These are excerpts from two longer statements written by Ida Thomas, an older Black woman who only completed the ninth grade and considers herself uneducated. She and I are members of the same racial disparities task force. She has a son who has been in prison. She wrote up her ideas because she wanted me to speak for her at a meeting she could not attend. Most of her writing focused on concrete recommendations relevant to the task force agenda. But I was blown away by some of what she said and wanted to share it. She specifically asked me to edit what she wrote so it would sound good, and I have complied by doing minimal editing for spelling and grammar. All the ideas and word choices are hers. I am posting this to my blog with her permission after reading it to her and receiving her approval. She wants her name used.

What we Blacks fail to realize is that we have invaded their town. We are on their turf now. It’s do like we say or go to prison, for sometimes petty stuff. And we did wrong by coming here, trying to change their ways. They only know how to protect their own color. They are not used to us. Especially the way we think or act. Every race has its own culture. I don’t think this will ever change here if you ask me, Ida. They really want us to go away like the wind, rain, winter and summer.  It’s a nice place to live if you can stay out of their system. But can you be sure to do that here? No. It’s like in the slave days here. Yes Madam, yes sir, you are right. Every Black person here is living on borrowed time for freedom. You have to walk a straight and narrow line. Please let’s change this.

. . .

Many White people do not know how to deal with Blacks here in Wisconsin — they look at us like we are from another planet. Their culture is much different than ours. We think differently, look at life differently. We need people in our culture that will defend us, that understand our way of thinking.  Where are those people for us to communicate with?  .  .  . * Your best bet is to stay out of trouble if you can here, or you will end up with your back up side the wall like so many have done before. It is said, come down here on vacation, go back on paper.**  But that’s not true about going back on paper, because sometimes they want you to stay down here and finish your paper here. That’s unfair because if you sneeze the wrong way you will be going to prison to finish up some of your time. You are never free here.  .  .  .  It’s is a beautiful place to live but there is a price that you have to pay to live here. Myself, I love it here.  But Madison keeps you walking a straight line on a narrow path. Let’s live and let live.

* The omitted material talks at length about the lack of Black judges, district attorneys, public defenders, and police.

** To be “on paper” is to be on probation or parole, i.e. living in the community but under correctional supervision.

the scatterplot effect

E-mail lists are dying. So says the Chronicle (thanks for the heads up, Dana!). Why? Because of blogs. I personally welcome fewer emails. Then again, I think it’s kinda fresh that I pretend like unwanted emails take up oh-so-much-time and therefore complain about them when, really, keeping up on blogs is far more time-consuming. As for the scatterplot effect, there is none. Unless you were planning on joining an email listserv that discusses the mundane issues of a few people’s lives. Orgtheory: those guys are the real murders. Are we losing anything with these deaths?

proposition 8 would have changed my life

Prop 8 was a 1978 statewide ballot initiative that proposed to ban gay men and lesbians (as well as their supporters) from being employed as teachers in public schools. I didn’t learn about the proposition, which was defeated, until I was all grown up. But way back in 1978, I was in a California elementary school, sitting in the classroom of my 5th-grade teacher, who I am pretty sure is gay. I don’t know if I knew he was gay at the time, but by the time I hit middle school, everyone gossiped that his partner was the vice principal there, and I imagine that was the true story, though I of course will never know for sure.

But I never suspected that my 2nd-grade teacher was a lesbian until someone posted this photo from a school picnic on facebook. Continue reading “proposition 8 would have changed my life”

hey! where have you been? the san bruno library

I’m in sunny (and hot!) California, visiting my mom for a few days, and whenever I visit my mom, I get a chance to watch a LOT of television. All kinds: true crime, animals attacking people, court television, all at maximum volume. Imagine my surprise when I see this gem of a local commercial:

I was just at the library today, as a matter of fact, but alas, the San Bruno Library is not open on Sundays, so I had to go to Millbrae. Do they have a commercial? No, but they do have lovely tables and free wifi.

correlation, or causality (a: the latter)

From SLACer John’s blog:

I haven’t reviewed many papers, so I am hoping that I have just had bad luck so far, but it seems that every time I agree to review a paper it has serious flaws.

This is not a matter of luck. Papers that a priori seem likely to suck are disproportionately sent to younger reviewers and/or reviewers at less esteemed institutions. In retrospect, I can’t believe that I agreed to review some of the papers I did as an assistant professor (in terms of papers that were both maniacally written and not on a topic I knew anything about), and I certainly wouldn’t do review those papers if asked now.

reference puzzle

The last two times I have been asked to provide a telephone reference for someone, the person asking for the telephone reference began the conversation by informing me that they had decided to make X an offer (and, indeed, at least in one case X already been informed of this decision). I suspect that this not peculiar employer behavior but that there is a rationality to handling telephone references this way. But what is it?

