Wednesday, December 31, 2003

rob's victory haiku (no peeking 'til 2004)

Click here if you don't know why Rob gets a victory haiku to start the new year.

Alas, as it turns out, I am going to a New Years' Eve party in Chicago and so will not be home after all to post my haiku at the stroke of midnight. I apologize for raising anticipation unnecessarily. I had thought about telephoning with it, but then I thought about all the readers out there who have reported not being able to listen to the audio blog posts--and I realized I had to just post it early.

If you are reading this and it's still 2003, feel free not to look any farther before midnight. Indeed, to stall so that the reader can more easily divert their eyes, let me copy-and-paste some online advice for haiku composers, so you will see the kind of counsel one receives when seeking inspiration about this art:
Write only when you have been moved, touched or inspired by an actual experience.

Just relax and be yourself, without straining or effort. So be honest, simple, clear and straightforward.

Say how it is without abstractions, avoid explanations and philosophising, leave space for readers to feel their own responses. [how much explaining a philosophizing can you do in 17 syllables.]

Resist heaviness and overloading; prefer allusion and understatement.

Try to express your feelings through the images you use, rather than actually saying you are "sad" or "lonely". This gives space for the readers to experience those feelings for themselves [yes, the goal is to have you actually feel sad and lonely, rather than just read about it.
Actually, I have three haiku for Rob. I had composed 13 haiku for Anne "Smash" Berry, who [followed closely by her counterpart, Joe "Ax" Berry] led the pool for many weeks prior to Rob's thrilling come from behind victory. I'll present them in order of their fealty to traditional haiku content.

1. Old-school haiku:

fierce little sausage
snaps bites tongues to guard secret
no meat, only soy

2. Middle-school haiku:

relentless wolv'rine
leaps and leaps and then at last
plucks down the berries

[um, berries/Berrys, get it?]

3. New-school haiku:

rob may like to win
but he loves more to triumph
with orderliness

Happy New Year from all of us at JFW!!!


Increasing evidence of cognitive decline from William Safire in today's NYT column where he offers a multiple choice quiz about predictions for the New Year:
In last year's office pool, for the second year running, I accurately predicted the best-picture Oscar winner. Forget all of the other predictions, which were varying degrees of mistaken; I shoulda been a film critic.


9. Best-Picture Oscar: (a) Anthony Minghella's "Cold Mountain"; (b) Edward Zwick's "The Last Samurai"; (c) Clint Eastwood's "Mystic River"; (d) Sofia Coppola's "Lost in Translation"; (e) Gary Ross's "Seabiscuit." (This is the category I'm good at.)
Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, despite having the current advantage on various Oscar Prediction websites (e.g. this one) isn't even listed. Perhaps he read the negative review here on JFW and decided it reflected a consensus view among the discerning audience of academy voters. I'm not saying LOTR: ROTK is going to win, but it certainly has better odds than Seabiscuit or The Last Samurai (the latter not even a Golden Globe nominee) and should have been included in the quiz. Which just goes to show how afield of reality Safire has wandered.

Update, 1/3: I just looked on Tradesports, my preferred source for market-based probability estimates, and LOTR: ROTK is trading at around 60, meaning that the market sees it as having a better chance of winning the Oscar than all the contenders Safire listed combined.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

ringing in the new year

I need to come up with my annual-rhyming-resolution-slogan for the New Year. Previous slogans have been either too easily accomplished ("Wear something blue in 2002!"), too difficult ("I won't pee in 2003!"), or too self-destructive (see 2003 slogan, as well as "Get nothing done in 2001!") as to run counter to the spirit of the holiday. I thought I had this year's slogan all picked out, and then I realized that "Stop being such an [expletive deleted] slob in 2004!" doesn't actually rhyme (and may be Me Being Too Hard On Myself, to boot). Any ideas? I mean, besides "Blog no more in 2004!"

worse years than yours

How things have gone for Kerry and Lieberman at are market-based probability estimates that particular candidates will win the Democratic nomination. Note that it's a European website and so the x-axis is day#/month#.

what three years hast wrought

The 2000 General Social Survey asked respondents if they knew the name of any search engines, and then, if they said yes, asked them to name one. Only 12 of the 516 (2.3%) people who said they could name a search engine named "Google." Over 60% said "Yahoo."

Actually, as a trip down cyber-memory-lane, here is the full table:
    name of search |

engine given by r | Freq. Percent Cum.
yahoo | 315 61.05 61.05
lycos | 33 6.40 67.44 | 1 0.19 67.64
gopher | 1 0.19 67.83
all the web | 1 0.19 68.02
msn | 7 1.36 69.38
ebay | 1 0.19 69.57
infoseek | 10 1.94 71.51
altavista | 26 5.04 76.55
explorer | 7 1.36 77.91
netscape | 14 2.71 80.62
isearch | 1 0.19 80.81
excite | 19 3.68 84.50
aol | 17 3.29 87.79
java | 1 0.19 87.98
webcrawler | 4 0.78 88.76
hotbot | 7 1.36 90.12
google | 12 2.33 92.44
copernic | 1 0.19 92.64
ask jeeves | 3 0.58 93.22
iwon | 5 0.97 94.19
dogpile | 6 1.16 95.35 | 1 0.19 95.54
browser | 1 0.19 95.74
northern lights | 1 0.19 95.93 | 1 0.19 96.12
netfind | 2 0.39 96.51
keysearch | 1 0.19 96.71
metacrawler | 2 0.39 97.09 | 1 0.19 97.29
snap | 3 0.58 97.87
go | 2 0.39 98.26
myway | 1 0.19 98.45
fuse | 1 0.19 98.64
espn | 1 0.19 98.84 | 1 0.19 99.03
bizrate | 1 0.19 99.22
sherlock | 1 0.19 99.42
lynco | 1 0.19 99.61
4anything | 1 0.19 99.81
navistar | 1 0.19 100.00

stay in the game

While this perhaps runs afoul of my nothing-remotely-risque-this-is-a-Family-Weblog rule, this article in Slate made me laugh out loud a couple of times, which I almost never do huddled alone at my keyboard.

winner, 2003 JFW award for best use of the qualifier 'may'

From "The FBI is warning police nationwide to be alert for people carrying almanacs, cautioning that the popular reference books covering everything from abbreviations to weather trends could be used for terrorist planning... The FBI noted that use of almanacs or maps may be innocent, 'the product of legitimate recreational or commercial activities.'"

rewarding nakedness

From First, a late entry to the superfluous statistic of the year contest:
"'Paris Hilton' is the No. 1 fake name used by people calling for pizza deliveries, according to a survey of Domino's Pizza drivers in Washington, D.C., released Monday by the pizza delivery chain. And 38 percent of those using the name of the socialite model ordered pepperoni topping.
Is 38% a lot? What is the non-Paris-Hilton % of pepperoni pizza orders? Can someone call Domino's for me on this? Rob? Is there some sly innuendo here I'm missing? Am I being desperately unhip yet again?

But then, a couple of paragraphs later, a more intriguing statistic:
According to the survey of 630 drivers, nine percent of people who answer the door in the nude tip more than 20 percent, compared with 2 percent of people in pajamas."
Say this difference was indeed real some artifact of the delivery-driver-survey-method. Hypotheses? I suppose the first question is whether one thinks this is a between-person or within-person difference: that is, is it that people who are more likely to order a pizza and answer a door nude are more likely to be big tippers (more generous even during those times when they are wearing clothes), or that people are bigger tippers when in the situation where they are answering the door nude (as opposed to occasions when they are clothed). If the latter, is it because when somebody answers the door nude they are more likely to be in a good mood? Or, are they less concerned with getting change back since they don't have anywhere to put it?

Update: Rob replies:
Here are 1998 stats on Domino's pizza toppings:

The most commonly used toppings (excluding cheese) were:
(1) Pepperoni (24 million pounds)
(2) Italian Sausage (13 million pounds)
(3) Mushrooms (9.3 million pounds)
(4) Ham (7.6 million pounds)
(5) Hamburger (6.7 million pounds)
(6) Onions (4.7 million pounds)
(7) Bacon (2.3 million pounds)

These seven toppings all add up to 67.6 million pounds. If we add an
"Other" category and throw in a couple more million pounds to round up to
70 million pounds, and we assume that 1998 is like any other year, and we
make the additional assumption that one order of any given topping will
equal the same weight, and then we also assume that the likelihood of
ordering an "extra" amount of any topping is equal across toppings, and
then we make one final assumption that any other problem associated with
making an estimate based on the above data magically disappears, then I
would guess that of all Domino's pizzas ordered, 34.3% of them have
pepperoni on them.

So what does this mean? Well, if we can assume that Washington D.C. is
like any other city (the city used for the "Paris Hilton study"), it means
that people who use the name Paris Hilton when ordering Domino's Pizza are
more likely to order pepperoni on their pizza (38% of them did this) than
those who do not use the name Paris Hilton.

Yes, but is the difference significant?

To me it is.

No, is the difference statistically significant?

Oh, I don't really know about that.

