Wednesday, January 30, 2008

rising above

okay, one last post about the seattle times' series on the 2000 university of washington football team. the series ended on a positive note with an inspirational story about linebacker anthony kelly who went to college to become a football star and against the odds...became a student.

the idea of studying abroad captured kelly's imagination and he won a scholarship to study in south africa. there, he worked with children and found a love for learning. as he said: "I had a chance to engage. To feel, touch and smell what I was reading in these books. That's when I had the big idea of education as an engaged experience." even as a number of his teammates were racking up long criminal records, kelly became a family man with big dreams for the children of south africa.

kelly is now working toward his master's degree in education; he is currently in south africa again, this time leading a group of about twenty students on their own study abroad experience. he has ambitious goals and the drive to achieve them.

if you have a few minutes, it's definitely worth the time to read the full version of his story.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

good dogs and bad dawgs

the seattle times continues its series on "victory and ruins" -- providing an in-depth look into the criminal histories and lenient treatments of players on the university of washington's football team from 2000. the bad dawgs profiled so far are star tight end, jerramy stevens; "key" linebacker, jeremiah pharms; and starting safety, curtis williams. williams' story is a tragic one for many reasons, but husky fans will never forget the hit against stanford that left him paralyzed from the neck down. williams died 18 months later just after his 24th birthday.

the series by the seattle times is an important one, but it's also discouraging. to counter the discouragement, i found a happier dog story that still involves football and crime, but offers a little more hope, at least for some of the victims. more than four dozen pit bull dogs were rescued from michael vick's bad newz kennels. fortunately for these mistreated canines, the justice department wanted to give the dogs a second chance. the court appointed a guardian and special master, and as part of his plea bargain, vick agreed to pay for the dogs' care. each dog was evaluated individually and most went into foster care to be socialized and given the chance at a better life. some will even train to become therapy dogs. it's a happy ending to a sad case.

the dog in the picture is my own dog, talah, adopted from the humane society in may 2005.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

the price of privilege

today's seattle times has in-depth coverage of the "last great UW team" -- that's university of washington football, in case you were wondering, and the article is referring to the 2000 squad that went 11-1, won the rose bowl, and ended ranked 3rd in the nation.

how is this related to public criminology? unfortunately, that "mystical, magical season" included a disturbing amount of criminal behavior by team members and an equally disturbing lack of punishment/sanctions by anyone in authority.

as the times reports:

When that Rose Bowl season began on Sept. 2, 2000, against the University of Idaho, the UW's starters included:

• A safety who, according to police reports, had cut his wife's face, broken her arm and broken her nose. He had already served time for choking her into unconsciousness. While playing in front of 70,000 fans on Montlake that day, he was wanted on an outstanding warrant.

• A linebacker under investigation for robbing and shooting a drug dealer. He had left behind a fingerprint stained with his blood. By the season opener, police knew the print was his — but they didn't charge him until the season was over.

• A tight end under investigation on suspicion of rape.

At least a dozen members of the Rose Bowl team were arrested that year or charged with a crime that carried possible jail time. At least a dozen others on that team got in trouble with the law in other seasons.

i hate to add to any stereotypes of athletes as criminals, but sometimes the behavior of individuals is egregious. the lengthy story on jerramy stevens--the team's star tight end--shows just how far privilege can go in protecting elite athletes. stevens was convicted of assault, accused of rape, and accumulated a number of hit-and-runs and DUIs during his UW and professional career.

i may use this profile of stevens in class as yet another illustration of inequalities in punishment. i knew jerramy when he first came to u-dub -- he was an incoming freshman in the last class i taught the summer before heading off to a tenure track job. there were several football players in that class and they all behaved well, did their work, and didn't cause any noticeable trouble.

i wonder what would have happened if jerramy had never become a star on the field or if the team had been less successful. would he have been a better person? there's no way of knowing, of course. but, i'll try to use his story as a cautionary tale this summer when i teach a class of incoming freshman football players who will have their whole college experience still ahead of them.

nothing says romance like vodka, swisher sweets, and livelinks

saturday's pi-press reported on two local robberies involving a chatline. in each case, dudes traveled to a minneapolis apartment to visit a woman they'd met on livelinks.

insomniacs are likely familiar with late-night television ads for livelinks. these typically feature attractive semi-clothed college-age women writhing flirtatiously while chatting on the phone.

