Saturday, January 31, 2004

(timesuck) resource for wisconsin singles

As evidenced by the rise speed-dating and Internet-personals, it's becoming increasingly common for people to go on dates with people on the basis of very superficial and possibly erroneous information. "How does she know the guy isn't a convicted ax murderer?" a friend of mine once asked, referring to another friend who was making prolific use of the nerve/salon/onion personals. One might take as evidence that ax murderers, unless they commit their crime well before age 18, are usually put away for life, or if not for life at least long enough that you could use the fact that the man appears to be under 45 as a good rule-of-thumb that he's not a ax murderer, or at least not one convicted as an adult. Obviously, for many this is not evidence enough, and besides many singles would be interested in knowing whether the person they dating had been convicted of felonies much more mild that ax-murder. Here, at least for readers in Wisconsin, is a site you can use to check the complete "official" Wisconsin criminal history for anyone.

I discovered a couple of traffic convictions for a woman I dated in my first year here at Madison (Amanda This, Amanda That), and I was tempted to link to the page as a demonstration of how the search system works, but then I decided that would probably be a Not Nice Thing To Do. Plus I don't think the link would work, anyway.


Two people considering the gloomy question: What if you were with me and I got shot and was laying there in a pool of blood with like 30 seconds left to live, what would you say to me?

"I'd tell you that I would make sure your cat is taken care of."
"Why would you tell me that?"
"Okay, I'd tell you that I'll make sure your cat isn't take care of. I'll make sure the cat is put down immediately, stuffed by an expert taxidermist, and crammed into the casket beside you as you are being lowered into the earth. Is that better?"


"What would you want me to say to you?"
"That you'll make sure I'm cremated and that they don't have a religious funeral for me."
"Why not? Why would you care? You're dead. Wouldn't it make your family even more said if they couldn't have a religious funeral for you? Aren't you being selfish?"
"See, this is exactly how my final 30 seconds would go. I would tell you my dying wish, and then you would argue with me and try to make me feel guilty about it, and then I would die thinking that even though I had just explicitly told you my last wishes you were going to go ahead and do whatever you wanted anyway."

Friday, January 30, 2004

$cribble, continued

From today's NYT:
The Bush administration said on Thursday that the new Medicare law offering prescription drug benefits and private health plans to the elderly would cost at least $530 billion over 10 years, or one-third more than the price tag used when Congress passed the legislation two months ago."
Interestingly, as I forgot to mention in my recent post about the R&D costs of pen development, $530 billion is also the latest estimated cost for the government's plan to create an erasable pen that works in space.

BTW, a reader from Bartlett, MS e-mailed me to note that the story of the $12 NASA pen was also included in a West Wing: "The direction of this causal arrow is also unclear, but I prefer to think that West Wing is the Holy Fountain From Which All Cultural Myths Emanate, rather than the reverse."

Update, Saturday: From a premium subscriber in Shanty Town, MN
[name]'s parents gave both me and [name] a space pen last year for christmas 

(they also gave me a planner...). the pen has a little american flag on
it, and it indicates that it can be used at 0 gravity and at -50 or 400
degrees fahrenheit. i guess they were anticipating a lot of outdoor note
taking (in our planners, i'm sure) during our winter visits to
[northern state]. also, it is called a diplomat and it says it is a product of
[european country]. [name]'s parents are stingy, and i'm sure they didn't spend
more than a million for the pair of them.

(nostalgia) grappling with the past

My recent digression in my high school wrestling career drew inquiries from some readers. Yes, it's true, I was actually co-captain of my team my senior year, which might have meant something if the team hadn't completely sucked. Many professors have stories in their past about other earlier selves that were surprisingly skilled at unexpected pursuits. Not me; I did wrestle, but not in any sense well.

Did I have any particular aptitude for wrestling? No. Did I have any particular love for the sport? Not really. Why did I do it then? Because I went to a rural high school whose idea of adding extracirricular diversity was always to propose adding another sport. No debate, no AP classes, no computer clubs, no tolerance for geekiness of any kind. Since I couldn't play basketball and wasn't in band, it was either wrestling or spend the winter months watching television. Or I could have done auto shop or Future Farmers of America, I suppose.

I can't be sure about my most memorable wrestling match of the top of my head. I did wrestle this dwarf* with braces once, which was a morphologically interesting battle since I was about as tall and skinny as wrestlers get (when I was a freshman, I was 5' 8" and once made weight at 105 pounds). Anyway, I did in fact vanquish the dwarf, albeit in a rather wild match (final score 14-12, or something like that). After the match, the dwarf came up and asked me if I was cut anywhere. I hadn't noticed, but it turned out I was. He was asking because after the match he noticed he had some flesh in his braces, and presumed correctly that it came from me.

Curious stat about me from my senior year of wrestling is that I led the team in only one statistical category: unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, with four. Long story. [Update: I'm not sure that "Unsportsmanlike conduct" is the right phrase for what it was called; it wasn't the serious kind of unsportsmanlike conduct like when somebody bites an opponent or throws their headgear and tips over chairs after losing; it was the lower-level "unnecessary roughness"-type penalty]

* I don't have an official diagnosis that the guy was a dwarf, but he certainly looked like he fit the common conception [especially the common conception of a high-school aged observer] of one.

Update, next day (6:30 AM): A premium subscriber from Starksville, MS writes in: "i never knew you were a wrestler, jeremy. a dirty, unsportsmanlike wrestler at that. this thought immediately brings me back to my first visit to IU when the sosh gang played a "friendly" game of football and jeremy was assigned to cover me. what i didn't know in advance was that jeremy would beat the absolute living crap out of me on that muddy field that day. i assumed that this was some sort of academic hazing ritual that all first years would have to go through at some point."

Thursday, January 29, 2004

breaking news

In an unprecedented and shocking reversal, JFW has now officially switched its endorsement from General Wesley Clark to Senator John "Little" Edwards.

"Stand By Your Man was for Tammy Wynette and Hilary Clinton's Tammy Wynette imitations," a defiant JFW editor shouted at reporters. "When the going gets tough, JFW gets going to another candidate."

"We always liked Edwards the most," a more subdued anonymous source at JFW said Thursday, "but we didn't think he could get the nomination. We felt bad going on about how Lieberman should drop out and clear the field when Edwards was polling around the same numbers." JFW had earlier expressed fondness for Edwards as being the candidate who would most openly pitch class warfare as part of his campaign, a theme close to the heart of many JFW staff members. JFW has also conducted extensive analyses suggesting that Edwards is the candidate who has the best (even if still < 50%) chance of defeating Bush without requiring some substantial decrease in Bush's popularity. The clincher, however, is that JFW has always believed that Edwards would be far and away the candidate most capable of exposing Bush in a debate.

Update, Saturday: JFW feels compelled to add that we are not distressed by Kerry being the nominee, as we were about Dean being the nominee. JFW feels also that the doleful reaction of Republicans to Dean's fall from front-runner status vindicates our earlier assertions that Dean was regarded as a much easier target to defeat than Kerry, Clark, or Edwards. To show that we do actually like Dean and understand the enthusiasm for him, we link to this remix of some of the more inspiring/compelling lines of his speeches. However, especially if he's so low on funds that he's skipping the next round of primary states to concentrate on Michigan, you can stick one of those reverse-tined-safety-hot-dog-forks in him, for he is done.

bane of my existence, #2 (a brief didactic on insomnia)

A reader from Darwinia, AZ writes in to say: "I was an insomniac too, but this semester I [have obligation #1] at 9am and [have obligation #2] on Fridays at 8am!"

There are two types of people who self-identify themselves as insomniacs.

Type A: The sort who would say, "I was an insomniac, but then I had [activity for which I had to get up early], so now I get to bed at a reasonable hour."

Type B: The sort who would say, "I am an insomniac, and it's gotten worse now that I have [activity for which I have to get up early]."

Type B people tend to be suspicious of the claim to the "insomniac" identity by Type A people. I am a Type B person.

bane of my existence revealed, followed by a strange segue back to high school

Again, you could be on Jeopardy! The category could be "Jeremy Freese", and the Daily Double question could be "The bane of his existence." There is only one thing that occupies the existence-bane pedestal. Always, always, ask me what the bane of my existence is, and you will always get the same answer. That answer, or, to be Jeopardy! about it, that question: "What is sleep?" If anyone ever asks me what the bane of my existence is and gets an answer from me other than "sleep," I will give you a $20 prize, right there, right then.

I have been haunted by sleep problems for as long as I can remember. Literally, some of my earliest memories, from like age 3 and 4, are of not being able to sleep and staring at a poisonous-radium-illuminated clock on the nightstand near my bed, watching the hand go around and around.

Don't worry, I'll spare you gory details of a poorly slept life. But the problem has been acting up this week, which is especially annoying given that I've had these grant proposals to do that would really be greatly aided by having me mentally sharper and able to focus. A basic pattern that I have had is that the times when I've been stressed and especially stressed about how I really need to get a good night's sleep, have been of course the times when I've been least able to sleep. It's not nearly as bad as it once was.

In high school, I would regularly not be able to sleep on the nights before my wrestling matches. The only actually impressive varsity tournament championship that I won * was a tournament in which I got zero sleep the night before and then stumbled out on the mat in a drowsy haze and, in a chain of events I really don't understand, proceeded to demolish the guy who had been the favorite to win my weight class. I might have been helped by the fact that he basically injured his already bad knee a few seconds into the match and so then it ended up being a battle between the skinny-half-awake-uncoordinated guy and the stocky one-legged-wincing-in-pain-shouldn't-even-been-out-there guy. But, hey, a win is a win, even when recounted years later on the weblog.

