Saturday, October 28, 2006

pub econ?

my friday talk was co-sponsored by a law school and a soc department. over the years, i've spoken in econ departments and crim departments and law schools and african american studies departments. it is always fun to see the different norms regarding length, interruptions, and so forth. in the soc series, the speakers are expected to talk for an hour and then take questions for thirty minutes. in the law series, in contrast, they are expected to speak for seven minutes before engaging in questions. this must have something to do with billable hours.

i spoke about public criminology (and, by extension, public sociology), using clifford shaw as an exemplar. many law professors have been doing pubcrim for years, particularly on the op/ed front, but one of the economists in attendance suggested that the idea of public economics would never get much momentum. i mumbled something about lester thurow and john r. commons, and, of course, steven levitt's name came up. still, i think my questioner was probably right about the prospects for pub econ. is there a public aspect to other disciplines (e.g., pub polisci, pub anthro, pub psych, pub history, pub philosophy, pub geography, pub genetics), or is sociology somehow uniquely positioned to want or need a public moniker? if so, does this signal the relative weakness or the relative strength of sociology as a discipline?

selection, strain, or opportunity in grad student cheating?

aside from a few notorious cases where the accused quickly left a program, i don't hear much about cheating among sociology grad students.

a new self-report study finding high rates of cheating among business students is getting some press this week. business professor donald mccabe of rutgers, kenneth butterfield of washington state, and linda klebe trevino of pennsylvania state collected data from 5,331 graduate students at 32 colleges and universities in the united states and canada from 2002 to 2004. the researchers asked about 13 behaviors, including cheating on tests and exams, plagiarism, faking a bibliography or turning in someone else's work.

here is the prevalence of cheating by area of study:

Percentage of graduate students who acknowledged cheating in the past year:
Business: 56%
Engineering: 54%
Physical sciences: 50%
Med students/health care: 49%
Education: 48%
Law: 45%
Arts: 43%
Humanities/social sciences: 39%

i haven't seen the full study, but my guess is that the high prevalence rates are due to one or more common but less serious offenses. nevertheless, the study includes some good data on frequency and variety of cheating as well, which also seems to point the finger at business students.

the raw results raise some interesting questions. it is easy to formulate a selectivity hypothesis (e.g., business and law students are greedier), but there may also be more strain or competition in these fields (e.g., high-stakes exams and class ranks that matter) and, perhaps, more frequent opportunities to cheat (e.g., midterms and finals rather than seminar papers). is it selection, strain, or opportunity that places business students at the top of the list and social scientists at the bottom?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

my librarian is better than your librarian

nancy herther, the minnversity's fine sociology librarian, prepared this handy report comparing searches of sociological abstracts with those of criminal justice abstracts.

for crim researchers, the upshot is that we might miss an important article if we only search criminal justice abstracts. ms. herther gives a few examples from the journal criminology to show potential gaps in cja coverage.

here's her accompanying note:

I had mentioned some time ago about the work that I did a year ago - first comparing journals lists, etc. - between Sociological Abstracts and Criminal Justice Abstracts. In general they are both wonderful databases, however I always felt somewhat "twitchy" about CJA, so I pursued it by looking at specific issue by issue coverage and prepared a brief report of what I found - and my recommendations for secondary research - which is attached. CJA is a wonderful database, but at an advanced level, I'd strongly encourage faculty and students to use both SA and CJA to guarantee comprehensiveness. I'd hate to have anyone miss something significant.

Friday, October 20, 2006

estimates of glb individuals from the american communities survey

in teaching about sexual norms and practices, i'm struck by how little information we have about some of the basic social facts. a new study by gary gates at ucla's sexual orientation law institute brings some new data to bear on the subject. based on analysis of the census bureau's 2005 american community survey, it appears that the number of self-identifying same-sex couples rose dramatically from 2000 to 2005.

the study reports that the number of same-sex couples in the U.S. grew by more than 30 percent from 2000 to 2005, from about 600,000 couples in 2000 to almost 777,000 in 2005. this likely signals a major shift in willingness to report the nature of the relationship rather than a major shift in actual relationships. given the magnitude of the change, i'll need a bit more assurance that the imperfect indicators are at least consistently measured at the two data points. if measurement artifacts aren't a huge problem, the shift likely indicates that the stigma associated with same-sex partnering is rapidly diminishing.

the report offers some intriguing estimates on the spatial distribution of sexual preference. minnesota is among the top ten states in the estimated percentage of gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals in the adult population at 4.7 percent. i figured that urban d.c. would be have a high percentage of same sex couples, but i'm not sure why new hampshire and washington are ranked so high. is willingness to report higher in these states? (and, does affluence or racial homogeneity have something to do with willingness to report?). or, are there simply lots of same-sex couples in washington and new hampshire?