when the local men arrived to meet the woman with whom they'd been speaking, they were greeted by a bat-wielding boyfriend and quickly relieved of their wallets and credit cards. according to the affidavit,

the woman told the man to bring DVDs, vodka and Swisher Sweets cigars. "Once he arrived, the female met him at the door," the affidavit says. "She asked him for 20 dollars, which he gave her, then a male appeared from another room." Dude came with a gun in one hand, a bat in the other," the victim told the Pioneer Press.

fortunately, nobody was seriously hurt. this is a good scam because it is easy to attract men to a female stranger's apartment, especially when they have visions of late-night commercials dancing in their heads. this is a terrible and short-lived scam, however, because the men are not so complicit that they would be reluctant to contact the police. and, of course, they could provide the police with very good directions to the address.

do you think the cigars were for the sweet talker or for the gun/bat-wielding boyfriend?

Friday, January 25, 2008

yer deadbolt won't protect you

i've done little blogging about the kids lately, so i thought i'd share these pics of the enormous nonconformist's recent home improvement project.

see, our garage door keypad froze solid in the subzero temps of the recent cold snap. when tor got off the school bus last week -- without coat, hat, or gloves, of course -- he found himself locked out at -5 fahrenheit. so, he walked around the perimeter of our well-secured house, searching for an opening.

finding no opening, the lad tried the steel side door on the garage, shown above with the security system sticker and deadbolt. when he gave the door a good shove, the deadbolt held firm. unfortunately, the door's frame quickly splintered into kindling, as shown in the first picture.

needless to say, hanging the new door will serve as a perfect father-son weekend bonding activity. since he didn't actually do anything wrong here (better to break in than to freeze to death, i suppose), i won't ask him to chip in for the new door. nevertheless, i'm not a complete pushover. that fist-sized hole in the drywall that mysteriously appeared after sunday's packers-giants game? that's an altogether different matter.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

ideal-typical case of policy change?

sociological criminologists sometimes point to moral panics and sensational cases as the impetus for sweeping changes in criminal codes. i don't know whether this is the case in connecticut, but the times and the courant both point to a particularly heinous crime as the motor driving big changes in that state's criminal justice system.

the republican-american just flat comes out and says it. here's their lead:

The legislature's Democratic majority proposed a package of comprehensive changes to the criminal justice system in Connecticut today.

The crime bill is a response to last summer's triple homicide and home invasion in Cheshire. Lawmakers are meeting in special session today to consider the legislation.

hmm. i'm pretty sure that triple homicide is already against the law, even in connecticut, but perhaps the legislature needs to tighten up prohibitions against home invasion. so, some of the changes involved the crimes at issue:

The legislation includes the following provisions:

  • Create a new crime of home invasion.
  • Revise the burglary statute.
the real problem, in this as in other heinous cases, appears to be a breakdown in the screening process prior to release. by social science standards, criminologists can actually predict which inmates are likely to reoffend rather well. but social science standards -- a 95 percent certainty that a given releasee will not commit another heinous offense -- just aren't good enough in such circumstances. so, the CT governor ordered a moratorium on parole for violent offenders, while the legislature went to work to fix the problem. here's what they came up with:

  • Rework the persistent offender statute.
  • Reconfigure the Board of Pardons and Parole.
  • Mandate secure video connections at state prisons for parole hearings.
  • Require the court and prison systems provide 270 additional beds for diversionary and prison re-entry programs.
  • Command the court and prison systems provide 24 beds in secured treatment centers for sex offenders.
  • Require the prison system to monitor 300 more inmates by global positioning satellite technology.
  • Mandate the development of a centralized, integrated criminal justice tracking and information database.
that's a long and ambitious list of parole reforms. as is their wont, lawmakers also widened the net just a bit, adding the following provisions and mandates:

  • Orders the court, prison and parole systems to devise how to assess the risks of offenders of re-offending.
  • Directs the court system to create an Internet registry for outstanding arrest warrants for violation of probation.
  • Expands the rights of crime victims and their immediate families.
  • Makes juvenile court records available to Board of Pardons and Parole and the Department of Correction.
  • Requires the court system establish a statewide automated victim information and notification system.
  • Establishes a committee to propose incentives for municipalities to host transitional housing for released offenders.
  • Requires annual reporting to the legislature on developments in the criminal justice system.
  • Sets up a diversionary program for persons with psychiatric disabilities accused of crimes or motor vehicle violations.
  • Authorizes $19 million in transfers in the state's two-year, $36 billion budget to finance some initiatives.