Anyway, the gist is that stressful times are especially the worst for me and sleep. My family, in general, are not the sort that handle stress well. My mother, as I was just telling someone, has this thing where her most common reaction to high stress is generally lose all control over her gastrointestinal processes. So, at some of the most crucial and emotionally fraught moments of her life, my mom's immediate phenomenological experience has been dominated by an urgent sensation to go find a restroom. Considering that, I suppose I could count myself fortunate to just have the sleep-thing.

Tonight I have engaged in some extra effort to get myself sleepy because I really do need to get a good night's rest tonight, so I'm hoping it works. If this post seems a little bit punchy and odd, that's probably a good sign. Wish me sweet and uneventful dreams.

* Let there be no illusions: I was ultimately pretty inept and morphologically unsuited to wrestling. Temperamentally, on the other hand, I have to confess that I was actually much better suited to it than what I would otherwise now let on.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

meanwhile, instead of turning lemons into lemonade, an example of turning lemons into a weird weak lemony flavored parody of lemonade

Lieberman: I'm exceeding expectations

MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (AP) -- Joe Lieberman counted on independents for a stronger-than-expected showing in Tuesday's Democratic presidential primary

The Connecticut senator was undeterred by early results putting him in fifth place with about 10 percent of the vote.

"The standard for showing some strength here is to do better than expected. A week ago we were in the low single digits. After a very strong debate performance Senator Lieberman jumped up in most of the tracking polls." [spokesman for Lieberman] said.

from the scream to signs of multiple-personality disorder: howard dean

Quote from Dean in the NYT: "'I actually think I may be the most electable person because we're the only person bringing new people into the party. We're not Washington types.'"

is e-mail down?

1. I did not receive any e-mail from friends or colleagues after 8pm last night. Usually I get at least something from someone. This causes me to suspect that e-mail is down.

2. My methods students had a weekly assignment due via e-mail at midnight last night, although they are allowed to skip any two weeks' assignments over the course of the semester. I only received assignments from less than half the students, and, more pertinently, I did not get any assignments sent after 8pm last night. This causes me to strongly suspect that e-mail is down.

3. I look in my spam folder, and I see that I did get a single spam message after 8pm last night. So now I know that e-mail must be down.

Monday, January 26, 2004

special report: what i'm missing

Frequently asked question about the weblog: Jeremy, if you didn't have the weblog, what do you think you'd be doing with the time you spend on it?

(A first, defensive answer would be that I spend less time on the weblog than some readers think. These posts don't exactly represent my most meticulously constructed prose.)

Anyway, to settle the matter once and for all, I've employed a variety of different Bayesian-counterfactual-time-use-estimation methods in order to arrive at a scientific answer to the above question. Or, actually, two answers. Answer #1: How I should be spending the time I'm now spending on the weblog:

Answer #2: from best extrapolative evidence, how I actually would be spending the time I'm now spending on the weblog:


Forwarded to me by my most wayward sister, about whom volumes more could be said, who had it forwarded to her from one of my aunts:
When NASA first started sending up astronauts, they quickly discovered that ball-point pens would not work in zero gravity.

To combat this problem, NASA scientists spent a decade and $12 billion developing a pen that writes in zero gravity, upside down, on almost any surface including glass and at temperatures ranging from below freezing to over 300 C.

The Russians used a pencil.
Posted as further evidence toward my general suspicion that large portions of Americans (especially those genetically related to me) both (a) will believe anything about the wasteful spending of Big Government and (b) have no conception of orders of magnitude once it gets above a few million. I wonder if the $12 billion had been changed to $120 billion if it would have made any raised any more suspicions, or if it had been $1.2 trillion or $1.2 zillion. I wonder if attitudes about the spending on the Iraq war would have been different had it been $8.7 billion or $870 billion instead of $87 billion. Indeed, this could be the basis of an intriguing political-psychological experiment.

Interestingly, $12 billion (over five years) is also the sum that Bush proposed to increase the space budget for his plan to send an astrocowboy to Mars. Happy coincidence? Urban legend sites show that this e-mail predates the Bush initiative, so any causal arrow would have to be the other way around: perhaps since the Bush administration seems more or less to be making up its accounting figures for projected spending anyway, maybe this e-mail provided the inspiration for an administration in-joke when deciding on the price tag for the space initiative.

Another factual introjection: the current total annual operating budget for NASA is approximately $15.5 billion, which implies that they must have basically blown all their cash from January through September one year trying to get that pen to work. I bet getting it to write at 300 Celsius was the hardest and most expensive part, especially after having to pay all the wrongful-death suits of pen-testers who immediate burst into flames upon being exposed to that temperature (you thought Fahrenheit 451 was hot--if my math is right, we're talking Fahrenheit 572 here).

In any case, the people who actually make the pen used by the astronauts have posted an irate rebuttal to this e-mail. According to them, as it turns out, not only did the development of the Fisher Space Pen not cost any public tax money, but pencils can actually be quite dangerous things to be lugging around in space.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

(sports) blame the players!, #35791

NYT today is running a story with the headline "Low-Wage Costa Ricans Make Baseballs for Millionaires." The article is about the low pay and injurious working conditions for the employees who make the baseballs used by Major League Baseball. The "Millionaires" in the headline refers to the baseball players, as the article makes much of the contrast between the salaries of baseball makers and MLB players.
Every baseball used in the major leagues is made here, millions of them. They are handcrafted with the precision of a machine by the men and women of Turrialba and the towns in the green hills beyond.

The baseball workers typically make about $2,750 a year. A baseball player in the United States makes, on average, about $2,377,000, the Players Association says.
When [an interviewed worker] talks about the difference in wages between baseball workers and baseball players, it takes her breath away.

"We sacrifice a lot so they can play," she said. "It's an injustice that we kill ourselves to make these balls perfect, and with one home run, they're gone."
Indeed, the only time it is suggested that perhaps MLB might intervene on behalf of the workers, the onus of responsibility is placed upon the players.
Few baseball players are aware of where the ball comes from, said Charles Kernaghan, the executive director of the National Labor Committee, an international workers' rights group based in New York. "But if the players would actually stand up, it would have enormous consequences" for the baseball workers, including better pay, he said.
Aren't the Costa Rican workers really making the baseballs for the millionaires who own baseball teams? Sure, it would be great if players agitated on behalf of the workers, but, rather than trying to shame them into it, wouldn't it be more direct to focus on the owners who actually negotiate and sign the contracts with the baseball manufacturers?

no in-between for geek colleen

Okay, my own life has been pretty boring the past few days, even by its usual standards, meaning that I am running low on weblog material. So, just like when Johnny Carson would go to Wimbledon or Rush Limbaugh goes to drug rehab, I thought I could at least bring in a guest host. So I thought I would check and see what Geek Colleen, the Canadian teenager whose weblog I stumbled across one day (a post a long time ago), has been up to. Here's the most exciting thing that happened to her in the past week:
So yesterday was DAVID BOWIE! It was SO awesome. Awesome to the point where it was so awesome that I wanted to cry which is pretty [deleted]ing awesome if you ask me...

[The opening act] Macy Gray was the worst live act I have ever seen in my entire life. period. Yes worse than "Cobra High" [here's a link in case you, like me, don't get the reference]. First of all, I hate that kind of music. Secondly, her hair so [deleted]ing huge and it looks like a sea creature. Thirdly her lyrics suck, that "i thought you'd call" or whatever song made me lose any respect I ever had for her, a woman who has sex with someone who she thinks will call back but doesn't is an idiot because you shouldn't be [deleted]ing guys you barely know, its a) just not right and b) [deleted]ing stupid and c) a good way to get all sorts of diseases. Fourthly anyone could sound like her, the sound of someone who smokes like 50000000 packs a day is not unique and is not pleasant. Fifthly during "oblivian" they had these stupid cards with the lyrics written on them and it was so obviously a bob dylan rip off and it was an awful song and apparently macy gray doesn't know how to speak english, her lyrics are written so poorly with such horrible grammer that I literally found it appalling. Sixly (is that a word?) her set was like 20 thousand years long and after about five seconds of the first song I wanted her to get off the stage...

BUT, Bowie was GREAT! Every song was PERFECT and WONDERFUL. And he was so awesome...

Saturday, January 24, 2004

power take-off, #2

Update to earlier post about donated automobiles as a tax-deductions. I've received bushels from e-mails that compel the conclusion that donating automobiles to charity is indeed far more common than I ever realized.

Two examples. First, from an e-mail from a premium subscriber from Shanty Town, MN:
at the recommendation of our hairdresser, [spouse] and i donated my 1988 ford escort this past summer. we gave it to a local vo-tech, and they estimated its value at over 200 dollars--i think it was about 240. it only had 60,000 miles and it had a functioning radio and cd-player but 240 was still higher than i expected. this doesn't help solve your confusion about those stats, though...but the experience made me think it was common. the vo-tech people acted like this was a routine event.
Second, from a longtime reader in Bellechoir, NE:
We actually donated [spouse]'s old car to our church with the intention of using it for a tax deduction, since the dealer was only going to give us $250 for it, and we knew there was a family in the church who needed it. We got our letter from the church stating the estimated value and all that, and I filed it with my tax papers.

