Monday, May 31, 2004

acquisitions update

There is still time to vote for which bed will be bought for the RV. Please do so if you haven't already, as my friend Erin--who previously had also agreed to purchase the winning bed--has started making noises about there being a 50 or 60 vote quorum in order for the poll to be binding (for her; me, I'm buying a bed). Last I checked we were at 47 votes, and I have reason to suspect some key precincts have not yet reported in.

All that said, I have to announce that the bed purchase will actually not be made until later in the summer--July, hopefully--as today I somewhat impulsively decided that instead the higher priority for the Great Jeremy Grows Up Furniture Upgrade was to get some real tables for the living room, namely a matching coffee table and two side tables from Here are photos (which I tried to resize so they would be roughly to scale with one another):

truth: rounder than fiction?

(panel from Peanuts strip, November 24, 1951)

Major developments in mass culture this spring have been the saga of the so-called Three Divas on American Idol, as well as the debuts of the Three Divas of UW Law School blogging (see Exhibits A, B, and C). I had very pleasant dinner with the three this evening, which was the first time I met A or B. The question was raised of the extent to which the drawing of me at the top of this page actually looks like me, especially since I've lately taken to using it as an all-purpose stand-in for a photograph of me. The conclusion was something about how one face was rounder than the other face, but I didn't quite catch whether it was that the drawing's face was rounder than my face or whether my face was rounder than the drawing's face. It seemed like something that was supposed to be sufficiently apparent that I didn't want to seem dense by asking for clarification. Predictably, afterward, I was looking at myself in the mirror in the mirror and wishing I had some calipers to measure ellipticality vs. roundness more precisely. Less predictably, it also caused me to spend some time reminiscing about that poster child of round-headedness, Charlie Brown.


As I have mentioned, I have my 15th year high school class reunion coming up. I was thinking about this and feeling somewhat anxious and morose about how I've fallen well behind making various life transitions that most other attendees will have made: e.g., marriage, children, home ownership. I don't feel down about this very often, and even when I do I never feel all that down. It's certainly not like I'm sitting here weepy in the RVSRC* or anything remotely like that. But, while I was thinking about this, I suddenly realized I was doing so while chewing on the end of the Sharpie pen I was holding. And I thought: my God, Jeremy, aside from your Ph.D., do you ever successfully make the transition to the latter stages of anything?

In case you've repressed your boilerplate Freud, his five stages of psychosexual development are the (1) oral, (2) anal, (3) phallic, (4) latent, and (5) genital. Failure to successfully resolve all the various conflicts caused by a particular stage will cause you to remain fixated in that stage in all kinds of ways that manifest themselves ever after (or until you go through several years of psychoanalysis). A Freudian would just be able to take glance at my fingernails and declare me to be a categorical Stage One Failure. I have bitten my nails my whole life, down through the cuticles and beyond, and I regard the habit as so ingrained that I've never seriously considered setting myself up for the massive failure that would ensue if I tried to quit. I consider it achievement enough that I no longer bite my toenails, although that might be attributable to a loss of limberness as much as a gain in self-control. Anyway, what I'm saying is, as is the cardinal sign of oral fixation, I have my whole life been a chewer. Consider:
  1. When I was in kindergarten, I would pull the collar of my the T-shirt into my mouth and chew on it until all my shirts looked like my dresser drawers had been infested by some ravaging rogue hamster horde.
  2. When I was in second grade, my mother bought me this little tourquoise-and-red stone ring that she wanted me to wear. I chewed it until it was so completely mangled that was shaped like a twelve-sided washer and a couple of the stones fell out, and then I remember several days dreading when my mother would notice this. A couple years later she bought me another ring, and while I didn't chew it nearly as much, there were still certainly various teeth marks on it. If I ever do get married, and that marriage does involve a change of rings, I have no idea what I will do to attempt to stave off the seemingly inevitable absent-minded-chewing-up of my wedding ring.
  3. I've chewed pens my whole life. I've twice surreptitiously bought new pens identical to ones I've borrowed from others so that I could return a pen without teeth marks. Sometime around my junior year of high school I had chewed the cap of the pen I was using so much that the top half of the cap had basically been shorn off. A teacher noticed me chewing on the bottom half in class, asked me where the rest of the cap was, and I told her that I had, ack, just accidentally swallowed it. I thought I was obviously-enough joking, but it was one of those jokes the other person doesn't recognize as such and so then becomes A Lie because it seemed too awkward to try to explain how I had actually just been joking. Anyway, let's just say that the teacher later told the principal and then the principal immediately called my mother and urged her to take me to a doctor after school.
Ugh. Why am I writing about this on my weblog? Am I actually going to hit the Publish Post button? I suppose there are other instances where it's actually better to remain indefinitely in Stage One of some things. For example, I'm pleased that I appear to be permanently stuck in the first of the four stages of the Olsen Twins.

* Recreational Vehicle Social Research Compound

Sunday, May 30, 2004

step back! he's got his rojo working!

Although the result may be less subtle than what he had envisioned, and may require a brownward correction. Alternatively, I suppose, it may provide all the more reason to avoid campus this summer and stay holed up working in the Special RV Social Research Compound.

newsflash!: prior historians' claims to understanding why the allies won world war ii have been refuted

From Maureen Dowd's column in tomorrow's NYT:
"We won because we were the smoking and drinking generation," grinned 83-year-old Joseph Patrick Walsh, who was part of the "miserable, cold" Normandy invasion. He spent 32 years in the Navy and fought in Vietnam, and lived for years on Staten Island and the Upper West Side. He showed off the tattoo of a leering Japanese soldier on his arm, and another tattoo with his wife's name and a bar of ink where his wife made him take out "Margie," an earlier girlfriend's name.*
If Mr. Walsh is correct, then the American policy of discouraging smoking at home while helping tobacco companies force their way into foreign markets could have hitherto unanticipated consequences for compromising American miltary supremacy.

* The same strategy of splotchy erasure might end up happening with my "Mirah" tattoo if she doesn't soon realize that we were meant to be together (see previous posts here and here).

Saturday, May 29, 2004

(puzzle) unfortunately supportive of the maxim proscribing judging books by their cover

Of the six books I bought last night, Word Craft was the one that I started reading. It's literally a book that I bought because of its cover (above); meaning that if I hadn't thought the cover was so fun and clever, I probably would not have added to my armload of books. How many covers do you see that have "[answers on back]" on the front of the jacket? The puzzle, of course, is to identify what 9 brands are associated with the font and color of the individual letters of the title on the cover.

Rather than making you go to a bookstore to look up the answers to any you don't know, I'll type the answers below. But, so you don't see the answers inadvertently and have your fun spoiled, I'll make sure to put a couple of footnotes first, and then I will also type the answers in a secret code of my own impromptu design: I'll type all the answers below, but I will move my hands one key to the right before I touch-type them, meaning that the answers can be decoded by looking to see what letter is to the left of each letter on one's keyboard.*

Anyway, as fitting the cover, Word Craft is about the highly specialized sector of the marketing industry whose job it is to come up with new product/brand names. The five names that each get a chapter are BlackBerry, Accenture, Viagra, Porsche Cayenne, and IBM e-business (the last one seeming surprisingly obvious and uninspired for a book that was going to look at five names in-depth to select). I think this a great premise for a book and that a great book could probably be written on the topic, but, at least so far, the author (Alex Frankel) does not seem up to his So far, at least it reads kind of like a long, disappointing Salon article--everything covered with a thin patina of superficial and anecdote-laden enthusiasm that is valiantly trying to cover up for an absence of many specific interesting insights.** Maybe it will get better. Although there are so many good books out there--or, rather, in here, in the RV stacked up waiting to be read--that I don't have the patience to finish one that I'm not finding compelling.

* I like this idea; encoded text that can be written as fast as one can type. Indeed, in this moment of New Idea Enthusiasm, it seems like the Internet-age equivalent of Leonardo Da Vinci's backwards writing.

** Incidentally, another book that I started to read in the last month that was not up to its premise was this book Apocalypse Pretty Soon, by Alex Heard, that was about contemporary millennial (i.e., the world-is-going-to-end) organizations. Maybe I should go back and read The Autobiography of Malcolm X to be reminded that there are people named Alex who can write great books.***

*** It occurs to me that the last sentence may be confused for those unfamiliar with The Autobiography of Malcolm X. How can an autobiography of someone with the first name "Malcolm" be written by someone with the first name "Alex"? When he changed his first name from whatever it was to X, did he also change his name from Alex to Malcolm for some obscure Black-Prideish or Muslimist reason? No, Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little (born in Omaha, of all places). The Autobiography of Malcolm X is listed as authored by Malcolm X "as told to" Alex Haley, meaning that the beautifully-beautifully written book was written by Haley from interviews with Malcolm X (Haley also includes a moving post-assassination afterword of his own).