i cannot speak to the wisdom of each individual change, but such a package would certainly strike me as a disconnected hodge-podge of requirements and really hard-to-meet mandates. for partisan reasons, the editors of the republican-american probably intended to portray the reforms as a costly boondoggle.

from a distance, however, i believe that the proposed changes are probably well-intentioned efforts to reorganize a system to prevent a single criminal event. unfortunately, such changes are likely to bring with them a broad range of unintended consequences, with unknown effects on public safety.

even in the unlikely event that the proposed changes are enacted, fully funded, and implemented, however, they are all designed to prevent the last heinous crime. this means that, in all likelihood, they will do little to prevent the next heinous crime.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

tom johnson

friend and collaborator tom johnson has announced that he is stepping down as president of the council on crime and justice.

i've worked closely with the council in recent years, as we share the same vision of engaged scholarship and public criminology. tom's resignation letter well expresses this vision: (1) "to shed a brighter, more informed light on the causes and consequences of crime and violence" and, importantly, (2) to "enhance public safety by bringing about a more just society."

the strib is marking this transition with an op-ed this morning, praising tom as "a tireless advocate for the disenfranchised and a passionate community leader." the former minneapolis city council member and county attorney will return to private practice with gray, plant, and mooty this march. fortunately, the new council president will enter with a terrific team in place, including a first-rate research staff.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

racial impact statements

marc mauer, executive director of the sentencing project, takes a page from the environmental movement in the latest issue of the ohio state journal of criminal law.

his new article on racial impact statements argues that the racially disparate effects of changes in sentencing policy are often entirely predictable. unlike most environmental impact statements, however, we generally have the data at hand to conduct a reasonable racial impact analysis at very low cost to the public.

here's the abstract:

The extreme racial disparities in rates of incarceration in the United States result from a complex set of factors. Among these are sentencing and drug policies which, intended or not, produce disproportionate racial/ethnic effects. In retrospect, it is clear that many of these effects could have been predicted prior to the adoption of the legislation. In order to reduce the scale of unwarranted disparities, policymakers should address the potential racial impact of proposed legislation prior to enactment, rather than after the fact when any necessary reform is more difficult to achieve. One means of accomplishing this would be through the establishment of "Racial Impact Statements." Similar to fiscal or environmental impact statements, such a policy would enable legislators and the public to anticipate any unwarranted racial disparities and to consider alternative policies that could accomplish the goals of the legislation without causing undue racial effects.

the ideal-typical example, of course, comes from the marked disparities in punishment for crack versus powder cocaine. more mauer:

Had Congress required that an impact statement be produced, it would have demonstrated that an estimated 4000 defendants a year would be sentenced to five and ten-year mandatory prison terms, 80% of whom would have been African American. A modest amount of additional data from government agencies would have documented that these rates were far higher than the black proportion of crack users or sellers in the general population. The question for policymakers would then have been whether the disparity was "unwarranted" because of the racial effects or "warranted" due to the need to provide public safety resources for the African-American community.

marc then discusses how racial impact statements can address both proportional disparity and population disparity. whereas the former involves a shift in the racial distribution of those serving time for a particular offense, the latter marks changes in the overall race-specific incarceration rate.

for example, if wisconsin passed a law that mandated a year in prison for serving margarine in a tavern, it would likely decrease proportional disparity (e.g., african americans might represent 30 percent of those serving time for this offense rather than, say, 35 percent under the existing discretionary system), but increase population disparity (e.g., it would nevertheless put more african americans behind bars, raising the race-specific incarceration rate from, say, 1,980 per 100,000 to 1,985 per 100,000).

regardless of the standard for assessing disparities, however, racial impact statements are intended to provide a basic context for assessing racial impacts when contemplating measures to protect public safety. why bother? shouldn't the criminal code be color-blind? well, the rate of incarceration for african american males is currently about 3,042 per 100,000, relative to about 487 per 100,000 for white males. before we take any action that worsens such disparities, it seems reasonable to have a thoughtful discussion about balancing such costs against the likely gain in public safety.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

you could teach a course in juvenile delinquency

i've been visiting sara wakefield at uc-irvine the past couple days, where i've enjoyed sunny california weather, a fun presentation, and some terrific conversations about public criminology.

this is just the restorative i needed before embarking on a busy spring semester. as bob's big boy makes clear, i'll begin teaching my undergrad delinquency course next week, with a great new teaching assistant on board.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

prisoners to be "chipped like dogs"

according to the independent (via talkleft), the british ministry of justice is "planning to implant "machine-readable" microchips under the skin of thousands of offenders as part of an expansion of the electronic tagging scheme that would create more space in British jails."

