Thursday, September 30, 2004

brief assessment

Was it just me, or did Kerry completely kick ass in the debate? Wait, I watched it with Nina, and she thought Kerry kicked ass too. But who are we? Wait, I just called my Mom out on the farm in Iowa. She says Kerry kicked ass as well, and she can't understand how anyone could have watched the debate and felt different. "It was like he just kept saying the same three things over and over again, and other than that he didn't have anything to say."

I mean, if the two of them were the final contenders for CEO, and that was there performance on an interview about the strategic direction for the company, there would not even be a need for the board to discuss which of them was going to be offered the position.

I'm excited. Kerry did so much better than Gore did in any of the 2000 debates, and Bush seemed way worse. I made a vow about halfway through that I will not again complain about how Kerry was an unfortunate choice for the Democrats, blah-blah-blah.

I wish I had time to blog about this more, but I'm off to Iowa City at like 7:30 AM tomorrow and have a hundred things to do. Nina, incidentally, also made a pre-debate dinner for me, and, as usual, it was beyond delicious.

Monday, September 27, 2004

recurrent quiz feature: which headline doesn't belong?

As a redux of an earlier quiz, consider the five latest-breaking-up-to-the-minute news stories running right now on the Salon magazine sidebar.

what are the chances of this news story being true? none? zero? subzero? subnone?

Headline: "Abandoned boy said to have been raised by a dog." Story here. Henry says to be sure to read the last part about the boy who was made "pack leader" if you have any lingering nondoubts about its veracity.

henry, here it is: the creepymeter beta

As JFW readers know, I spend a lot of my spare time tinkering around the RV with a soldering iron and petri dishes, trying to invent new things that will satisfied some unmet need of the zeitgeist. Normally, I don't release any details about these inventions until they are pretty much ready for the market, lest it get stolen from me the way the Segway did.

But Henry knows that I have been working for some time on trying to come up with an objective measure of creepiness, so that we can have a more uniform and precise way of talking about all the things on the Internet that are, to some varying degree, creepy. By reviewing the scientific research on creepiness--a large amount of which, incidentally, is conducted by universities in Texas--I learned that some people are both highly and highly consistently sensitive to even moderately creepy materials. Scientists refer to such people as Shudderers. So, then, I figured out that if you hook a Shudderer up to a machine that measures the number of times they convulse in response to a stimulus, you can get a measure of creepiness that has astonishing statistical reliability. Lo, the creepymeter is born.

I've been trying to calibrate the creepymeter using a free-lance Shudderer that I'm paying with some venture capital funds. I'm trying to calibrate it via the lists of "100 things about me" that some people set up with their blogs. These represent the 100 things that a given blogger decides presents the fullest picture of themselves to the world. I was going to link to several of the objectively creepier ones of these that I have discovered on the web, which would make this post a whole lot funnier, albeit in a completely creepy way. Then I realized that these people could check the reverse links from their blog, find this post, and, being so creepy, they could be plausibly expected to come hunt me down. And so, given that your amusement is not worth my life, I'm not going to provide these links. However, I will say they are working really well for my early tests of the creepymeter, except perhaps that several go right off the scale and into a low-grade seizure.

dude, the only thing more awesome than seeing the hawkeyes lose would be more tax cuts for the rich

My beloved Iowa Hawkeyes were defeated yesterday by the Michigan Wolverines, 30-17. I have received some taunting e-mails about this from readers, such as the one arriving in my inbox this evening that says: "i was thinking of you yesterday when the hawkeyes had their sorry asses kicked."

It does not bother me when people profess glee at the Hawkeyes losing, as of course everyone is entitled to their own opinions as to these matters. Just as a matter of logical consistency, it does bother me a teensy bit whenever someone roots against the Hawkeyes and yet professes otherwise to be of any kind of leftward outlook on the world. I mean, if one takes a unifying left value as something resembling a tendency to side against the weak against the strong, the disadvantaged against the privileged, the underdogs against the behemoths, the downtrodden against the elites, et cetera, it's hard for me to apprehend how one can claim to be leftish in today's political environment while dancing with excitement at a Hawkeye loss.

If you look at the basic demographics of college sport, it's hard to understand how the Hawkeyes ever manage to win at all. The University of Iowa is the smallest public school in the Big Ten. Beyond this, it has, without a doubt, the most football-impoverished recruiting base in the Big Ten. As just partial evidence of this, consider some numbers:

Ohio: 1.1 million people aged 18-24; 1 BCS school (1.1 million people/school)

Michigan: 1 million people aged 18-24; 2 BCS schools (500,000 people/school)

Wisconsin: 566,000 people aged 18-24; 1 BCS school (566,000 people/school) (Note: That Barry Alvarez must be a genius to be able to win here!)

Iowa: 316,000 people aged 18-24; 2 BCS schools (158,000 people/school)

Just looking at these numbers for Iowa and Michigan, it's really not surprising that Iowa usually gets beaten by Michigan. Indeed, the Hawkeyes have only defeated the Wolverines six times in my lifetime. Arguably, in none of those six instances--including our 26-0 victory in 1984 and our 34-9 victory in Ann Arbor in 2002--did the Hawkeyes field the more talented team. Indeed, perhaps only in one case--the 12-10 victory in 1985--could one say the Hawkeyes put a team on the field that was even 90% as talented as the Michigan team.

However, being Iowans, we do what we can with what we have and don't complain, except occasionally on our weblogs. We are used to sporting disappointment and take it stoically. Iowa didn't have a winning season in the ten years before I was born, nor did they have a winning season until ten years after I was born.

We recognize that we are fortunate if we beat Michigan more than once in any given presidential administration. We focus on the good times. Have I mentioned the time we shamed a considerably more talented Michigan team 34-9 in Ann Arbor? The final score was 34-9. While the Michigan fan is likely already over whatever thrill they felt from Saturday's 30-17 win, I can even today recall and savor, firstly, the 34, and then, secondly and entirely distinctly, the 9.

But, sure, I can understand why someone would root against the Hawkeyes. It's much the same as rooting for Goliath, Microsoft, the Bourgeoisie, Clear Channel Radio, Halliburton, Ivan Drago, the Slytherin, The Dream Team, and the Death Star, but I do understand how one might find all that appealing. I'm sure, for instance, that Dick Cheney, when he watches games from his secret concrete bunker, loves nothing better than to see the Hawkeyes suffer defeat, so why shouldn't you?

BTW, I am actually going to be at the Hawkeye game next week! I go to one game each year and next week is it. So rooters-against-the-Hawkeyes might also thus want to root for a pouring rain, too.

