NYT crossword: “I merely bought myself a McMansion, and now I’m ___!”

I don’t know how often McMansions appear in crossword puzzles but here is a recent example from the New York Times:

The crossword clue for today new york times crossword puzzle is I merely bought myself a McMansion, and now I’m ___! , and the right or the best answer for I merely bought myself a McMansion, and now I’m ___! is :


Could also work with “I just walked into the University of Michigan football stadium, and now I’m ___!”

See the full solved puzzle here. And clue here is playing off the theme of staying in jail:

THEME: hoosegow —  fill in the blank clues that treat literally some figurative terms for being in prison. All clues begin “I merely…” and end “… and now I’m ___!,” the idea being that the speaker is talking as if he’s been put in prison for doing something, when the prison term is actually just a literal description of what the speaker was doing.

If intended this way, this would fit how many McMansion critics might feel about having to live in such a house…

NIMBY conundrum: live near a prison or McMansions?

Here is a letter to editor that presents a dilemma: would the average American rather live near a prison or a large McMansion development?

After all, the new facility could very well provide an experience so rewarding and beneficial that an inmate would not want to leave. The main benefit will actually be to provide developers the 700 acres of valuable land the prison now occupies in order to build McMansions. I’ll bet the board will surely come up with many ways the prison proposal will benefit all of us. But the “in” crowd will be the only beneficiaries. You and I will suffer a tax increase.

Neither of these options would be very attractive. Prisons involve convicted criminals and ugly buildings. McMansions involve large garish houses and new infrastructure costs. However, prisons bring jobs and McMansions bring new housing options. If presented with only these two options, I suspect more people would settle for McMansions. But, these same people would probably want to do what they can in their communities to avoid a choice like this in the first place.

Supermax prison looks like suburban sprawl from the air?

A photographer taking and examining aerial photos of prisons made an interesting connection: the prisons look like suburban sprawl from the air.

High above the Arizona desert in 2010, after a day of photographing housing developments, Christoph Gielen looked down from the helicopter upon Arizona State Prison Complex-Florence. The hexagonal arrangement of the prison site, to him, replicated the six-sided concentric order of suburbs he’d shot previously. That chance observation kickstarted a three-year project called American Prison Perspectives, in which Gielen examines the architecture of Supermax prisons via aerial photos…

“I want to expose the prevailing trend toward building increased-security prison systems, and illustrate how prison design and architecture do, in fact, reflect political discourse, economic priorities, cultural sentiments and social insecurities,” says Gielen. “What does our ongoing tolerance of solitary confinement say about us as a society?”

Alas, there is not much talk here about the possible connections between the design of suburbs and high-security prisons. However, I imagine the commentary consistent with common critiques of the suburbs might go like this: we shouldn’t be surprised at this because suburban patterns are meant to help isolate and imprison people. A difference is that Americans might be self-isolating (though one could argue there is certainly a social and cultural push toward the suburbs) and prisoners have little choice in these prisons. But, wouldn’t that make the suburban prison even worse?

It would be interesting to know if there is any tangible connection/influence between these two kinds of designs…

Argument: we could have skewed survey results because we ignore prisoners

Several sociologists suggest American survey results may be off because they tend to ignore prisoners:

“We’re missing 1% of the population,” said Becky Pettit, a University of Washington sociologist and author of the book, “Invisible Men.” “People might say, ‘That’s not a big deal.’ “But it is for some groups, she writes — particularly young black men. And for young black men, especially those without a high-school diploma, official statistics paint a rosier picture than reality on factors such as employment and voter turnout.

“Because many surveys skip institutionalized populations, and because we incarcerate lots of people, especially young black men with low levels of education, certain statistics can look rosier than if we included” prisoners in surveys, said Jason Schnittker, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania. “Whether you regard the impact as ‘massive’ depends on your perspective. The problem of incarceration tends to get swept under the rug in lots of different ways, rendering the issue invisible.”

Further commentary in the article suggests sociologists and others, like the Census Bureau, are split on whether they think including prisoners in surveys is necessary.