When I got around to filing my taxes, though, I opted to not claim the deduction. I was using TurboTax, and when the program was "evaluating" my forms, it told me that claiming an auto donation was a flag for getting audited... So I went back through my TurboTax, removed the donated car deduction, and I think the difference in my refund was about $100 or so. (I claimed the car's value at $750.) I decided that $100 that wasn't in my pocket anyway* was worth the piece of mind of not having to worry about the G Man coming to my door to ask about the [car name], so I DIDN'T claim.
* note to readers who are fans of behavioral economics: note the example here of the proposition from prospect theory that, despite their rational-choice equivalence, foregoing a gain of $100 seems to be being valued as much less bad than an actual loss of $100.


It was with a heavy heart that today I made the Executive Decision that my "Go, Dog. Go!" T-Shirt had to be put down. A giant hole had opened up over the shoulder, and the prognosis for future fabric coherence was bleak. My hope is that right now it is looking down at me from that Great Thrift Store In The Sky and that it understands. To be sure, the shirt served me well and loyally for many years, and it will be deeply missed. Especially since, given also the 2001 passing of my "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish" shirt and the earlier mysterious disappearance of my "Mr. Bubble" shirt, my "Schoolhouse Rock" T-shirt now stands as the last survivor from my retro-irony-T-shirt-buying phase in Years 2 and 3 of graduate school.

(politics) a new year for some, but not others

Follow up to my end-of-2003 post about how the year had been for John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, as depicted by the market-based estimates of their probability of winning the Democratic nomination. (Remember that it's from a overseas sources and so the month and date on the graphs are switched around.)

Friday, January 23, 2004

squeek!: two more plot twists

Links to the first and second, and third "squeek" posts here.

Okay, so this story has got even more strange. Recall that, shortly after moving into his new (quadplex) apartment, my friend "J." found a "Dear New Person:" note left under his door asking him to switch his bedroom to the other room of his two bedroom apartment because of noise. When he knocked on his neighbor's door to ask if she had left the note, she denied it, so he concluded that it must have been the 75+ish older woman downstairs who left the note. Then, after he showed the scanned copy of the note to his landlord, he got word back that the handwriting was not that of the downstairs neighbor but that of the next-door neighbor.

So, about a week ago, "J." gets out of his car on a quite cold night and hears these shouts from behind the building. He walks around the building and sees his next-door neighbor and another woman standing on the balcony of her apartment. Apparently they had gone out to the balcony to have a cigarette and let the door close behind them and were locked out. They had been out there for awhile, and "J." has no idea what they would have done had he not come home. Anyway, the woman's front door was unlocked, so "J." is able to go into the neighbor's apartment to liberate them from the balcony. This is his first view into the neighbor's apartment. At this point, I need to draw a diagram of the back half of the two apartments in order to explain what "J." discovers:

"J." had assumed that the apartment next door was laid out basically like his, only the other way around: so that the woman's bedroom was Freak Room A and she had an office or whatever in Freak Room B. That their bedrooms shared a wall was what he presumed was the source of the problem.

Instead, what he discovers is that the woman's bedroom was Freak Room B, while Freak Room A was practically empty, except for this pillow and cushion looking sort of thing on the floor, like maybe somebody had slept there. The pillow was right up against the wall separating Freak Room A from J's bedroom, as if you could not possibly choose a more apt sleeping position if nothing quite lulled you to sleep so well as every little noise emanating from your neighbor's apartment.

When he let the women in, the one who wasn't his neighbor introduced herself as being the neighbor's daughter "Crystal" (or whichever of its manifold spellings). Crystal looked 18 or so, although "J." is not very good at telling ages. So, then, he imagines two scenarios:

1. The neighbor left the note, then for whatever reason denied doing it, and once she realized out that "J." was not going to switch his bedroom and office around, she switched her bedroom from Freak Room A to Freak Room B.

2. Crystal had been sleeping on the floor and then left the note without her mother knowing about it.

"J." remembered vaguely the landlord saying something about how the neighbor next door sometimes had someone staying with her, and thought this might be Crystal, through who knows what complicated familial housing scenario. Crystal was the only time he saw some other woman at the quadplex who was not one of the known resisdents.

Fast forward to tonight. "J." pulls into his driveway and see his neighbor looking out her window, as if she wanted to know who it was pulling in. When "J." bounds up the stairs to his apartment, the neighbor has a green Post-It pad and pen in her hand. She says that she was just leaving a note for "J." The neighbor says that the woman who had been staying with her had left the note and the neighbor had known nothing about it, which is why she said she hadn't left it when "J." asked her. She said the woman staying with her had moved out and went on at some length about how strange and presumptious she thought it was that the woman would have asked "J." to switch his bedroom and office around. The neighbor also repeated a few times that she had no noise problems, in a tone suggesting she was irritated at the woman for leaving the note.

So what's going on? At no point did the neighbor say that the woman staying with her was "Crystal" or was "her daughter," so maybe Crystal and the woman staying on the floor were two different women. If true, "J." never saw the second woman who was sleeping with her head against his wall. But why did the landlord say it was his neighbor's handwriting? And why was his neighbor writing a note when presumably she had just seen him in the driveway so knew he was coming?

Any ideas? "J." is baffled.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

(politics) smitherdeans

As longtime readers know, I have developed a penchant for wagering small sums of money on political events. Yesterday, I saw that Dean had dropped all the way down to being given only a 26% chance of winning the New Hampshire primary (3-1 odds!). I thought that this was plainly a market overreaction and that somebody with as much campaign funds and with such a recent lead in the polls surely had a greater chance of winning the NH primary than this. So I bet $10 on it. However, I just now listened to Howard Dean's Crazy Train, a remix made from his WWF-style Iowa "concession" "speech," and I realize that the man is doomed.*

The comparisons of Dean to McGovern are unfair. People act like McGovern was a desperately poor nomination choice and would have lost as badly as he did under any circumstances. True, he was the candidate that Nixon wanted the Democrats to nominate. But if McGovern hadn't had to go through the incredible humiliation of having to replace his vice presidential candidate (Thomas Eagleton) after it was learned that Eagleton had shock therapy for depression (and after McGovern had earlier declared himself to be behind Eagleton "1000% percent", before he realized just how intolerate and freaked out the American public was about shock therapy), McGovern would still have lost, but not as badly as he did. Dean right now is a much more unviable candidate pre-nomination than McGovern was.**

* Dean does deserve to be commended for how he has changed Kerry and the other major candidates running against him. I like Dean; moreover, I can't think of anyone of his age and stature that I would rather have on my side in a street fight. The eventual nominee will be stronger because of Dean, just so long as the eventual nominee is not Dean.

** Doesn't this sound like an awfully assured political comment for someone who was 20 months old when the 1972 elections were held?

news from epidemiology

Now that the semester is underway, I don't have time to read the news on the web, but instead have only been scanning headlines. Today's NYT headline for which I most wish I had time to read the article: "Panel Says Zoloft and Cousins Don't Increase Suicide Risk." I can see why people might be worried about this for Zoloft. But, cousins? I remember that Patty Duke went kinda crazy from having to portray identical cousins on her show, but that was (1) just pretend [the identical-cousins part, not the kinda-crazy part] and (2) she did not commit suicide. I don't know if Patty Duke is still suffering from her child-star past, or, if she is no longer suffering, if this was in whole or in part because of Zoloft.

contest update

Microsoft's design team apparently has finally come up with their entry for my New-Years-resolution slogan contest, as this just sidled into my inbox:
-----Original Message-----

From: Microsoft []
Sent: Thursday, January 22, 2004 12:01 AM
Subject: Do More In 2004

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

guidelines for karaoke enjoyment for the tone-hearing-impaired

Laughing so hard that tears start coming out of your eyes means that something was really funny. When you are sitting completely alone a couple hours later at your computer and start thinking about it again and then laughing so hard about it again that tears start coming out of your eyes again, that means that something was really, really funny. Such was a chain of events at karaoke this evening. It was certainly in the class of had-to-be-there-funny-things, so I won't even try.

People are surprised that I much enjoy karaoke, or at least those people who know me well enough to know that I have no musical aptitude whatsoever (none, zip, zilch, nada, I've got a half-octave range, max, and I have trouble even clapping along with other people if the clapping is anything beyond a steady and easy comprehended beat--that clap, clap-clap, clap-clap, clap stuff, no chance). Three rules for increasing your enjoyment of karaoke if you have low musical ability and showpersonship skills: (1) sit up front; (2) cheer wildly for people you know, but cheer at least as wildly for strangers you don't know if they seem like they have any sense of fun, which most people who get up front for karaoke probably do; (3) tell all such strangers that it is the birthday of someone at your table.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Monday, January 19, 2004

caucus report, #2: father apparently knows best

At least in terms of calling the Kerry victory. And he wasn't home when I talked to my mother, which means either there was indeed a basketball game for him to attend, or he has a secret double life. The latter would explain a lot, actually.

My mother and sister both called with dispatches from their respective caucuses. My sister was voted an alternate Kerry delegate for her county caucus. My mom said she was torn between Kerry and "little Edwards"--saying his name like he was a speedy bantam high school running back--but ended up going with Kerry because of experience. She hadn't heard the statewide results and was excited to hear that Kerry and, once again, "little Edwards" finished first and second. Her hope is that one of them will win the nomination and select the other as his running mate.

My mom also had this weird story about how some strangers (one of whom was wearing a Gephardt button) showed up to the caucus as observers and had this video camera that they were stealthfully panning around until the precinct captain went over and asked them to leave. My mom thought maybe Gephardt was recording the ideas people were saying at the caucus so he could sneakily insert them into his own platform to help against Kerry and, for a third time, "little Edwards." I told her that Gephardt was almost certainly going to drop out of the race within the next 24 hours, and she seemed to be comforted by this.