One methodological note: if we don't round up to 70 million pounds, and we
just use the 67.6 million pounds as the denominator, we find that the
percentage is 35.5%, still below the Paris Hilton threshold. Conversely,
if we inflate the denominator to 75 million pounds, we get 32.0%, and then
we really do need to start getting into the "Paris Hilton/Pepperoni"
subculture theories, not to mention putting together a separate ASA
section devoted to this topic...
Thanks Rob!

Monday, December 29, 2003


I'm possibly in the market for some new furniture for the RV. I was looking at sofas online while talking to a friend on the phone, and we had this exchange:

Said in a tentative, but hopeful, voice:"What about the Studio Merlot? What do you think of that?"
Reply, as if I had just suggested buying a davenport made out of sculpted feces:"No! Don't get that! That would be so Burlington Coat Factory!!!"

Yikes. Shopping for furniture online was already complicated and nervewracking enough, and now I have to worry that my tastes are going to lead me to buy something that is going to be completely BCF. I've never even been inside a Burlington Coat Factory. I didn't even know they sold furniture. I thought they mainly sold, as quaint as this might sound, coats. I'm wondering if I should go to the BCF on the west side and go in just so I can get a handle on what it is that I should be ruling out.

Update, 9:30: BCF has an online site, including their Christopher Lowell collection. I had never heard of Christopher Lowell until this last trip back to the farm, where it turns out that various members of my family are huge Christopher Lowell fans. They went on about him at some length. "And, he's also really, you know..." "Flamboyant," said my niece. "Froot loops," said another family member. "Froot Loops? " "Froot loops." "You mean, like Froot Loops the cereal or like the toucan that advertises for Froot Loops." "YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN."

Update, 4:30pm next day: A busybody reader from Carson City, NV writes in to protest: "Fruit loops is actually spelled FRUIT, like the things the loops are supposed to taste like." To which I can only respond thusly.


Two ads I cut out from my hometown paper, the Calhoun County Journal-Herald, while I was back for Xmas. I present these to show that the budding music scene there did not die completely when I left and took my special brand of hip-hop with me.

things that spoil

[warning: contains spoiler-like substance. do not continue reading if you have not yet seen Mystic River and want to remain innocent of information that will spoil all suspense for you if you do. you have been warned. JFW will use this warning to aggressively defend its interest in any spoiler-based lawsuits. trying to sue JFW for spoiling Mystic River will almost certainly result in your being bankrupted both financially and karmically by our specially-genetically-engineered high-priest-sherpa litigators.]

I saw Mystic River yesterday. It was fine, although the reviews had led me to expect better. For stories where the villains are supposed to be Real Human characters as opposed to cartoonish ones, filmmakers often resort to two tried-and-true back-story tactics in explaining how someone can become a villain: (1) something really bad happened to them as a child; (2) they have some kind of desperation- and resentment-generating physical disability (think: Mr. Potter in It's A Wonderful Life). About 3/5ths of the way through Mystic River, immediately once the provenance of the gun used in the murder was discovered, I thought to myself, wow, they are setting up a whodunit puzzle between the adult-who-had-been-kidnapped-and-sexually-abused-as-a-child [Type (1) villain] and the mute kid [Type (2) villain]. And, lo, it turns out that there has been enough homicide to go around for both!

Okay, so I will use this paragraph so that someone who doesn't want to read this post because they know it contains a spoiler, but then has their eyes wander to the end of the page, doesn't actually get any true spoiler information. So, fake spoilers will follow. I was surprised when Laurence Fishburne killed Sean Penn at the end. I was also surprised when Sean Penn and Susan Saradon secretly switched places, so that the Susan Saradon character ended up getting executed, while Sean Penn ended up becoming a nun who was secretly married to the Tim Robbins character. Likewise, I was surprised when the Kevin Bacon character was able to pull off the high school dance after all, and that Tom Hanks was able to get him and Gary Sinise back to Earth safely, even if Gary Sinise did lose his legs and become a shrimp magnate in the process. Who would ever have guessed?

final upgrade for 2003?

JFW has spruced things up once again! Scroll all the way down to the bottom and you can see that we have now added the ability to Google-search everything that has ever been posted on JFW.

(sports) believe the hype

Excepting a small coda three days hence, Rob's NFL pool has come to an end. My conniving half-sister Dahlia made a bold comeback, but in the end it proved not to be enough. From Rob's e-mail of the results:
After week #12, Dahlia "Snuffleupagus" Hawkins was in 8th place and was 8

points behind 1st place. This would mark the low point of her season,
never finding herself lower in the standings, in place and in
points-behind-first place. But over the last 6 weeks, Dahlia did the
impossible, SeaBiscuit-ing her way back into contention and winning a
share of the last two weekly championships![...]
Here's how Dahlia has progressed since week #12:

After: Place Points Behind 1st Place
Week #12 8 8
Week #13 6 5
Week #14 6 2
Week #15 6 3
Week #16 4 2
Week #17 3 0
Coupling Dahlia's dramatic surge with Rob "Babycakes" Clark gaining one

precious point on Anne "Smash" Berry, our little pool finds itself with a
three-way tie for 1st place in the final standings!
So, implementing our
"Number of Weekly Championships" tiebreaker, we derive the following final
prize positions:
1st Place: Rob Clark (6 weekly championships) ($180 + Haiku Prize)

2nd Place: Anne Berry (3 weekly championships) ($75 Prize)
3rd Place: Dahlia Hawkins (2 weekly championships) ($45 Prize)

ATTENTION. After a series of complicated negotiations made between all
relevant parties and major media outlets, the how's and when's of the
unveiling of Dr. Jeremy Freese's "Haiku to the Champion" has been
determined. At the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, Dr. Jeremy
Freese will post his haiku on his weblog!
This idea is so brilliant and grand (and it is Jeremy's idea), that it

transcends the constraints of linguistic description and reduces me to
uncontrollable babbling. So why not help bring in the New Year with some
poetry, NFL POOL-style? With one eye fixed on the dropping ball, and the
other on the refresh button of your computer, this will be a New Year's
bash you'll never forget!

Sunday, December 28, 2003

says the roese family, "sometimes it's a lucky thing that dad never learned how to read"

From an ad on the back page of the Calhoun County Journal-Herald, my hometown paper:

the sun also rises. but where?

When I drove back to the family farm last week, I drove the southwest stretch from Madison to Dubuque in the afternoon. I commented when I got back home that it was the worst week of the year to be driving southwest at sunset, as the winter solstice is as far south as the sun gets. This led to a discussion of how far north the sunrise is during summer. Basically, the issue is this: does the sun rise and set north of due east and west. My mother insists that it does; that the sunrises at due east at the fall/spring equinox and is north of due east for sunrise from the first day of spring to the first day of fall. However, some aspects of her explanation of this to me made me wonder:

[my Mom takes a pencil and paper and is going to draw a diagram of what she is talking about. She draws two circles.]
"Okay, so the sun goes around the earth, right? The sun goes around the earth."
"Well, um, I think it's generally thought to be the other way around. The sun stands still and we, you know, go around it. And, uh, the earth also, you know, spins."

Anyway, I know my mom has paid more attention to sunrises and sunsets than I ever did, so despite my intuition that the sun was always to the south for people north of the tropics (that moss grows on the north side of trees, that solar panels were always on the south roof of houses, that the gnomon on sundials always pointed south, etc.), I believed her when she said the sun rose to the northeast. And, lo, some checking on the web shows she was right.

Here's a diagram of the path of the sun on the first day of spring/winter.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

location, location, location

Whenever I go back to the Freese Family Farm for the holidays, I always go through the previous year's issues of the Calhoun County Journal-Herald (my Mom saves them for me). I clipped various things out and will probably be posting some of them over the next few days.

One story while I was there was that the nearby town of Pomeroy (pop. ~1000) had organized a promotion where it planned to raffle off a brand-new house on Xmas eve. Part of the purpose of the promotion, as far as I could tell, was to generate buzz and excitement about the idea of living in Pomeroy, even though there isn't anything there except for a convenience store and a couple of bars (which, when I graduated high school, were named The Bar and The No-Name Bar). Tickets cost $100, and the promotion advertised that they would only sell 900 tickets (thereby raising $90K for what in the photos looked like a pretty decent new home). Fine print said that the raffle would only be held if all 900 tickets were sold, and if not sold the money would be returned. My father bought a ticket. He got word on Xmas eve that he could come get his money back. According to his report, not only did they not sell 900 tickets, but they only sold 70-some of them.

The ad below gives you an idea on the trends in the price of real estate in the area:

it's supposed to be boring. it's french.

Given my recent comments on LOTR: ROTK, one might think this was the film that I enjoyed least among all those that are regularly appearing on the Critics' Top 10 lists that are coming out this week. Especially since I don't see that many movies. Alas. That dis-tinction goes to To Be and To Have, the documentary about a French teacher in a rural one-room schoolhouse. Here, just like I think the difference in reaction to LOTR: ROTK can be explained mainly by my not having read the books, I think the difference with 2B&2H can be explained mainly by my not speaking French. I am sure all the darnedest things the kids say would have come across as much more cute had I not been reading them off subtitles. Instead, it was boring; the only reason that I stayed until the end is that I wasn't seated on an aisle. I saw the film with my friend Erin in Chicago, and afterwards we agreed: you know there is something wrong when you are watching a documentary about real children, and you are sitting there secretly hoping that one of them gets killed or abused or something just to liven things up.