Rank and Estimated % of gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals in the adult population
1 District of Columbia 8.1%
2 New Hampshire 6.6%
3 Washington 5.7%
4 Massachusetts 5.7%
5 Maine 5.2%
6 California 5.2%
7 Colorado 5.1%
8 Vermont 5.1%
9 New Mexico 4.9%
10 Minnesota 4.7%

both new hampshire and minnesota had high rates of growth in same-sex couples, though these numbers are a little misleading because the 2000 base rates were rather low in most midwestern states:

Rank and % Increase in Same-sex couples, 2000 to 2005
1 New Hampshire 106%
2 Wisconsin 81%
3 Minnesota 76%
4 Nebraska 71%
5 Kansas 68%
6 Ohio 62%
7 Colorado 58%
8 Iowa 58%
9 Missouri 56%
10 Indiana 54%

finally, the twin cities ranks high among metro areas (5.7%). at 12.5%, minneapolis ranks behind only san francisco (15.4%) and seattle (12.9%) in the estimated percentage of gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals.

estimated % of gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals in metro and largest city
1 San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont 8.2% 15.4%
2 Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue 6.5% 12.9%
3 Boston-Cambridge-Quincy 6.2% 12.3%
4 Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton 6.1% 8.8%
5 Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater 5.9% 6.1%
6 Austin-Round Rock 5.9% 4.8%
7 Denver-Aurora 5.8% 8.2%
8 Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington 5.7% 12.5%
9 Orlando-Kissimmee 5.7% 7.7%
10 Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford 5.6% 6.8%

looking at these descriptive statistics, i can't help but note the high ranking of some of the nation's most attractive places: san francisco, seattle, minneapolis, boston, and portland are the top five cities on the list. it ain't exactly sodom and gomorrah, right?

do the fervent critics of same-sex marriage actually sound the alarm that their burg could "become just like new hampshire?" or warn, "look what happened to portland!" based on these data, i know where i'd be happiest living and raising my kids: in places where there are many same-sex couples and, just as importantly, where there is little or no stigma attached to sexual preference.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

wouldn't the moral entrepreneurs make a nice name for a band?

i generally reserve howard becker's term moral entrepreneurs for full-on self-righteous crusading reformers such as prohibitionists. yet one needn't look far to find mellower unplugged and acoustic versions of the concept.

chris riemenschneider, the strib's fine music writer, offers a front-page story this morning on environmentally friendly concert tours. performers such as gomez, the dave matthews band, pearl jam, jack johnson, bonnie raitt, and even the entire warped tour (!) have gone at least a little bit green.

cloud cult singer craig minowaare and others try to model environmentally friendly lifestyles without "sounding like some preachy folk singer." what behaviors are they modeling?

* Using biodiesel tour bus.
* Buying renewable-energy "credits" to offset fuel emissions.
* Using soy-based ink and recycled paper in merchandise.
* Selling organic cotton T-shirts.
* Serving organic food backstage.
* Minimizing bus idling.
* Staying at hotels identified as eco-friendly.

as gusfield pointed out, status politics are at play when uppers tell lowers how they should live. but bands such as gomez aren't really cultural elites (yet) nor are they too wealthy to feel the extra cost of their green livin'. so all this seems quite socially responsible to me, though i wonder how ol' keith moon would have fared in such a band. maybe he'd personalize the practices:

* Driving biodiesel tour bus into holiday inn swimming pool.
* Smashing corn-plastic drum kits.
* Detonating biodegradable explosives.
* Recycling endless stream of Courvoisier bottles.
* Dressing in organic cotton vicar's, clown, and santa claus costumes.
* Heating room with detritus of smashed televisions, chairs, dressers, beds, and cupboards.

i wouldn't count mr. moon as a moral (or immoral?) entrepreneur, but he certainly qualified as a professional discoverer of wrongs to be righted, of situations requiring new rules.

Monday, October 16, 2006

ufc and the old ultraviolence

given my pop culture avocations, people can't understand why i've never plugged into the cable. just when i think i really need cnn or comedy central, however, i flip channels in a hotel room and see something too horrible for words. such is the case with [warning: the following link is brutal] ultimate fighting.

i raise the issue because i spoke this weekend with an intelligent young woman who attended a pay-per-view UFC event with her boyfriend. when i asked what she liked about it, she pointed to "passion" and the faces of the participants. dang. they'd get as much passion and intensity watching a good guitar face at the local bar.

but she's not alone, and that's got me worried. ultimate fighting is outdrawing the baseball playoffs among males age 18-34. is this the state of american masculinity in 2006? i'll summarize a spike tv bout i saw while traveling this summer: palooka A knocks palooka B into chain-link fence, straddles B's chest, and pounds face until some savagery threshold is crossed (unconsciousness? a two-quart blood rule?), whereupon A is declared the victor. i've seen more civilized fights in prison yards.