the proposal is purportedly motivated by prison overcrowding, as "the prison population soared from 60,000 in 1997 to 80,000 today." even at 80k, however, the incarceration rate in england and wales of 148 per 100,000 is only one-fifth the united states rate of 750 per 100,000. given the costs of incarceration and recent technological advances, we'll surely see more of this technology in the states as well.

while many of us recoil at the idea of implanting people with tracking devices, i'd be first in line for such a device at my own sentencing hearing. think about it: would you rather do six months in the county jail or wear a temporary implant that allows you to go about your business? what about an implant versus a year in a maximum-security state penitentiary?

in fact, i'd even prefer a temporary implant to a bulky ankle bracelet or other external electronic monitoring device. in social interactions, one would be far less stigmatized while wearing an implant -- in goffman's terms, this represents a big move from discredited to discreditable status. temporary is the key qualifier here, of course, with the assumption that any such device would be fully removed at the conclusion of one's sentence.

i'm not advocating implants, but any discussion of their use should take into account the interests and the grim alternatives faced by the men and women who would be wearing them. i can imagine a slippery policy slope in which the practice is first applied to volunteers from heavily stigmatized groups and then generalized outward. if i'm correct, that means high-risk sex offenders will be the first to wear such implants. in the end, however, i suspect we'll all be wearing 'em.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

2007 semi-annual ucr data

according to the fbi's semi-annual uniform crime report numbers for 1/1/07 to 6/31/07, both violent crime and property crime have declined since 2006. violence and property crime were also down locally, in both minneapolis and st. paul.

one needs to squint pretty hard to find bad news in these data, which is good news in light of a 2005/2006 uptick in violence. here's hoping that the new numbers, combined with joe biden's early departure, will keep crime from becoming a crazy-making issue in the 2008 elections.

the press release also offers this disclaimer:

Because of the complexities involved, the FBI makes no attempt to interpret the data, which we leave to criminologists and sociologists.

nice. we'll do our best to get it right.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

restore my vote

i got word from stacey gates and minnversity law graduate reginald mitchell (at left) today about the restore my vote project in florida.

under the leadership of republican governor charlie crist, florida has streamlined the process of voting rights restoration for some former felons. nevertheless, there remains great confusion over who is eligible for which clemency process and whether individuals are actually eligible to vote in upcoming elections. the people for the american way foundation therefore developed the restore my vote website and hotline to help former felons in florida determine whether they are among the 250,000 whose civil rights have been restored. the project also features an outreach component:

While the clemency board attempts to notify ex-offenders that their rights have been restored, election officials throughout the state are not making a concerted effort to add all persons back to the voter registration rolls. PFAWF is attempting to reach these eligible voters, let them know they have the right to vote, give them guidance on how to register, and work with election officials to support their re-enfranchisement. PFAWF is enlisting the help of the media, election officials, the general public, the religious community, and anyone else who can help us to find the people on this list and give them information about registering to vote.

confusion over rights restoration is by no means limited to florida (e.g., a minnesota commenter asked about his eligibility in the this blog today). i'm not sure that a national database is advisable, but i'd like to see every state make their basic eligibility criteria more easily accessible.

Monday, January 7, 2008

making a difference

it's been almost a year since my first inside-out class. i taught three inside-out classes at the oregon state penitentiary in 2007, and each has been a wonderful experience. it is transformative education at its very best, bringing together university students and inmates in a collaborative, productive, honest, and fun learning environment. i've become an ambassador for the program, promoting it enthusiastically to friends and colleagues at the last criminology meetings, and i'm excited to be a member of inside-out's newly formed national research committee.

i won't be teaching an inside-out class this quarter, but starting tomorrow i will be teaching an introduction to sociology course (in a pilot program with private funding for most of the students' tuition) for 28 inmates in the penitentiary. at least eight of them are former inside students of mine, some of whom are paying full tuition for the opportunity to continue their educations. i'm proud of them; it will be great to have them in class again.

when i returned to campus today, i found a christmas card from inside students from my first inside-out class a year ago. seven of the fifteen inside guys wrote warm messages to me and their former classmates, sharing their gratitude and lasting friendship. i'm especially touched by this since they were not allowed to continue direct contact with their outside classmates after the course ended in march. a year after our first class, they remember us and care enough to take the time and effort to send us greetings and kind thoughts. these classes are making a real difference in the lives of students on both sides of the prison's walls. and in my life, too, of course. i've spent a lot of the last year in prison, and it's been great. i'm grateful to all of the individuals who participated and were brave enough to take the journey with me.

punishments of china (1804)

i usually rely on european or american examples when teaching the history of punishment (e.g., discipline and punish). if you'd like to move beyond these familiar examples, boing and the digital gallery of the new york public library offer some 200-year-old materials on punishment in china.

i cannot vouch for their historical accuracy, but the punishments of china: illustrated by twenty-two engravings (published 1804) certainly offers grimly compelling images. the library catalog record lists george henry mason as author, but here is the full citation information for the hamstringing engraving shown above.