Answers: W = ermfyd O = ptnoyx R = tp;;omh dypmr D = fimlom fpmiyd C = vs,[nr;;d dpi[ R = tvs A = snv F = gotrdypmr T = yi,d

Update, 5:30pm: Ick, I see now that apparently a hair was on the scanner, right by the "t". I wonder where that came from. Too long for my nose, presumably. My arm?

Update, 11:00pm: (contains spoilers, or at least hints) A fellow Madison blogger attributes her good performance on the Word Craft quiz to her TV watching. At first, I thought, "Well, I don't watch TV, and I also knew 6 right off the bat." Then I remembered that many of these logos have been around a long time, and I watched an unbelievable amount of television prior to age 18 (when you grow up on a farm, people think you are going to know all kinds of outdoors stuff, but, for me, it was a lot of reading--the same books over and over again until I was like a sophomore and figured out how to use our local library's interlibrary loan system--and even more television. Dear God. And only four channels, so there was no avoiding the mainstream. And no remote control, which now seems unfathomable. I attribute my not knowing "A" to my subsequent flight from television; my recognizing but not being able to put my finger on "O" to the efficacy of the Google toolbar pop-up blocker; and my slowness at getting "T" to my placid stoicism in the face of indigestion.

Friday, May 28, 2004

why a hot chocolate at starbucks is $3, while a hot chocolate at borders is $133

Did I go to Borders with the intention of buying any of these books? Did I go to Borders intending to buy any books? No. I went to Borders because they're coffeeshop is open until 11pm while Starbucks (University Avenue) closes at 10pm.

Update, 12:30 AM: Despite there being four other unfinished books stacked perilously on my nightstand--not to mention all sorts of work I might being doing--I have begun one of these books and am curled up enjoying it. You can look at the stack and guess which you think would be the book to leap to the front of the queue; already there's something interesting that I might write a post about this weekend.

the continued oratorical misadventures of jeremy freese

Background: The International Association of Social Science Information Service & Technology (IASSIST) has been having their annual conference this week in Madison. This is the main professional organization for persons who work as social science data librarians and related jobs. I was asked to be one of three speakers at a plenary session this morning at 9AM. (The session was titled "Data in Dairyland"; it was about some of the major data collection projects centered here at UW; I was supposed to talk about the WLS.)

Yesterday afternoon: I exchanged e-mails with the organizer of the session yesterday and agreed to meet her in front of the building hosting the conference between 8:30 and 8:40.

Late last night, early this morning: As I have mentioned in this weblog from time to time, sleep is the bane of my existence. I have trouble falling asleep and trouble staying asleep. I am not one of those energetic dynamos that "just needs less sleep than other people": I need every bit as much sleep as the average person, I just usually don't get it. When I set an alarm, I hardly ever end up using it because I almost always wake up before it goes off. So, anyway, last night I ended up being awake until past 3AM working on this Stata program to process responses for this one part of the survey (I may write a post about this program later). I set my alarm for 7:15, which, especially since I would likely be awake sooner seemed like it should give me plenty of time to get ready and get up to campus.

This morning, 8:35 AM: This was the time when I opened my eyes and looked at the clock this morning. Apparently I slept through my alarm. Note that it would normally take me 15 minutes to drive to campus and then walk to the building where I needed to be.

8:36 AM: I panic. I realize I don't even have the cel phone number of the person I was supposed to meet. I quickly ponder the question of whether leaving the organizer standing in front of the building puts me more in the category of "disorganized loser" or "inconsiderate jerk." I try to envision whether I have ever been to a plenary session at a conference where one of the speaker showed up late without telling anyone beforehand. I consider how oversleeping becomes increasingly lame and wow-you-are-an-unreliable-mess excuse for anything, much less a plenary talk, after about one's sophomore year of college. Since I was giving the talk because a senior colleague who had earlier agreed to do it had a scheduling conflict (Bob Hauser, for those who know my department), I imagine how I would tell him later about how I overslept and showed up late and disheveled for this talk I was doing on his behalf. I envision the TradeSports market-estimated probability of me getting tenure careening toward zero.

8:37 AM: Then, my normally meandering mind focuses remarkably incisively on the question of what is absolutely essential for me to do in order to be able to give a non-disgracing talk. No time to shower. So, first: Pants. A nice-enough long-sleeved shirt with buttons. (I realize then that a good deal of the shirts I wear for teaching are still at Klinke's, where they have been utterly forgotten about since finals week). A jacket--you can get away with a slightly wrinkly shirt as long as you wear a jacket--besides, plenary speakers should wear a jacket. Socks, shoes. Shave, more or less. Bring comb with you for use in car. Grab keys. No time to print out the slides or anything like that. Thank God I had sent the PowerPoint e-mail to the organizer yesterday afternoon; luckily also I made the slides just yesterday so, without any notes, I would have a general idea of what would be on the next slide.

8:46 AM: The time on my dashboard clock when I start my car.

8:46:30 AM: On the road, driving to campus. [Here, JFW legal counsel insists that policies regarding self-incrimination prevent me from describing with any specificity how fast I was driving. Let's just say that The Fear Of God was in me about the potential consequences of showing up late for this talk, and The Fear Of God weighed especially heavy on my right foot as I drove. Fortunately, the lights mostly went my way, especially with a lenient interpretation of when a couple of lights turned from yellow to red.]

en route: Okay, what am I going to say for this talk? Luckily I only need to speak for 15 minutes. I know I can talk for 15 minutes about the WLS off the top of my head--I've talked for several times longer than that off the top of my head before, albeit not in a formal presentation less than an hour after I woke up. The problem is not in having stuff to say, the problem is to be coherent in saying it. [I imagine myself stammering and getting confused about what I was going to say next and feeling like a disorganized oratorical puddle, which has happened before.] The key is to stay calm. Actually, that's just the one key. Two more are look enthusiastic and look like I have no doubt about the sensibility of the next sentence that will come out of my mouth, even if I have no idea what that next sentence will be. Poised, professional, but a little quirky (since I can't help it, I might as well go with it). Speak clearly and at a deliberate pace. And, crucially: have at least three jokes. [And, as I fortunately took care of yesterday, have at least one not-the-same-old-bulleted-points PowerPoint thing; for this talk, a series of slides that build up a diagram of how the WLS has grown in its relational coverage over time.]

8:56 AM: The time when I turn off my ignition in the Lake Street parking ramp. Luck was again with me as I found a spot quickly. I pulled my car into the space at a wildly diagonal angle but did not even contemplate fixing this.

8:58:30: The time on the clock in the room when walk in. I apologize as profusely as one can briefly to the session organizer, who does not seem perturbed. She may have just been relieved that I actually showed up. The two other professors speaking in the session actually come in about 30 seconds after I arrive, so she may have been worried about the possibility of more than just me being a no-show.

And then: When my turn comes, I actually do a good talk. The jokes worked, and I had a couple of other good ad-libbed lines. The slides went over well. The organizer seemed very pleased afterward. This all only furthered my resolution, arrived at last year, that I should go with only minimal or no notes for any talk of 30 minutes or less. Instead, make good PowerPoint slides (or overheads) and then DON'T READ THEM. Also, especially in comparison to certain other speaking situations I find myself in from time to time, I have also learned how much, MUCH easier it is to give a good talk when you are speaking to an audience that seems disposed to be interested in what you have to say.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

the wall has been breached! will spam-calamity follow?

Sometimes people ask why I list my e-mail address below with "at" and "dot" rather than just listing the e-mail address normally or, more conveniently, setting up a mailto: link. I do this because the sinister spam companies have various virtual robots that do nothing but troll the web looking for fresh e-mail addresses that they can add to the roster of targets for spam-salvos. So far, this tactic has worked, and my sbcglobal account has evaded lists for any kind of spam. Just now, however, the first piece of spam has paratrooped into my inbox, a missive from the spam advance scout "Armando Hickey" (a Canadian, apparently):
-----Original Message-----

From: Hickey []
Sent: Thursday, May 27, 2004 8:46 PM
Subject: mort.gage rates dropped Lower again! ... Free Quote!
From:   Armando

CC: L.oan Department
Date: Thu, 27 May 2004 20:45:40 -0500
Re: L.oan preap.roval
We have reviewed you information and glad to inform you that you qualify

for 3.2% mor.tgage r.ate under our company le.nding program.
Please use this URL below to enter final details and our manager will 

contact you ASAP.
We look forward to doing business with you.
Best Regards

CEO: Armando Hickey
1st Mor tga ge Group
How quickly will the larger invasion of this account begin? I feel like the rebels on the snow planet in The Empire Strikes Back after that probe-robot had found their base. That is, doomed. Do not be surprised if I make a strategic retreat to Gmail soon!

mullin' rouge

Now, Nellie McKay's hair in the screenshot below makes me more inclined toward the idea--touted mightily by a couple of readers and at least one boycotter of this weblog--that I dye my hair a little reddish in celebration of the summer. I think this is much more red than what I would want:

but it does give some indication of what result the hair-ruddification of Jeremy would have. Reactions? E-mail me (addresses at bottom).

more on nellie mckay

(Nellie McKay, from her appearance on Letterman)

Reader response indicates that I was not alone in not having heard anything about Nellie McKay.