after one has physically dominated an opponent, doesn't man law dictate mercy? or is mercy the crucial distinction between ultimate fighting and plain vanilla penultimate fighting? somewhere along the line i picked up the idea that a man doesn't continue hitting or kicking a fallen opponent into unconsciousness, or immobilize him and then cave in his face with elbow shots.

i admit that i'm the wrong guy to cluck about this, given my own conflicted history with violence. among my edumacated friends, i'm a lonely defender of disciplined and attenuated violent forms such as football, rugby, and wrestling -- and i continue to applaud my significantly larger lad's participation in such activities. if anything, he's learned discipline and control in these sports. to my knowledge, at least, he has yet to throw a punch in anger.

i lost my stomach for boxing after boom-boom mancini v. duk-koo kim, but i'll admit that i've probably participated in more violence than most sociologists or criminologists. on the other hand, with the possible exception of murray straus, i also watch far less of it than any sociologist or criminologist i know. i've simply got no time for the phony played-out bloodfests by scorcese and tarantino. i'll grant you that straw dogs, mean streets, and clockwork may have had something important to say. but thirty years later i'm amazed that critics, most of whom have neither thrown nor taken a punch, still lap up the same old tired movie tropes as authentic.

i work hard as a criminologist because i want a little more justice and a whole lot less violence in the world. for me, real violence is only interesting in the way that hiv/aids and earthquakes are interesting. but that's a rant for another day. ultimate fighting strikes me as straight-up pornography, perhaps a step or two below cockfighting on the debasement scale. as long as i've got kids in the house and comcast is pushing UFC (and, frankly, i could throw goodfellas and reservoir dogs in there as well), they'll just have to make do without me. i see an ugly human transaction whenever two human beings come to blows, made all the uglier by money and spectators.

who benefits from online gambling restrictions?

president bush signed legislation to criminalize internet gambling on friday. under the unlawful internet gambling enforcement act, it is illegal to use credit cards, checks and other bank instruments for online bets. i've never gambled online, unless you count my emotional and ill-fated email dinner bets with friends (points? i don't need yer stinking points -- my vikings will win straight up, and you'll be buyin', my friend). whenever new rules are made, however, i like to suss out the winners and losers.

senate majority leader dr. bill frist evidently took the lead in attaching gambling restrictions to a port security bill that was virtually assured of passage. the national football league lobbied hard for this one, employing two lobbyists who were former senior aides to senator frist.

the nfl gains much by upholding the perceived integrity of their games, while some senators benefit by distancing themselves from jack abramoff (who had successfully lobbied on behalf of internet gambling) and shoring up the christian conservative base before the election. the big losers, of course, are individual american gamblers and offshore internet gambling operators. those who view gambling as evil or addictive would argue that such costs are offset by the reduced social and individual harm associated with the practice. but will internet gamblers really stop betting?

if these folks continue to bet their $6-12 billion per year, i can think of another beneficiary of criminalization. most serious gamblers probably know a small businessperson who loves the new unlawful internet gambling enforcement act: the local bookmaker. bookies don't usually hire lobbyists like the nfl, but you can bet they are just as pleased with the result. with decreased competition online, demand for their services should increase significantly. now, if the local numbers bankers could just get rid of those pesky state lotteries...

Thursday, October 5, 2006

deadly defiance

the new york times features a story today that a mugging victim's attitude led to her death. anemona hartocllis reports from the defendant's trial: "It wasn’t the color of her skin, or the amount of money in her purse, the mugger said, but the victim’s attitude — her insouciance, defiance and disdain that made the mugger’s accomplice shoot the actress, 28-year-old Nicole duFresne, once in the chest, killing her."

you may remember this case. in january, 2005, two couples were mugged by a group of seven youths. now, the youngest of these youths is testifying against the leader who pulled the trigger and killed nicole dufresne. tatiana mcdonald, now 16, testified that ms. dufresne taunted rudy fleming, the 19-year-old leader of the pack, going eye to eye with him and shouting: “What are you going to do, you going to shoot us? Is that what you wanted?”

apparently mr. fleming got so angry that he responded to the challenge by shooting ms. dufresne at very close range and killing her. her friends, who apparently kept quiet, were not shot.

so what's the message here? i guess if you end up in a dangerous situation like this one, you don't want to taunt your mugger. the code of the street may demand a response.

biomedical prison research

allen hornblum writes on prisons in the october 6 chronicle of higher education. he isn't concerned with criminological research so much as human medical experimentation ranging from "relatively innocuous studies of deodorants and detergents to dangerous work on dioxin and chemical warfare."

after writing a book on mistreatment in a philadelphia prison from the 1940s to the 1970s, professor hornblum is today concerned that a new national academies report (Ethical Considerations for Research Involving Prisoners) will greenlight a new generation of biomedical research on prisoners.