Creator: Dadley, J. -- Engraver
Image Caption: Hamstringing a malefactor.
In: The punishments of China : illustrated by twenty-two engravings : with explanations in English and French. (published 1804)
Library Division:Humanities and Social Sciences Library / Art and Architecture Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs
Description:[54] p., 22 leaves of plates : 22 col. ill. ; 38 cm.
Item/Page/Plate Number:Pl. 17
Specific Material Type:prints
Subject(s):Costumes -- Chinese
Punishment & torture -- China
Collection Guide:Customs and Costume: Surveys and Examples of National Studies, to 1900
Digital Image ID:1565324
Digital Record ID:1056437
Digital Record Published:3-29-2007; updated 10-5-2007
NYPL Call Number:3-MMR+ (Mason, G. H. Punishments of China)

Saturday, January 5, 2008

the system "works" after 27 years

i've been thinking about this story from the dallas morning news for a couple of days. after serving 27 years in prison for aggravated rape, charles allen chatman was exonerated and set free. chatman always proclaimed his innocence, and recent genetic tests showed that he could not have committed the crime.

in some ways, this case is extraordinary. the judge and the current district attorney seemed to take a special interest in chatman and went beyond official duties to try to help. the article explains:

Judge Creuzot pushed for the specialized DNA test that cleared Mr. Chatman after becoming concerned that he might be innocent. At the hearing, the judge introduced Mr. Chatman to a dentist who has agreed to repair his teeth and to prisoner advocate Joyce Ann Brown, who herself was wrongly imprisoned for almost a decade. 'I'll do anything and everything I can to help you,' the judge said...

District Attorney Craig Watkins, who has made DNA-based exonerations a hallmark of his first year in office, apologized to Mr. Chatman, shook his hand and praised his long effort to clear himself. 'You are an example of how justice is supposed to work,' Mr. Watkins told him.

i think this case shows the potential good of individuals working in the system, but it seems to me a long way from being how justice is supposed to work. chatman spent 27 years of his life in prison for a crime he did not commit. 27 years. he was 20 when he was first incarcerated in 1981. he is 47 now and is going to have to try to adjust to a whole new world and culture full of technological wonders he couldn't possibly have imagined as a young, free man. his only specific plan at his release was to "get something good to eat."

it's hard to imagine what it would be like to be wrongly imprisoned for 27 years and to finally be given a second chance. i hope the world is kind to mr. chatman and others like him in their remaining years.

Friday, January 4, 2008

redskins and racism

this fall, the debate over offensive team nicknames flared up again at the minnversity. nobody objects to our golden gophers nickname -- at least nobody outside the close-knit rodent urophiliac community. nevertheless, many question whether our gophs should continue to take the ice against the fighting sioux of north dakota.

in contrast to the ongoing campus debates at illinois, florida state, north dakota, and elsewhere, i've heard absolutely no outrage, zero indignation, and nary a protest as the washington redskins prepare for the playoffs this weekend.* isn't redskins the most racist and offensive team name in sport? we're not talking about a borderline moniker like warriors or even chiefs. redskins is a degrading ethnic slur, pure and simple, stubbornly attached to the home football team in Our Nation's Capitol.

i'm an old-school sports traditionalist, so my first official act as nfl commissioner would be to return the nicknames of the colts and the cards back to the good citizens of baltimore and st. louis, respectively. my second official act, however, would involve harsh economic sanctions on the redskins until they changed the name -- to 'skins, to reds, or to my personal favorite, the washington wonks.

i've got nothing against the washington football team. as a chubby li'l pee-wee fullback, my hero was the the great riggo. like john riggins, i was a north-south runner (mostly south in my case, now that i think about it). while i could always forgive mr. riggins' ungentlemanly remarks, the redskins nickname just bugs me more and more each year.

i simply can't see a good argument for keeping such an ugly nickname. tradition? well, the washington team was originally called the braves. the boston braves, in fact. moreover, at least part of the storied redskins tradition is a well-documented history of racism. the team's management so resisted african american players that shirley povich was inspired to report, "Cleveland Browns fullback Jim Brown “integrated the Redskins’ goal line with more than deliberate speed.” in truth, it was not until 1962 that the redskins were integrated, and only then when facing direct threats from the kennedy administration.

though my childhood hero once led the 'skins to glory, i'll be rooting for seattle's seahawks in tomorrow's game. i'll return to washington fandom, however, once the redskin moniker departs -- whether by lawsuit or by a new owner who shares my vision.