Friday, September 24, 2004

a great thing about blogs is that you can 'extricate yourself graciously' just by closing your browser

Here is the penultimate paragraph of Andrew Abbott's new book Methods of Discovery: Heuristics for the Social Sciences:
Bear in mind, however, that there are active and even talented social scientists who don't have [a sense of] creative puzzlement. These are faculty members who do social science not for love but for a living, going through conventional motions often with considerable success, a success they value more highly than inquiry itself. You will recognize them by their behavior; one is smart but condescending and uninterested; another is eminent but conventional and stale. When you go to office hours and meet such people or their cousin the bland, busy professional with all the answers but no ideas, extricate yourself graciously. Such people have nothing to teach you.
As I read this paragraph, I felt that warm, familiar sensation of a Friday Afternoon Blogpoll come a-washing over me:

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

the unbearable lightness of bacon

People have been asking me all day, "Did you go and check out the free bacon?" The answer is yes, but at what cost? I suspect, for instance, that the integrity of my sleep will be for a long time compromised by memories of the horrors that I witnessed last night. I feel fortunate that I and my digital camera survived. The story turns out not to be a happy little paean to the pleasures of pork, but instead a cautionary tale about human powerlessness in the face of cost-free bacon and its potential to bring out the most fiendish elements of the human soul.

Two persons gamely volunteered to go with me on this trip that would take us to Wando's, in the heart of Madison's untamed Undergraduate Bar Scene. To preserve their anonymity, let me refer to them here as "Thelma" and "Louise," a choice of pseudonyms that also emphasizes what good friends they were to one another at the start of our expedition.

Thelma and Louise were saavy enough to realize that my own plan--just walk in and get some bacon--had no chance of any of us getting out of there alive. Instead, they insisted, we needed to enter the bar incognito, disguised as undergraduates ourselves. They went to some impressive effort in this regard. Myself, I had no idea what possibly in my closet would serve as such a disguise, so I just put on my intentionally-completely-garish UW hockey jersey.

1. The evening began with much enthusiasm and merriment, perhaps masking the trepidation we all felt within. Witness here Thelma's thrill at first seeing the street sign advertising the All-U-Can-Eat bacon to be found inside.

2. As we were nervously pacing around outside, trying to muster the moxie to enter, we learned that, in fact, the bacon was not quite available yet. Fortunately, we happened to be less than a block away from the Karaoke Kid, which we thought would help raise our courage. Hastily, Thelma, the karaoke genius of our little group, did her best to put together a medley of appropriately-themed songs. She did Madonna's "La Isla Baconita," followed by a rousing rendition of Miami Sound Machine's "Baconga." Then, we decided that a song from The Breakfast Club soundtrack also seemed a propos for an evening about bacon (breakfast, bacon, get it?), and so below we have Thelma and Louise doing the gestures for the "rain keeps falling, rain keeps falling down" line from "Don't You Forget About Me."

3. Finally, we returned to Wando's and walked in. Despite my best effort to look like a happy-go-lucky-causal-bacon-enthusiast-undergraduate-senior, the bouncer was having none of it and waved me in without checking my ID. "Nice jersey, Professor," the bouncer whispered to me as I passed, "You're not fooling anyone." Thelma was also dismisively waved in without having to show ID. Thelma was then insulted when the bartender not only checked Louise's ID, but, with obviously great suspicion, subjected it to a range of forensic tests to ensure that it was genuine. Thelma may be the karaoke master among us, but Louise is apparently the master of disguise.

As soon as we were inside, we could see the undergrads all gleefully milling about and feeding obscenely from the little red and white cartons of bacon. Some were using both hands to cram the bacon into their already-grease-drenched faces as fast as they could. We quickly deduced that the hellmouth from which all this bacon was coming had to be located somewhere near the end of the downstairs bar. Soon we were there, and with an appropriate drink order, a carton of bacon was ours:

4. I thought we might pause for a few moments and just enjoy the splendid site of the bacon--Our Free Bacon--sitting there on the bar. Not so. "My precious," said Thelma immediately, in this raspy, otherworldly voice, and she scooped the bacon up off the bar, including even the stray pieces that had been sitting on the bar for who knows how long. She began immediately stuffing the bacon into her mouth with a zeal akin that seen in those films of the rescued Antarctic explorers having their first real meal after having survived for months on only sawdust and the remains of fallen comrades.

Louise and I both entered Wando's as professed bacon abstainers. We just wanted to see the free bacon, not actually taste it ourselves. While the uncompromising character of my own dietary discipline is well-known, Thelma began to try to entice Louise to try some of the bacon:

5. Louise, after some initial horrified meat-is-murder-and-don't-you-remember-Charlotte's-Web protestation, quickly caved and began having some of the bacon herself. For awhile, the two of them seemed a perfect picture of friendship: just two pals standing around, swapping stories and sharing bacon.

6. Things became ugly, however, when Louise accused Thelma of actually hoarding the best bacon for herself. Indeed, Louise all at once appeared consumed with rage at the thought of an inequitable distribution of bacon strips. An argument ensued, culminating in Louise taking the bacon away from Thelma and holding it up out of the shorter Thelma's reach.

At first, Thelma seemed to react to all this reasonably amiably, as in her smiling pose in this photograph:

7. But it turned out this was simply a ruse to lull Louise into complacency. Suddenly, like a mongoose to a cobra, Thelma struck, putting Louise in a skullcrushing headlock and pile-driving her into the floor.

8. A series of violent maneuvers followed, which Thelma had apparently learned from watching many hours of professional wrestling, as well as some combination she learned from the karate-death-match sequence in The Neverending Story. "And that's for all those snide little comments you've made about demographers," I thought I also heard her say at one point.

The reader might ask why I did not intervene, to which I can reply only that one should not judge me if one has never seen the spectre of two people completely in the thrall of bacon bloodlust.

In the end, Louise lay huddled against the Galaga machine in the corner, sobbing. Thelma, meanwhile, turned to me, as if nothing had just happened. "Yummy bacon," she said as she popped a particularly massive piece of coagulated fried pork into her mouth. "Are you sure you don't want any?"

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

but, really, wouldn't it have been better to say that this adds injury to injury?

"The rookie season of tight end Kellen Winslow could be over, or at least severely truncated, after the Cleveland Browns' first-round draft choice suffered what is believed to be a fractured right fibula in Sunday's loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

'It's wait and see right now,' quarterback Jeff Garcia said. 'We have to be prepared to move forward without him. This adds insult to injury.'"

Sunday, September 19, 2004

bracing myself for a fall of surly saturdays...