Update, Sunday: I saw Lost in Translation yesterday. Now, there's a great movie, which goes to show that I am not surly toward all things cinematic, or surly toward all films where not much happens. Even though not much happens in Lost in Translation, things don't happen at a good pace, and it also has the attention-sustaining advantages of considerable emotional and thematic depth. If the French kids in To Be and To Have had been flown to Japan and set loose in a hotel with Scarlett Johansson, I'm sure I would have found 2B&2H more interesting.

idle googling, #1

I am tempted to compose a lengthy paean to Google, but will spare you (at least for now). However, one of the most wonderful things about Google is how you can use it to shore up a vague memory of something that pops into your mind. Pre-google, fragments of some random incident would wander into my mind, and I would try to remember how the story went, but then unless I knew some specific place to search for it, I would have to be content that whatever I managed to remember was all there was I could readily retrieve. Not anymore! Instead, my tendency to remember shards of proper nouns, etc., is able to be digitally enhanced until the entire story is retrieved in more detail than I even knew it in the first place.

Example? Just now: "paul larson press your luck" Various hits, including this one from the Urban Legends site:
In 1984 an Ohio man put together an astounding run on the television game show Press Your Luck. He did so by memorizing the sequences by which the various prize squares lit up on the game board, allowing him to time his button presses to coincide with the lights' stopping on the most advantageous squares. By hitting 35 such squares in a row, he was able to accumulate the largest win in the history of that show, and he did it all in under an hour. When the effort became too fatiguing, he passed his remaining spins to another contestant rather than risk losing his accumulated winnings to a mistimed press of the plunger.

Michael Paul Larson came by the idea after speculating that the "whammies" (the nickname given to the turn-ending prize-gobbling brown monsters that would at times pop up in squares hit by the contestant) might be appearing only in certain positions on the board and therefore could be completely avoided by someone who had memorized the patterns of their appearances. He began videotaping the show to see if the lights moved randomly. Almost immediately, he found that they did not move randomly, and he discovered that certain three-square sequences were repeated again and again. He deduced there was some commonality to these repetitions, and after an additional six weeks of study he realized that the board utilized only six patterns, each consisting of a fixed sequence of eighteen numbers. After that, it was but a matter of memorizing those six patterns, then getting on the show.

As a contestant, Larson gained control of the board by answering a question correctly, than began landing on a sequence of prize squares that provided him with $3,000, $4,000, or $5,000, as well as another spin. By hitting these types of squares again and again, he held control of the board for 35 spins, racking up a total of $110,237 before finally relinquishing his turn to someone else.

Game show officials were quick to figure out something wasn't quite kosher when Larson sped from one high cash square to another with nary a whammy coming into sight, yet they were helpless to end Larson's streak because he wasn't doing anything illegal. Whatever special knowledge Larson had, it didn't amount to cheating. Once he was off the show, the board was recalibrated, and the show moved to set a $75,000 limit on winnings.

As for how this story ended, Larson ran through his game show gains in less than two years and afterwards became an assistant manager at a local Wal-Mart.

Friday, December 26, 2003


I'm back in Madison after my trip home to the farm. One consequence of this most recent trip is that I have now revised my previous casual assessment of the relative intelligence of different breeds of dogs. Hitherto, I have regarded border collies as being the smartest breed of dog, based on various seemingly convergent lines of evidence, including their sheep-herding renown. Accordingly, I was pleased about my family's acquisition of their dog Shelby, who is mostly border collie even if my parents insist on exaggerating her border-collie-to-mutt ratio. This trip home, however, my mother told me about Shelby's odd habit of attacking anything that makes a loud noise (e.g., a running vacuum cleaner), and how it recently came to its bloody apex when my father was cutting down some dead trees and Shelby attacked the chainsaw he was using. This to explain why Shelby's bark does not sound quite the same as it used to.

Thursday, December 25, 2003


Update from Xmas at the Freese Family Farm: My father has started pestering me to take the patent (#5, 273, 277) for his "ball-hitting device" (a.k.a. The Groove-a-Swing) and to try either to "sell the patent or find somebody who'll make 'em for me." He even brought the patent upstairs from wherever he kept it amidst all the junk in the basement. He got the patent ten years ago, and ever since he got it he's been saying "If I was ten years younger, I'd make them and go around and sell them myself." His basic business plan is thus to find someone who is eager to invest whatever would need to be invested to start making Groove-a-Swings, is eager to do all the work of finding baseball and softball coaches/parents out there who are willing to pay for Groove-a-Swings, and is willing to give my dad half of all profits because, after all, It Was His Idea. Either that, or he is willing to sell His Idea for many tens of thousands of dollars. He has had no takers for either option, and now, as he approaches seventy years old, he apparently wishes for me to take up this cause as my own.

As a surly coda, note, incidentally, that it really is not very surprising that I would be the sort to have an abiding intellectual interest in questions about genetics and the extent to which people can escape their pasts.

dispatch from the freese family farm, iowa

[part of phone call last weekend]
Hey, what kind of pop are you drinking these days, I'll pick some up.
Diet Pepsi Twist.

[call back, next day]
Hey, I'm going over to Fort Dodge shopping. When you said the Pepsi Twist, was it the regular or the diet?
Diet Pepsi Twist, Mom.
So, the diet, right?
Yes, Diet Pepsi Twist.

[soon after arriving home, I go to get a soda from the refrigerator downstairs. then I come back upstairs, soda in hand.]
Mom, remember when you called up just to ask me whether it was regular Pepsi Twist or Diet Pepsi Twist?
Didn't I get you the diet?
It's fine. But what you got is, um, regular Pepsi Twist.
[looking at can] I thought that was the diet.
No, the diet is in a light blue can and, you know, has the word "diet" on it sorta up here. In red, I think. Don't worry about it.
You know, I had the darnedest time in Hy-Vee finding the Twist, that Diet Pepsi Twist.
I'm sorry. Although, you know, technically Mom, you didn't actually find the Diet Pepsi Twist, this is the regular Pepsi Twist.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

bored audio dispatch from highway 20, iowa

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'tis the season

I filled out the Nader exploratory committee survey again today. What I wrote: "While I would rather Ralph not run for the presidency, I will still love him if he does. I will continue to love him even he makes the political left in America even more impotent than it already is. I love him unconditionally. He is always welcome to stay on the couch in my RV whenever he visits Madison. He can use my car while he's here, although I would have to get the speedometer and seat belts fixed. Please tell Ralph that I wish him joy and peace this holiday season."

Monday, December 22, 2003

reruns roasting on an open fire

My beloved mother has officially cancelled Christmas this year. Long story, involving an maternal executive decision to allocate the money that she saves every year for the holiday to something else. After some fairly large Mom-logic leaps, this led to the proclamation of Absolutely No Gifts, followed by the decree that There Will Be No Holiday Decorations. This is all fine by me. The only problem is, I'm still going home for Christmas, as will two other of my siblings, and I'm not entirely sure what we are going to do. My worry, based on past years experience, is that we are going to spend much of the day with the television on. Given that I don't watch television here, I really don't like the idea of driving ten hours just to watch it. A few years ago, I remember that the family ended up sitting around watching some incredibly inane show about a man who got a newspaper every morning that would tell him what was going to happen that day. Another year I remember that my only way of dodging the television was to squirrel away in my room, where I read 1100 pages of fiction in 2 days. And these were years where we did have the present-exchange to occupy some of the time!


[warning: definitely contains spoiler-like substance]

A reader from Minis Tirith, Gondor e-mails:
I haven't seen any of the Lord of the Ring movies, but got a chuckle out of your weblog post... In today's Tribune, BOTH critics named the most recent LOTR as the best movie of 2003. Theories on why the critics love LOTR so much, given your complaints?
The Tribune review I was able to find on the web, by Michael Wilmington, is easy enough to explain: the reviewer was plainly high out of his mind when he wrote it. Just read it and see if you disagree. Or, get some of the guys urine and send it to a lab. Nobody in an ostensible critic role should be that completely giddy about a film. His principal complaint, notice, is that the movie didn't include more scenes of the Saruman character. In other words, he wanted this 3 1/2 hour movie to be longer.

Clearly, from canvassing reactions to the movie from both reviewers and friends, this movie completely casts a spell over some of the people who watch it, and not others. The crucial variable here seems to be whether one has read the books. I haven't. The Tribune, above, has. My friend Corrie, who has already seen the new movie twice, also has. I would be interested in hearing from anyone who feels as positively about the movie as the Tribune reviewer but has never read the books (and is over the age of, say, 14).

My aesthetic first instinct is that a movie should stand on its own and not require that one have read the book to have a comparably enjoyable experience. But, then again, if books have been read by a large enough audience, why shouldn't the movie leverage that and provide an supremely enjoyable exprerience for the readers and a much less enjoyable experience for the non-readers? When I saw the first Harry Potter film (the only one I've seen), I had read the book, but remember wondering how someone could possibly follow what was going on if they hadn't. A film adaptation in this case would be much more a visualization of the book than an adaptation.