*i did come across a couple older op-eds: see
michael tomasky in american prospect and salim muwakkil in alternet.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

milgram's back

via the situationist and ccjrc:

Students commonly assume that, even if Milgram’s famous experiment sheds important light on the power of situation today, were his experiment precisely reproduced today, it would not generate comparable results. To oversimplify the argument behind that claim: The power of white lab coats just ain’t what it used to be. Of course, that assertion has been difficult to challenge given that the option of replicating the Milgram experiment has been presumptively unavailable — indeed, it has been the paradigmatic example of why psychology experiments must be reviewed by institutional review boards (”IRBs”).

Who would even attempt to challenge that presumption? The answer: Jerry Burger, a psychology professor at Santa Clara University. With some slight modifications, Burger manage to obtain permission to replicate Milgram’s experiment — and the results may surprise you...

in my view, the results are less surprising than the fact that the study gained institutional review board approval. apart from the post, i quickly found a number of related classroom-friendly materials online. you can check professor burger's first-hand account of the irb process, play a 27-minute primetime clip of the new study, and read philip zimbardo's thoughtful summary, ten lessons from the milgram studies (the latter adapted from the lucifer effect, his 2007 book with random house).

meltdown: chicago v. minneapolis

february's runner's world offers a fine feature on the 2007 lasalle bank chicago marathon, titled meltdown: what really happened in chicago. i was hoping this might be an eric klinenberg piece, since i learned much from his heat wave: a social autopsy of disaster in chicago and i love his writing.

alas, meltdown was written by david thigpen, a former time correspondent. just as professor klinenberg, however, mr. thigpen dug deep to tell the ecological and institutional story behind another hot day in chicago.

of course, the consequences of the 2007 chicago marathon -- which was, after all, a leisure activity -- pale in comparison to the hundreds of deaths in the 1995 heat wave. nevertheless, the race was run on the hottest october 7th in chicago's history. over 36,000 runners began the marathon, 185 visited the emergency room, and one died. since october, there have been allegations of mismanagement, with aid stations running dry, lost ambulances, a breakdown in race-day etiquette (e.g., pushin' and shovin' and punchin'), and indecision regarding such basics as who won the race and whether the course was ever officially closed.

runner's world offered a sidebar to the chicago story, even hotter? same day, same scorching conditions, but no drama at twin cities. if this were a social science article, the twin cities might make for a decent comparative case. according to the sidebar, the rate of medical treatment and hospital transport was actually higher in minneapolis than in chicago. why did similar conditions fail to produce the same drama? there are some critical differences between the races, particularly in the size of the field (twin cities has about 8,100 starters, madison far fewer), but the races share similar weather problems and demographics (with many first-timers and old-timers).

i happened to run the twin cities marathon on october 7th, the slowest of my marathons over the years (for the record, the 2006 madison marathon seemed just as steamy to me). racers were already sharing gallows humor as we lined up in the chute, sweaty already by 7 am. nevertheless, i've never had any problems finding enough water on the course in minneapolis or madison, and runners seem to get the medical attention they need. in fact, i actually grumbled in last year's marathon post about the overattentive twin cities marathon medical folks, saying "i managed to keep my sorry carcass off the meat wagon for another year -- they were circling like vultures after mile 21..."

when i ran chicago in the late 1990s, it too seemed well-organized. back then, however, it was significantly smaller. perhaps its rapid growth -- from 10,000 total registrants in 1994 to 33,000 in 2000 to 45,000 last year --brought on logistical problems.

i don't have the data to conduct a social autopsy of the two races, though such an analysis might make for an interesting kinesiology or management thesis. my point is only that good journalism sometimes calls out for sociological analysis. as eric klinenberg recently demonstrated in heat wave, such an analysis can help uncover the social structure guiding events that might otherwise be considered acts of god or individual pathologies.