finally, a chance to benefit from my misspent youth

At a lot of colleges nation wide the effort is being made to tighten up online security. I can’t really object to this, save to observe that the end result is almost never as good as one might hope. Part of these security improvement efforts, however, is almost always a drive towards “more secure passwords” where “more secure” is defined as “pretty much impossible to remember without writing it down.” And it goes without saying that writing down your password is at best unwise and at worst a violation of the university code.*

Oddly, however, I am not troubled by these increasingly ornery passwords. Why? Because as a young man I rather foolishly wished to be a science fiction writer. And while my career as a writer never amounted to much, it is now paying off in one dramatic way: I have a simply gigantic backlog of nonsense words at my disposal.

I mean, seriously, do you have any idea what it’s like to have fake alien names stuck in your brain for close to twenty years? Finally- a chance to get some use out of them!

* "Bad boys, bad boys. Whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?"

humane or coldhearted?

From Marty Roney USA TODAY August 14, 2008 via Real Cost of Prisons

“A USA TODAY review of state departments of corrections’ policies found 36 states have some program allowing for the early release of dying or infirm prisoners. . . . Known in some states as medical furlough, humanitarian parole or compassionate release, states with the programs rely on their boards of pardons and paroles to follow up on inmates released for medical reasons, a phone and e-mail survey of states’ departments of corrections showed. . . . The driving force behind medical release of inmates is the rising cost of medical treatment for prison systems, said Ron McCuan, a public health analyst with the National Institute of Corrections, an agency of the Justice Department.”

Older prisoners are generally very low risk for communities. Releasing prisoners who are elderly or ill saves prisons money and seems humane — who wants to die in prison? But people who have been in prison all their lives often have no place to go and no resources to get medical care. The prisons are offloading their most expensive prisoners onto the social welfare institutions of local governments or to life with no supports at all. Which is not to say I see keeping old people in prison to be all that good, either.

li’l didactic aside


Key findings in quantitative social science are often interaction effects in which the estimated “effect” of a continuous variable on an outcome for one group is found to differ from the estimated effect for another group. An example I use when teaching is that the relationship between high school test scores and earnings is stronger for men than for women. Interaction effects are notorious for being much easier to publish than to replicate, partly because it is easy for researchers to forget (?) how they tested many dozens of possible interactions before finding one that is statistically significant and can be presented as though it was hypothesized by the researchers all along.

Various things ought to heighten suspicion that a statistically significant interaction effect has a strong likelihood of not being “real.” Results that imply a plot like the one above practically scream “THIS RESULT WILL NOT REPLICATE.” There are so many ways of dividing a sample into subgroups, and there are so many variables in a typical dataset that have low correlation with an outcome, that it is inevitable that there will be all kinds of little pockets for high correlation for some subgroup just by chance.

Examples of such findings in the published literature are left as an exercise for the reader.

i didn’t know…

That John McCain graduated 894 out of 899 students from the Naval Academy. That’s in the bottom 0.6%. Which is shocking to me. Especially since class rank takes into account grades, conduct, and leadership. I know this isn’t a political blog. And I am about to write a post bemoaning the lack of political diversity in sociology. But all that aside, this performance worries me. I was not a college super-star. But I was far from the VERY BOTTOM. It seems he barely got by, and was greatly helped by the fact that his father and grandfather were 4-star admirals in the navy. This makes Bush’s intellect seem downright impressive, by contrast (being in the middle of his class – right next to Kerry, in fact – something which was often overlooked).

irksome iphoto eluded

Thank you, Cain Manor, whoever you are. Thank you, Google Blog Search–you are so much better than plain old Google for this sort of thing.

But while I’m downloading photos from my phone, here’s one of Kid with the penguins at the Biodome.

Yes, LBN, that is a UCSC sweatshirt he is wearing. And here’s one of him on the little train: Continue reading “irksome iphoto eluded”

note and apology

The note is that I’ve set up an archive of my long posts on my own separate blog, Sociological Confessions, so that I can index and categorize them there, and also to have a place I can point to for my relatives and a few other readers who might want to read what I’ve said but are not interested in sociology. I plan to continue posting everything to scatterplot as well as cross-posting to the new blog, unless I get motivated to post something way out of scatterplot’s line, for example a purely-religious reflection. The merely trivial would, of course, be right in scatterplot’s line.