(stats, not so boring) compositional measures of anguish

A reader from Upstate, NY has a friend who teaches the required statistics course for sociology majors and has students write a haiku on their final exams. Selected examples, in my own ascending order of preference.
One thousand dollars
That is what I owe my shrink
After taking stats

It’s time to move on
One day I’ll be a rock star
I pity the fool

Math, my enemy
I fought you all semester
I give up, you win.

Study all the time
Complete statistics exam
Tears fall on paper

Of statistics and my mind
And for what I ask?

Late night stats project
Regression hurts my poor soul
Why, powerpoint, why?

And statistics were never
Meant to be combined.

I would hate to think
That I could not count to
Five, seven, and five.

I want to cry now.
What is path analysis?
I still do not know.

caucus report

My father will not be attending the caucuses tonight, as it turns out, because he will be attending a high school basketball game in some distant city instead.* The web says the team he is going to see has a basketball game tomorrow night, and not tonight, but he insists the game is tonight.** Anyway, he says there is nothing to worry about, and that the family can "give him ten lashes" (in addition to the usual family flogging allotment) if "his man" doesn't win. His man is Kerry, which my mother took credit for talking him into. She said she would be for Edwards instead if he was more experienced. "He grew up poor," she said of Edwards, which carries big weight with all Freeses, your weblog author (I admit) included. My mother said she didn't know if Kerry grew up poor. I said I didn't know for sure, but that I figure if he had, Iowans would surely have been told about it.

*My father is kinda nutty for high school basketball.

**My father, pushing 70, may be getting kinda nutty in other ways, although perhaps it's one of those snow-day-make-up-games. We shall see.

hang in there. it could be worse. you could be joe.

(Joe, with one of his best friends)

From today's NYT:
"Tucked high up in the snow-swept Laramie Mountains sits a public school with just one student, Joe Kennedy, a seventh grader.


For a biology exercise last fall, Joe collected a horse hair and a fleck of manure from the ranch yard, and Mrs. Rodgers arranged a visit to Rock River so he could view them under a microscope.

One reason for making the trip, Mrs. Rodgers said, was to give Joe time with other students.

"So far my best friends are cows," he said, only half joking. On a visit to Rock River in his sixth-grade year, he said, he met a nice fifth-grade girl. He looked for her eagerly during his most recent visit to the school, but she was gone.

"I'm thinking she moved to Laramie," he said. "I was kind of hoping she wouldn't. I wish I had her phone number."

Sunday, January 18, 2004


Spent the evening at the home of some friends who have a 20-month old son. Three observations:

1. It would be wonderful to still have occasions where I had so much surplus energy that I could not sit still but instead would just sprint aimlessly in circles all around my living room for a half hour before being put in my pajamas and tucked into bed.

2. It's intriguing to imagine how the familial world would be different if babies and toddlers needed less sleep than adults rather than more. You know, so that parents would talk about how their child was up to sleeping 5 hours a night, etc.. Perhaps, I suppose, humans would not have evolved. Whew.

3. The Sippy Cup is really one of the most remarkable feats of plastics engineering ever. I had the chance to take one apart and appreciate the perfection and ingenuity of its design. I don't know the story of its history, but presumably there is a Mr./Ms. Sippy out there who is taking in billions of dollars, and I say every penny of it is deserved.

Update, next day: A premium subscriber from Louisville, KY writes in to note: "there's a whole "debate" out there about the developmental value of sippycups, just so you know."

another real, live iowa voter speaks!

I called one of my sisters and asked who she was voting for in the caucuses. Lucky thing I did, as she had thought the caucuses were on the 26th instead of tomorrow night. My sister voted for Steve Forbes four years ago in the Republican caucuses, and she is now a committed anti-Bush voter.

Who is she voting for? "Kerry. He's the one that served in Vietnam right?" The two things that have swayed her to Kerry are that (1) "he served our country, and then came back and said we need to get out of there" and (2) his views on health care, which she said was based on hearing his ad his son who had cancer [I just looked this up and it was actually Gephardt's son who had cancer; Kerry himself has had cancer; both are running ads where they use their personal experiences to talk about their aspirations for health care policy].

She also liked Edwards, but said "he just looks too young. I don't think he would win." I asked her if she thought he might get some of the sitcom-and-sentimentality vote because of his uncanny resemblence to the widely beloved and supposedly dead John Ritter, but she replied that she hadn't noticed the resemblence and didn't know why I was suggesting that there was any doubt as to whether John Ritter was dead.

The more interesting thing is that my sister actually went to hear Dean speak 2 or 3 months ago (in Cedar Falls), and when I talked to her afterwards then she was very enthusiastic about him. Now? "I don't care for him anymore... I don't think he can win against Bush... He's not always consistent with what he says."

My sister said she had also talked to my other Iowa-dwelling sister yesterday and that sister is also voting for Kerry. So Kerry is now running away with the Freese family vote.

Serious postscript: There is an actual conclusion to be drawn here that I haven't seen anywhere in the discussions by various pundits who have been trying to explain Kerry's surge in Iowa. What I've seen are explanations that are based in terms of something that Kerry has done lately (his tax plan, his stump speeches in the state, whatever). An alternative would be that a lot of Iowa voters were not paying the same kind of continual attention to the race that political junkies and political reporters were. Now that they are paying attention, Kerry's military record, which people had always thought would give him a big edge, may indeed finally be giving him a big edge.

Update, next day: A reader from Not Iowa, IA, e-mails: "I was reading your blog entry about the caucuses and it reminded me of a conversation I had with my dad over break where he told me, "I don't like that Howard Dean. He's a smug one, that guy. If he gets the nomination, I think I'll vote for Bush." My parents have been democrats for as long as I can remember. "

Saturday, January 17, 2004

a real, live iowa voter speaks!

I just called my mother to remind her to vote in the Caucuses. I told her this was the biggest time for Iowa in the news and so she better not miss out. I told her that even though my parents are registered Republicans (my Mom is actually a split-ticket wild card who strongly dislikes Bush, and my Dad just registered as a Republican a few years so he could vote against some guy he had a personal grievance with in the Republican primary for some minor county-level office).

My mother asked: "So who're you for? I suppose you're for Bush." Such are the moments when I realize that family members I love beyond words actually do not know me at all.

"Mom, I'm a Democrat. I vote straight-ticket Democrat."
"Really? I thought you were a Republican."
"No, you always forget. I've always voted Democrat."*

Anyway, my mother gave me her opinion on the various Democratic candidates. Selected quotes, in order of her candidate preference, as accurately as I can remember them (really, none of my sometimes-quote-tweaking here):

Kerry: "I like him, and I think he has some military service."

Edwards: "I like that he had nothing to do with the war. He seems really smart. And honest."

Gephardt: "I think he's just run too many times." [how has even my Mom picked up this rap against Gephardt! He's only run once before!]

Dean: "He and his wife are both doctors, and it doesn't sound like he's done too much else. And I don't know why anyone would quit their job as a doctor for [I couldn't follow what she was saying here, but then:] There's just something about him, I'm a little leery of him."

Also-rans, again as best I can recall: "You know, they were going through all these people on the news and these other ones, I hadn't heard anything about them and thought they had dropped out. You know, that... Lieberman, and that bachelor with the funny name." "Kucinich." "There's that black man and black lady--now she did drop out and wants people to vote for Dean--and then there's that General what's-his-name... Clark. So they are running too, but I don't think they're getting anywhere... I think we got the big four ones here."

* Not actually true! I actually have voted for Republicans twice, although not in a presidential election. The second time was this woman I knew personally in Bloomington who was running for County Coroner, which seemed to me the elected position where one's party affiliation probably mattered least for what one actually did on the job. (Yes, coroner is really an elected position in Indiana.) The first time is a story perhaps for another day.

(stats, boring) crimes of quantification, continued

I'm reading some papers today to try to decide if I want to add them to the syllabus for my graduate methods course. The one I just finished reading was an empirical study where the number of observations was relatively small and the explanatory variables and outcomes were binary (i.e, yes or no). As is standard practice, the author used logistic regression. For one of the key variables in one model, the logit coefficient was just over 3, but was nonsignificant. Because it was nonsignificant, the author concluded that their analysis showed that there was no effect of the key variable on the outcome.

This is a longstanding pet peeve of mine. The issue is that, regardless of what the p-value from the significance test is, a logit coefficient of 3 is huge. Say if, in an election, 82% of men voted for the Republican candidate, but only 18% of women did. That's the kind of difference in percentages equals a logit coefficient of 3.* If the results of a logistic regression model indicate that an explanatory variable is associated with something like a 64 percentage point difference in the outcome, and yet the result is still not "statistically significant" by conventional standards, what it reveals is not that there is "no association" between the explanatory variable and outcome, but that the data really aren't adequate for the purposes to which they are being put.

* Which I looked up on this handout I made on this topic three years ago when I was teaching categorical data analysis, which also goes to show how long this issue has been a pet peeve.

the strangest thing...