i applaud any national academies report that will help prevent abuses of prisoners, but professor hornblum does raise some troubling questions.

first, we know about the risks to the subjects of such research, but what are the benefits to prisoners? do we really need to be testing cosmetics on inmates (rather than, say, supermodels who might actually use such products)? given the absence of health care for prison releasees, how many subjects could even afford the costly drugs they tested?

second, aside from biomedical companies and individual researchers, who else wins and loses in such research? the state? what about the non-prisoners paid to offer up their bodies for medical experimentation? will they be undercut by cheaper and more plentiful prison "volunteers?"

third, to what extent do normal human subjects procedures apply behind prison walls? while principles of voluntariness and confidentiality are given great weight by internal review boards, they can be extremely difficult to achieve in a coercive environment such as a prison.*

i complain as loudly as anyone whenever i must go through several sets of arduous human subjects procedures before i can ask prisoners fairly innocuous questions (e.g., whether and how they voted). i don't anticipate another tuskegee, but a new wave of high-profit biomedical research will certainly require continued vigilance to prevent similar abuses.

*for example, one prison administrator discouraged me from paying inmates for the interviews published in locked out. s/he said that if i offered as little as two dollars per interview, almost every inmate would want to participate and this would create problems among those not selected for interviews. this was an exaggeration, but not that far from reality -- where else would two dollars seem like a coercive inducement?

Monday, October 2, 2006

another lecture shot to s***

well, i was all set to lecture tomorrow on labeling theory, moral panics, and congressman mark foley. on first reading, his emails to a young page didn't strike me as all that creepy.if you squint a little, you can almost construe them as a dorky but caring adult reaching out as a big brother-type (are you weathering the hurricane ok? what's school like for you this year?).

i wasn't eager to come to the congressman's defense, but i didn't like the way that the pundits cited his resignation as damning evidence that he must be hiding something worse. turns out, of course, he likely was hiding something worse. after reading a transcript of his instant message correspondence from abc news, i'm less interested in even discussing the case in class. yeesh.

on the other hand, his entry into an alcohol rehab program might be a useful sidebar to tomorrow's lecture. there is currently no moral panic swirling around lawful alcohol use -- at least nothing on a scale approaching child sexual abuse. so, alcohol treatment could function as a strategic stigma management technique. the post quotes congressman foley thusly: "I strongly believe that I am an alcoholic and have accepted the need for immediate treatment for alcoholism and other behavioral problems."

by scaling rehab mountain, congressman foley signals that booze is the real problem, relegating his sexual contact with minors to an ancillary grab-bag of other behavioral problems. wonkette has the whole sordid tale.

pains of imprisonment

serving time in prison leaves all kinds of scars -- some visible, some not. two recent news stories have reminded me of this point. first, is the story of the inmate who was forcibly tattooed with the words "Katie's Revenge" in large letters across his forehead. anthony ray stockelman, 39, is serving a life sentence for molesting and murdering a 10-year-old girl named katie. while tattoos are against prison regulations, motivated inmates can be very creative and at least one found a way to leave a permanent reminder of his distaste across stockelman's face. you can see a photo of the tattoo here on cnn's website.

the tacoma news tribune offers the second story about murder defendant ulysses handy III. handy recently plead "guilty as charged" to three counts of aggravated first-degree murder. his plea bargain saved him from a death sentence; instead he will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole. he laughed when family members of his victims spoke of their pain and their hope that he would be killed in prison, telling them in court: "pain is part of life. deal with it. get over it." reporter karen hucks quotes handy as saying that pain was the only constant in his life. in court, he claimed:
"I know why I did what I did,” he said. “It wasn’t over no money. It wasn’t over a jacket. And it ain’t no secret who or what I am,” he continued. “I never covered that up, never tried to … I shoot people, kill people, all that other good stuff, only when I’m provoked. Vengeance, karma, whatever you want to call it. People cross me, I did what I did. And that’s not going to change.”

Handy blamed his inability to feel anything on the eight years he spent in prison for hitting a man over the head with a baseball bat. “I went into prison a kid,” Handy said. “Whatever love or compassion or mercy or sympathy I had, prison took that away from me. Anything I was died a long time ago.”

prison leaves scars on those who live behind the walls, but it does not take away the free will of individuals, and in mr. handy's case, it does not excuse aggravated murder. there's more to the story, of course, including handy's anguished mother begging the victims' families for forgiveness outside of the courtroom, claiming "he was not raised this way." but handy does not want to remember his days as an honor student, a boy scout, and an altar boy. he claims that prison killed all that was good within him.

while prison leaves it mark, there are hundreds of thousands of former inmates who have returned to their communities, changed, but willing to work incredibly hard to rebuild their lives. their stories may not have the high drama that garners media attention, but they are filled with courage, frustration, obstacles, and small triumphs. we should remember them and applaud their efforts even as we condemn the system's many failures.