In the case of Lord of the Rings, I think the difference in enjoyment depending on whether you read the books stems from several things. First, if you haven't read the book, the plot is hard to follow. Second, there are all kinds of details about the characters that are raised in passing that you don't understand (why is white better than gray? why do people have multiple names?). Third, you don't have pre-established affection for the main characters, and so you might wonder why the movie does so little to establish it (imagine watching a regular action film that did as little to establish the motivations or personalities of its characters as this movie does). Fourth, you have a pre-established appreciation for the significance of the ring, and so you aren't sitting there in the third movie trying to remember what it's significance is (see * note below). Fifth, when things make little sense in terms of narrative timing, like the protracted ending, you are quick to forgive it because it's being loyal to what happens in the books (or, at least, what I've been told about the books).

Anyway, upon reflection, the thing about my own experience watching the movie is that I did feel that some of the scenes were unquestionably visually amazing. The spider. The signal fires, which I was pleased was singled out for praise in the NYT review. The white city, even if it did seem to change in size at various times. The overhead scene of the last battle. Gollum. All that, brilliant, gorgeous, brilliant, gorgeous. But, basically, I think, the sheer length of the battle scenes in the middle wore me down. Even though I hadn't read the books, I had a rough outline in my head of how they had to go (A: bad guys look ominous and unstoppable; B: good guys recover their pluck and inspiration to fight; C: bad guys seem too powerful and overwhelm the courageous fighters; D: the good guys from Rohan ride in and seem to save the day; E: the secret second front troops arrive for the bad guys and all seems lost again; F: the good main characters with their legions of the dead arrive and bring victory... I didn't foresee the last part about storming the gate of Mordor). By the time they all played themselves out, I was desensitized to the special effects and had more than my fill of cinematic violence. I was ready to go. And, so then, to have the ending drag out for so long was torture. Especially when it didn't make all that much sense since I hadn't read the books (see note ** below).

* So, destroying the ring will destroy the main villain, but is just the mere existence of the ring enough to make the main villain so powerful? If so, and if the ring has been around so long, why hasn't the main villain already taken over the world? Or, if so, why does the main villain want to find the ring? If the ring is so powerful and "wants to be found," why hasn't it been found yet? And, if there is only one place in the world where the ring can be destroyed and if the ring is the main source of your power, why don't you have it constantly guarded rather than sending all your orcs on the attack? I mean, if I was in Sauron's position, I would have kept a couple thousand of my 20,000+ orcs stationed right at the door at all times, and that's only if I couldn't block the entrance completely somehow. It's not like the secret-Death-Star-sweet-spot in Star Wars, where you can presume that the bad guys didn't realize that the Death Star would blow up if you hit that one spot.

** What was the point of bringing back Bilbo? I didn't realize he had survived the first movie. Why does Frodo have to get on the boat with the elves? If he did have to get on the boat with the elves, why did he get the four years to write the book first? I mean, if the idea is that when the quest is fulfilled your time on earth is done, you would expect the end of time-on-earth to come reasonably immediately after fulfillment-of-quest.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

(politics) the biggest delusion about howard dean that i have seen yet, which is saying something

From the New Republic Online:: "But why couldn't Dean aspire to more than just not finishing third? We're even tempted to argue that Dean has a better shot of winning the presidency in a Dean vs. Gephardt vs. Bush race than in a Dean vs. Bush race. For one thing, he'd be the only guy in the race who opposed the Iraq war. And, if all the polls taken over the last year are any indication, that opposition puts him on the same wavelength as at least 35-40 percent of the country. That issue alone could win him the presidency."

I was trying to think of some kind of snarky comment I could make about this, but it is so profoundly stupid that I don't even know what it would be. This guy needs to have his pundit license revoked. He has posted two updates to this where he basically engages in further and more spectacular contortions of reasoning in order to "save" his argument. His first update begins with: "Of course, you could argue that having two people in the race from the left-side of the political spectrum would make the person on the right, in this case George W. Bush, a lock. On the other hand, [stupid line of argumentation follows]..." Thing is, there is no other hand. The first hand is exactly right. As things stand right now, there is no reason to think that Dean and Gephardt, if they ran separate campaigns, would get more votes combined than would Bush, much less than Dean alone would get more votes than Bush in a third-party race. I mean, if he thinks that if it was a three way race Dean would only need 35-40 percent of the vote to win, he's basically saying that Dean + Gephardt would get 60-65 percent of the vote together. I mean, barring a scandal on the order of the release of secret Bush NAMBLA tapes, how completely unable to process any of the available information about the American electorate do you have to be to think that there is some chance that less than 4 in 10 voters are going to show up in November to vote for Bush?

movie review

[warning: may contain spoiler-like substance]

I saw LOTR: Return of the King tonight. Dear God, was that movie awful. I could have cut that movie by at least an hour, between the utterly predictable battle scenes and the most drawn out ending I may have ever seen. There is this scene after the ring has been destroyed where a certain main character wakes up in bed, and they have the other main characters parade in one by one in slow-motion in a quasi-curtain call. Don't reach for your coat, because that scene is still 20 minutes from the end.

I do not know why the makers of big-budget films do not give me the chance to pare the narrative bloat out of their films before they release them. They could have paid me some of the money they paid Liv Tyler and Cate Blanchett to use their acting talents almost exclusively in the service of slow-motion close-ups of their faces where they either say nothing or say some stilted line like they are reading it off a TelePrompTer.

I usually don't like to be a political wet blanket about films, but, as I was sitting there finding some of the finest special effects I have ever seen being used to a tedious effect, I started to think: wow, this film is a rousing celebration of war; wow, this film is a rousing celebration of the equation of personal worth with bloodlines, unless you happen to be a hobbit.

And, as just a small addendum of quantitative complaining, I also liked how the size of the various armies changed wildly from one wideshot to the next. An army of 2000 when they are standing waiting to charge becomes an army of 5000 (or conversely, an army of 40) when they actually charge.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

duck, duck, decapitation

I recently met the mother of a graduate student in the department. I got this e-mail later:

my mom liked meeting you... on the drive to texas, she kept saying morbid

things and then saying, "is that what i was supposed to tell jeremy?" she
also told doug a creepy story about waiting for a lizard to dehydrate
behind our couch and then wished she had told you. i like my mom.
This student did tell an anecdote about her mother while I was talking to her. It went something like this. The student came home one day to see her mother sitting at the table with a large metal tumbler. The mother was looking into the tumbler and giggling uncontrollably. She looked up, stared ahead for a moment, and then started giggling again and looking into the tumbler. She did this a couple more times. "What is it, Mom?" The mother giggled some more but then was able to suppress the glee long enough to exclaim "I love my duckhead!!!" Then the mother showed what was inside the tumbler. It was the severed head of a dead duck. True story, according to both mother and daughter. So I also like her mom, on the basis of this story alone.

Friday, December 19, 2003

second to nun

Okay, I did some more looking at the word on the GSS WORDSUM vocabulary test that I associate with nuns. Earlier, I showed that there was a Catholic effect where Catholics were more likely to know this word than Protestants, and this difference was a good deal larger than the Catholic-Protestant difference for any of the other words. Two more things about nuns: (1) their female and (2) Sister Act aside, nun awareness in our culture was much greater in the past than today. So maybe the nun-effect is really not just a Catholic thing but a female, Catholic, early-cohort thing. The graph below compares female Catholics born before 1941 (the GSS median) to male Protestants born after 1941. The words below are the four most difficult words (in terms of overall % correct) of the entire GSS sample. (Something to keep in mind, incidentally, is that WORDSUM is a multiple choice test with 5 responses, so if everybody guessed randomly there would be 20% correct, although a substantial number of people simply say "don't know" to items). Check out the graph below and see if the comparison for one of the words looks different from the others.

Update: Does this make any difference? If you just looked at WORDSUM straight up and followed slavishly the standards of conventional significance testing, you would conclude that women did better on average than men (p < .01). If you looked at WORDSUM score excluding the nun-item, you would not conclude there was any difference (p = .23, the magnitude of the coefficient reduced by more than half).

Update, 12/20: I was telling my colleague Bob Hauser about this and told me to send the graph to a couple of people, including Mike Hout at Berkeley (who, like me, is an Indiana alum). Hout wrote back to see he too had looked for and found the Catholic effect on cloistered, but not the interaction.

as if further evidence was needed ellie buckley is awesome

Her picks this week in Rob's NFL pool were made using The Fortune Teller Miracle Fish!

Her strategies for the last ten weeks have also included "Flippa Coin," alphabetical by city name, alphabetical mascot, and scariest mascot (for Halloween week).

Update, 4:30 SAT: A reporter covering the Ellie Buckley beat for JFW e-mails to say: "I know Ellie will soon tell you how the Miracle Fish made picks, but you should be forewarned that the task took its toll. The first Miracle Fish died or at least exhausted all of her Miracle powers after just a couple of picks. Not to be dissuaded, Ellie purchased a 2nd Miracle Fish who held up much better, although the new fish seemed hesitant to pick a winner in the Dolphins game. (Ellie -- maybe the fish was trying to tell you to pick a tie in that match up?). Hopefully fish #2 will make it through her 2nd week of work next week." Note: If the Dolphins do tie this week, I will revise my entire metaphysical belief system.

no longer mad at nader, #1

I just filled in the online survey of the Nader exploratory committee. In addition to checking the "NO" box for whether I wanted Nader to run, I typed the following in the "Comments" box: "Please, please, please, PLEASE do not run. I will no longer recycle if you decide to run, and I will even begin throwing my used batteries into the trash. So, basically, the earth hangs in the balance here."