1. If you have a broadband internet connection and the patience for a 13MB download, here is her appearance on David Letterman.

2. Likewise, this page contains a few clips of VH1 appearances, including one of her doing an impromptu VH1 performance mocking Puff Daddy's broadway run in Raisin in the Sun.

3. I've also here made a 30 second MP3 audio clip of the opening stretch from her female stalker anthem "David."

(Note: JFW receives no proceeds from the sale of Nellie McKay music or merchandise, but instead is promoting her music out of sheer and irrepressible enthusiasm.)

iTunes insomnia

Okay, with each passing year, I feel a little bit more creepy whenever I become enthusiastic about a musician of standard undergraduate age. And, given my estrangement from all non-online forms of mass culture, there's also the extra awkward element of knowing there is likely already a well-formed judgment about the artist out there, which may run parallel or orthogonal to my own enthusiasm. Even still, it's hard for me to see on iTunes that Nellie McKay's album has been out since Feburary, and I only heard of her for the first time when I read an article on her in a recent New Yorker. Why has no one alerted me to her existence earlier? If the established pop critics are dissing Nellie McKay, the established critics are wrong.

The New Yorker article made her sound absolutely insane (which, if you don't know how my tastes on these things run, is generally a preferable thing). In the same way that Dennis Kucinich proposed his Department of Peace and other things to make sure no other candidate was going to outflank him for being the crunchy antiwar candidate, Nellie McKay (all of 19 years old) has said various things in interviews and pulled various stunts with her record company to make sure no one was going to outflank her for being flamboyantly-crazy-enfant-terrible-diva #1.

This alone was good each to get me to pay the dollar to download one of her songs. She's got these incredible keyboard skills and this marvelous sultry swing voice, which she then takes in all of these madcap and often twisted directions that is carried forth with the confident-fearless-gusto of someone who is young and well aware that are massively gifted. The first song, "David," is a paean to stalking an older man who lives in her building and who really wishes Nellie would just leave him alone. My first reactions to it were (a) this was not quite like anything I've ever heard before and (b) this was really wonderfully and cleverly constructed. And, even so, it has this unsettling groove to it, where you feel like a sensible person would never break up with Nellie without changing their locks, phone number, passwords, and credit card numbers, if not also their addresses and maybe even their names. Rarely does someone with a marvelous swing-style voice also give you a sense that they would have no problem taking a chainsaw to your home furnishings if you messed with her.

Suffice it to say that this charmed me into downloading another song. And then another. And then another. And then another.

Anyway, this is good stuff. I'm smitten. I would recommending downloading "David" first, and then maybe "The Dog Song"* A bad thing about iTunes is that I can't make clips to upload. You should check out her music now, as I'm sure she will probably have had a complete psychological meltdown by her third or fourth album.

*If there are still people out there who have not yet--at long last--grasped the fundamental and ultimate limitations of Ani DiFranco as a musician/songwriter (as opposed to admirable political indie touring force), download McKay's "Sari" and compare its cleverness and complexity to whatever is your favorite of Ani DiFranco's various quasi-poem-quasi-rant-quasi-songs.

of course, the conventional wisdom that it is tough to beat the market is not the conventional wisdom for nothing

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

ann versus the market: a money making opportunity?

I have never watched a single episode of American Idol. However, I have stayed surprisingly on top of developments in each of the three seasons. Last season, it was all the grad students in my methods class talked about before class began. This season, it has been the crackerjack weekly reporting on various weblogs. Before, these weblogs have only offered entertainment in providing post-episode analyses, but now, a chance for real cash has arisen.

Ann has predicted that Diana is more likely to win than Fantasia. I have absolutely no idea whether Ann is right or not, since--again--I've never seen the show, but her previous analyses of episodes have seemed astute. So, say you take Ann's comment as meaning that she gives Diana a 60% chance of winning, to Fantasia's 40%. Presently on TradeSports, you can wager/speculate (depending on whether you see it as gambling or as futures trading) on the outcome of the AI voting, and the market-estimated probability is presently that Fantasia has an 80% probability of winning, compared to Diana's 20%. See this table taken from the TradeSports site:

Here's what this means: You can log onto TradeSports right now and for $2.10 (and multiples thereof) buy a "share" betting on Diana to win. If Diana does win, you get $10 for that win, minus like a dime in transactions costs to the TradeSports site. If Ann's assessment is correct, a share of Diana is actually worth $6 (since $6/$10 = 60%). For $210, you can place a bet that, if Ann's assessment is right, is really worth $600. So you are $390 ahead, just like that. (Actually, after the voting, you will either be $790 ahead or $210 behind, but given that Ann's assessment is that it is more likely you will be $790 ahead than $210 behind, a normative economist would say you'd have to be irrationally risk averse not to jump on this).

All this time, you've been feeling guilty about the "wasted" time you spend reading weblogs. Here, you are offered an opportunity that is tantamount to me showing you how to print fully legal tender out of your laser printer. As Alec Baldwin says in Glengarry Glen Ross, the money is there: "Will you take it? Are you man enough to take it?"*

* JFW is not responsible for any fortunes lost following finance-related or other recommendations offered on JFW. Indeed, while JFW does reserve the right to take credit if such action turns out positively, JFW also reserves the right to taunt if it doesn't.

platform shoos

The JFW Executive Board decreed recently that all semantic complaints from readers will be handled strictly according to prevailing-presidential-administration praxis. As our first example, several readers have e-mailed to note that not all of the beds offered as alternatives in the previous post meet standard technical definitions of what constitutes a "platform bed." Make no mistake: the proprietor of JFW responds to this complaint by acknowledging the importance of linguistic precision. I accept full responsibility for the content of this weblog and so for any misuse of the phrase "platform bed." (However, Erin is the one who kept saying that they were all platform beds. I was always skeptical of whether you still called something a platform bed once box springs were also involved. She's to blame! Punish her! Punish her!) Again, the blog buck stops here and thus responsibility for the mistake is entirely mine. (Although one might wonder whether certain terminological do-gooders are truly loyal to JFW or whether they are acting in ways that give aid and comfort to this weblog's sinister detractors. Traitors! Bloggerdict Arnolds!)

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

decorating by democracy

I have long been considering buying a platform bed. My friend Erin "Mighty e" Maher in Seattle is also now thinking about buying one. We have exactly the same taste in furniture (it's freakish, we know), so whatever is the best choice for me is almost certainly the best choice for her as well. After making an exhaustive Froogle search of online catalogues, we have winnowed the field to seven contenders.* But now, indecisiveness has kicked in. As a result, we have decided to let you, weblog readers, make this important decorating choice for both of us. Rarely is even a single home-furnishing decision left up to the whims of the masses; here you are given the opportunity to influence the interior agendas in two different abodes.

Catalog photos of all seven beds are below. The catalog photos were often of entire rooms; to minimize the influence of how the bed looks amidst furniture neither of us actually own, I cropped the photos to show only the bed to the greatest (rectangular) extent possible. To make voting easier, I decided to give all seven beds names, by combining the names of the seven dwarves (in reverse alphabetical order) with the seven sacraments of Catholicism (in most likely chronological order). Some dwarves and sacraments make better bed monikers than others, but please do not let the names influence your vote.

1. "Sneezy Baptism"

2. "Sleepy Confession"

3. "Happy Communion"
(note: available [though not as a photo] in silver, which is what both of us would want)

4. "Grumpy Confirmation"
(note: we presume that the white quasi-headboard thing and the lamps could be removed if desired)

5. "Dopey Matrimony"

6. "Doc Holy Orders"

7. "Bashful Last Rites"

Remember that democratic decorating doesn't work unless you vote, so please cast your ballot for one of the platform beds above!