My beloved Hawkeyes, having buoyed my spirits many a Saturday over the past two years (going 22-5 since Fall 2002), had a most inauspicious loss yesterday. More than being beaten badly, they were beat badly by the team with arguably the dorkiest logo in all of major college sport (the Arizona State Sun Devil). Here, a close-up view (note the moustache):

Saturday, September 18, 2004

no child left behind

'But I fully understand how hard it is for democracy to grow in a country that has been under a leader that tortured and killed and maimed his people,' [Bush] said.
Has anyone else noticed that Bush sometimes talks about Iraq the way that some people do when they explain the chronic self-destructive behaviors of wayward adults in terms of how the bad way they were treated by their parents when they were young?

free bacon?

From an ad for one of Madison's undergraduate-oriented bars:

Free bacon? Do they mean, like, actual bacon? Or is "bacon" some slang term I don't know for some pork whiskey-based drink?

beta male

I called Borders to see if the copy of Regression Analysis: A Constructive Critique* had come in yet, because of course there is nothing more delicious to do on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon than to curl up and read that. They said it was there, and so I scooted up as fast as I could to retrieve it. The book turned out not to be behind the counter, and so they had to call someone over to go see if it was in back.

The guy they called over looked like he hadn't slept in a month. He went off to go look for it and took an interminable amount of time, as if he accidentally dozed for a few minutes against the boxes in the stockroom. Eventually he did return with book in hand.

Despite the pure primal pleasure I expect to derive from Regression Analysis: A Constructive Critique, it's the sort of book that I charge to the research account I have. So the guy gets the binder of account information off the shelf and starts looking for my sheet. The binder is organized alphabetically first by department and then by name.

He starts from the back of the binders, flips through the Ts, then through Spanish, then through SE Asian studies. He then looks puzzles, flips back through Spanish, then to SE Asian studies, then back into the Ts, then back to SE Asian studies, then back to Spanish again, then to SE Asian studies.

"Actually, um, Sociology comes before Southeast Asian Studies."
"Oh, right."

So then he starts from the back of the sociology section (Wright), and then flips to Gamoran, and then looks puzzled and moves like he is going to start going backward in the alphabet again. I put my hand out to block him.

"I'm the sheet right before Gamoran." Which, as he discovers when he turns that page, I am.

"His mailbox is right below mine," I say, lamely, as if that gave me some special advantage in knowing the order of F and G in the alphabet. (Besides, thanks to a certain Professor Fujimura, it isn't even true.)

The man looks up at me with this bleary-eyed smile. "I'm sorry. My wife had a baby a month ago, and my alphabetization skills seem to have left me."

* Here are a couple of constructive sentences from page 19 of RA:aCC: "[I]f the premises upon which the [regression] analysis rests are, at best, cartoons, how seriously should results of the analysis be taken? The bottom line is simple: If so much depends on the information brought in from outside of the data, that information had better be pretty damn good."

Thursday, September 16, 2004

hey, need a new bike? think of all the people who haven't seen this video clip yet

Video clip here (courtesy of Alan down on Schussman Street).

Update, next day: Demonstrating once again the influence of this blog, the bike lock was on the front page of the Wisconsin State Journal today. So better hurry up and steal a bike now before circular-key locks go by the wayside.

dull! bad manners! possible sociopath!

If you happen to be reading this blog and don't know me personally: Tonya has a post that includes a brief discussion of various between the Jeremy of JFW and the Jeremy of non-bloggerly life. In some respects, I think she might just be miffed because, contrary to promises, I haven't invited the other Madison Faculty Bloggers over to the RV for a dinner party yet.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

from obvious to "obvious" and back again

I'm reading Andrew Abbott's Methods of Discovery: Heuristics for the Social Sciences. I might write a post about the book generally. But here is a passage I had a particular reaction to, from Abbott's discussion of his "heuristic" of Problematizing the Obvious:
Is there something everyone thinks is obviously true? A useful heuristic is to attack it systematically.

Perhaps the most famous recent example of this heuristic is _Time on the Cross_ by Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman. Fogel and Engerman attacked several widely accepted 'facts': (1) southern slavery was dying as an economic system immediately before the Civil War, (2) slave agriculture was economically inefficient (and, consequently, defense of it was economically irrational), and (3) the southern economy as a whole was actually retarded by the existence of slavery. Fogel and Engerman rejected all of those propositions, which had been mainstays of the scholarly literature for many years when they wrote their book. In the process of that rejection, they demonstrated dozens of counterintuitive results...
So what leaped out to me about this supposed famous-recent-example of Problematizing the Obvious is that it's not actually an example of a Problematizing the Obvious at all. It is instead the second move in an intellectual game that has parallel occurrences all over the social sciences; that is, it's an exemplar of what might be better termed Problematizing the Non-Obvious "Obvious."

What I mean is: I suspect it has never been obvious to anyone without an extensive social science education that slavery would be a bad idea from the economic standpoint of the slaveowning class. Morally repugnant, obviously. So much so as to be worth going to war over, perhaps. But, economically, getting to own your workers rather than having to hire and pay them might seem obviously like it would make economic sense for slaveowners, especially for slaveowners in a pursuit like plantation farming. Indeed, it might even seem so economically beneficial as for some in places dependent on plantation farming to regard it as be worth going to war over, perhaps.

I am not an academic historian and so have no idea about the actual merits of one side or the other in the actual debate. But I do fancy myself someone who can recognize the more obviously obvious when I see it, and all I'm saying is that if either side in the debate is more obviously obvious, it's that slavery was working well for the southern economy, especially since they were so keen on keeping it.

So, then, the question is: how could it have become the case that a work that makes an extensive case for the ostensibly obvious could instead be regarded as a very famous example of Problematizing the Obvious? It's because there must have been an earlier line of academic work that first Problematized the Obvious, which became so uniformly accepted by academics in the area that it could be construed as obvious to them, even though it was now the opposite of what was obvious to the person-off-the-street.

There may be several hundred mini-examples of this in social psychology. In social psychology, there has been this relentless drive for findings that run against the grain of commonsense.* So you get this cycle where there is a theory-and-findings that Problematize the Obvious and then later a theory-and-findings that Problematizes the Non-Obvious "Obvious" in a way that brings the received wisdom back somewhere closer to what someone innocent to the entire debate would have guessed all along. (In the interest of being circumspect, I will not give examples nor make extensions to other areas of sociology where something deeply resembling this seemingly-simple-cycle could be argued to have driven major debates over the past couple of decades).