Having gotten that out of my system, however, I am going to try to work on letting my Nader anger go. Henceforth, I am going to confront my Nader issues instead with love. I will love Ralph Nader if he runs, as well as all of his supporters. Their heart is in approximately the right place, after all. They do want a better world.

I will express my love for them at every opportunity, in profuse and ultimately awkward ways. I wish Nader were here right now, as I would give him a big hug and maybe reach out and muss up his hair a little in a playful manner. Maybe I would even poke at his stomach in that jocular Pillsbury dough boy sort of way. Love! Love is the answer!

Thursday, December 18, 2003

stench by chocolate

My friend J. e-mails from his new quadplex apartment:

Okay, if you move into a new apartment and discover you do not have trashbags

for your kitchen wastebasket, you should GO OUT AND BUY THEM IMMEDIATELY.
You should not start putting trash in the wastebasket and assume you can take
care of it later. However, if you do just start putting garbage in the
wastebasket, this garbage should not include a to-go cup from when you got
hot chocolate at Starbucks. And if you do feel like you have to throw away
in to-go cup in your bagless wastebasket, you should confirm that it is
empty first. Or else, when you finally do get around to bagging the trash in
said wastebasket, you will discover how the lovely aroma of chocolate turns
very unlovely when it forms a solid dried sheet covering the bottom of your

Lucky for me, my shower has sandblaster-like water pressure, so I was able to
clean up the cocoa mess relatively painlessly. More painlessly, for example,
than what I experience when I actually step into the shower myself, as the
water pressure really is such that I'm sure it could be used to remove

as long as i make this weblog available to the world, why not all my e-mail too?

I have been trying to use this fancy new SpamSlayer spam filter, which is supposed to use this fancy Bayesian algorithm to facilitate its spamcatching, but it wasn't actually filtering any of my e-mail. I just got the following e-mail from a computer consultant regarding the problem:

I think the problem was the fact that your .procmailrc file was group 

writeable (mode 664). Not many people have their umask set up like
that, and procmail is very security conscious--it'd be possible for
someone other than you to direct your mail anywhere with those
I changed the permissions on the file, I think that should
fix the problem.
The obvious question being: How the hell did my e-mail account get set up so that anybody with any account could step right up and have copies of my incoming e-mail resent wherever they wanted, whenever they wanted? Do I have some freaky technologically-inclined stalker in the department? Am I the target of research espionage? Is the department monitoring exactly how much of my time I spend doing e-mail?

I know I didn't do this, since I have the airtight alibi of having only a vague idea of how to set UNIX permissions and no idea what the .procmailrc file or a "umask" is.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003


How did Harry Houdini die? I always thought that Houdini died of a ruptured appendix performing his famous Water Torture Cell trick. After all, this is how he did in the Houdini movie. I just finished reading a history of magic and it turns out that this was just a myth that got incorporated into the Houdini movie, because it is more dramatic than him dying after ailing for a few weeks in a hospital. The ruptured appendix part was right. The appendix is believed to have been damaged in Montreal after he was sucker-punched in the stomach by a McGill graduate student who wanted to debunk his famed abnominal muscles. Ah, the lengths graduate students will go to rectify a perceived epistemological injustice.

I can't decide if I was naive to think that Houdini had really died performing an escape. Briefly: I'm reminded of this time that I was told in third grade by a classmate whose father was blind that he had gone blind watching someone weld. I kept this in my mind as a piece of knowledge all the way until I was in high school, until I repeated it confidently to another friend's mother (who had gone to high school the guy). She looked at me like I was the biggest moron on the planet, and then said, "He didn't go blind from watching somebody weld. He went blind because he had diabetes and wouldn't stop drinking." At that moment, I felt very naive. So what I can't decide is whether thinking Houdini had died in his Water Torture Cell is like thinking somebody went blind from watching somebody weld.

two early morning updates

1. Turns out that the note received by my friend J. that was described in yesterday's "squeek" message was written by his 75ish-year old downstairs neighbor, not his next door neighbor.

2. I've got my DSL connection back and running in my RV.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003


I'm reading a good article from First Monday, whose slogan is "Peer-Reviewed Journal on the Internet" (with the double meaning that it is a journal that is published on the Internet and journal whose articles are about the Internet). Anywhere, the peer-review process in the social sciences generally takes somewhere between 3 months and over a year. Since most accepted papers are actually resubmissions, the time between when an article is received and when it is finally accepted can be much longer than this. Meanwhile, for this First Monday article, the dates listed at the end of the paper are:

"Paper received 21 March 2002; accepted 25 March 2002."

That is, this "peer-reviewed" journal on the Internet apparently turns papers around in four days. I wonder what kind of magical system they have instituted that allows them to accomplish this.

suspicious-looking character

Yikes, here's a case for the evolutionary psychologists who theorize about facial asymmetry and otherwise being well-adapted (e.g., mentally, morally)... I wouldn't be surprised if this picture ended up in an ev psych textbook.

(Ronald A. Mahner)

From "Offbeat" section:

ORLANDO, Florida (AP) -- Released from prison, Ronald A. Mahner's first mistake was driving back to get his stuff.

Mahner returned to the Seminole County Jail to reclaim his personal property four days after being released. He had served a sentence for drunken driving, auto theft and habitually driving with a suspended or revoked license.

But when asked to provide identification, Mahner handed a sheriff's deputy his license, which after routine computer check was found to have been revoked for life.

hey teacher: encore performance

Same teacher, class, and student as the other "hey teacher" episodes. My friend notes that the student calls her "teach" or "teacher" in his e-mails, but shouts "Hey Mrs. [name]" when he sees her on campus (yes, my friend is a Ph.D. professor, and the student has been in college at least four years and still believes the high-school Missus is the proper form of address).
hello teach!! i wqas wondering if at all possible you could send me or 

show me the last few grades i got within our class (paper, test, whatever else)that
caused me to get a D in the course. that was a shock..this wont deter my
degree will it? well, at any rate, hope you can send me the info asked of you.
yhear frm you soon, [name]

you already had the cookies, you FINALLY found the milk,...GOT JESUS???

rave review

A rousing endorsement of the last post from a usual nonreader in Bloomington, IN:
i broke down and read your blog.  and wouldn't you know, it suddenly got

very interesting. far more than, say, when you write stupid sports or
political commentaries.
I mean, come on, where can somebody be self-indulgent in their prose if not on their weblog? It would be a weird taking-the-weblog-too-seriously if I confined myself to only things I think would be amusing/entertaining for others rather than posting whatever I feel like pronouncing to the world at a particular moment. Besides which, I clearly mark all political, sports, a sociological-methods entries so that they can be easily skipped over by the noninterested masses. And, I actually recently removed a more elaborate post about Nader because I thought it would reveal me to be going over the edge.

squeek? eek!

As opposed to my own decision to live in an RV, a friend of mine (we'll call him J.) decided recently to rent a unit in a quadplex. He is in the upper-right unit. J. moved in a little more than two weeks ago and, not surprisingly for him, is being very slow about getting settled in. Anyway, today, as he is leaving to go to his job in a tool-and-die plant, J. finds the note below under his door.

J. is mortified. He is searching through his mind for exactly what anyone who could hear everything going on in his bedroom might have heard in the last two weeks, and he finds considerable comfort in the fact that he leads a singularly boring existence. Even so, obviously, he likes to talk on the phone in bed and just basically likes privacy, and so doesn't want to have to worry about his neighbor overhearing when, for example, he decides he must sing along with "Hey Ya!", et cetera.

The bedroom is currently in the room that shares a wall with the other unit, and his office in the corner room. He originally had planned to have his bedroom in the corner room, but wasn't able to do this because he has this large L-shaped desk (where he plans tool-and-die projects) that doesn't quite fit right in the other room (it overlaps with this door that goes onto his balcony). The L basically has to go the wrong way and doesn't look right.

Anyway, now, even if he did want to switch his bedroom and office, he has enough furniture that he certainly wouldn't be able to move it himself. J. suspects he could not even move it with one other person's help. Plus, the doors would need to be taken off their hinges to move the desk.

Any ideas? For example, neither J. nor I know anything about acoustics and he's wondering if there would be some obvious way of dampening the noise in his bedroom, because it does have these wood floors and seems to bounce sound around a lot.

J. knows that the adjacent apartment includes a 45-year old woman, but he doesn't know if she lives by herself or with someone else. J. plans on knocking on the neighbor's door tonight and try to talk to her/them about it and see if they have any ideas. I'll keep you posted as I get updates from J. on the situation.

Monday, December 15, 2003

(politics) regarding the recent endorsement

Dialog with a sometimes reader from Privet Drive, UK:

Still bothered about your endorsement of Clark. Why do you think his military record confers electability when the last 2 presidents we've had dodged the draft?