* To be completely honest, two of these beds have been ruled out by Erin and/or me. We leave them in the poll only as a way of gauging the consonance between voters' tastes and our own. Other than that, however, our furnishing fates rest in your hands!

second quarter

"Where did you go for lunch?"
"Noodles. Which I should not go to again if I ever want to lose any weight."
"Hey, you owe me a quarter."

That swiftly another twenty-five cents is taken from the JFW treasury as part of our special Summer Without Should promotion. Who will be our next lucky winner?

Monday, May 24, 2004

frequently asked questions about jeremy, continued

Q. I read somewhere that Jeremy is a (chirpy-looking) semi-vegetarian. What does that mean?

A. Enough with the chirpy-looking already. Questions about the precise character of my dietary restrictions have arisen because of the conspicuous absence of various local steakhouses from the listing of restaurants in my previous post. I have never myself used the word "semi-vegetarian". I have said "fish-excepting vegetarian" and "pescatarian" and even "cannibalistic Pisces [b. March 15]". Anyway, moving to the relevant branch(es) from the tree of the kingdom of life, here's a quick reference for my dietary restrictions.

Subphylum Urochordata (sea squirts) [YES]
Subphylum Cephalochordata (lancelets) [YES]
Subphylum Myxini (hagfish) [YES]
Subphylum Vertebrata (vertebrates)
Petromyzontida (lampreys) [YES]
Placodermi - extinct [NO]
Chondrichthyes (cartilaginous fish) [YES]
Acanthodii - extinct [NO]
Actinopterygii (ray-finned fish) [YES]
Actinistia (coelacanths) [NO]
Dipnoi (lungfish) [YES]
Amphibia (amphibians) [NO]
Reptilia (reptiles) [NO]
Aves (birds) [NO]
Mammalia (mammals) [NO]

Note: All this goes out the window if I'm on a plane that crashes in the Andes, as then immediately everybody else onboard becomes dinner-eligible. Indeed, I may even begin marinading the person in the seat next to me at the first sign of trouble.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

madison area restau-rants

A call has recently gone out for Madison webloggers to declare their votes for the most favorite and least favorite overall restaurants in Madison. The question of the least favorite restaurants is more interesting to me, for a reason I'll explain in a moment, so let me just dispatch with the most favorite part of the question quickly.

Jeremy's favorite Madison area restaurants, by category

Upscale, local: (1) L'Etoile (Downtown)*, (2) Ocean Grill (Downtown), (3) Blue Marlin (Downtown) [note: the author of this weblog, slovenly toothpaste-eating philistine that he is, has never been to Harvest, which he considers a mighty gap in his Madison education]
Midrange, local: (1) Maharaja (West Side), (2) Hubbard Avenue Diner (Middleton), (3) Peacemeal (State--their so-earnest manifesto on the front of their menu is so cute it gets them inclusion here)
Cheaper, local: (1) New Orleans Take-Out (Monroe St.; although see cautionary tale below), (2) Amy's Cafe (State St), (3) Simply Soup (Downtown)
Midrange, chain: (1) Macaroni Grill (West Side) (1) Chili's (West Side) [note: the author of this weblog has not been to the Asian Big Bowl on the west side, although he just suggested it to a friend he was to dine with yesterday but to no avail]
Cheaper, chain: (1) Noodles (University Avenue), (2) Red Robin (Monona), 3 Chipotle (State Street)
Pizza: Glass Nickel, although I am not as enthusiastic about it as others. At least they will deliver to the RV, unlike many other potential contenders.

Ok, so the reason I find discussions of least favorite restaurants interesting is that because bad restaurants seem to require more of an explanation. With good restaurants you just have to explain why they are so good, while with bad restaurants, you have to explain both why they are bad and why they haven't been disciplined out of the market. The restaurant business is supposed to be so enormously competitive, so how does any bad restaurant stay in business?

I suspect the restaurants that would make somebody's "least favorite" list could be divided into two kinds. Bad-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder restaurants are bad to the rater and perhaps people of similar tastes/refinement as the rater, but these restaurants do appeal well to some other clientele-segment of the restaurant market. Objectively bad restaurants, on the other hand, may have no obvious rational fan base, and instead manage to stay in business for some other reason.

So, anyway, here's my countdown of my five least favorite restaurants in Madison**, with speculation about how they persist despite my low regard for them:

5. Mickie's Dairy Bar

As many readers know, before I moved into the RV I lived above the barbershop right next door to Mickie's Dairy Bar. I was still at Indiana when I made the arrangements to live there, I was worried when I heard about Mickie's and that it was renowned for its breakfasts. I envisioned myself gaining a couple hundred pounds as I ate breakfast there every morning and bought chocolate malts there every weekend. Instead, I had breakfast there once shortly after moving in, and then only ate there again when I was joining some people who had already arranged to meet there. When I would want breakfast, I would get in my car and drive somewhere rather than go to this place that was thirty feet from my front door. I actually lost ten pounds during the time I lived above Mickie's, or rather I did in the year two years before New Orleans Take-Out took the storefront on the other side of the barbershop, which perhaps more than anything else can be blamed for the Great Weight Gain of 2003. Anyway, one might ask how this place can rank among my least favorites when it is so regularly packed on weekends and does a strong business on weekdays. The apparent answer is that others apparently have more robust stomachs I do. All I know is, my fragile culinary constitution cannot handle a breakfast place that serves up stuff as greasy as Mickie's does. That first time I had breakfast there, I walked around the rest of the day feeling like I had a hundred pounds of coins in my stomach.

4. Sushi Box

Sushi Box wins the award for the Least Congenial Eating Environment For How Much A Meal Costs award. I felt like it had about the same charm as eating at one of those awkward tables set up beside a kiosk selling food at an airport. And, perhaps unfairly, I'm always leery of sushi places that seem like they don't get much traffic, as I can't help but wonder how long their fish has been on-hand. I think Sushi Box is objectively bad and suspect that it won't be in business much longer. If I'm wrong, my guess is that its persistence can be chalked up to the dearth of west-of-campus-but-not-too-west sushi alternatives.

3. Ella's Deli

Ella's Deli is a place on the west side that's kinda famous for having a carousel out front and all kinds of kitschy toys and games and lights and antique-amusements and moving things inside. In this respect, it is much like my office, so you would think that I love it. I've been there a couple of times, and I do get a kick out of all the the stuff they have going on inside. Unfortunately, overall assessment of a restaurant does seem like it should factor in the food, and what they serve up at Ella's Deli is really awful. They offer like nine million things on their menu and seem, from looking around to other tables, to do none of them that well. I presume they stay in business (and perhaps even thrive) because they have so many ways of commanding the attention of its child patrons, who combine notoriously undiscerning palates with abilities to sway parents into going to restaurants that run counter to the parents' own gastronomic interest. Also, they do have status of being a minor Madison tourist attraction, and so they do get traffic that would be one-time-only regardless of quality of food.

2. Paisan's

This is an Italian restaurant near campus that I have probably eaten at five times (as with Mickie's, only the first time was by my own choice). Every meal I have had there has been bad. Like should-I-send-it-back, no-this-seems-to-be-the-way-they-prepare-it, so-then-five-bites-and-I'm-done bad. And I haven't coveted what the other people were eating as a replacement. It does have a comfortable environment, and one time they even had a song by the beloved late Kirsty MacColl playing. I think the coziness is one reason it's in business: it seems like it should have better food than it does. Another reason it remains in business may be that another (and far superior) Italian restaurant that's nearby, has a sufficiently discreet front that I think they get missed by some people's food radar. And maybe I've just had a spectacular and laws-of-probability-defying run of bad luck there.

1. Ingraham Deli

This is my hands-down winner (loser). It is the university-owned place in Ingraham Hall, which is right across the street from the Social Science Building. I think it manages to not make other people's lists because it's so thoroughly subpar that people don't even count it as an option in this pagaent.*** I think they provoke this bad-place-to-eat-brinksmanship with them: they have this dreary selection of stuff; you are hungry and everything else is far away; you end up buying something; which seems to serve to guarantee that something even more dreary will be offered the next day. The secret of their success is that they have basically a captive audience for anyone in their neck of campus who is pressed for time and doesn't want to go down-and-back-up the hill or eat in the dorms. It evinces every suboptimality that can arise when enterprises are (geographically or otherwise) providing a needed product but protected from competition.**** I don't know how there are grad students who come to Madison being mostly-orthodox-Marxists and don't have every last inclination toward socialism stomped out of them through their experiences with Ingraham Deli.

* Madison's best kept secret! (Kidding; it's the predictable choice; professorial discussions of the best restaurant in town seem either to cite L'Etoile or feel like they have to explain why they are giving something else the nod over L'Etoile. And now it's augmented with Nina Power!