Ugh, I woke up early this morning all anxious and jumbled because I had just had a bad dream, and then afterward I couldn't get back to sleep. So I got up and (as is often the first thing I do in the morning) checked my e-mail. A message had just arrived in my inbox a few minutes earlier from a premium subscriber in Tashkent, OH:
jeremy, i had a dream that you wanted to know why pine cones were shaped    

the way they were shaped. i promptly responded, suggesting that nature
selected for its aerodynamical design so that it would travel farther when
falling from the tree, thereby enhancing the spread of its seeds. at
first, you were impressed with this explanation. but then you chided me
for some part of my answer, though my memory of this is less clear...
Which is all kind of ironic given my own bad dream. In my dream, I was sitting something like a dentist chair on a stage surrounded by all these bright lights and also on the stage in this other dentist chair was this guy who looked like the guy on that morning TV show with Kelly Lee Gipper or Rifford or whatever her name is. The guy is shouting to me about how he will give me a million dollars if I could tell him why pine cones were shaped the way they were. I had no idea. I couldn't even really remember how pine cones are shaped. So I asked him if I could call this especially wise friend of mine in Ohio and ask him. The guy says yes and suddenly a phone appears and I call my friend and ask the question. My friend says it's so that when they fall they will float farther from the tree and this helps them spread their seeds. I think this is brilliant, and repeat the answer to the guy on stage. He asks me in this cartoon-villain voice if this is my "final answer." I nod. "Wrong!" the guy cackles manically and all this thunder and lightening starts crashing all around the stage. "Now I own your soul!" He claps his hands twice and suddenly this trap door opens underneath my chair and I'm falling and falling down into this giant fiery pit...

Which is when I woke up. Quite a coincidence, huh?

Friday, January 16, 2004

under the wire

Sociologists all over the country have been rushing around the last 24 hours to meet the online-paper-submission deadline for the Annual Meetings in August. Deadline was midnight, Pacific Standard Time. You know you are putting things off to the last minute when somebody tells you the last day you can turn something in and you not only ask what's the latest possible time on the last possible day but what's the most westward time zone for which that latest possible time applies.

Anyway, Devah Pager and Jeremy Freese (she's the DJ; I'm the rapper) get their paper "Who Gets A Helping Hand?" submitted almost a full hour in front of the deadline.

When you are ready to submit your paper online, you have to choose which sessions you would like it sent to from this very long list that reminds you how hopelessly sparse and scattered sociology is.

Someone decided this year that all the social psychology sections should have the words "sociobehavioral processes" in the title. So, "sociobehavioral processes and the economy," "sociobehavioral processes and culture," "green sociobehavioral processes and ham," and so on. I am a sociological social psychologist in good standing with the American Sociological Association. Let me proclaim this to the world: I have no earthly idea what a "sociobehavioral process" is. "sociobehavioral" would seem to be the adjectival form of "sociobehavior," and just so there is no ambiguity on this, let me also proclaim: I have no idea what a sociobehavior is supposed to be. Is it just a way of shortening social behavior to one word by actually adding a syllable? Your guess is at least as good as mine.

Sociology has shown this remarkable disciplinary ingenuity for coming up with turns of phrase sufficiently expansive that, despite the wild cacophonous diversity of intellectual projects that come to play in sociology, the language builds a sandbox large enough for everyone to build their little castles comfortably. One might complain that among the costs of this are occasionally neologisms evacuated of all meaning (and kinda silly looking, to boot). On the other hand, I suppose, one could argue that the periodic invention of new phrases with an even larger and more vague intellectual circumference actually represents some of the high creative moments for the discipline. And so, at precisely 3AM (one hour after the midnight deadline), I raise my glass of water to my monitor and offer a toast to sociobehavioral processes. Hooray!

Update, 3:10 AM: By the way, I almost feel guilty for the above text, as I feel like I was sort of picking on "sociobehavioral" unfairly, given that I let the cryptohackneyed "process" off with a free ride...

Thursday, January 15, 2004

in praise of iTunes

Despite not being an Apple or iPod owner, I have now become a complete convert (and, with this message, proselytizer) to the iTunes music playing and buying system. I've got it set up at home, and once I get it set up in my office, I will never use Real Jukebox again. I'm not going to go into a detailed account of its praises. But one pleasing feature it has--and I'm sure other players in this class probably have it as well--is that it keeps track of the number of times that you have played a particular song. Obviously, this has potential for embarrassment: I think it's better that there is no recorded information of how many times I played the song "Hey Ya!" in the week after I first heard it. However, what I do think is nice is the idea of imagining resetting the counters to zero at the beginning of the year so you can see what songs--especially if you are like me, and listen to music almost exclusively on your computer (driving and exercising are time for books-on-tape, not music)--were the songs you listened to most in the past year. I'm imagining how wonderful it would be to have had this technology for the past 15 or 20 years, so I could have a running list of what my most-listened-to-song was each year from junior high or high school up to the present. I'm actually now deeply curious and engaged in much futile speculation about what songs would have been year-toppers at various points of my life. I have various songs that I retrospectively associate with being my favorite songs from those times, but I suspect the sculpting effects of nostalgia have reshaped my memories enough that I'd surprised by what the actual winners were.

Anyway, although I didn't start iTunes exactly on January 1, I will be keeping track this year. Although I won't be providing periodic updates in this regard, the early leaders are "Good Things" from Sleater-Kinney, off Call The Doctor ("some things you lose, some things you give away") and, for whatever reason, "Everybody's Stalking" from Badly Drawn Boy (arguably, had it not been for various contributions by Sting, the best song about stalking since the old standard "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter (And Make Believe It Came From You))".

(politics) today's winner for message title with multiple layers of irony probably unintended by the message's author

From an e-mail sent out by the Youth 4 Kucinich campaign:
Reality Check

5 Days until Iowa
13 Days until New Hampshire

Election season is officially underway. Every second is precious and we must, therefore, take our efforts and performance to a higher level. We know we have the potential to determine the outcome of this presidential campaign. But it’s going to take longer, harder hours, efficiency in targeting voters, and of course money.


1. Get Out the Vote

2. Help Fundraise

3. Plan Ahead
Out of deference to my good friend and Kucinich supporter from Beauxbaton (for that matter, I like Kucinich a lot, it's just that--alas--the American electorate would have to be shifted a full standard deviation to the left in order for him to capture the median American voter), I will refrain from making any of the multitude of snarky comments that could be made regarding Priority #3 above.

the dirty secret of/trick to much survey-based social science, summarized in an offhand diagram drawn amidst many other distractions

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

power take-off

From CNNMoney:
"In a report from the General Accounting Office, about 16 percent of the tax returns filed in 2000 claimed deductions for donated vehicles. That amounted to $654 million the government didn't receive because of the deductions."
This is one of those statistics that I read and then I think to myself: either (a) this number is wrong or (b) my basic understanding of the composition of the world around me is wrong. I mean, I really don't know if (a) or (b) is the more likely answer. If you had asked me the percentage of tax returns in a given year that included a deduction for a vehicle donated to charity, I would have guessed 1-2 percent, max. But, then again, there are all kinds of secret fiduciary practices of the middle classes that I have not yet been initiated to. I had always thought that there were basically four main ways that people divorced themselves from cars: (1) gave them to a family member [presumably this is not a tax-deductible "donation"]; (2) sold them to someone else; (3) traded them in; and (4) hauled it off to a salvage or junkyard. Maybe, however, these are all for suckers, as every saavy taxpayer knows, and that the smart thing to do is to give your car to your church or to the Make-a-Wish Foundation, where some unfortunate terminally-ill little tyke will get the chance to spend some of his waning hours joyriding in your old Taurus.

Could this be right? Could donated cars be represented on one out of every six tax returns? How many tax returns are filed in the US? I would guess maybe 100 million. Are there even 16.6 million tax-deductible charities in the US? Does the average tax-deductible charity in the US pull in more than one car a year? How do you get only $654 million dollars in lost tax revenue from 16.6 million donated cars? That's less than $40 a car. This would mean that one out of six tax returns includes a donated car whose value for tax purposes is under $200. Where are all these sub-$200 cars? Why do I simultaneously feel like my Saturn is more of a piece of junk than the vast majority of cars on the road and like it is still worth more than $200? Now I'm worried that not only do I drive a crappy car but that I'm screwed myself over on my taxes for the privilege.

Really, truly, I am befuddled about this. If anyone understands how this works or where my reasoning has gone astray, please please e-mail me.

(BTW, in response to a recent inquiry from a reader, I've now included my e-mail addresses at the bottom of this page. If you are wondering why I spelled out the ats and dots, it's to fool the spam-servant-web-bots that search through webpages looking for e-mail addresses.)


"I'm worried about you getting this done by the deadline because you are such a perfectionist."

"I'm not a perfectionist. People only think I'm a perfectionist because they think I'm hard-working and yet unproductive. This always causes people to leap to the conclusion of perfectionism. Why is it not that I'm just ridiculously unfocused? Or that I'm an incorrigible screw-up? Or that I'm not really very smart? Or that I'm not really very hard-working? All these seem as plausible to me as the perfectionist theory."

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

back where i come from, they would call this an example of someone "goin' to the well one too many times"

BERLIN, Germany (Reuters) -- German police are investigating after an angry man returned a computer he had just bought saying it was packed with small potatoes instead of computer parts.

The store replaced the computer free of charge but became suspicious when he returned a short time later with another potato-filled computer casing, police in the western city of Kaiserslautern said on Monday.

"The second time he said he didn't need a computer any more and asked for his money back in cash," a police spokesman said.

Police are now investigating the man for fraud.

live weblog post!

I am writing this weblog post live while talking to my friend ________. I write, first, because ________ has been pestering me to mention her birthday is coming up this weekend, although she does not want me to post what her actual age will be. "Not because I'm embarrassed, but because I like a little mystery in my life," she says, not apprehending that in order for this to be a little mystery in her own life, it would suggest that she herself does not know what her age is. (________ insists that I am yet again wildly misrepresenting her here.)