Good question. It's probably telling that as I typed in my endorsement I considered even then endorsing Gephardt instead. Or Edwards. Or Kerry. I think all these candidates are more electable than Dean, and, excepting extreme hypotheticals (what if the Democrats nominated a serial killing neo-Nazi? What if they nominated Billy Joel and he promised to sing at his inaugeration?), the ONLY thing I presently care about is defeating George W. Bush, so the ONLY question is electability. That's it. Clark's central advantage among the four people I just mentioned might be that he's the person who will least inspire anti-Democrat votes. Who do you think is the most electable candidate running?

While Clark is not likely to inspire anti-Democrat votes, he's also not likely to inspire Democrat votes (as he's not a Democrat) and turnout really does matter for Democrats. I think Kerry has the most solid base among the Democratic rank-and-file, especially if he can position himself to the right of Dean (which is questionable considering Dean's tenure as a pro-business governor). This may be a stupid question, but is there something other than the war that makes you think Dean is unelectable?

Actually, I don't think it's the war per se that makes Dean unelectable at all, or else I'd have more misgivings about Clark. It's more him being from Vermont, from him attracting precisely the kind of person as a rabid supporter that swing voters regard with suspicion, and from him being more verbally careless. He just seems so much easier for Republicans to beat to a bloody Dukakisy pulp.

I don't buy the idea that Dean is going to turn out some kind of enormous number of brand new voters who other candidates would not be able to get to turn out. Maybe among young people, but I can't believe that anyone can turn out that many young people. It's also hard for me to buy the idea that people who voted in the last election are not going to show up at the polls in the next election if it's competitive.

A more perverse argument is that Dean is attracting supporters who won't turn out if their chosen candidate isn't the nominee (and even encouraging this sentiment among his supporters), which has some resonance with me because it lives down to my expectations about some on the left.

I'm not a huge Dean-lover or anything, but I think you're projecting Nader hatred onto Dean prematurely.

The idea is so plausible I'll boldface it.

Just because he's got the peaceniks on his side now doesn't mean he can't convincingly go all middle-of-the-road I'm-a-hawk-on-homeland-security after the primary if he won the nomination. People forget shit - like that the reason Dean got attention in the first place was opposing the war. He's also a deficit hawk and can make all kinds of centrist friends by promising to balance the budget.

Okay, you want a prediction about what will have my fuming this fall: Dean will get the nomination, run toward the center, and then we will have to read all these stupid stories about Dean supporters who have become disenchanted with him and pout to reporters about how they are no longer even planning to go to the polls at all. Write it down.

First-time voters can swing elections - Jesse Ventura being a famous case, as well as JFK if my memory serves.

You can't bring up Jesse "The Body" Ventura. Jesse "The Body" Ventura is precisely my point. I think about Jesse "The Body" Ventura all the time. What his example suggests to me is that, despite the visions the left has about the nonvoting masses who are just on the verge of turning out, the kind of candidate who could really recruit most dramatically from that pool might be exactly the last person the left would want elected. It's so easy to romanticize about how people who don't vote would vote.

Why you think Gephardt is electable is a total mystery to me. He's boring and has lost a bunch of times before, and can't even keep his union base in line for him.

Yes, you're right. Sigh. I can generate reasons why each of the candidates is unelectable, which is the depressing thing.

Anyhoo, hope all is well and that you've survived your hangover from the we-got-Saddam kegger you hosted.

I have to admit, I didn't realize that capturing Saddam would be this big a deal. A big deal, sure, but not, as in: Now suddenly the war was certainly justified. Now suddenly people who opposed the war have been proved wrong and should be apologizing. That amazes me. I had no idea that was going to be the reaction. I still don't understand it.

score another point for investigative entertainment journalism!

Did some have inside dope on 'Survivor'?

NEW YORK (AP) -- "Survivor" may have a security problem.

Before the first episode was even televised this season, more than 15 people from the Vancouver, British Columbia, area placed bets with an offshore bookie on contestant Sandra Diaz-Twine.

On Sunday night, Diaz-Twine was revealed as the winner during the show's season finale on CBS.

Suspicious that people were trying to profit from inside information, the Antigua-based bookmaker,, shut down "Survivor" betting back September. The company still paid out $40,000 on Monday -- from less than $5,000 in wagers -- to people who had gotten their bets in before it was stopped, said Simon Noble, the company's CEO.

Noble's company may now join other offshore bookmakers that he said shun "Survivor" because of fears of insider betting...
This is presented like it's something corrupt about Survivor. What does anyone expect? It's not even like CBS has some kind of legal obligation to try to keep the "Survivor" outcome secret. It's not like someone is pulling a Martha Stewart if they tell someone the outcome of Survivor and then that person takes some offshore-bookie's money who let's them place a bet on it. It's kinda amazing CBS manages to keep it as secret as they do.

I have no idea why people would bet (at least, bet serious cash) on something whose outcome is already known to some people in advance. One reason you have to go to some Antigua-based bookmaker to bet on "Survivor" is I don't think betting on it is even legal anywhere in the United States (I know it isn't legal in Las Vegas).

Besides, large parts of Survivor are likely rigged and/or fixed anyway, like every other reality TV show.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

on the bright side, another angel gets her wings

can't weight for xmas

From story on gift-giving etiquette: "'A bathroom scale,' Waldrop said, is the worst gift you could get a woman."

A female friend once told me a story about how a guy she used to date, whom I also know, once gave her a bathroom scale for a present. The woman is and was quite skinny, although I don't know if the story would be better or worse if she wasn't. Anyway, ever since she told me this, I can't see the guy without "he's the kind of guy who would give his girlfriend a scale as a present" running through my mind.

breaking news

JFW has just officially endorsed General Wesley Clark for the 2004 Democratic Presidential Nomination. However, staff members will beg their relatives in Iowa to vote for Gephardt, which suggests the true (and frankly somewhat desperate) endorsement is of Stopping Howard Dean From Taking The Democratic Party Down In Flames. Obviously, the political opinions of readers may vary and JFW thanks you for your indulgence of its various proclamations.

still mad at nader, #3

Okay, as an instance of masochistic reminiscence, I decided to look up some of the things Michael Moore had said in support of the Nader campaign in 2000. This was basically a half-hour on the web, including pasting here in the blog, so it is not an exhaustive search.



INTERVIEWER: What do you say to the question that's on a lot of people's minds, is a vote for Nader a vote for Bush?

MICHAEL MOORE: Number one, Bush is not going to win. I truly believe that, because the people of this country are not that stupid. He's behind 52 to 38 (percent) right now and every week he goes lower and lower. He's going to continue to sink like a stone.



(On 10/31/00, just a few days before the election): "According to your people, all Ralph or I have to do is wave a magic wand and the Nader voters will "come back to Gore." Look, Al, you have screwed up -- big time. ... I will not feel one iota of guilt should you screw up and lose on Tuesday. The blame I do share is that I voted for you and Bill in 1992."

(On the day before the election): "I completely understand that if you live in a swing state and you feel your conscience telling you that you have to vote for Gore to stop Bush, then do what you need to do. It's not how I would vote, but I understand and appreciate what you are going through."

Contrast these to Moore's later account reported in Salon: "Moore was one of Nader's more celebrated campaigners in 2000, but when "things at Nader Central went crazy," as Moore wrote in his book "Stupid White Men," and it was decided to target swing states where Gore might win or lose by a razor-thin margin, Moore got off the bandwagon... In the final days of the race, Moore writes in his book, he wisely advised the Nader campaign to cut a deal with Gore, throwing him its support in return for major progressive concessions in a Gore administration. A Nader campaign official told the filmmaker that the party could not abandon its goal of getting 5 percent of the vote, which would trigger federal matching funds. But the day after the election, Moore pointed out, 'that's all you'll have -- five percent of the vote, and zero percent of the power.'"



If it's truly important to have Democrats in Washington, then voters will send more Dems to Congress in this election thanks to Nader. That's because a huge number of Nader voters would not be voting at all if Nader were not on the ballot, and after they vote for Nader, they are much more likely to vote for Democrats rather than Republicans in the Congressional races. Nader could wind up being the best thing that happened to the Democrat party in this election season.



INTERVIEWER: I know I've talked to people, especially young women, who want to vote Nader but are instead voting for Gore just because of the abortion issue.

MICHAEL MOORE: [...] George W. Bush is not going to appoint justices who would overturn Roe vs. Wade. He hasn't done it in Texas, and that's the only track record we have to look at. He's appointed moderate justices who have upheld Texas abortion laws. He's not a right-wing ideologue, he's a politician, and he'll do whatever he has to do to get elected.



Ralph already has between 7% and 10% in the polls - before he's done any serious campaigning. He's gone from 3% to 8% in my home state of Michigan. These are amazing numbers and the pundits and lobbyists and Republicrats are running scared.. Hey, you like to watch scared Republicrats running? Tell a pollster you're voting for Ralph

Democrats should be on their knees thanking Ralph for running. Rather than taking votes from Gore, Ralph's going to be the one responsible for turning the House back over to the Democrats.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

choose your vehicular poison

I am writing this post to speak out against the statement that driving while operating and talking on a non-hands-free cell phone is "just as unsafe" as driving while drunk. Due to undergraduate immaturity on the latter front and gadgetry immaturity on the former, I regret to admit that I have done both a few times in my life, although luckily to no ill end. My comparative assessment is that it is substantially more dangerous to drive while talking on a cell phone than driving while drunk. (Again, I don't condone either!) But if I had to drive an obstacle course either really drunk or while dialing and carrying on cell phone conversations, I'm very confident that I would perform much better drunk. Or at least at any point of intoxication up to me being able to find and start my car at all.

