January 11, 2010

orthogonal, ooh...

As a new grad student, I was consistently shocked and disappointed when careful quantitative analysis yielded answers that directly contradicted my long- and deeply-held hypotheses. At one point, I threatened to title my M.S. thesis Employment and Crime: Another Theory Shot to Sh*t or, perhaps, Nothing Matters and So What if it Did?

But I wasn't working alone on the second floor of the Wizversity's Social Science Building. My office-mate Brad Wright, who wasn't much for cussin' but quite attentive in stats class, suggested a more respectable scientific title: "Factors Orthogonal to Recidivism."

Great word, orthogonal. In oral argument today, U.S. Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Roberts also seemed fascinated with the term. Via volokh:

From the oral argument transcript today in Briscoe v. Virginia, a funny moment in the argument of University of Michigan law professor Richard Friedman:

MR. FRIEDMAN: I think that issue is entirely orthogonal to the issue here because the Commonwealth is acknowledging -
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: I’m sorry. Entirely what?
MR. FRIEDMAN: Orthogonal. Right angle. Unrelated. Irrelevant.
JUSTICE SCALIA: What was that adjective? I liked that.
MR. FRIEDMAN: Orthogonal.
MR. FRIEDMAN: Right, right.
JUSTICE SCALIA: Orthogonal, ooh.
JUSTICE KENNEDY: I knew this case presented us a problem.
MR. FRIEDMAN: I should have — I probably should have said -
JUSTICE SCALIA: I think we should use that in the opinion.
MR. FRIEDMAN: I thought — I thought I had seen it before.
JUSTICE SCALIA: Or the dissent.
MR. FRIEDMAN: That is a bit of professorship creeping in, I suppose.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

fatalities down for traffic, fire, and murder -- but not suicide

When the Strib reported that Minnesota traffic deaths had fallen to a 65-year low, I checked the Department of Public Safety to see the long-term trend. They posted data from 1910 to present on traffic fatalities and from 1961 to present on vehicle miles traveled. The rate of deaths per mile traveled has fallen even more sharply than the rate per 100,000 population. As the figure shows below, both peak in the beautiful-but-deadly muscle car era of the late 1960s. Experts attribute the drop to safety features such as seat belts and airbags. Why, my own dad tells me that he started buckling up his seat belt when the legislature toughened the mandatory seat belt in 2009 -- he even stuck a post-it note on the steering wheel to remind him of the fine.Over the past three decades, the death rate has also fallen for homicide and fire in Minnesota. In contrast, the suicide rate has risen in recent years. In 2008, almost as many Minnesotans died from suicide as from fire, traffic, and homicide combined. The final numbers are not yet available for 2009, but I bet that the number of suicides now surpasses the combined sum of the other three categories. Moreover, at least some of the deaths classified as accidental fires, car crashes, and shootings may be victim-precipitated (e.g., one-car accidents, "suicide by cop").
Suicide rates rise with age, especially for white males, so the number of suicides is likely to rise in Minnesota as the population ages (the figures above are not age-adjusted). Nevertheless, the overall death rate across the four categories has fallen from about 38/100k in 1980 to about 23/100k in 2008. If these trends continue, I suspect that more social scientists will be turning their attention to suicide (and, presumably, Durkheim) in coming years.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

we met in a college town...

Writing on failure, fathers, and family love, Philip Schultz earned a Pulitzer in 2008.

This 2002 piece evokes the macho romanticism of a bygone era, but stay with it -- like much of Mr. Schultz's writing, it finishes beautiful and true.

The Silence by Philip Schultz

for RJ

You always called late and drunk,
your voice luxurious with pain,
I, tightly wrapped in dreaming,
listening as if to a ghost.

Tonight a friend called to say your body
was found in your apartment, where
it had lain for days. You'd lost your job,
stopped writing, saw nobody for weeks.
Your heart, he said. Drink had destroyed you.

We met in a college town, first teaching jobs,
poems flowing from a grief we enshrined
with myth and alcohol. I envied the way
women looked at you, a bear blunt with rage,
tearing through an ever-darkening wood.

Once we traded poems like photos of women
whose beauty tested God's faith. 'Read this one
about how friendship among the young can't last,
it will rip your heart out of your chest!'

Once you called to say J was leaving,
the pain stuck in your throat like a razor blade.
A woman was calling me back to bed
so I said I'd call back. But I never did.

The deep forlorn smell of moss and pine
behind your stone house, you strumming
and singing Lorca, Vallejo, De Andrade,
as if each syllable tasted of blood,
as if you had all the time in the world. . .

You knew your angels loved you
but you also knew they would leave
someone they could not save.