** Chain restaurants omitted. My least favorite chain restaurant in Madison is likely Applebee's, although I've never gone to the Applebee's here in Madison and am just presuming it's like the one in Blooomington. In the lower price range, the dys-trophy goes to the place that proudly advertises burritos as large as one's head.

*** It's not a restaurant, one might say. My reply would be that it's only because it's so lame that we don't credit it as a restaurant. Something could very well exist in that space that served all the same functions (except torture) and would indeed be something that would have whatever consideration as a restaurant one would otherwise accord to a cafe or deli-with-seating.

**** In the Social Science building, the economics graduate students run a business where they go get a bunch of pizza and sandwiches off-campus on weekdays and make a killing re-selling it on the seventh floor, as what they resell is so unambiguously better than what you can get across the street at Ingraham.

Update, 1:10 AM: The above list has been congratulated on NinaNet for its omission of Chautara among its favorite places. While I would like to think that the omission did indeed reflect my "strong moral fiber", etc., I actually really like Chautara and just forgot about it. Meanwhile, Nina seems incredulous that I would express fondness for Hubbard at the same time I would diss Mickie's Dairy Bar. I can note only that (1) I've eaten at Hubbard a few dozen times, and I have never walked around for hours afterward feeling like I've got a stomach filled with spare change and (2) Hubbard is not just a breakfast place, even though I think it is a much better breakfast place than Mickie's; if I was rating just breakfasts, I think I would give highest props to Marigold.

for chrissake, if you are going to slam the door behind you, slam it hard!

Edward Castronova is a Ph.D. economist who got some press for his work on supertimesuck online games like EverQuest. He has an economics position at Cal State Fullerton that he was unhappy with, in part because the discipline of economics has not been that encouraging of his efforts to take virtual worlds seriously. Recently, however, his EverQuest work has landed him a tenured position in the telecommunications department at Indiana University. Now that he will be changing disciplines, he decided to post a parting rant about economics on his weblog. Here, in its entirety:
A little namby-pamby, if you ask me. I mean, everybody knows I have a sunny disposition toward every nook and cranny of sociology, so I have no plans or aspirations to be trying to jump disciplines. Still, all I'm saying is, if somebody is going to be writing a finally-I-can-say-this-out-loud rant for their weblog about a discipline that they feel has mistreated them and that they are leaving behind, I think they should compose something sufficiently scathing that some monitors burst into flames when a reader tries to scroll down through the post.

outside looking in

(the essential keys left behind today)

I spent many hours today locked out of the RV. As I'm not going up to the office so much this summer, it's occurred to me that I don't need to lug around the ten or so keys that open various doors in the Social Science Building. So lately I've been gallivanting around town with only my Essential Keys: the keys to my car and the RV. This afternoon, I bounded out of the RV and realized about six steps later that I had grabbed the ring of Nonessential Keys rather than the essential ones. I didn't have my cel phone with me, and it was not-pouring-but-not-sprinking-either rain. I could basically conceive five possible ways of getting back in:

1. A neighboring couple had an extra key. This was plainly the best option. Except they weren't home. I worried that they were gone for the weekend.

2. The balcony door to the RV was unlocked. If I had a ladder, I could climb up onto the balcony and get inside. Alas, despite trying a few incantations, no ladder presented itself.

3. A neighboring balcony was close enough to my balcony that if I could get onto their balcony I could channel my inner Lara Croft and jump from their balcony to mine. Alas, that neighbor wasn't home either. Indeed, the rumor is that neighbor has gone to Las Vegas to get some additional "spiritual training" by moving in with the founder of this new religious sect that she has joined (really, truly).

4. I could try to bludgeon my way past the lock and into the RV. Even if the RV were pregnable in this way, it would require replacing the door at considerable expense. Not to mention that I would almost certainly break, sprain, or hyperextend something.

5. I could hire a locksmith to get me inside. This would be less costly than #4 but far from cheap, especially since it was the weekend. I also am not sure how it works to tell a locksmith to get you inside a residence (i.e., do you have to prove it's your residence?).

Not knowing what to do, I ended up walking a couple of miles in the rain to a friend's house. I left a message for the neighbors with the spare key and hoped-hoped-hoped they would come home. I thought I was going to have to either spring for the locksmith or find somewhere to spend the night. And, of course, I got nothing accomplished on the paper I'm supposed to be putting final touches on and giving back to its co-author on Monday.

Finally, circa 10pm, the neighbors call my friend's house and tell me they have unlocked the front door to the RV for me. Tomorrow I am going to go out and get a spare key made and figure out some clever hiding spot for it.

Friday, May 21, 2004

first quarter

"So, what did you do today?"
"All kinds of piddly other things when I should be working."
"Somebody owes me a quarter."

With that, my friend from Beauxbaton becomes the first 25-cent winner of the potentially million-dollar JFW "Summer Without Should" giveaway. Be on the lookout/listenout for your own opportunity to rake in some quarters.

is it just me, or does this painting mess with your eyes?

(painting awarded third place in a recent national high-school arts competition)

At least with my bionically enhanced vision, one of these eyes (the one on the lower left) looks like it's sticking half an inch out of the front of my monitor.

a job good done!

I have a friend whose intellectual gifts I suspect sometimes are not being fully realized or appreciated in her place of employment. She recently forwarded me an e-mail that she had sent to one of her company's complaining clients. If there was a Pulitzer Prize for Effusive Expressions of Corporate Contrition, this e-mail would surely be a contender. Indeed, her boss also recognized the quality of her prostrate prose, as after reading her e-mail he sent her a three-word message: "Very Well Writing!"

another post in praise of google

When the Browser War first began, I stuck with the underdog Netscape. Then, one day, I had the epiphany that it really was a misguided application of one's loyalty to worry about whether Bill Gates or The Netscape Billionaire Guy made a few more billion dollars. So that's the day for me when Dr. Strangelove learned to stop worrying and love the monopolist product, if that was warranted. However, when Microsoft launches the apparently forthcoming Search Engine Wars, I am going to stick with Google until the bitter end.

Why? Because I believe that Google has genuinely enriched my life and so I owe them. Before Google, I would use a search engine regularly, but it wasn't until Google's Great Leap Forward in intuitive search technology that the search engine became my continually-used all-purpose solution for any even momentarily-nagging curiosity. Before Google, I would go through each day with all kinds of unrequited wonder. A question would come to mind, there would be no way at hand of answering it, and I would have to ponder listlessly over possible answers until my desire-to-know ultimately subsided. Now, however, if I wonder something and there is a keyboard anywhere close by, I go get some immediate intellectual gratification.

Here are five moments of mental craving in the last 24 hours alone that have been Googlesated:

1. What do skunks eat? (they're omnivores)

2. How many times was Frank Sinatra married? What # wife was Mia Farrow? (four; third)

3. Are podiatrists MDs? (no, although there is a movement afoot [ha!] to change this)

4. What is Seymour M. Hersh's middle name? (Myron)

5. Is there a place one can go locally for Steam Embrace therapy? (yes)

hey, wait a minute

A SuperPlusDoublePremium(tm) Subscriber from Tashkent, OH, e-mailed me earlier this week:
so i see that gay couples in massachusetts were able to start marrying at 12:01am. why not 12:00am? is this the same deal as the new millenium starting with the year 2001 instead of 2000? Should we be celebrating the new year (assuming that one should celebrate this at all) at 12:01am each year, instead of at the stroke of midnight...
I have always perplexed by this as well. My understanding has always been that the stroke of midnight belongs to the next day. This is why 12 AM is midnight and 12 PM is noon; if midnight belongs to the previous day it would be the other way around. With the millenium, there was the commonsense idea that the millenium started in 2000 and then the quasi-elitish counteridea that the millenium really didn't start until 2001. I'm sure, if the New Year didn't really start until 12:01, there would be a similar quasi-elitish countercadre that would insist on waiting one minute later than everyone else to start a-kissing and a-whooping. Is there some legal sense in which the next day doesn't actually start until 12:01? Is it like a "fiscal day" that starts one minute later than the real day?

This semester, in my graduate methods course, I started off having exercises due (via e-mail) on Thursdays at 3pm. I decided later that I wanted to give students the rest of the day to do them. Which spawned the inevitable question: "What do you mean by the rest of the day? Do you mean 5 or until midnight or until 8AM tomorrow or what?" So I started putting on the exercises that they were due Thursday at 11:59:59.9 PM, as I knew that if I put "Thursday at midnight" I would get some neurotic* students who thought they needed to finish the exercise before Wednesday night turned into Thursday morning, and if I put "Friday at midnight", there would be slacker students who would insist that it was plausible to construe this as meaning that they could have the whole day Friday to do their assignment.