I write, second, because ________ has just (also, once again) dissed the weblog because of my earlier post about the Packers-Eagles game, which she found boring.

"Did you watch the Packers-Eagles game?"

"No, of course not."

"Did you notice the title of that post?"


"What more could I possibly do to suggest that the post is only potentially interesting to people who actually saw the Packers-Eagles game than to title the post 'Only Potentially Interesting If You Watched the Packers-Eagles Game.'"

"Are you typing this? Are you really going to post this on your weblog? I'm never going to talk to you again if you post this. Never. I mean it."

"Yes, I'm typing this. I just typed 'Are you typing this? Are you really going to post this on your weblog? I'm never going to talk to you again if you post this. Never. I mean it.' Do you feel like that's an accurate quote?"

"I'm not going to say anything. I can't say anything without you misrepresenting me on the blog. It's like I'm a celebrity and you're the National Enquirer. Not to mention that you are doing all this less than a week from my birthday. All I wanted was for you to wish me happy birthday on the blog."

"Okay, I'm typing 'Happy Birthday ________!' now. Do you want me to use ________ or a blank?"

"A blank. Have the blank be a prime number of spaces."

"Seven? Will seven spaces work? Or do you want something like a hundred and seventeen spaces?"

"Shut up. You know 117 isn't prime."

still more on that bug

I've gotten some more e-mails about the bug presented here for entomological inspection last week. Recent entries allow for an illustration of what is a good assurance vs. a bad assurance regarding whether or not that bug was a cockroach.

Good assurance, from a reader native to Houston, TX:
I come from the land of cockroaches ... Houston, TX and I want to
assure you of two things:
1) what you have found is not a cockroach
2) you would starve to death in Houston if you refused to dine where
cockroaches are present. The finest of restaurants have 'em, they are
in everyone's home. to make matters worse, they are HUGE and they FLY.
The person establishes cockroach expertise, offers a definitive ruling based on that experience, and then notes that things could be much worse if I was living in a place that I am statistically unlikely to ever live. Whatever infestations I might have here in Madison, at least I can think, that may be a large but but it's not HUGE and I certainly don't think it could FLY. Convincing and reassuring--so this reply earns top marks.

Bad assurance, from a reader in Pestilence, IN: (Basically something to the effect of)
"That's not a cockroach. I have lots of those kind of bug in my house. I don't know what they're called."
Hmm. Why I am supposed to take the fact that the bug infests this reader's abode as being prima facie evidence that the bug is not a cockroach, especially since the reader doesn't know what the bug that overruns their residence is?

(sports) only potentially interesting if you watched the packers-eagles game this weekend

Here is how the market-based predicted probabilities of the Eagles winning (on TradeSports) changed over the course of the Packers-Eagles game. Note how one could have made a 3000-5000% profit in about 15 minutes if one had bet on the Eagles to win when they were trailing near the end of the game and facing 4th-and-26.

Monday, January 12, 2004

slogan update

Thanks to readers for the various e-mails suggesting possibilities from my annual-rhyming-resolution-slogan. So many resolutions to choose from. (I'm not going to identify authors by hometowns because you know who you are. Thanks, all.)

I think of all the suggestions that I received, the one that seemed to misjudge me and my aspirations in life most dramatically was "Seduce Eeyore in 2004!"

The one that probably (regrettably) provides the most accurate prognostication of what will likely come to pass in the coming year was "Chocolate and Pepsi galore in 2004!"

A slogan suggested by one reader because I will be turning the same age (33) in 2004 as Christ when he died: "Befriend a whore in 2004!"

One wishful slogan that encouraged me to do more to find the collectivism in my profession that I have found thus far to be somewhat less common than I would like: "Esprit de corps in 2004!"

One slogan where I'm not sure the person who suggested it was really trying to provide an optimistic and uplifting scenario for the forthcoming year: "Die poor on a floor in Bangalore in 2004!" This slogan also had points deducted because I'm not entirely sure where Bangalore is (where in India, I mean).

The leaders so far, however, were judged on the basis of the rightness of their recommendations and zippiness of their rhymes. These are "Get yourself outdoors in 2004!" and the roman-tic "Be more lively in MMIV!"

Still time for other suggestions; just e-mail me.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

wrules and wrongs

A reader from Charleston, WV, just e-mailed me to ask if the thing is true about how the phrase "rule of thumb" has its origin in common-law-that-a-man-could-legally-beat-his-wife-with-a-stick-as-long-as-it-wasn't-thicker-than-his-thumb. It's not true, at least insofar as a quick googling of "rule thumb urban legend" would seem to indicate. That ten seconds of checking cast the idea into doubt, however, has not kept it from being repeated in several different introductory sociology textbooks. Rule of thumb regarding introductory textbooks: that you see something repeated in multiple textbooks does not make it more likely to be true, but rather it only indicates that textbook writers copy enormously off one another.

Actually, I just used the phrase "rule of thumb" in a conversation on a completely different matter less than an hour earlier. I was talking a friend (from Harrisburg, PA) who was telling me a story about someone who was trying to tell her that so-called Legal Sea Foods, as a matter of regular corporate practice, sells fish that are actually two years old as being fresh. When she told the person that they were either mistaken or lying, the person responded that they weren't mistaken and weren't lying because, on the latter possibility, "Why would I lie?" My own rule of thumb regarding Why-Would-I-Lie: Whenever someone says "Why would I lie?," they are probably lying. People lie for all kinds of obscure, unfathomable, or completely irrational reasons, and some may even lie for no reason at all. Just because I can't rationalize another person's lying doesn't mean that I need to believe what they are saying. (A corollary to this being that just because you can rationalize another person's lying doesn't mean that they aren't telling the truth.)*

* Aside: People occasionally note to me that I seem to regularly use constructions like "Whenever someone..., they...." instead of "Whenever someone..., he...." or "Whenever someone..., he or she....", etc.. While readers might regard my usage as erroneous, it is actually the recommended construction in the Official JFW Manual of Style, as the editors of this weblog believe (a) that the pseudo-singular "they" will become increasingly frequently used in the future and (b) that the whole aspiration of this weblog is to be part of the future now.

Update, midnight: A reader from Mutton, NE notes that some people think that you should base your entire set of existential and spiritual beliefs on the Why-Would-They-Lie argument form. As evidence, he cuts-and-pastes the following text to me from some online-proselytization-resource:
Bible Truth - The Passion of the Ancient Writers
When it comes to Bible truth, many critics argue that the early Church deliberately corrupted the Bible's text for its own agenda. As for this argument, ask yourself one question: would a group of men who were willing to suffer terrible persecution and die horrible deaths in defense of the Scriptures be guilty of corrupting those very same Scriptures? That's lunacy! If they corrupted the Scriptures, or knowingly allowed them to be corrupted, that would mean they knowingly suffered and died for a lie! No one suffers and dies for a lie!

[T]he September 11th suicide hijackers may have sincerely believed in what they died for, but they didn't knowingly die for a lie; they died for a lie in ignorance... In contrast, the New Testament's martyrs either saw what they claimed to see or they didn't; plain and simple. Either they interacted with the resurrected Christ or they didn't. They certainly knew whether or not their testimony was true! Nevertheless, these men clung to their testimonies, even to their brutal deaths at the hands of their persecutors, and despite being given every chance to recant, knowing full well whether their testimony was true of false. Why would so many men knowingly die for a lie? They had nothing to gain for lying and obviously everything to lose.

the power of song

I just started to download Apple's iTunes software for Windows and saw that this is part of the licensing agreement:
I thought I was just downloading a way of buying music over the Internet, but apparently there must be settings that activate some additional sinister functionality.

Update, 9:30pm: BTW, the whole reason I downloaded iTunes was so that I could legally get this "Milkshake" song that a reader from Boise, ID e-mailed me to say was the best thing since "Hey Ya!" After listening to it, I can assure other readers who have not heard it that "Milkshake" is no "Hey Ya!"

more liszts

The lists of CDs-to-bring-on-a-year-stranded-on-a-desert-island keep pouring in. The most extensive list so far comes from a longtime reader in Gurlfrenn Dinico, MA, who offers two lists and an explanation:
not only would my music choices for the stranded-island game change considerably from one moment to the next, and that i had to choose from approximately 4000 CDs in my secret underground music vault, but i was also somewhat paralyzed by having to make arbitary decisions. all else equal, compilation albums have an unfair advantage over original studio albums. so i decided to make two lists featuring both types of albums. and, all else equal, double-length albums have an advantage over regular-length albums. so i decided to allow myself one double-length album for each list. also, knowing that i would have certain compilation albums on the island affected what original albums i would ultimately choose. finally, there are artists not even listed here that if i were to make my own mix CD and put an hour of my favorite music from that artist on that CD, then that CD would have a great chance of making it to this island instead of some of these others.