Based on this discussion here, I wonder if there is another issue here: is getting slightly better survey results through picking up 1% of the population going to significantly affect results and policy decisions? If not, some would conclude it is not worth the effort. But, Petit argues some statistics could change a lot:

Among the generally accepted ideas about African-American young-male progress over the last three decades that Becky Pettit, a University of Washington sociologist, questions in her book “Invisible Men”: that the high-school dropout rate has dropped precipitously; that employment rates for young high-school dropouts have stopped falling; and that the voter-turnout rate has gone up.

For example, without adjusting for prisoners, the high-school completion gap between white and black men has fallen by more than 50% since 1980, says Prof. Pettit. After adjusting, she says, the gap has barely closed and has been constant since the late 1980s. “Given the data available, I’m very confident that if we include inmates” in more surveys, “the trends are quite different than we would otherwise have known,” she says…

For instance, commonly accepted numbers show that the turnout rate among black male high-school dropouts age 20 to 34 surged between 1980 and 2008, to the point where about one in three were voting in presidential races. Prof. Pettit says her research indicates that instead the rate was flat, at around one in five, even after the surge in interest in voting among many young black Americans with Barack Obama in the 2008 race.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

The effect of race in presidential pardons

An analysis from ProPublica shows that whites benefit more from presidential pardons:

In an in-depth investigation of the presidential pardons process, published this week, ProPublica found that white applicants were nearly four times as likely to succeed as minorities, even when factors such as the type of crime and sentence were considered.

The president ultimately decides who gets a pardon, but Presidents George W. Bush and Obama have relied heavily on recommendations from the Office of the Pardon Attorney inside the Justice Department.

The experts ProPublica talked to don’t all agree on exactly what should be done. Sociologist Frank Dobbin has this suggestion:

“If the goal you want is equivalence for black and whites, the solution should not be to put in more bureaucracy to limit decision-makers’ authority,” Dobbin said. “The solution should probably be some oversight system where the numbers are looked at regularly, and then decisions should be revisited when it looks like there’s some disparity.”

Studies show that more minorities get jobs when companies track race and appoint an individual or board to independently review hiring decisions, Dobbin said.

A number of other experts seem to agree: having an independent board review the decisions would help keep the issue of race at the forefront and help avoid implicit biases.

My first thought when reading this is that why should we expect this to be any different knowing that the criminal justice system is tilted statistically against non-whites and away from white-collar crimes. If traffic stops, convictions, jail time, and death-row decisions are influenced by race, why wouldn’t pardons?

My second thought: are presidential pardons archaic? Do they really benefit society or are they about tradition or political favors (see the recently-revealed disagreement between George W. Bush and Dick Cheney over pardoning Scooter Libby)?

According to the analysis, some other factors that help people get pardons include having “letters of congressional support” and being married.

Not something to be thankful for: the US as world leader in incarceration

The United States is a world leader in incarceration:

The United States has 2.3 million people behind bars, almost one in every 100 Americans. The U.S. prison population has more than doubled over the past 15 years, and one in nine black children has a parent in jail.

Proportionally, the United States has four times as many prisoners as Israel, six times as many as Canada or China, eight times as many as Germany and 13 times as many as Japan…

There’s also a national election in the United States soon. This issue isn’t on the agenda. It’s almost never come up with Republican presidential candidates; one of the few exceptions was at a debate in September when the audience cheered the notion of executions in Texas.

Barack Obama, the first black president, rarely mentions this question or how it disproportionately affects minorities. More than 60 percent of the United States’ prisoners are black or Hispanic, though these groups comprise less than 30 percent of the population.

The fact that this isn’t even part of the political discourse is very interesting in itself. I suspect it is because that no politician can afford to look even somewhat soft on crime. Why is this? Two quick reasons not mentioned in this article:

1. We tend to emphasize punitive punishments in the United States. Not all countries have this same belief – Norway is a good example of a contrasting approach.

2. Crime is so sensationalized and the average citizen really does believe that they are at risk. If people really think they could be victims at any time, it is little surprise that we put so much money into fighting crime and housing prisoners.

And, as the article suggests, there is no arguing that race and social class play a role.