* This is a perfect example of how I project my own neuroses onto students. The fact of the matter is, every single student in the class could have perfectly understood that when I said "Thursday at midnight" I meant "the instant Thursday night turns into Friday morning," and yet I still would not have put "Thursday at midnight" on their assignments, because I would know it was technically incorrect.

Update, like a minute later: Incidentally, Blogger recently set the timestamp on one of my posts as being 12:01pm, even though I actually posted it at like 9am that day. I have no idea why. But, presumably, it was inadvertently reset to the start-of-day value, which means that Blogger also regards 12:01 as the real time that the next day begins.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

honestly, now...

Am I chirpy-looking? NinaNet is saying I'm chirpy-looking. I'm not entirely sure what chirpy-looking means, which makes it harder for me to judge whether or not I am (or what to think about it if I am).

P.S. "chirpy-looking nina" is a GoogleWhack, or at least it is until Google finds Nina's post.


Every Methodist I have ever known has been ahead of the curve, and so I shouldn't be surprised that now, thanks to the Methodists, you can go to church online. The picture above is from my own visit there; it represents my first nonwedding/nonfuneral trip inside a church since... well, since the teaching assistants went on strike last month, I guess. When bricks-and-mortar universities are replaced by online universities, I wonder if this is where classes will be held if the TAs go on a virtual strike.

(epiphany) korea! korea! korea! korea!

I'm listening to Pavement's "Cut Your Hair," which came out around 10 years ago, and it just now occurred to me that, near the end, the guy could be singing "Career! Career! Career! Career!" instead of "Korea! Korea! Korea! Korea!" (click here to listen for yourself).

A lyric site agrees with my new interpretation. The song makes so much more sense now, as it's much easier to how the decision of a musician to cut his hair might be relevant for his career rather than relevant for the future of Korea. That said, the song does also lose some of what I had regarded as quirky charm.

turning spam into spamonade

This morning an e-mail advertising for some cut-rate pharmaceuticals made it through my spam filter and into my inbox. The crafty message had as its subject line "behest stickleback." And I thought, "Is that a Googlewhack?" Lo, it's not (39 entries), but behest sticklebacks is!

important information for those readers who sometimes train baristas

Yesterday, I was in the coffeeshop at Borders, and I ordered what has become my usual hot-chocolate-with-skim-milk-but-with-whipped-cream.* The barista made the common mistake when putting on the whipped cream, which is to fancy oneself as crafting the topping for a sundae instead for a hot beverage. So the whipped cream is piled like a half inch above the top of the cup.

As I was planning on walking around the store with the drink, I wanted to put a lid on the top. But since the total volume of the beverage was now greater than the total volume of the cup, a lid wouldn't fit. The usual solution would be to sip some from the top, but, as the surface of the beverage was buried under however many inches of Reddi-Whip, I couldn't do this without getting whipped cream all over my face in the process.

So I tried to defy physics by putting the lip on the cup anyway. As is the usual fate of efforts to defy physics, this didn't work. Instead, hot chocolate came spurting out of the hole in the lid and splattering my shirt with all these brown specks, like I had just ambled through some finely-sprayed fecal mist. Luckily, the book I had set down next to the cup was shrink-wrapped, as hot chocolate spilled all over it. Many napkins were required to staunch the cocoa flow.

* As some readers know, I cannot abide the taste of coffee or anything coffee flavored, but otherwise much enjoy coffeehouses.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

(timesuck) not quite googlewhack, but...

I was reading an article that noted George W. Bush's use of "misunderestimate," I wondered about the # of webpages on Google that contained "misunderestimate" and what % of those pages also included the word "Bush". Answers: 6570 and 67.1%. If I was in a more creative name, I could try to come up with a catchy name for the 67.1%, as it basically indexes the extent to which a given word's presence on the Internet is directly connected to its association with Bush.

So, then, I tried to see if I could come up with another "word" (broadly construed, but certainly a string of letters with no spaces) that had a higher index than "misunderestimate." I tried various possibilities:

"Dubya": ~493K entries, 38.1% co-occurring with "Bush"
"Condoleezza": ~369K entries, 42.8%
"neoconservative": 155K entries, 50.3%
"Plame": 77500 entries, 57.2%

But despite these valiant efforts, I decided that nothing was going to beat Bushes malapropisms. So I tried another, and found the big winner so far:

"Subliminabable": 569 entries, 92.6%

It's hard to imagine anything that would beat this, but if you think of something, let me know.

I wondered what term of disendearment had the highest index, but I didn't get very far. However, let it be known that, of the 48000 instances of "Dipshit" on the web, a surprising and impressive 19.2% co-occur with "Bush" (as opposed to only 6.4% co-occuring with "Clinton" and 6.3% with "Kerry". Presumably Kerry's association with "dipshit" will go up as the election season continues.)

Regarding "Clinton", "Rodham" (68.3%) handily trounces "Lewinsky" (35.2%). "Rodham," however, is no match for "Broaddrick" (85.9%). Regarding "Kennedy", "Chappaquiddick" does not have some overwhelming co-occurrence rate (48.2%), although it does edge out "Zapruder" (47.2%)

Monday, May 17, 2004

explanation of today's weblog silence

I am getting rather weary from trying to do all my end-of-semester grading for my graduate methods class today. And I still have a ways to go.

I was supposed to do all this Sunday, but then I got sucked into reading Strange Victory: Hitler's Conquest of France, which is a fabulous-fabulous book about which I may post more about when I finish it.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

um, bunky?

From a story at
The university earlier justified blacking out the names by citing part of Missouri's Sunshine Law that allows some personnel matters to be kept private. But university attorney Marvin "Bunky" Wright wrote that the effort to protect staffers' privacy was 'fruitless' because of media reports naming them anyway.
How can you be taken seriously as an attorney who asks people to call you Bunky? More importantly, didn't he steal that name from one of my old girlfriends?

Saturday, May 15, 2004

reasons to admire nina camic, continued

Most Madisonians, if charged with the task of flying to Japan, would just presume that this would imply flying west. West is a good deal shorter, after all, and you get the fun of crossing the International Date Line.* When I went to Taiwan, for instance, I connected through Japan, and the flight was over the Pacific. Not Nina. Where others zag, she zigs; where others go west, she goes east. She takes the long way around, and in so doing she gets to do a two-day stopover in Paris. Plus, think of all the extra frequent flier miles she gets to accumulate this way.

* Is International Date Line supposed to capitalized? I don't know. There are others with weblogs who would scamper off to Google and check on this before posting. Indeed, Blogger has a spell check feature so that lexically self-conscious webloggers can see whether they have spelled sphygmomanometer or chrysanthemum or thanatognomonic or whatever correctly in their latest post. To which I say: Not JFW, not ever--this is a promise to you from the proprietor. Every JFW post comes straight from the heart. Never do the dictatorial urgings of any spell-check, grammar-check, or capitalization-check software influence the content of anything posted here. Indeed, proofreading of any sort is done only under particularly sensitive and/or potentially legally actionable conditions. Instead, at JFW, the policy is strictly to hit the "Publish" button first and ask questions later, or preferably not at all.


Despite various pressing occupational obligations, I just finished Ian McEwan's Atonement, which had been recommended to me by my friend Erin. Erin usually recommends good books. Plus, the back of the book notes that it was selected as Best Book of the Year by, inter alia, Time, The Washington Post Book World, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times Book Review, San Francisco Times, and the Seattle Times.

So when I was about halfway through, I felt very alienated from the world of discerning book readers. I resigned myself to being someone who, despite efforts at late-blooming refinement by others, was a fan of the densely-plotted page-turners, and who found Atonement's detailed polypsychological introspection to provide an okay but not inspiring page-skipper. Or, in more cynical moments of reading, I thought that other people probably didn't derive anything more than the moderate pleasure I was from reading it, but because of the sophistication and intelligence of the prose regarded it as the kind of book that Should Be Praised and Should Receive Important Awards.

Erin, I thought, must have been overly swayed by the effusive critical praise. This was especially disappointing given that Erin and I had bonded before in defiance of the received wisdom of critics, most recently in Chicago when we were both driven to near-suicide-pactal boredom by the inexplicably-wildly-praised French documentary To Be and To Have.