One possibility, I suppose, is it makes the conversations a good deal shorter than they might be if a recommender felt s/he needed to lobby on the applicants’ behalf.

in all seriousness

Dear Jeremy –

In your newfound position of power, how about you make folks publish log files for every paper published by an ASA journal? This could be done on-line somewhere. I’m no stats wiz, but I’ve had a tough time reproducing results before (and so as not to throw everyone else under the bus, this includes a paper I published – which I eventually figured out).

As for ethnographers, etc. – well, I’m not sure how that will work. But you’re smart. You can think of something.



campaign promises

Congratulations to Jeremy Freese, who was elected to the ASA Committee on Publications. Jeremy campaigned on an anti-torture platform that included ending both waterboarding and including publisher cities in bibliographic citations. I hope he can also straighten out that problem with Contemporary Sociology going back to 1972 sociology categories for its book reviews (who cares about race and gender anyway?), which has caused enough email to make my eyes bleed.

Also, big ups to Andy Perrin, elected to the Committee on Committees. Insert joke about the nature of bureaucracy here. As I recall, Andy’s promises included free wifi at the ASA, and lollipops for everyone who presents.

what is your school doing?

The Times has a story about universities making cuts to save money. I am actually one of those believers in the “education bubble” which has yet to burst (particularly for private schools). Here at Columbia we have things like no salary increases, and stopping with planned renovations. The school has also gotten rid of a bunch of maintenance staff. My department is also doing things to cut back (getting rid of the water cooler and public printer). There was almost a riot when no alcohol was served at a Phi Betta Kappa reception at graduation (another cutback). What is your school doing? I particularly like the communications department at UW (Seattle) getting rid of their phones! Continue reading “what is your school doing?”

il bambino

Shamus claims to like my “art” post, although as far as I can tell, the Scatterplot readers are not larded with art history majors. Neverthless, I’ll give you one more art history tidbit I have picked up wandering Italian churches and museuems. I have seen zillions of pictures of Madonna e il Bambino: Mary and baby Jesus. Mary, the Madonna, the Mother of God, has a very stylized portrayal in medieval art that carries into the early Renaissance. She is portrayed almost identically in picture after picture, regardless of artist. There’s a particular face, expression, inclination of the head, and garb that you see over and over. But not Baby Jesus. Every picture is different. What Jesus rarely looks like is an actual baby. Sometimes he looks like a short old man, sometimes a short eight year old, sometimes a baby whose head is too small. What hs is doing varies: he might be looking at Mary, suckling at the breast, looking at the breast, looking out at the viewer, looking off into space, holding the breast, pointing ot the breast, etc. His face is different in every picture. Nothing about him is stylized the way the Madonna is stylized. Absolutely nothing in the limited amout of interpretive material I’ve looked at (which is admittedly not a lot as I know little about art history) saying anything at all about this. So Scatterplotters — we already know you were not art history majors. But what about your friends and loved ones? Does anybody know anything about this?

obama’s relationship with lgbt movement

I checked the NYTimes today to see a leak from his office that he would be announcing benefits for federal employees. The details weren’t clear – and it was pretty clear that health insurance would not be included. But still, I got a warm fuzzy feeling. Then I received a note from HRC about Obama’s amicus brief in support of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Turns out the Obama folks rushed through this benefits plan and leaked it to deflect heat from what is, in my opinion a pretty heinous legal defense of DOMA. In fact, it reads like a Bush administration document. Some gems (stolen from the HRC):

The state should foster “traditional” marriage: Continue reading “obama’s relationship with lgbt movement”

what happens when i forsake automation

Final grades were posted yesterday at 3pm. Within an hour I had an e-mail from a student who received an e-mail saying I gave her a B-minus when she should have gotten an A. She was right. For this class with 120 students, I had a portion of grading that was based on taking the top X out of Y scores.

You can’t do this in Northwestern’s Online Grading Center, I just calculated this part in Excel and entered in the totals by hand, ignoring the suggestion of a friend to figure out how to upload a column from Excel into the Grade Center, because I couldn’t be troubled to figure out such complicated technology when my way was easy enough. Problem was, I transposed two students totals when doing the data entry, so this woman got an official grade of B-minus when she deserved an A and another student got an official grade of B+ when he deserved a C.

So, it’s one thing to change a grade when a student deserves a higher grade than what they got, but how to handle telling somebody that the B+ on their report card is going to be changed to a C? I was going to ask y’all for advice, but then I could figure out how to compose the message myself. Continue reading “what happens when i forsake automation”

they say elephants never forget. the same can be said of trolls.

So, I get back to the office after my trip to the English countryside and there is a mysterious envelope in my inbox for me.  Postmarked “Louisville, KY” and with no return address, even though I don’t know anyone in Louisville.  I open it up and the only thing inside is a single sheet of paper: Continue reading “they say elephants never forget. the same can be said of trolls.”