Bonus addendum: I know, I know, I'm supposed to be spelling it "cel phone." But, given that it is an abbreviation of "cellular" and in all kinds of other contexts where the word "cellular" is abbreviated it's abbreviated to "cell," I haven't been able to get into it.

Update: Readers have noted that (a) driving while drunk might also affect one's perceptions of one's abilities of driving while drunk and (b) that I have in fact created audio weblog posts while driving on my cel phone. To (a): Yes. To (b): the posts were actually recorded on a closed stunt course with a stunt double.

new artistic project, #12 & #35

As I was driving back to the RV last night, I started thinking of how cool it would be to create a mix CD of people telling what they thought were their best anecdotes. Then, I started to think, what are my best anecdotes. I think my best anecdotes from my time in Madison so far are:

1. "Grading my first graduate paper at Madison"
2. "Mozart unashamed"
3. "Locked out of social science/Stolen car at Sentry" (special double anecdote)
4. "Emily's job interview"
5. Not sure here: Contenders include "Getting my mother online" (although this one is still ongoing), "Changing the name of the social psychology area", "The union grievance that almost was", but the winner is probably "My first plagiarist".

The freakiest anecdote I have from my time at Madison is, without a doubt, "The woman at the window."

Any list of my favorite anecdotes from my last five years would have to include "Those robbers that read the obituaries" and "Interviewing at Chicago." Maybe also "Dad gets some new clothes."

The best vicarious anecdote I tell is certainly "How Amy and Rob first met."

I was talking about this with Emily (who sprang to mind since she is featured in #4) and she has sent her top 5 all-time list and her provisional top 5 Madison list:


1. the floodgates of profanity
2. i would sit on the baby
3. setting my hair on fire
4. soccer moms
5. mistaken for patrick** ***


1. take the spoon, just take it
2. jerry discovers gender
3. tie me to a table
4. crunching
5. mistaken for patrick** (not sure how this can be #5 on both lists, also)

Special Weblog Assignment: Figure out your own list and send it to me (not the anecdotes, especially since anecdotes don't tell so well over e-mail, just the titles).

Update: ** after this was posted, Emily e-mailed me to say, cryptically: "is not a real anecdote. but, though it is not, it has become one. you may want to make note of this."

Update, later: *** Emily has e-mailed me again to say: "can you replace 'mistaken for patrick' on my all-time greats list for a tie between 'never have sex with your sister' and 'i love my duckhead"?'"

Friday, December 12, 2003

all i'm saying is, it has to do with nuns...

I just did a little hypothesis testing of my own here, of an idea that I had way back in graduate school but never tested. The numbers in the "Mean" column below represent the proportion of correct answers given to each of the ten items on the vocabulary test administered to some of respondents of the General Social Survey (a nationally representative survey that has been collected either annually or biennially since 1972). Separate numbers are presented for Protestants and Catholics.


Variable | Mean N
worda | .8278244 12162
wordb | .94318 12214
wordc | .2581398 9429
wordd | .94522 12249
worde | .7758351 11496
wordf | .8072227 11630
wordg | .3252313 11026
wordh | .3539879 9554
wordi | .7703412 12192
wordj | .224678 11492


Variable | Mean N
worda | .8381347 4825
wordb | .947601 4752
wordc | .3018917 3859
wordd | .9399875 4799
worde | .7709067 4544
wordf | .8415969 4659
wordg | .4609026 4476
wordh | .3661499 3870
wordi | .8036644 4803
wordj | .2301779 4553

Notice that the biggest difference between Protestants and Catholics is for wordg, where Catholics are about 40% more likely to give the correct answer to that item than are Protestants. So, the two questions: (1) why did I make these separate tables for Protestants and Catholics? and (2) what's up with wordg? The words that the GSS uses for the vocabulary test are not available in the GSS codebook or any other public place, out of fear that putting the words in a public place will cause them to spread like wildfire through the general population, as millions are dying to know what these words are so they can be better prepared for a vocabulary test they will almost certainly never take and will have no consequences for their lives even if they do. Anyway, through means I cannot disclose, I actually have the list of words the GSS uses. When I first looked over the list of words, I thought to myself, I bet Catholics have an advantage on this one word, because it's a word I commonly associate with nuns (sorry, can't say what it is).

So, just now, I happened to have the cumulative GSS file up in Stata for different (although not entirely unrelated) purposes, and I decided to see whether there was a relative edge for Catholics on any of the words. I made the table above, and, lo, the Catholic advantage on wordg turned up. Only then did I go to my bookcase and dig up my copy of the vocabulary test to see what wordg was. Sure enough, wordg was the word with nunnish associations.

To my knowledge, no one has ever noticed this before. Real science, real findings, right here live on this weblog!

another hypothesis tested

When Rob isn't sending adulterous, amorous notes to my relatives, he's always doing science. He sent me an e-mail field report regard the hypothesis posted earlier this week about talk show film clips:
greg kinnear was on conan tonight.  the clip he "brought" was a plug for

his new movie, co-starring matt damon. wouldn't you know, but damon was
being showcased in the clip. wow. i know it's an N of 1, but i already
feel like bowing at the feet of whoever it was that emailed you with this
brilliant insight. bravo!

assuming that we can generalize from this quality sample, i believe the
original question was: what's up with that? i can only guess that the
"co-star clip strategy" is intended to let viewers know that there's not
only this one huge star in this movie, but look, there's this other huge
big star, as well. wow! no way! way.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

another research idea

From BBC News:
"The suspect and victim met in early 2001, after Armin M is said to have posted a personal ad on several websites and in chatrooms asking for 'young, well-built men aged 18 to 30 to slaughter'...

The victim was a 43-year-old Berlin computer technician who had sold his car, written a will and taken the day off work to sort out what he called a 'personal' matter.

He then went to Armin M's home, where the pair reportedly agreed to cut off his penis.

The victim was then allegedly stabbed to death - still apparently with his approval - and cut into pieces."

Ick. Double ick. Still, I wonder if some conversation analyst will eventually do a project using this tape as data. $50 says yes, if the tape is made publicly available. Any takers?

Update, 3:30PM Friday: I've moved this up to Triple Ick, which is about as bad as it gets. It reminds me of the quote by Leo Rosten: "Truth is stranger than fiction; fiction has to make sense." (Although, setting the present case aside and just thinking about that quote in general, I think a more proper ranking would be: [1] bad fiction, [2] embellished truth, [3] truth, [4] good fiction.

things i don't want to get dragged into, #657391

-----Original Message-----

From: Dahlia Hawkins []
Sent: Thursday, December 11, 2003 8:35 PM
Subject: look at the salacious e-mail your MARRIED friend rob sent me -- i told you i always get my man!
Robert Clark  wrote:
Date: Thu, 11 Dec 2003 20:53:15 -0500 (EST)

From: Robert Clark
To: Dahlia Hawkins
Subject: nfl pool
dear dahlia,

i can't stop thinking of you. i want to know your every thought, your
every feeling. let me into your soul. who is dahlia hawkins? what are
your hobbies? what kind of movies do you like? which nfl teams do you
think will win this weekend? what is your favorite season?...

in for a penny, in for a pound

I have not made as much use of my cel phone as I thought when I got it, and my previous purchases of a PalmPilot and later a Handspring both proved dismal failures. So, what did I buy now: a combination Palm PDA and cell phone. Hope springs eternal. I'm like Grant the way he would just keep charging his troops at a target no matter what the cost. Instead of human lives, however, I'm just sending off waves of dollars, and yet strangely I feel like he was the smart one.

Update, 12:30 AM: I just spent all this time setting up my phone, including this and this as its rings, and now I realize that the 2 doesn't work. Argh!!!

still mad at nader, #2

From "Consumer advocate Ralph Nader said Thursday he is leaning toward another independent run for the presidency and will make his decision public in January... Nader was in Princeton Thursday for a strategy session with Green Party activists to consider the pros and cons of another race. He said his decision will be twofold: whether to run for the presidency at all, and whether to run again on the Green Party ticket. Meanwhile, the party is divided on another Nader candidacy."

Wow, so maybe this time Nader cannot sink whatever slim hope the Democrats have of winning, but he can also divide and implode the Green Party in the process. I wonder if Michael Moore, whom I still begrudge for his campaigning for Nader last time, will be backing Nader again.

You would probably not believe how angry I get about the entire Nader thing. I cannot even have a rational conversation about it. If Nader runs, I'm probably going to be fired in the fall after I scream my head off at some student with a bunch of Nader buttons on her/his backpack. Scream, I will.

I wonder if I would get in trouble if I put a giant sign that said **** NADER (with the appropriate substitution for the asterisks) on my office door. I want to print it out right now. This is how irrational and angry I am on the matter.