But, then, lo, the last eighty or so pages of the novel turn out to be astonishing, not just wonderful-wonderful in themselves, but wonderful-wonderful in ways that vindicate some of the earlier parts of the book where reading was more of a chore. By the time you are in the middle of any novel, your brain has basically defined a space of places that the story could basically go. And this is one of those novels that not only takes the story in a direction that you didn't think was possible but also one where, when you finish, you do so with the sense of having read a novel that ends exactly right. I suppose the last novel that gave me this feeling was Life of Pi*, but the last third here is even more clever (although the first two-thirds is nowhere near as entertaining). So many novels have a splendid beginning and even middle but then don't end right or anywhere close to right,** making it so refreshing when one reads a novel that ends brilliantly.

* As well as maybe the Jonathan Lethem novella This Shape We're In, which is only $9 on Amazon, although then again it takes less than an hour to read. (Note that, if you follow this link and buy the book, JFW receives no kickback, because the proprietor thinks it's kinda self-important, venal, and borderline creepy when bloggers register themselves with Amazon in order to do that.)

** Including, as far as I can tell, the entire oeuvre of John Irving, excepting those novels that do not start well either. With apologies to fans of his who may read this, John Irving stands in my mind as sort of the Thomas Kincade of novel-enders.

the sporadic sunshine of the untidy mind

1. Yesterday, I took some control over a situation that threatened to steal some of my summer sunshine, and I was finally able to resolve an entirely different matter that had stolen some of my spring sunshine. So: two cheers for the home team!

2. I have a heapin' helping of hopefully hospitable grading to do yet for my graduate methods class, which does block out the sun a little bit this weekend.

3. This morning, enthused by the sun, I went to techline and placed an order for another bookcase, a file cabinet, and a half-moon table to go by the door of the RV. This will make--let me see--11 pieces of techline furniture that I own (or 13, or 9, depending on how you count). When I went in there today, I noticed that their staff were using rather old looking computers with 15 or 17-inch non-flat-screen monitors. To which I thought: I hope to God this company hasn't upgraded their computer equipment because they are going under now that I have invested so thoroughly in their style of design. Although I suppose I can't imagine what else I might ever get from them, except maybe another bookcase and maybe a side-table-ish thing.

4. Still enthused by the sun, and feeling like I should be getting out into the sunshine by using the RV's balcony more, I went to a patio furniture store and almost plunked down an embarrassing sum of money on this unbelievably sleek and well-constructed reclining patio chair, ottoman, and side table. I would have bought it if it had fit in my Corolla. (Friend from Beauxbaton, I even dialed to see if you could help with your pickup!) Thank God it didn't fit and Ms. Beauxbaton wasn't home, because as I was driving away from the store I realized the insanity of spending more on balcony furniture at this stage of my life than I've spent on, say, my sofa or my bed. Granted, the balcony furniture would last forever, but who even knows that I'm going to spending the rest of my life in recreational vehicles that even have balconies? Most don't.

5. Besides if I'm going to be out on my balcony soaking up sunshine while I read or use my wireless laptop, I need to get some new sunglasses. The ones I have are prescription sunglasses made for my older, pre-bionic eyes.

6. Of course, what I really need to be doing outside is not driving to buy things or lounging on my balcony but walking. One would think me a perfect candidate for worthwhile walking given my ruminative tendencies and that I pace/wander a lot anyway. The problem, however, is that for walking to be exercise one needs to do it briskly, and, if left to myself I am one of the most laggardly walkers on the planet.* You might think that I could simply choose to walk faster. However, what happens is that I walk faster so long as I am thinking about it, but as soon as my mind wanders elsewhere I slow to my usual pace. The only solution discovered thus far is to walk with someone who walks briskly, as I will keep pace with someone else even when my mind wanders.**

So, from an exercise standpoint, I always have more successful walks with others than I do by myself. Hence: if you are in the Greater Madison Area and ever want to walk, let me know. So long as you can set and maintain a reasonably brisk pace. Even if I don't know you. Even if you are one of these psychopaths who combs through random weblogs looking for guileless people that you can lure to a secluded area and dismember, drop me an e-mail.

* Some have attributed this to me rural upbringing, as it is well-documented that people from rural areas walk slower than people from cities. However, back when I was growing up, I was a pokey walker even measured against the other country kids, which says something about how slow I seem now that most everybody I interact with is from some metropolitan area or another.

** And, as revoltingly out of shape as I've allowed myself to become, I need to walk for awhile become I can even contemplate taking up jogging yet again.

intergenerational jeremys

A friend and I are talking about one of her co-workers, who is also named Jeremy:

"Why do you think he does that?"
"Well, you know, he's older."
"No, I didn't know he was older. I thought he was our age."
"No, he's like the same age as my parents."
"Really? And he's named Jeremy?"
"No way! Nobody that old is named Jeremy. Unless they're British."
"Well, he's British."
"He's British? No way!"
"Why do you sound so surprised?"
"Well, what are the chances that he's going to be British? Probably one-quarter of one percent of Madison is British."
"Yeah, but you just said that the only people his age who are named Jeremy are British, so doesn't that make the chances 100%."
"But when I make sweeping generalizations like that, they hardly ever have much predictive value, much less such striking predictive validation!"
"Does that really count as predictive? He's been British this whole time."
"But I didn't know he was British! I was surprised that he was so old and named Jeremy because I presumed he wasn't British!"
"I think I probably told you he was British at some point, and you made subconscious use of that information even if you don't remember me telling you."
"Don't even try to take my predictive victory from me!"

social science graduate students: earn $12K in 3 months!

A friend forwarded this to me. Is this for real? This can't be for real, right? The job is to provide a literature review on the social implications of the development of "a non-injurious, noncarcinogenic “energy beam” device which may provide US forces with a non-lethal capability in military operations other than war (peacekeeping, peace enforcement, humanitarian operations, area denial, crowd control, etc.). The energy beam uses non-ionizing millimeter wave technologies to deposit energy in the top 0.3mm of the skin."

Friday, May 14, 2004

if being wrong's a crime, this guy'd be serving forever*

I recently received a shout-out from another sociology weblog, which (a) linked to one of my posts, (b) contemplated whether I could be rightly referred to as the blogger's professor, (c) acknowledged getting the idea of blogging with footnotes from me**, and, most touchingly, (d) noted that I was "one of" the only professors in sociology who would get a reasonably obscure Replacements reference.*** Ah, my faculty heart swells from the attention.

More pertinently, Brady's post inspired me to buy this Replacements' tribute album available that was available on iTunes. 24 songs by 24 artists. Some of the songs appear to represent efforts to basically sound as much like the original version as possible, which I basically think is the Worst Thing You Can Do On A Tribute Album, Especially When It's A Tribute To A Genius And You Are, Well, Not. It does give one a greater appreciation of what a wonderfully evocative singer (as well as songwriter) Westerberg is.

Anyway, there is this one song on the tribute album that has received several extra listens because of this utterly infuriating thing the performer does. It's the cover of "Skyway", by Adam Leland (whoever that is). "Skyway" is a simple-but-poignant song about a man who takes the bus most everyday in winter and has developed this crush on a woman he sees up every day above in the skyway (the over-the-street connections between buildings in Minneapolis). And then it ends with a verse where the man is up in the skyway, and he looks down and sees the woman at long last down on the street passing by the bus stop. O, cruel world.

The relevant lyrics are:
Oh, then one day, I saw you walkin' down that little one-way
Where, the place I'd catch my ride most everyday
There wasn't a damn thing I could do or say
Up in the skyway
However, what Leland sings instead here is "beneath the skyway." What the [expletive deleted] was he thinking? The only reason the song makes any sense is that for most of the song she's in the skyway, he's on the street, and then when he's in the skyway, she's on the street. Why couldn't he do or say anything if she was passing by the bus stop and he was at the bus stop as well? I've tried to come up with some way that this could be a clever artist's re-interpretation of the song, but after thirty or so hours of consecutive listening I've concluded that he just botched it. How can you be bestowed the task of providing a song for a tribute album to Paul Westerberg, and then screw up the lyric in such a way as to have the whole verse no longer make any sense. It's like throwing in random gimels when it's your turn to do the Torah reading. It's like being one of the people assigned to carry the Olympic Torch, and then getting bored and stopping in at a Denny's and putting it out when you see the sign Thanking You For Not Smoking.

I guarantee that if Freaktoast J had been asked to participate in the tribute album, he wouldn't mess up any lyrics unless there was some higher artistic intent. Or he was drunk.****

* Pissy allusion to lyrics from the Replacements' "Swingin Party."

** Unlike some others I could mention, which wouldn't be an issue except when said bloggers also write posts claiming that I have appropriated all sorts of culture from her without attribution, especially when they even go so far as to drag Mirah into it.

