- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 1, 2003

Noble: "Mr. Sociology," Robert K. Merton.
One of America's most influential sociologists, Mr. Merton was the first to utter the phrase "self-fulfilling prophecy" and the first to conceive the idea of "unintended consequences" of social action. He also was the father of the focus group.
Washington wouldn't be the same without his work. While many would argue that his expression "role model" has been all but ignored by most inside the Beltway, Mr. Merton also was one of the first to investigate the dysfunctional aspects of bureaucracies. In his paper "Bureaucratic structure and personality," he tried to explain how the bureaucratic mentality is established and where red tape comes from. He observed that for a bureaucracy to operate successfully, its members have to conform to a high degree with established rules and practices. That insistence on following standard operating procedures can be exaggerated to the point of transforming the actual goal of an agency into a pile of forms that must be properly filled out.
His highly influential "Strain Theory," which posited that social deviance was the consequence of a society that demanded the fulfillment of certain social goals without providing individuals the means to achieve them, was used by some to legitimize criminal behavior. However, the theory was also a key part of the decision made to desegregate America's schools in Brown vs. Board of Education.
He wrote, co-wrote or edited nearly 20 books, most notably "Social Theory and Social Structure" and "On the Shoulders of Giants." The recipient of many awards, honorary degrees and fellowships, he was the first sociologist to win a National Medal of Science (1994).
Mr. Sociology was 92 years old when he died this week.

Knave: Snowball shooter Joseph Best.
A father who is hit by an errant snowball usually takes that as an excuse to join the fun responding with a volley of his own or a blast from his snowblower. If extremely provoked, he might even inflict an icy face washing on the offending party. Regardless of how much snow he is eventually covered in, he will be enough of an adult to enjoy being a child for the few precious minutes of the snowball fight.
That wasn't the case for Joseph Best, who threw away both his prerogative as a father, and his sense of morality, during a snowball fight in Philadelphia earlier this week. While he and his family were leaving church on Sunday, Mr. Best's daughter was hit in the face with a snowball. After Mr. Best joined what, to that point had been a friendly neighborhood battle, the gloves came off and the fisticuffs began so much so that the police had to be called in to break up the fight.
Whatever whitewashings he received weren't enough to cool Mr. Best's anger. He left the scene warning, "I've got something for you all. I'll be back."
He returned a few hours later with his wife. As she drove by a group of young girls, Mr. Best leaned out the window and fired at least five shots at them with a 9-mm weapon. One shot struck 10-year-old Ebony Smith, who had not even been in the previous snowball fight, in the head. At last account, she was in critical but stable condition at a Philadelphia hospital.
Mr. Best and his wife were arrested the next day and charged with attempted murder.
For his senseless snowball shooting, Mr. Best is knave of the week.

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