Here are my lists:

(6) Phish, Junta (Double-length)
(5) Freaktoastt J, Human Subjects
(4) Morrissey, Southpaw Grammar
(3) The Smiths, Meat is Murder
(2) Billy Joel , The Stranger [note from Jeremy: Billy Joel?]
(1) The Beatles, Abbey Road *The Greatest Album of All-Time*

(6) Mozart, The Great Piano Concertos: Vol.1 (Double-length)
(5) Frank Sinatra, Sinatra Reprise: The Very Good Years
(4) Steely Dan, A Decade of Steely Dan
(3) Freaktoastt J, Lollapaloeuvre + Secret Jam Sessions with Gordon Jump
(2) Morrissey, The Best of Morrissey
(1) The Smiths, Singles *The Greatest Single CD I Own*
An example of a more concise list comes to JFW from a reader in Screaming Trees, WA:
Here's my current list (your stated disclaimers apply):

Blue Man Group Audio
Freaktoastt J Fourteen Scatterplots* (adding "Heteroskedastic Heart" or "Control Alt Delete Can't Save Us Now" from Publishable Perishables)
James Laid (adding "Honest Joe" from Wah Wah)
Morphine Bootleg Detroit
Paul Simon Graceland (adding "Kodachrome," "Late In the Evening," and "Mrs. Robinson" from Concert in The Park)
U2 Achtung Baby (adding "Some Days are Better than Others" from Zooropa, "In a Little While" from ATYCLB, "Hawkmoon 269" from Rattle and Hum, "Where the Streets Have No Name" from The Joshua Tree, and "Bono Saves Christmas" from War)
Various Artists Singles Motion Picture Soundtrack
Various Artists Sweet Relief: A Benefit for Victoria Williams
Update, 9:30pm: A reader from Ewermentfer, ME writes:
I feel like I must weigh in on this, since the lists you've included thus far on your blog are blindingly white. My own:

5. Donny Hathaway, A Donny Hathaway Collection (it's a compilation - if that's illegal, I'd include Live instead)
4. Sly & the Family Stone, Stand! (with Hot Fun in the Summertime added)
3. Prince, Purple Rain (With Sometimes It Snows in April added)
2. Cassandra Wilson, New Moon Daughter
1. Stevie Wonder, Songs in the Key of Life (With Superstition from Talking Book added)

I am actually in physical pain about the albums that I have figuratively left behind. It's especially painful to not include Freaktoastt J, Hamster in a Wheel (adding "First Get Funny" from Chasing Lemmings).
*Update, 1:30 AM: The reader from Screaming Trees, WA wanted to add to her discussion of one of her selections: "Freaktoastt J, while himself as youthful as ever, is an inspiration for all aging innovators who may have thought they already passed their creative efflorescence. Fourteen Scatterplots extends beyond conventional parameters of time and space, meandering into the nth-dimension. Listeners embark on a journey ending right where they began! All the same, yet changed forever. Simultaneously rare, yet inducing deja vu... My friend Melinda was crazy about Freaktoastt J. She sent him letters almost every day. She gave him her heart. He sent her a deck of cards once. I remember it looked like he had thrown up on the seven of clubs."

8 simple rules for getting your photo on my weblog

Is it just me, or does John Edwards sometimes look eerily like the allegedly deceased John Ritter?

Saturday, January 10, 2004


From NYT magazine story: "[T]he vast majority of bloggers are teens and young adults. Ninety percent of those with blogs are between 13 and 29 years old; a full 51 percent are between 13 and 19..."

eau de whoppers (or, further evidence of declining standards for what counts as a "good story")

From a story on about online dating: "I want to read you a quote from someone... [This guy] went to a site called, and here's his experience summed up in a couple of pithy sentences. 'I went on five, maybe 10 dates,' he told The Atlanta Journal Constitution, 'and they were bad. But I loved it because I got a good story out of it. There is one woman who smelled like malt balls.'"

Friday, January 09, 2004


"Todd is in the hospital."
"Yeah. Did you see that story in the news about the mountain lion?"
"What? Did Todd get eaten by a mountain lion?"
"No, Todd had to have surgery on his shoulder."
"Todd got bitten in the shoulder by the mountain lion?"
"No, he's had shoulder problems for a long time."
"Where does the mountain lion come in then?"
"It doesn't. A mountain lion attacked a couple of people in California."
"Since when is Todd in California?"

(sports) further evidence that trev alberts did not wear a thick enough helmet

From an column by the sportscaster, former Nebraska Cornhusker football star, and already-blogged-about wishful egomaniac Trev Alberts: "The Cornhuskers were never going to get the kind of athletes they needed -- especially at quarterback -- to compete in today's game running an offense that does not let the skill players shine." You might think from this that Nebraska has had a recent history of subpar quarterbacks, or maybe a recent history of good quarterbacks who were not able to gain national media exposure (i.e., "shine") because of the stifling Cornhusker system. Alternatively, one might remember that just two years ago Cornhusker quarterback Eric Crouch won the most famous individual honor in American sports, the Heisman Trophy.

stand-alone replies

Occasionally, I reply to an e-mail and then look at the reply sans context and think, hmm, here is a string of words that you don't see every day. I remember a few months ago thinking that when I sent a reply to someone that said:
Yes, I know her.  She's from Idaho, and, like me, she knows her way around a sheep.
I just thought the same thing again, when I sent someone this reply:
Was that the guy who was breakdancing at your wedding?  The one who was 

knocked cold when he did that spin on the floor and hit his head. And was
that the guy who started buying Camels even though he didn't smoke so
he could get the Camel Cash and then ended up becoming a chain smoker?

in which i am haunted by bob saget

You know you've been spending a lot of time writing weblog posts lately when you miss a day and get e-mails from people asking if you are okay. I am, I am. Yesterday my weblog time was compromised by a combination of (1) getting up reprehensibly late, (2) having to work on these papers that I'm trying to get drafted before the ASA deadline of 1/15, and (3) having a late afternoon and then dinner engagement.

This morning I woke up thinking about dreams. What I was thinking was what a peculiar and amazing and yet so often taken for granted thing dreams are. Like imagine if human beings did not normally dream while they slept, and you were the only one who did. How would you even begin to go about explaining to someone else what went on inside your head as you slept? And, more importantly, what conclusions would you come to about what it meant that you would wake up with the sensation that while you were sleeping you were not actually sleeping but having some kind of alternative line of experience.

I have often thought that it would be interesting to keep a dream journal. I haven't for two reasons: (1) I'm too lazy and undisciplined to keep such a journal going past the third entry and (2) I don't think it would be all that interesting, because I'm not someone who generally believes that dreams have much meaning. My own personal theory of dreams has it be some combination of what-happens-when-trains-of-thought-are-undisciplined-and-undistracted-by-sensory-experience and some-kind-of-sifting-and-winnowing-process-where-your-brain-is-cataloging-and-reorganizing-the-class-of-things-that-have-a-vague-place-in-long-term-memory. I think this because most of the novel elements in any of my dreams seem to be just concatenations of things that I had seen or experienced in the last 24 hours, often incidental things that seem like they got stuck in my long-term memory by mistake and that their insertion into dreams is part of some mysterious process by which my brain is either discarding them or shoving them onto some back shelf of inaccessibility.

So, then, when something unexpected pops up in my dream, I can almost always trace it back to some reason that the element had very recently made its way onto my waking radar of consciousness in one way or another. Doing such game is a popular first-five-minutes-awake pastime of mine. This morning, however, I was trying to figure out why Bob Saget had made a cameo appearance in last night's dream. I have no idea when any kind of image, memory, or reference of Bob Saget had last entered my mind, but it seems like it must have been weeks/months/years ago. Why would Bob Saget ever have occasion to cross someone's mind? But, there he was, Bob Saget, getting one or two lines of dialogue (no recollection of what they were; he was just like an incidental character; I do remember it was Bob Saget playing the role of Bob Saget; I even had to Google "Bob Saget" just now to confirm that Bob Saget was really the person's name since it looked wrong when I typed it). So, given that I feel like I conclude that I didn't have a recent Bob Saget Experience that would explain his dream appearance, I am forced to conclude that his appearance must have some deeper meaning. My subconscious mind must be trying to work through something in which Bob Saget is either literally or, seemingly more likely, figuratively an important character. But what?

I've just looked in several online dream dictionaries, and no entry for Bob Saget Nor are there entries for America's Funniest Home Videos or Full House or, for that matter, John Stamos.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

(politics) causality bites, #2

A premium subscriber in Vincevang, OH directs my attention to recent polls suggesting that Wesley Clark may be gaining ground on Howard Dean, and all indications are that the beginning of this trend coincides exactly with the official JFW endorsement of the Clark candidacy. Even if one does not believe that the JFW endorsement has caused increased enthusiasm for Clark, it does appear indisputable that the JFW endorsement singlehandedly stopped the momentum caused by Gore's endorsement of Dean. Whether the JFW imprimatur is enough to counteract both Gore and now Bradley remains to be seen, but stay tuned.

BTW, and with apologies to my friend and Kucinich fan from Beauxbaton, this paragraph about the Democrat's race in Slate made me chuckle:
I have two questions for the Dean campaign. First, are you paying Dennis Kucinich to stay in the race? And second, why not? He's gold for you every time he opens his mouth. In [the most recent debate], Kucinich took three shots at Dean. He rebuked Dean for refusing to pull out of NAFTA and the WTO. Then he forced Dean to explain why Dean would leave U.S. troops in Iraq rather than pull out immediately. (Answer: to keep Iraq from falling into chaos and becoming an al-Qaida nest.) Then he demanded to know why Dean was proposing a pragmatic, politically viable health-insurance program instead of a utopian one. Perhaps for a small payment Kucinich could be persuaded to attack Dean for opposing gay marriage, supporting the death penalty, and accepting the divinity of Jesus.
I'm entertaining the idea of writing a song entitled "I Won't Be Your Sister Souljah" (to the tune of Dar Williams's "I Won't Be Your Yoko Ono" for the Kucinich campaign.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

more on that %$#*! bug

I appreciate the various reports I received about the recent potential cockroach sighting . I should note, as some asked, that I have indeed seen cockroaches before. At Indiana, I saw cockroaches in all three of the different buildings where sociology was housed. However, they were La Bamba Cockroaches, that is, Cockroaches As Big As Your Head. I knew the usual variety was smaller, but these I haven't seen so often. I did see four while eating at a Chinese restaurant in Bloomington (Yen Ching, for Bloomington residents), and we left swiftly without eating because we were worried that at any moment scores of them might come pouring out of the wall.