(There are, btw, some Nader 2000 voters that I know and adore and who sometimes read this weblog. You know who you are. Forgive me, but you know how I am on this issue. I recognize that it is irrational that I am so much infinitely more annoyed by the idea of someone saying they would have voted Democratic but voted for Nader instead than I am by the idea of someone saying they would have voted Democratic but didn't go to the trouble of voting.)

Where I will really lose it is the first time somebody tries to tell me they are voting for Nader because they feel like they should "vote their conscience."

Or, I might really really lose it if someone says they are voting for Nader in 2004, but they really wish there were Instant Runoff Voting. And I'm even a big fan of the idea of Instant Runoff Voting; we even used IRV for deciding on the T-shirt design for the SPAM* t-shirts this year. But I can freaking guarantee that there isn't going to be anything remotely like progress toward Instant Runoff Voting as long as Republicans are in charge. I wonder why.

* Social Psychology And Microsociology, my main specialty area here at Wisconsin

prime minister

I'm on the telephone on hold right now, so why not write a weblog post. Rob e-mailed to alert me to this story about a new largest known prime number being found. I had thought that the largest prime number had been figured out and that it was 91. Shows how much I know; it turns out that 91 isn't even prime.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

the coldest profession

A commonplace of folk psychology is that very often we feel considerable amounts of dread about something that we have to do, perhaps even to the point where we put it off as long as we can, but then we actually force ourselves to do the thing we find that it wasn't nearly as bad as we had thought. Despite this wisdom, and even though I procrastinated mightly about leaving my office this evening, I still found when I got to the car that scraping the snow and ice off my windows was every bit as unpleasant as I had dreaded it would be, and then some.

what to do when you have a story to write and no idea who you just interviewed: a primer

Based on this quote from a story on about allegations surrounding a basketball player at the University of Missouri: "Meanwhile, Clemons has stopped going to class at Missouri, according to sources and his present whereabouts are unknown to Missouri. Missouri also isn't sure how he was paying for his living expenses while in Columbia. The sense on campus is that Clemons was returning to his native North Carolina."

1. Attribute what the person said to "sources."
2. Attribute what the person said to an organizational and/or geographical entity, i.e., "Missouri."
3. Attribute what the person said to "The sense on [some general area germane to the story]."


A rule-of-thumb for telling whether or not students are lying when they say that their grandmother died, that they had a car wreck, etc., as a reason for missing a deadline or an exam: "If they're crying, they're lying." I suspect this may be a little harsh, although there may be a tendency for fabricators to overdo the emotion-thing. Teaching hordes of freshmen can quickly harden one's heart for the reported misfortunes of others.

a concise reckoning of disciplinary despair

I know I have said variants of this already a kazillion times in this weblog, but the most chronically annoying thing about sociology is the ease with which sanctimony and moral posturing are allowed to stand in for the actual work of evidence and argumentation. To be a sociologist is to regularly be in a room where things are taken for granted that are actually minority opinions even among social scientists. Which is not to say that sociologists are wrong, necessarily, but it would probably be much healthier if there was more disagreement and more forcing people to articulate good arguments for things that are instead matters of tacit agreement.

The second most chronically annoying thing is how much shoddiness there is, which I think has a variety of causes, one of which is that the breadth of the discipline leads to an extreme sparseness of researchers engaging any particular topic. Sociology has a large number of really smart people who seem like they are mostly off on their own--if I was at all confident about the "really smart" part, I would suppose I am one of them--which is bad because the history of intellectual thought shows plainly that even the smartest people go wildly wrong if they don't have a community to provide reaction and discipline for their thinking. If you were going to design an intellectual environment ripe for the making of cranks, there are certainly worse structures than exactly that of contemporary sociology. I've lately taken to referring to sociology as "the lonely science."

Update, next day: The first paragraph above might be taken as suggesting that I am against "activist" oriented research. I'm not. Quite the opposite. I think it's a great thing when research has implications for activism and have no problems with research motivated by an activist impulse. Not much of my own work has exemplified either, and I take that as a legitimate knock against my own work. The problem comes when the determination to tell some high-minded story crowds out careful work and reflective attempts to understand what is actually going on with what one is studying.

suzy snowflake

The first undeniable snowfall of the year is currently going on outside my window.

Given that I grew up on a farm in Iowa that is not much latitudinally south of Madison, I've always been used to winter. That doesn't necessarily mean I like it, though.

(sports) growing geniuses in the sunshine state

The NYT has an article on a college coach who, after being drummed out of his last job after one season, took a coaching job to start a new program at Florida Atlantic university in his last 60s, and now has them winning in only their third season of existence. The article seems to want to believe it is because of this coaches' philosophy and prowess, and it even contains a quote from one player calling him a "genius." The article also notes that the entire team only contains 4 players from outside Florida, which it seems to want to cast as another disadvantage that this genius coach has overcome. Why is it that so many people who come to coach college football in the state of Florida come to be hailed as geniuses? Is there something that Jeb Bush is doing that raises their IQs? Is Florida a natural magnet for geniuses? Or, might it have something to do with Florida having the most favorable demographic ratio of high school football talent to the number of major college football programs?

jeremy's strange obsession for this week

Outkast's "Hey Ya!" I have listened to this song somewhere around one hundred times in the last few days. I'm trying to figure out whether it is really the gorgeously intricate song it strikes me as being, or whether I'm just being peculiar in my aesthetic predilections once again. Here, have a listen to me obsessing about it:

Powered by audblogaudio post powered by audblog

Update, Wednesday, 7AM: Okay, I actually logged this morning on to delete this post because I thought it was a little too eccentric even for me. Who knows who could stumble across this weblog, after all? But then, when I check my e-mail, I see that two readers have already sent in affirmations! Check them out:

From Bigboi, OH: "i was just thinking tonight about how much i liked that outkast song. i
shit you not. i've been hearing it more and more over the past few weeks.
it's pretty catchy. i like the dinky xylophone-like part best..."

From Andre, WI: "i too am obsessed with 'hey ya.' i'm particularly fascinated by how the chorus manages at once to be both jubilant and haunting at the same time. actually, the entire double album is pretty great, in my opinion." This e-mail gets bonus blog points because it's subject line is the best lyric in the song: "Lend me some sugar, I am your neighbor."

So, it's not just me. Indeed, I feel strangely one with the zeitgeist.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

yule blog

Look, my holiday card from Stata has arrived! Nothing else quite gets me in the spirit for the holidays and the spirit to do some scatterplots at the same time.

I feel guilty that this morning I downloaded the software and documentation for R and was thinking about how I really should start trying to figure out how to use that, as it might be the way of the future.

a perigee in my pedigree

My half-sister Dahlia is downright effervescent because, with only three weeks to go in the NFL season, she has finally caught Rob Clark, the object of much of her admiration and romantic aspiration, in his NFL pool. She has been trailing him by several points all year long. Now, the only thing separating them in the standings is a pesky tiebreaker, which she has choosen to ignore since she doesn't want her tie with Rob to be broken. I don't know if she will be able to keep it up, but rest assured, she is out there somewhere right now scouring NFL websites trying to come up with exactly those picks that will allow her to keep abreast of him. Standings below.
Cumulative Rankings     Points PB 

(1) Anne Berry 136 -
(1) Ashley Finley 136 -
(3) Rob Clark 134 2
(4) Jeff Tonole 134 2
(5) Joe Berry 134 2
(6) Dahlia Hawkins 134 2
(7) Rita Noonan 131 5
(8) X-Nick Kroska 130 6
(9) Shelley Correll 125 11
(10) Steve Hitlin 125 11
(11) Lauren Winsterman 118 18
(12) Jean Winsterman 115 21
(13) Ellie Buckley 113 23
(14) Paul Noonan 102 34

bait-and-switch with david letterman

A loyal reader from Carson City, NV writes in to ask:
Since you tend to notice stuff like this, too, I thought I'd ask: Everytime I watch a star on a late-night talk show, they plug something. If that something is a film, there's always a clip to entice the viewer into shelling out ten bucks to see it. So here's the thing I wonder - why is the clip always an obvious showcase of the co-star's talents? I find this invariably to be the case, and it drives me crazy. What's the draw in this? Have you noticed this? I have asked many people, and they all look at me funny, like they have no idea what I'm talking about. Do you?
Alas, I hardly ever watch television, and I haven't seen more than ten episodes of either Leno or Letterman in the last 7-8 years. In none of them do I remember a film clip being shown. So I have no idea when the last time I saw a film clip on a talk show, but it was a long time ago. However, I post it here for readers to respond if this is a pattern that they too have noticed.

Update, 8PM: A reader from Plucky, UT writes: "It's pretty standard to bring a clip of a TV show or movie that you're plugging (unlike you, all i do is watch TV). a notable exception has been jim carrey who does not *always* use clips to showcase his talents. you can imagine why he would be a great candidate for non-clip appearances, given his overwhelming live presence. other actors, though, like meryl streep, who are actually great actors, would probably want to use the clip to advertise themselves because, hey, that's what they do best. they act." Ah, but you've misread the post--the claim is that when Meryl Streep brings a clip, it actually showcases her co-star and not Meryl Streep.