* Social psychologists are so insecure that their work will be seen as commonsense that a regular trope of social psychology textbooks is to have little boxes or whatever that present students with a proposition and ask "True or False" just to show them that there are times when they would have guessed wrong. Actually, I know sociologists who do something like this on the first day of their Intro-to-Sociology courses; they give students a true-false quiz on the first day where all the answers seem plausble but turn out to be false, as a way of convincing students that Sociology Is Not Just Commonsense.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

five things you missed at karaoke (unfortunately, after mucking with photos, who has time for captions?)

[note: the authoritative recap, drawing once again on an assiduous set of fieldnotes, has been posted by Careyoke herself here]

1. [this was really hilarious! i wish i could insert a witty caption describing what you missed here!]

2. [this was really moving! i wish i could insert a witty caption describing what you missed here!]

3. [this was really sublime! i wish i could insert a witty caption describing what you missed here!]

4. [this was really touching! i wish i could insert a witty caption describing what you missed here!]

5. [this was really creepy! i wish i could insert a witty caption describing what you missed here!]

aside on the whole iraq thing

While all these debates go on about whether invading Iraq has made America safer, has anyone been paying attention to what is actually happening in Iraq itself? When envisioning how history books will be considering this episode in fifty years, skeptics such as myself have generally believed the story would be something about how America "won the war but then botched the peace." Lately, I've wondered whether the story is instead going be about how America "presumed it had won the war, but then, as it turned out, lost it."

trouble in donutland

Shares of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc. fell Monday after the company said an independent auditor refused to sign off on the firm's second-quarter financial statement until an outside law firm hired by the company's board performed additional work.
As it happens, the auditor has been suspicious of Krispy Kreme's accounting for quite some time, but in the past had always been able to be convinced to set his concerns aside in exchange for some particularly enticing doughnuts. Then, he went on Atkins.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

i'll watch them el and em and en and oh, but that's it

From a story on
King was in the NFL's drug program his entire career, and smoked marijuana through 2½ of those years. He was caught only six times because during his early years he said he substituted clean [stored] urine for his "dirty" urine. He got away with it because, contrary to NFL protocol, the man assigned to administer his tests failed to watch him urinate.
As if one can really fault a guy for shirking that part of his occupational duties that requires watching other men urinate.

the latest careyoke canvassing

Against remarkable odds, I "won" the meta-poll over on careyoke's blog, meaning that I've advanced to there now being a poll about what song I should be encouraged to sing at tomorrow evening's karaoke. My victory is all the more remarkable considering that everyone who goes to karaoke knows that I (1) have a five-note vocal range, (2) can only, strictly speaking, hit four of the five notes within that range, (3) have no control over which of these four notes bleats forth from my head at any point in time. Fortunately for the ears of all, Careyoke and Dorotha's Mom* have graciously offered to join me onstage for whatever song prevails. The way the options shape up, the poll is a battle among the following lyrics:

(option 1) **
She's the one, the only one,
who's built like a am-ha-ka-zon

(option 2)
Yeah, your love thawed out
what was scared and old

(option 3)
Wipe the sleep out of my eyes.
My shavin’ razor’s cold and it stings.

(option 4)
I’ve been a bad bad girl,
I’ve been careless with a delicate man.

(option 5)
Baby, let me take all of my life to find you
But you can believe it's gonna take
the rest of my life to keep you

* The metapoll option "What song should be dedicated to Dorotha's mom?" did not win, perhaps because a slightly-lyrically-modified version of "Stacy's Mom" seems the obvious choice.

** Complete digression about "Brick House." When I was in graduate school, there was this guy from Texas who would goad me into any number of inane longrunning debates through the tried-and-true-two-step-method of: (a) making an assertion that was so completely ludicrous as to not be something one could just let pass and (b) absolutely refusing to ever admit he might be incorrect in any of said assertions. The low point among all these debates was the one about whether a person blind in one eye would be hindered as hitter in major league baseball (he insisted no and any one-eyed hitter who claimed otherwise was just making excuses; subsequently, his defense of this claim included a protracted denial of the idea that two eyes somehow help with depth perception). The second-lowest point, however, occurred when he described this beautiful woman he knew back in Texas as "built like a brick [slang term for feces]house."
"Wait, are you trying to say that she was very attractive or that she was very muscular?"
"[The former]" he effectively said, except I'm sure he described the person in more specific and elaborately anatomical terms, since he was the sort who was prone to that.
"The phrase 'built like a brick [slang term for feces]house' means that someone is really solid and strong. A [slang term for feces]house is an outhouse. Outhouses are normally made out of like straw or sticks, not brick. So calling something a brick [slang term for feces]house is calling attention to its exceptional sturdiness, not its voluptuous allure."
"How do you explain the song 'Brick House' then?"
Which I never did have a great answer for, other than the title didn't actually include [slang term for feces]. However, I was able to have about nine million people in subsequent conversations with us present verify my understanding of the meaning of the phrase "built like a [slang term for feces]house." To which his two responses were, always: "How do you explain the song 'Brick House' then?" and, better, "Well, down in Texas, we use it to refer to a beautiful woman."

sunday consumerism

mom and i are going to ikea today! best day of my life, i tell you.

Awesome! Bring me back something that would work as a hamper, with a light maple finish.

um... we will be on the look out.

Thanks! I appreciate it!

you should present my mom with some kind of gift tomorrow. it would be funny.

Yes, it's the least I can do for your helping solve my hamper problem. Except I don't think I can bring myself to kill something just to please your mother. (see link) Would anything else do?

toys. the harrieds all love toys.

Okay, if I get a chance I'll look for something appropriate. Any more specific ideas?

my mom collects small wind-ups. you know, that hop and walk and stuff.

I'll try to find her a wind-up marmot if I can.
(see link)

Saturday, September 11, 2004

guest post!: on being forced to blog

Moms are supposed to be good sports. But holy potato sauce! Enough is enough. I am actually an intensely private person being forced to expose my inner most thoughts and feeling in a public space. Who needs it?? Why do it? This is plain goofy and I outright refuse.

But besides that, I'm looking forward to Careyoke night a lot. I am curious to see all your free spirits emerge.

Dorotha's Evil Mom

Friday, September 10, 2004

survey respondents: not only are they the dickens, but they are psychic as well!

In 1992-3, WLS respondents were asked whether they had ever been diagnosed with diabetes. In 2004, people are asked whether they had ever been diagnosed with diabetes again, but this time they are also asked when they were diagnosed. About 6% of people who said they had been diagnosed with diabetes in 1992 deny this in 2004, but another 6-10% of those who said they had been diagnosed with diabetes in 1992-3 affirm this in 2004, but say they were first diagnosed sometime after 1993.

survey respondents: aren't they the dickens?