Opinions varied. A reader from Raleigh, NC responded unequivocally: "A cockroach! Definitely a cockroach! I had cockroaches in each of the dorm rooms at the very expensive schools that I went to. Plus, remember I used to [deleted] that blonde guy who worked part-time as an exterminator. So I know from cockroaches, so to speak, and that's a cockroach."

A reader from ChicaGogh, IL provided the heartening news that nearly two decades of past living in Wisconsin were not marred by a single cockroach sighting. A premium subscriber in South Bend, IN, sent several pictures of cockroaches to serve as comparison stimuli. However, today's kewpie-doll-prize goes to a reader from Beauxbaton, France, who went to an extension website and found what looks to me like a pretty close match (that is, before squashing). I present to you, a "leaf footed beetle":

(click here for this bug's homepage)

This is either it, or I'm deluding myself in an exhibition of profound cockroach denial. Both are surely possible.

poignant quote of the day, along with some unstated implications

"One thing I want to make clear: Luck had nothing to do with it. It was truly a blessing, truly a blessing," says Rebecca Jemison, Ohio winner of an $162 million dollar state lottery jackpot.

"Sure, God says he loves everyone who plays the lottery," she did not go on to add, "but he loves me the most. Me!"

"You think you've got a friend in Jesus?" she did not proceed to taunt a passerby, "I've got a friend in Jesus. You've got a kindly acquaintance. He's best friends with me, only me!"

"Remember when you bought your ticket?" she did not continue, shouting after the passerby, "Remember the little prayer you said before the numbers were drawn? Well, that telephone is still ringing, because he decided to pick up the call from me instead!"

from puff daddy to wherediddy

As I'm sure is the case for many readers, I have a relative who is continually forwarding me various "funny" e-mails. Usually I don't read them. When I do, I rarely find them amusing (and, as you know, I'm pretty easily amused). Today, I am forwarded an e-mail that, amidst keen competition, may indeed be the most spectacularly unamusing forwarded e-mail I have yet received. I mean "unamusing" not in the sense of "revolting" or "offensive," but unamusing in the sense of "astonishingly flat-footed attempt at humor; painfully lame." Here, for your perusal:
After much careful research, it has been discovered that the artist
Vincent Van Gogh had many relatives. Among them were:

His dizzy aunt: Verti Gogh
The brother who ate prunes: Gotta Gogh
The brother who worked at a convenience store: Stopn Gogh
The brother who bleached his clothes white: Hue Gogh
The cousin from Illinois: Chica Gogh
His magician uncle: Wherediddy Gogh
His Mexican cousin: Amee Gogh
The Mexican cousin's American half brother: Grin Gogh
The nephew who drove a stage coach: Wellsfar Gogh
The constipated uncle: Can't Gogh
The ballroom dancing aunt: Tan Gogh
the bird lover uncle: Flamin Gogh
His nephew psychoanalyst: E Gogh
The fruit loving cousin: Man Gogh
An aunt who taught positive thinking: Wayto Gogh
The little bouncy nephew: Poe Gogh
A sister who loved disco: Go Gogh
And his niece who travels the country in a van: Winnie Bay Gogh

Setting aside the whole issue of how "Van Gogh" and not "Gogh" is actually the painter's last name, I think one of the reasons this e-mail stands out to me in a sea of unfunny forwards is how it misses places where it can actually make a coherent joke. Like if someone asked you a riddle, "What was the name of Vincent Van Gogh's stagecoach driving nephew?"* and the answer was "Wellsfar Gogh," you might find that a little clever (it certainly works much better in riddle form than in the form above), but you might also think "What kind of first name is Wellsfar?" But, for a few of the ones above, the name actually could be presented as an actual first name, but the author seems to miss this. So you have "Amee Gogh" instead of "Amy Gogh" and "Verti Gogh" instead of "Verta Gogh" and "Hue Gogh" instead of "Hugh Gogh" (I don't actually get the last joke anyway--anyone who does get the reference feel free to explain it to me).

Without the constraint of having to match a first name, or at least be clever in how it doesn't, the humor becomes all weird and lazy: What's the name of his bluish-purple sister? Indy Gogh. What's the name of Van Gogh's cousin who ate snails? S. Carr Gogh. His ostracized uncle? M. Barr Gogh. His Wham-loving sister who incestuously married her brother? Wakemeupbeforeyou Gogh Gogh. His cousin with the skin disease? M. Pettee Gogh. His baby-eating wild dog nephew? Dean Gogh. (See I can't resist spelling the homophoned real first name if there is one.) His brother who was mutilated and his body parts thrown into the ocean, where they floated? Archie Pella Gogh. What's the name of His son who dressed in women's clothing on M*A*S*H and then moved to North Dakota? Jamie Farr Gogh. See, it gets so boring that even in mocking it I have to change things up. The fun never ends!

* (note above) Slightly-better-but-still-lame joke form?: "I was riding in a stagecoach the other day and the driver told me this weird story about his brother who cut off his ear. As I was getting out of the stagecoach, I asked the driver's name. 'Wellsfar Gogh.'"

Update, 3:30: A reader from Clarence, IA explained the Hue Gogh joke to me. The idea is that when you bleach something the color goes away, a.k.a. the hue goes, which is funny because it's a homonym for Hugo. Only they spell it Hue Gogh and you are supposed to get that it's funny because the answer sounds like a real first name. Or something like that. I'll leave it to the reader to judge if this explanation implies hilarity.

all right, what the %$#*! kind of bug is this?

I'm serious. This is the second one of these critters I have found on the floor of the RV in the past two days. I'm sorry if it's a little smushed and may be a little blurry (if it is blurry, it's because it was still moving a little bit after I put him on the scanner). Is this a cockroach? I have never, ever had a cockroach in a place that I have lived. Ever, and I am not going to start with an infestation now. If this is a cockroach, I tell you, I have had it. Had it! I'll blow this popsicle stand, sell the RV, move north of the border, and become the best freaking barista that Starbucks Canada has ever seen.

Somebody with some entomological erudition e-mail me right away.

Monday, January 05, 2004

(a stats thing, boring and trivial, so much so that i don't really know why i'm posting it)

Today's late afternoon distraction has been some items from the the 1998 General Social Survey. Respondents were told "Women are more likely than men to take care of children. I'm going to read several reasons why this might be so. Please tell me how important you think each reason is: very important, important, somewhat important, or not at all important."

The five explanations given were:
1. Women are biologically better-suited to care for children.
2. Women are taught from childhood how to care for children.
3. The way society is set up, women don't have much choice.
4. Men have more freedom to do other things.
5. It is God's will that women care for children.
One might expect that some of these explanations would be inversely correlated with one another: for example, we might think that people who think explanation #1 is "very important" would be more likely to regard explanation #3 as not important, etc.. We might likewise expect negative correlations for items #3 and #4. However, when we look at the correlation matrix for these variables, this is not what we observe.

| fekids1 fekids2 fekids3 fekids4 fekids5
fekids1 | 1.0000
fekids2 | 0.5270 1.0000
fekids3 | 0.1866 0.2415 1.0000
fekids4 | 0.1536 0.2101 0.4708 1.0000
fekids5 | 0.4501 0.3857 0.2611 0.2216 1.0000
All of the correlations are positive. People who rated any one of these explanations as "very important" were more likely to rate any other explanation as also "very important." Instead of observing some positive and some negative correlations, we end up treating a correlation like it was negative just because it was less positive than other correlations.

This happens all the time with survey data and is cause for at least mild despair. The reason for it is that different people use the answer categories differently. Some people think all of the explanations provided are at least "important," while other people don't find any of them anything more than "somewhat important." Another way of saying this is that even though respondents were given four answer categories, they didn't use all four.

See what happens to the correlation matrix when we take out all the people who gave the same rating to all five items:

| fekids1 fekids2 fekids3 fekids4 fekids5
fekids1 | 1.0000
fekids2 | 0.4685 1.0000
fekids3 | 0.0916 0.1481 1.0000
fekids4 | 0.0582 0.1170 0.4055 1.0000
fekids5 | 0.3990 0.3256 0.1740 0.1271 1.0000

The correlations are still all positive, but they are somewhat smaller than before. Ultimately, there weren't that many people who gave the same answer to all five. Let's also eliminate people who used only two answer categories for all five items--in other words, let's get rid of the effect of there being some people who answered everything in terms of "very important"/"important" and other people who answered everything in terms of "important"/"somewhat important". Here:

| fekids1 fekids2 fekids3 fekids4 fekids5
fekids1 | 1.0000
fekids2 | 0.3230 1.0000
fekids3 | -0.1201 -0.0706 1.0000
fekids4 | -0.1915 -0.1426 0.2307 1.0000
fekids5 | 0.2436 0.1338 -0.0389 -0.0934 1.0000
There, now we have negative correlations for pairs of items that we might have thought should have negative correlations.

Of course, we can't just throw away people just because they only used two answer categories. What to do? There is an underutilized solution, but, alas, I don't have time to type it out here. Plus, I wouldn't just want to hand it to the many statistical spies who monitor this weblog.