***For long time readers with elephantine memories, this is the same graduate student with whom I tag-teamed proposing questions for a magazine interview with Replacements' genius Paul Westerberg. If you look at each of your proposed questions, you can get a better idea of which of us is musically sophisticated and which of us is just another dork who obliviously claps away on the 1&3.

It was mid-October 2002 that Brady and I first realized our common fondness for the Replacements, as I asked--with some self-satisfaction--whether he had noted that the preceding week had been the 20th anniversary of the date mentioned at the end of the Replacements' song "Lovelines." Brady responded with a link to the actual page from the Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages that Westerberg used to write the lyrics for "Lovelines" (above and here). Brady also, incidentally, reportedly has an image from the 'Mats Pleased To Meet Me cover tattooed somewhere on his body (really, truly).

**** Actually, Freaktoast J does a twee-reggae version of the 'Mats "Color Me Impressed" on his 1999 album Bring On The Dipshits. In the second half of the song, he appears to be singing "Color me depressed" instead. 1999 was a hard year for Freaktoast J, as early in the year he impaled himself stage-diving during a concert at the Spindle nightclub in Lincoln, NE.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

an example of the sort of telephone conversation you have when you have a weblog

"I read your weblog today."
"Oh, yeah?"
"I thought the post about Chronic Dipshit Day was a little negative."
"You think I came across as anti-dipshit?"
"I don't think 'dipshit' is a very productive or constructive word."
"I'm not sure I was trying to be productive or constructive."
"Anyway, you make it sound like you are drowning in dipshits. You're not."
"You're right, you're right, I'm not. I'm probably even on a good streak of dipshit-free days."
"I don't even know what a dipshit is, exactly."
"I don't know... I suppose it's roughly synonymous with something like 'dumbass.' Or 'incorrigible dumbass'. Or, really, 'willfully incorrigible dumbass'."
"Yeah, well, it doesn't seem very consistent with this effort you're supposedly making to be more positive."
"Did you read my post this afternoon?"
"No, what was it?"
"You should read it."
"What's it about?"
"You should just read it."
"Come on, what's it about? Is it about me?"
"No, it's about 'should'."
"Is it about me and how I'm always saying you should do this or do that?"
"It's not about anyone specifically."
"Anyway, you should read it. You could have probably made a dollar from this conversation alone if you'd read it. I made this proclamation/resolution, and I haven't been doing very well with it so far."
"Like this would be the first time. Remember your posts about the treadmill you bought and were going to use every day?"
"Shut up. Don't even think I'm going to link to that."

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

in memoriam (forty months belatedly)

I am currently here in the RV listening to the music of Kirsty MacColl (above). She was swimming along off the coast of Mexico in 2000 when she was hit by a speedboat. Which ranks fairly highly on the standard list of Ways One Never Expects To Die. As well as, ever since, highly on my personal list of Reasons Why Maybe It's Not Such A Bad Thing I Don't Swim.

Worse, I feel like the world outside the RV* has not adequately appreciated Kirsty MacColl, dead or alive. The whole of iTunes peddles nothing of hers, not even "There's a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis" (which, if anybody does have, you should contact me immediately).

Anyway, in celebration of that and my new home sound-editing capabilities, I'll include (at least until my blogspot quota gets crowded) a fair-use clip from her final album Tropical Brainstorm. Incidentally, Freaktoastt J covers the song, on either Fourteen Scatterplots or Heteroskedastic Park, I don't remember which.

* Inside the RV, she is appropriately revered, and indeed her speedboat accident extinguished whatever hope remained of any kind of theism taking root within this humble steel dwelling.

(proclamation) summer without should

Apropos of nothing in particular, the management here at JFW has decided that the word should is dramatically overrated. Other than those used in this post, we can't think of any sentence that has the word should in it that cannot be more pleasingly worded without it. As such, and now that summer is here, we have decided unilaterally to declare this to be JFW's "summer without should." We are going to try to forgo my use of the word this summer when talking to others (we will slip-up, of course, but we will try to minimize the number of times we do so).* When called to our attention, we will eradicate any occurrence of it during posts from this summer on the weblog. We will try not to use it in our internal dialogues, where its repetition can be particularly unpleasant and unproductive. And, at least for known or suspected readers of this weblog, we hereby announce that we will not this summer be acknowledging sentences that include the word should, except perhaps to note the official JFW policy on the matter.

Yes, we are serious about this. Starting now, ending at the end of the summer.

We recognize that this is a demanding request, as it lays a heavy burden of coming up with alternative sentence constructions on your should-ers. However, we greatly appreciate your cooperation.

* For a limited time, the proprietor of JFW will be giving a quarter (25 cents) for any instance where someone aware of this offer catches him using "should" in either in-person, telephone, or e-mail interaction. For spoken interactions, the instance of "should" must be caught and noted within thirty seconds. Attempts to entrap the proprietor into using "should" can result in the prize not being awarded, depending on the proprietor's mood.

public service announcement

A weary friend of mine has e-mailed to inform me that today is International Chronic Fatigue Awareness Day. I cannot find information on Google for the date of United Chronic Annoyance Day, despite there being a couple people I would love to send U-CAD cards to. And this is not even to mention International Chronic Dipshit Day, for which I would be plunking down some serious cash at Hallmark.

meanwhile, our president will not rest until we rank zeroth in the world

George W. Bush, Minneapolis, 4/26/04: "[W]e rank 10th amongst the industrialized world in broadband technology and its availability. That's not good enough for America. Tenth is 10 spots too low as far as I'm concerned." (quoted in Slate)

obituary for a disciplinary poster girl/boy

From today's NYT:
"David Reimer, a man who was born a boy but raised as a girl in a famous medical experiment*, only to reassert his male identity in the last 20 years of his life, died on May 4. He was 38. His family says he committed suicide."
I may have more to say about this later (or, rather, I certainly do have more to say, whether I take the time to write a post about it is another matter). I guess I do have at least something to say about it now:

I first learned about the John/Joan case when I was an sociology undergraduate at the University of Iowa, where I was taught (from some textbook) the version where Reimer was raised as a girl and had zero problems with his gender identity but instead was happy and well-adjusted and behaved just like any other little girl. Even at the time, this was known to researchers as being false.**. The last time I taught introductory sociology, like maybe two years ago, it was still possible to select supposedly up-to-date classroom materials that still presented the John/Joan case in the same way I had been taught it as an undergraduate. By this time, Reimer had been the subject of various television shows and John Colapinto's wrenching and harrowing book As Nature Made Him.

The abundant cynic in me wants to attribute this to the willful blindness of sociology textbook authors/publishers to anything that would inconventiently complicate the simple storylines they wish to craft for the fragile and easily-led-astray undergraduate minds. However, the more likely explanation is that whoever was writing and/or editing and/or reviewing these materials didn't know. Everybody makes the standard joke about how social scientists tend often to be social misfits [me, guilty as charged]. But what about the equally apropos joke that social scientists tend to be not-unoften wildly uninformed about politics and other news from our social world if it's outside--and, alas, sometimes inside--their specific area of expertise. When I was looking through available intro soc materials and saw that you could still get materials with the circa 1990 interpretation of the John/Joan case, I imagined some professor assigning the materials and then some poor TA being stuck leading a discussion section based on the book's presentation of the case and having a half dozen students who had seen the Oprah (or Nightline, or PBS, etc.) episode on the case and knew that David Reimer had never fit in as a girl, had gone back to being a man, and had even married a woman.***

* "Experiment," the first sentence says. His penis was cauterized off by a stupid and seemingly-negligent accident during circumcision, and then gender reassignment was raised as an idea of what to do. Is that an experiment? It is a quasi-experiment, I suppose, because of the existence of a twin brother (see **).

** What it means that Reimer ended up rejecting his female identity and going back to living as a female is a different matter. The problem being is that it's not like there aren't successful cases of gender reassignment surgery. What made the John/Joan case especially intriguing is that Reimer was an identical twin, so while he was being raised as a girl there was sort a natural control case of a genetically-identical kid being raised in the same household environment as a boy.

*** Luckily (?), since the textbook materials still used the "Joan" pseudonym and Reimer was appearing then under his real name, the students might not have connected that it was actually the same case.

she said, she said

Someone suggested last night that there should be a whole weblog devoted to debate about Theory Six. This is NOT that weblog. However, a female reader from Oldham, WI wanted me to post her reaction to the claim made by a JFW detractor that boring women outnumber boring men. She writes: "i think it is an empirical and observable fact that there are many, many, many, many, many more boring men than boring women."

Who knows? All this sounds suspiciously like a job for... quantitative social science. I wonder if there is any data that would allow for the identification and enumeration of boring people, so one could tabulate the relative frequencies within each gender.