I'm looking at the alcohol use questions on the WLS*. A question asked in 1992 and 2004 is whether respondents have ever gone to anyone for help about their drinking. A little more than 3% of respondents said "yes" to this question in 1992. But here's the thing that makes survey research so fun: of these people who said "yes" to the question in 1992, almost a third (31%) say "no" in 2004. In other words, almost a third of the people who say they have sometime sought help for their drinking in 1992 deny that they have ever done so in 2004.

One thing I wondered is if these new-deniers are more likely to have relapsed since 2004 and so are drinking more than the people who were consistent in saying they had sought help in 1992 and 2004. Sure enough, the new-deniers are more likely to be drinking and, among those who are drinking, are drinking more. But wait, they were already drinking more in 1992, by almost exactly the same amount. So there goes that idea.

And then all this raises the puzzle of how you should think about people who said "no" they had never sought help for their drinking in 1992, but say "yes" now in 2004. The logically consistent conclusion, of course, is that these are people who got help in the last 12 years. Some of them probably are. But some are probably people who will, apparently, tell you sometimes in surveys that they have sought help for their drinking in the past, and on other occasions will deny this. If the number of no-then-yeses was much greater than the yes-than-nos, you could draw the happy conclusion perhaps that MOST of the no-then-yeses are people who have recently sought help. Alas, as things stand now, the number of no-then-yeses is actually fewer than the number of yes-then-nos, which seems almost to border on the absurd and is the kind of thing that causes the conscientious survey data analyst to bang his head on his desk.

* [W]isconsin [L]ongitudinal [S]tudy, a survey that has followed a 1/3 sample of all 1957 Wisconsin high school graduates.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004


You know how professors are always complaining about how faculty meetings are excruciatingly boring? It's because they are.

next, you take aleph to the gimelth power...

You know something that you are reading that uses formal notation is going to be intense when you skim ahead and see that they start by using regular uppercase and lowercase letters, and then incorporate greek uppercase and lowercase letters, and then script letters, and then you see these other squiggles and you realize--yikes--they have now moved into the Hebrew alphabet as well.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004


Yes, my nonholiday-weekday streak of riding my bicycle to campus reaches a completely unanticipated fourth day! Take that, all you tut-tutting Two-or-Three-timers in my poll--you, doubters, are the wind beneath my wings.

Today, as I struggled my way up the western face of Mount Observatory, I once again thought of Lance Armstrong. I realize that there are significant body-type and fitness-level differences between him and me, but yet this didn't stop me from thinking: "Man, that guy has got to be doing some serious doping."

I was less successful in my first full day of trying to incorporate the phrase "It's all good" into my vocabulary. The always-be-tentative diction drilled into me during my academic training has proved a larger obstacle than expected. Today I did say "It appears all good" and "It's virtually all good" and, most unfortunately, "We are unable to reject the null hypothesis of it being all good."

signs of the coming of the apocalypse, continued

From today's Washington Post:
Forget dressing them like Shrek and Fiona... What Josh and Caitlin need are the rags that are selling briskly in California and New York: Child pimp suits and 'ho' dresses. At $40 to $50, they begin at size 4..., an online marketing company that sells everything from poker chips to bandannas, is offering one ho and four pimp costumes for children this year just in time for Halloween...

Next year, the company plans pimp attire for infants. The demand, says company spokesman Johnathon Weeks Jr., grows each year.

'We also sell pimp and ho outfits to whole families: Mom, Dad, kids and the dog.'
I recognize that I sometimes come across as already hopelessly old-fashioned. However, I must declare this: if/when I have a child, s/he will not be allowed to dress for Halloween as a sex worker until at least age 10.

causality bites, video-killed-the-abstinence-star edition

CHICAGO, Illinois (Reuters) -- Teenagers who watch a lot of television with sexual content are twice as likely to engage in intercourse than those who watch few such programs, according to a study published Tuesday.

The study covered 1,792 adolescents aged 12 to 17 who were quizzed on viewing habits and sexual activity and then surveyed again a year later. Both regular and cable television were included.

'This is the strongest evidence yet that the sexual content of television programs encourages adolescents to initiate sexual intercourse and other sexual activities,' said Rebecca Collins, a psychologist at the RAND Corp. who headed the study.
'The impact of television viewing is so large that even a moderate shift in the sexual content of adolescent TV watching could have a substantial effect on their sexual behavior,' she added."
The alternative, of course, is that teenagers who opt (and who have families that allow them to opt) into watching television with a lot of sexual content are more likely to engage in more teenage sexual behavior.

Methodological note for the interested: this is a study where the putative causal inference is based on repeated measures of the same individuals, which generally does provide a logically stronger grounds for inference than a study based on a single-point-in-time survey of individuals. However, the study--unless there is an unusual, important wrinkle not included in the media report--actually provides an example of a principal danger of longitudinal data, which is that it is easy to overestimate the extent to which it allows one to make inferences about cause-and-effect. What the longitudinal data really allows you to rule out is the possibility that the correlation is driven by a tendency for teens who have start having sex to then be inspired to increase the amount of sexual content TV they watch, but that's not exactly the worrisome alternative explanation here.

manners: an example of a bad insertion of a factoid into polite dinner party conversation

The conversation, for whatever reason, turns to the topic of the lives of truck drivers.

"My uncle and brother are truckers and it seems like it is so unhealthy. You know, it's really hard on your back and knees to sit like that all day."
"I have a bunch of relatives who are truckers, too, and the lifestyle also seems really unhealthy. It seems like it's really easy to develop obesity and a drinking problem when you are on the road that much."
"Did you know truckers have the lowest IQs of any common occupation?"

"Are your relatives all really stupid?" the person did not add. Nor: "Are they blood relatives?"

Monday, September 06, 2004

in praise of whole foods

At Whole Foods, or so I've been told, the employees are instructed to "acknowledge the humanity" of their customers as part of every interaction. Most commonly, for me, this interaction has taken the form of referring to me as "man". That is, the cashiers will often say "Have a good day, man" or "Take it easy, man" or even "Man, you have to turn your card the other way and swipe it, man." I have come to love this.* It annoys me that it's generaly only the male cashiers who call me "man"; the female cashiers, so far as I can tell, consider smiling and being friendly to be sufficient acknowledgment of my humanity. I'm a little disappointed now when I do have a male cashier and he does not refer to me as "man", and was left slightly ruffled and feeling old when a male cashier called me "sir" instead of "man."**

Today, in the produce section at Whole Foods, I turned and accidentally knocked a carton of strawberries with my elbow, sending them spilling onto the floor. My first reaction, of course: Run! But there was a Whole Foods employee standing right there. He raised his hand and smiled affably. "Don't worry," he said. "It's all good. Happens all the time, man."