The apology is that I seem to be pinging scatterplot every time I edit an old post in the new blog to set up its categories etc. if it has a scatterplot link in it, for which I’m sorry. I’m trying to figure out how not to do it but you may be seeing these random ping-comments for a while. And feel free to drop an advice comment (or send email) if you wish to help me avoid this.


A friend directed me to this blog the other day. It’s a great place to take a fluff-break.

Not that my taste is universal, but I adore the author’s commentary. Of course, sometimes she shares the stage and it’s just as good. Like here, where I laughed until I cried (appropriately, it appears, as that’s the title of the post).

playing in peoria

[ed. note: Michael Sauder recently escaped from his guest blogging stint at the village–no small feat considering the ever watchful eyes of #2 and that huge white balloon patrolling the perimeter. To provide him with an alternative perspective on the sociology blogosphere, we invited him to tour the Scatterplot facilities and share his impressions.]

Well, it’s no private jet to Montevideo (one way, alas), but Scatterplot recently agreed to go “halfsies” (their word not mine—I’m not even sure how to spell it) on a bus ticket to their offices in Peoria. While the weather isn’t as nice here . . . and the scenery is a bit drab . . . and the only drinks they have to offer are chicory and off-brand bottled water (“Naive”? From Romania?!?), I have to say that what these Scatterplotarians lack in funds, they more than make up for in friendliness, foosball, and the freedom to leave when I want to. The relaxed atmosphere is refreshing and makes one wonder if other sociology blogs haven’t become a bit too corporate.  Here, for example, I have heard no mention of the “Bottom Line,” and I have yet to be handed a memo about how “hits” are the “profit” of the blog world. It’s also hard to imagine receiving the following letter from Scatterplot:

Continue reading “playing in peoria”

public sociology in farmtown: #6 what’s going on?

In this episode: details about problems and programs, some startling facts about returning prisoners, a brief eruption around mistaken racial identity, we talk about mentoring. Again, a mosaic of experiences. Remember, these discussions are not being “performed” for Whites; the point is a group dominated by people of color are trying to understand what is going on and what they can do to contribute to solutions.

Next up is a panel of six people from Unitown, all in their thirties to sixties. None were here yesterday for the first day of the conference. They are a White woman who runs a faith-based nonprofit with a significant prisoner reentry project; an Asian woman community organizer; a Black man who has been a local politician and is head of Unitown’s office of equal opportunity; a Black man who is a former prisoner who is now the head of a returning prisoner’s organization, and a Black married couple (both professionals) who have been involved in a lot of different activist projects; she is now chair of Unitown’s Equal Opportunity Commission. I know five of them from the various groups I’ve worked in and have heard much of what they say before. My notes are details that caught my attention. Continue reading “public sociology in farmtown: #6 what’s going on?”

reasons i am not a rock star

#437. A commercial during the Olympics has brought back that “I’ve Got Soul, But I’m Not A Soldier” song. If I were a musician and that lyric had come to come to me in a dream, when I awoke I would have thought, “That makes no sense,” and started checking my e-mail and foraging for Coke Zero.

Update: I didn’t express this well. The problem is not as much that the lyrics do not make sense per se but that they tautly flout a certain kind of sense. I wouldn’t have any problem if I had the lyric “The number four is a coffeemaker” in my head all day. It would give me a little bit of chronic mental squick, however, if the lyric was “The number four is my favorite prime number.” I’m not going to lose any sleep over it: I’ve got Ambien (but I’m not ambidextrous).


I was chatting with an older male colleague about being on sabbatical but feeling kind of frustrated because I’m spending time visiting my ill mother and talking to her every day on the phone.  He said, “You don’t want to waste your sabbatical that way.  Can’t you get out of all that?”  I just looked at him for a couple of seconds, then said, “I could, if I’m willing to be a total jerk.”

I could go on about all this implies about world views, but maybe I’ll just let this speak for itself.