Before this, I had been skeptical of the phrase "all good", putting it in roughly the same category as "my bad," which, at someone's suggestion, will be added to the despised words/phrases list on my sidebar. But the laid-back and assured way this guy said it, I had an epiphany: at least when said properly, "it's all good" is arguably the most reassuring phrase yet discovered in the English language. I'm going to practice trying to say it the way this guy did and work it into my personal vernacular.

* Note: I've heard that a male relative of a certain blogger works at Whole Foods, but, to my knowledge, I haven't interacted with said relative; if I have, I hope he called me "man."

** I am unsure why it is that the cashiers at Whole Foods so uniformly address me as "man", while the sociology graduate students seem to prefer to address me as "dude" (see example here). As I think about it, the sociology graduate students who call me "dude" pretty much all have their master's degrees, so maybe it is something about getting that diploma that leads to a preference for "dude" over "man."

Sunday, September 05, 2004

iTunes iNsanity, update

As longtime JFW readers know, I started buying music on iTunes just after the start of the year. I just went over the 200th song that I have purchased there ("Alone," by Heart, another Wisconsin Sociology Careyoke Classic). There are, I suppose, far worse addictions.

The whole thing is evidence for the aggregation problems of orthodox rational choice theories. Because if you had presented me with the entire list of songs and said I could have all of them for $198.00, I very likely wouldn't have done it. But, offer each song offered individually for 99 cents apiece and I think, what's a dollar?

That said, now that I look down the list, below are ten non-karaoke-inspired-downloads songs that were certainly well worth the dollar (listed alphabetically). Not that you care, I know.
"Another Girl," Jeffrey Lewis

"Bad Day," R.E.M.
"Breathe," Wheat*
"David," Nellie McKay
"Folsom River Blues," Johnny Cash
"Light & Day," Polyphonic Spree
"I Am Trying To Break Your Heart," Wilco**
"I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man," Prince
"I Don't Believe You," Magnetic Fields
"Train in Vain," Clash
* Jeremy's overall most played iTunes song, Jan-Apr 04

** Jeremy's overall most played iTunes song, May-Aug 04

The three best karaoke-inspired purchases: "Survivor," Destiny's Child; "Goodbye Earl," Dixie Chicks; and "Downtown," Petula Clark.

sometimes, one's initial reaction of guilt in the wake of tragedy is, in fact, correct

Two brothers were arrested in the shooting deaths of two young men at a tailgate party before a college football game, authorities said. [...]

The victims, identified as Kevin M. McCann, 23, and Marine 2nd Lt. Brett Johnson Harman, 23, were tailgating before North Carolina State University's season-opening football game against Richmond. [...]

A witness, Brian Smith, 31, said the victims had been tossing a football when a car drove recklessly in a parking lot packed with football fans. He said the men pulled the blond-haired driver from his car and beat him, pushing his head into the dirt.

The blond man left in his car, shouting curses and threatening revenge, Smith said. He returned later and asked Smith where to find the men who had beaten him, saying he had "a .38 Smith & Wesson for them."

Smith, who said the man appeared intoxicated, pointed in the direction of the victims and heard gunshots a short time later.

Smith ran to the shooting scene and found one victim wounded in the face, the other in the upper torso.

"My reaction is that I got two guys killed," Smith said.

quiz feature!: which of these doesn't belong?

At this moment, the Salon magazine sidebar of the latest-breaking-up-to-the-minute news stories has these headlines:

Saturday, September 04, 2004


Against astonishing odds, I did indeed ride my bicycle to campus all three weekdays since the 9/1 start of the self-imposed abolition of my campus parking space. Take that, all you naysaying Once-If-Thatters in my poll! Thinking of you inspired me as I rode up that last hill on Observatory Drive. Thinking of Lance Armstrong did not. Which doesn't mean I didn't think of him on that hill--on Friday, for example: "I wonder if there are more total ounces of fat in Lance Armstrong' s body or in my neck?" Riding uphill is hard enough when you are wildly out of shape, without using one hand to quizzically pinch and pull at your neck while you do it.

Friday, September 03, 2004

don't mess with texas, especially if any male-male hugging is to be involved, because we all know what that's really about

As if the previous post didn't have me bleak enough, Slate is running this stanza from a little song improvised by the ever-clever Texas delegation at the Republican National Convention:
Kerry's always hugging John Edwards,
They're a cute couple, its true-ue-ue-ue,
They're also pushing gay marriage,
What does that say to you?"

sometimes, i am at a loss for any title for a post other than 'ugh'

I was watching a (members only) video clip of the Russian hostage situation. I am now just playing over and over again a clip of a British special services officer saying the following:
"That's not to say the mission is a failure because there are casualties. What you have got to remember is that when troops plan and prepare [for these things], they're working on the basis that everybody's dead anyway because they're being held by terrorists."
Official JFW position: Regardless of what kind of terrorist-miscreant may be involved, I would rather troops-supposedly-on-my-side not work on the basis that I was dead anyway unless I am, in fact, dead. I suspect there are some recently deceased Russians who would have concurred with JFW on this matter.

dubious lede of the day

SEATTLE, Washington (AP) -- A man already serving two life sentences for murder has been charged with committing what prosecutors say is Washington state's oldest unsolved crime, the 1968 fatal stabbing of a pregnant teenager.
The state of Washington had managed to solve every single crime that occured there up until 1968? Gosh, that's a better record than Idaville, the town where Encyclopedia Brown was from.

BTW, why is it spelled lede? I've always wondered this. Except with Google, there's no more reason to ever wonder about any matter of fact: and, so, answer here.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

this blog is on

6:40: I'm here, at the central headquarters of NinaNet, awaiting the next Blogger dinner. The plan is to not just eat this evening, but also to simulblog the entire affair. Other expected guests have their blogs here (A) and here (B).

6:50: Nina is squeezing some doughy stuff out of a bag. It's for what's she's claiming was her signature dish at L'Etoile. Whatever it is, it starts with a "Gr" sound and is French. She refuses to spell it for the purposes of our audience. BTW, I forgot my digital camera, and so if anyone is going to be uploading photos of all the delicious stuff Nina is making, it won't be me.

6:53: Nina has already gone into her spiel about what an atrocity it is that I don't cook. "Who was that guy who said in your comments that he didn't want to be some quintessential male who only made macaroni & cheese...?" "He's a graduate student in sociology somewhere." "I read that and I thought, right on, whoever you are." As I type this, she is wandering around her kitchen, doing this mocking high-pitched imitation of me (frankly, Nina's imitation doesn't sound anything like me, but instead sounds a little like a screeching marmot).

6:57: Nina now believes she is dictating something for me to post and that I am posting it dutifully. Seriously, she's reciting it to me like a 50's style boss doing dictation to his secretary. Punctuation included. (I'm not actually typing it in, of course.)

7:00: Nina has gotten sufficiently carried away in her little verbal games that something is now on fire. Punctuate that!

7:05: Ann has arrived. Nina handed me the first bottle of whatever to open. She didn't mention it was some kind of bubbly thing that would foam up and get on everything upon being opened. My laptop was missed by inches.

7:10: We have all removed our shoes. Nina claims this is "a Polish custom that [she] hasn't been able to shake." Ann is taking pictures. In backing away and trying to get a good angle of Nina cooking and me blogging, Ann inadvertently comes within four inches of tumbling down the Camic basement stairs. Oh, and now something else in the kitchen is in flames. Two blazes in ten minutes. Ann got a picture of it.

7:14: The topic of conversation has turned to foods that taste good burned. Top of the list: marshmallows!

7:20: Tonya has arrived, karaoke machine in tow. Nina is unveiling what will be the fish entree of the evening. "Fish is hard," she says, "because you know, people say they like fish but then they don't like fishy fish..." "Like catfish," Ann says. "Like walleye," I say. Nina turns and pointedly: "What if it was walleye?" "What if it was catfish?" I do not add. It's neither, which isn't surprising, given that they are fishy fish: it's skate.

7:31: Tonya has her computer out now. She has a PowerBook with what looks a 25-inch screen. Seriously, this is the largest contemporary laptop I've seen; it looks like a titanium dormitory-dining-hall serving tray.

7:33: Nina's first threat to throw me out of the house!

7:40: Tonya is the one to point out the obvious: that it is something over 90-degrees here in the Kitchen Camic. Nothing can be done: Nina says this is "a Polish custom that [she] hasn't been able to let go of."

7:46: Nina's second threat to throw me out. Tonya and Ann are playing competing songs on their Powerbooks. Given that Tonya has the most giant Powerbook I have ever seen, it's not surprising that I can only hear hers. The song: "Ants Marching," Dave Matthews Band.

7:49: Nina gives the five minute warning to first course.

7:54: Right on time, Nina is serving up the risotto and demanding a suspension of blogging.

7:59: First reference to Melville! We do work in The Ivory Tower, after all.

8:11: First course is off the table. After I had started eating, Tonya says "We use the small fork," right? To which I have to hold up the fork I'm using and the one I'm not and compare. "Yes!!!" Meanwhile, Tonya has some hip-hop song going that begins with a chant "Go! [beat] Go! [beat] Go! [beat] Go!" "Hey, they're singing about goats!" says Nina.

8:13: The risotto, incidentally, is fantastic.

8:21: The air conditioning is on. "Those Americans," sighs Nina, with a kind of resigned intonation and said as though we aren't here, "those Americans have no tolerance for anything that is not just so. There is no air conditioning in all of Poland, as far as I know."

8:29: I surreptitiously check my e-mail. I am such an addict. "What are you blogging?" Tonya asks. "Nothing," I reply, honestly.

9:07: The television is out, and we're watching the GWB convention film. Tonya (a New Yorker) begins to talk about "How I hate the way he uses..." and I think she is going to finish with "9/11" but instead she says "the Yankees."

9:47: I lost my last two time entries, somehow! You missed a whole long conversation about who would be the Democratic nominee if every voter followed the "hottie" strategy used by some. There is one enthusiast for Bill Clinton. I do point out the constitutional exclusion against a third term. "He could serve a third term with me," says someone.

You also missed my post about how wonderful was the dessert that Nina made. Indeed, it was so good that Nina licked her plate completely clean. Then she pulled the plate off her face, and she and Ann began arguing about the Middle East. As a public sociologist, I should be joining in the debate, but instead I secretly checked my e-mail again. Bad, bad public sociologist!

9:52: Nina has her computer out, so we are all four online now. Tonya is disappointed that no one else is itching to do karaoke. I had to break it to her earlier that, while I enjoy karaoke, I can't actually sing.

9:59: Tonya is crawling on the ground in the other room. I'm not sure what has happened. Whatever it is, there is apparently a photo which Nina does NOT have permission to post.

10:01: GWB is on the TV saying "there have always been doubters." As if on cue, Tonya brings the karaoke machine out and is setting it up on the karaoke table. She will not be denied. Dear God, Tonya has a LOT of karaoke CDs. Note to fellow UW sociologists: we should raid and copy her stash.

10:06: Bush is still going. Tonya is singing Dave Matthews Band's "Too Much" into the karaoke machine. Ann notes that it is difficult to blog through it all.

10:12: Bush just finished, as Nina began to press Tonya on whether, given that it's just us all sitting around the kitchen table, she really needs to be using the microphone on her karaoke set. Sometimes Nina doesn't understand karaoke at all.

10:14: After mostly ignoring the TV, we all turn in confusion when the announcer, describing the convention floor, says "For those of you who are watching on black and white TVs, the balloons are red, white, and blue." "Who has a black and white TV?" Nina exclaims. ("Except in Poland," I expect her to add, but she doesn't.)

10:20: Ann checks her sitemeter and she's had over a thousand people check out her site in the last hour. Anyone disappointed by her paucity of posts this evening should recognize that she been working while have dinner and drinks and while having the person to her left doing an extended Dave Matthews Band karaoke medley. (STOP THE PRESSES: Tonya has just stopped the DMB run, cranking up the microphone in order to do Santana's "Smooth.")

10:36: As Tonya does "Band of Gold," she makes an instrumental break reference to Isaac Hayes, which causes Nina to shout "Issac Hayes! Did you read in the paper how he was in New Haven the same time I was?" (Strangely, the rest of us all missed this story.) Now, Tonya has ceded the microphone to Nina, who is doing a good version of "My Girl," with this running commentary that makes it almost seem like The Official Annotated My Girl. At an instrument part near the end, she shouts "MORE WORDS! I can't believe there are more words. Shut up already! Okay... month of May..."

[soon afterward, I closed my laptop... I didn't get home, though, until after 11:30. If the preceding does not emphasize enough what an amazing-amazing cook Nina is--not to mention a fantastic and indulgent all-around host--please mentally amend accordingly.]

15 months for the sex, 16 years for being gay about it

"TOPEKA, Kansas (AP) -- The state can punish illegal underage sex more harshly when it involves homosexual acts, even if the only goal is promoting traditional values, a state official told the Kansas Supreme Court on Tuesday. [...]

Maag argued in favor of upholding a sentence of more than 17 years in prison for Matthew R. Limon, convicted of criminal sodomy for having sex at age 18 with a 14-year-old boy in 2000.

Had the victim been a girl, Limon could have been sentenced to one year and three months in prison under a 1999 'Romeo and Juliet' law that gives shorter sentences to heterosexuals if the partners' ages are within four years and under 19."
Dear God. Is this for real? Is there more to this story? Why haven't I heard of this case before now?


Follow-up to earlier post: I did ride my bicycle to and from campus today. There were a few glitches. Like, on the way there, I was for a short while riding the wrong way down the Beltline. When I arrived on campus, I realized I forgotten my bike lock, which meant that I had to carry (not wheel, the tires were muddy) my bike to my office. And, I was way too sweaty by the time I arrived not to have not had any shirt-changing plans. However, I have now figured out the route, I have switched my bike lock key to my everyday keyring, and I will be ready tomorrow to prove wrong those nonbelievers--granted, nonbelievers who can point to a formidable empirical-biographical record--who chose "Once, if that" in the pool.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

a quick clarification of two pronunciation matters that have come up recently

1. The first name of a certain colleague of mine is NOT pronounced MEE-rah.

2. The first name of a certain much-beloved singer of mine is NOT pronounced MY-rah.

3. The correct pronunciation of these two names is left as an exercise for the reader.

she's having a baby!

My friend Jan is pregnant. How cool is that!

Jan and I went to college together at Iowa. I know Jan's husband, John, from my graduate school days at Indiana. From which you might wonder if Jan and John met through me. They did.

Briefly: Jan came out to Indiana to visit me one weekend in January; I threw a party in her honor*; John showed up to the party; a conversation ensued, followed by--unbeknownst to me--an e-mail correspondence. Fast forward two months, when some friends of mine planned a surprise party for my birthday: I was surprised enough by the party; then even more surprised that Jan had flown back to Bloomington just to attend; and then even more surprised later to look over and see Jan and John playing tonsil hockey in the corner (to this day, they deny this last detail--possibly correctly, I can't claim to be the most reliable eyewitness given that I was drunk and wearing an inflatable football helmet at the time).

Setting aside the possible role of Divine Fate in their meeting, it seems reasonable to presume that because Jan and John met as the result of their mutual friendship with me, they would not now be together if it wasn't for me. And if Jan and John weren't together, then the particular combination of DNA growing inside of Jan right now--let's call her Francine**--would not be there. So Francine owes her whole existence to me. To be sure, she owes it firstly to gestating Jan, secondly to John, but I'm right there in the contest for third.

I am an indisputably-indispensible part of the causal chain leading to her existence. I am right now awash in the warm glow of my own consequentiality.

Of course, other people are also indispensible parts of this causal chain. Jan's parents and John's parents, for instance. No them, no Jan and John, no Francine. But, then again, also my parents. No them, no me; no me, no meeting.

Also: Jan and I met because we were both part of this scholarship program at Iowa. I was originally an alternate for this program, and only got it because of some unknown person deciding to go somewhere else. That person, who is just as ignorant of our story as we are of hers/his, will also be owed a big Thank You from Francine as soon as she's old enough to understand causality. For that matter, if Doug Maynard had decided to stay on the faculty at Wisconsin instead of going to Indiana, I would have almost certainly gone to graduate school here in Madison instead of there in Bloomington. Doug would thus seem deserving of his own "In Gratitude" birth announcement once the Francine-bun is out of the Jan-oven.

The reader might complain that, as usual, I seem far too focused on me. Fine. I would certainly not deny that there must be all kinds of other people who have played causally crucial roles here.

One thing to understand is that, as it turns out, Jan and John are perfect for one another. And they are sort of perfectionists. Which means that even if had they not yet known the other was Out There Waiting, they might not have settled for less.

Otherwise, there would seem a reasonable chance of their being some guy out there who could have asked Jan out, and who Jan would have gone out with if asked, and who she would have gotten along with well enough for them to consider themselves sufficiently in love and to have gotten married, whereupon she might now even have a mostly-different bundle of DNA growing inside her, etc., etc.. Or, for that matter, what if that girl behind the counter at King Gyro had gone out with John, and then they dated for a stormy and unsatisfactory six months that just happened to overlap with Jan's visit? Sure, if John was at the party he would have still seen Jan across the crowded room and known that she, not King Gyro Girl, was The One. However, it would seem a safe bet that King Gyro Girl would not have liked John's sociology friends and would have made her take him to Cabin Boy or some other movie that night instead.

Once Jan and John met, it may seem like nothing could have derailed them from the course has now brought Francine into being. If only genetics worked that way. Instead: change the moment of conception a few minutes forward or backward in time and it's a whole different roll of the genetic dice. For all I know, the specific being known as Francine owes her existence to a joystick malfunction prematurely ending a playoff run in Playstation NHL 2004.

Alternatively, it could all have been Fate that they were to meet and get together, and have this child, which would mean that I was but Fate's emissary. Indeed, it could have been, in fact, that this was the only purpose that Fate has for me. If so, I suppose it's good to have it out of the way, and I'm definitely not going to feel guilty anymore about the time I spend blogging.

* Actually hosted in the house of a friend who was the host of many good parties in that day--you know who you are, as does pretty much everyone else from that era of Indiana Sociology.

** Jan and John have chosen not to know their baby's sex; either way, unless I reach a new level of effectiveness in my remote mind control experiments, the baby will not be named Francine.

desperate people do desperate things

(note the expiration date)

In my own case, my desperation at forcing more exercise into my life led to a particularly daring (read: almost certainly foolish) maneuver: I did not renew my parking space for this year. I save $400 + whatever it would have cost me in gas. And I gain the mandatory opportunity to get to campus some other way, with my bicycle hopefully being prominent among those other ways.

I woke up today with all sorts of exuberance to hop on my Trek and pedal my way up to campus. I was wandering around the RV talking in a bright Italian accent like all true bicycling enthusiasts do. Then somebody pointed out over e-mail that it was raining here in Madison this morning. I hadn't actually anticipated there being any precipitation this fall, so I'm not quite sure what to do.

How well do you think this strategy is going to work? Here, let me know:

(Note: In the winter, the plan is to take the bus, which is free in Madison for the UW Volk. My hope is that this doesn't degenerate to me driving my car and parking in the pay-to-park garage. If it does, my hope is that doesn't degenerate into me taking Union Cab to and fro.)