Saturday, December 25, 2004

(guest posts from december reproduced below)

the clairvoyant powers of william safire

One of the news stories you always see at the end of the year is where somebody looks back at the predictions various tabloid psychics made and notes that, as ever, all of them are wrong.  When you read them--especially in light of what actually happened that year--you think: it's almost like the psychics aren't actually trying to be correct, but instead their just making predictions for their entertainment value. 

Meanwhile, a couple days ago in the NYT, William Safire presented his annual "Office Pool", where he makes predictions about the upcoming year.  I noticed how he didn't make any mention of his predictions last year.  It's irritating that newspapers revel in the erroneous predictions of psychics but nobody ever takes note of how well pundits do with their predictions.  I decided to pay the $3 to see what he did predict last year.  When I read them--especially in light of what actually happened this year--I thought: it's almost like he isn't trying to be correct, but instead he's just making predictions for their conservative flak value. 

Anyway, to get the most out of my $3, here they are.  He presents his predictions as a multiple choice quiz and then offers his prediction as an answer; I've reproduced his answer in brackets after the question.

1. Next tyranny to feel the force of U.S. liberation: (a) North Korea; (b) Iran; (c) Syria; (d) Venezuela.  [Safire's answer: (none) -- alas, his crystal ball gets cloudy from here on]

2. Iraq will (a) split up, like all Gaul, into three parts; (b) defeat the insurgents and emerge a rudimentary democracy; (c) succumb to a Sunni coup. [(b)]

3. First to fall from power will be (a) Little China's Chen Shui-bian, whose two-China campaign oratory on Taiwan is asking for trouble with Big China; (b) Pakistan's Musharraf, double-crossed by his Islamist military; (c) the U.S.'s Bush, after abandoning fiscal restraint; (d) Russia's Putin as his electorate miraculously awakens; (e) Cuba's Castro. [(e) (I've made this yearly prediction for three decades and now is not the time to stop)]

4. Long-overdue exoneration will come to embattled media megastar (a) Martha Stewart; (b) Michael Jackson; (c) Kenneth Lay; (d) Pete Rose. [(a)]

5. The economy will (a) see a booming 13,000 Dow and 3,000 Nasdaq; (b) grow more slowly as a weakening dollar drives up interest rates; (c) be rocked by the abuse of manipulative derivatives in hedge funds. [(all); note the Dow is at something like 10,800 now]

6. The fiction best seller will be (a) ''Retribution'' by Jilliane Hoffman; (b) ''Confessions of a Bigamist'' by Kate Lehrer; (c) ''Flying Crows'' by Jim Lehrer (presumably one of Kate's husbands). [(b)]

7. The nonfiction sleeper will be (a) ''Inside -- A Public and Private Life'' by Joseph Califano Jr.; (b) Carl Zimmer's brainy ''Soul Made Flesh''; (c) Michael Korda's biography of U. S. Grant; (d) Gertrude Himmelfarb's ''The Roads to Modernity.'' [(a)]

8. The scientific advance of the year will be (a) age retardation enhanced by memory protection; (b) a single pill combining erectile dysfunction treatment with a fast-acting aphrodisiac; (c) neuroscientists' creation of a unified field theory of the brain; (d) the awakening of geneticists to the liberating study of bioethics.  [(d) - weird set of choices, no?]

9. Best-Picture Oscar: (a) Anthony Minghella's ''Cold Mountain''; (b) Edward Zwick's ''The Last Samurai''; (c) Clint Eastwood's ''Mystic River''; (d) Sofia Coppola's ''Lost in Translation''; (e) Gary Ross's ''Seabiscuit.'' (This is the category I'm good at.)  [Yes, Safire really did add that last remark.  His answer: (c).  Actual winner: "Lord of the Rings", which he wasn't even prescient enough to see as an option.]

10. Bush's domestic initiative will be (a) Social Security personal accounts; (b) community college scholarships; (c) a moon colony; (d) snowmobile restrictions in Florida parks. [(b) -- not sure why "cutting Pell grants" was not on list]

11. The U.S. Supreme Court (a) will decide that the rights of alien detainees in Guantánamo have not been violated; (b) will deadlock, 4-4 (Scalia recused), in the Pledge of Allegiance case, thereby temporarily affirming the Ninth Circuit decision declaring ''under God'' in the pledge unconstitutional; (c) in Tennessee v. Lane will uphold a state's immunity to lawsuits, limiting federal power in the Americans with Disabilities Act. [(all) - so he's 0-for-3 on this one, but note the especially dramatic error of (b)]

12. Howard Dean will (a) sweep Iowa and New Hampshire and breeze to a boring nomination; (b) lose to Gephardt in Iowa and do worse than expected in N.H., leading to a long race; (c) transform himself into the centrist, affable ''new Dean''; (d) angrily bolt and form a third party if the nomination is denied him. [(b) -- I can't remember if Dean was third and Gephardt fourth in Iowa, or the other way around]

13. The ''October surprise'' affecting our election will be (a) the capture of bin Laden in Yemen; (b) the daring escape of Saddam; (c) a major terror attack in the U.S.; (d) finding a buried bag of anthrax in Tikrit. [(c)]

14. Debating Cheney on TV will be the Democratic running mate (a) Wes Clark; (b) Bob Graham; (c) Bill Richardson; (d) Dianne Feinstein; (e) John Edwards; (f) Carl Levin. [(b)]

15. The next secretary of state will be (a) Richard Holbrooke; (b) Paul Bremer; (c) Donald Rumsfeld; (d) John Kerry. [(b)]

16. Israel, staunchly supported during the U.S. election year, will (a) build its security barrier including the Ariel salient and the Jordan Valley; (b) undermine Arafat by negotiating territory with Syria after Assad quiets Hezbollah in occupied Lebanon; (c) close down illegal outposts before ''redeploying'' settlers out of Gaza. [(all)]

(originally posted to Pub Sociology)

the information age equivalent of coal in your stocking... to have Dad take your presents and sell them on e-Bay, like this father did. In his ad trying to sell three Nintendo DS systems at once, the father says:
Three undeserving boys have crossed the line. Tonight we sat down and showed them what they WILL NOT get for Christmas this year. I'll be taking down the tree tomorrow.
and at the end he includes a special little message for his kids:

Remember kids - Good things happen to good people. Bad things happen to bad people. This is a perfect example of what happens to bad kids.

(originally posted under a pseudonym to SconnieSoc)

my life in prose

A great thing about reading a lot of academic psychology is that you occasionally get to read sentences that provide a dyspiphanic insight into one's own past, present, and continuing-impending doom. To whit, from McCrae and Costa's Personality in Adulthood, 2nd edition:
"It is perhaps not surprising that individuals high in Neuroticism, whose authentic nature is to be miserable, keep trying new self-definitions, like an insomniac who cannot find a comfortable position in bed." (p. 229)
or, for that matter:
"Personal projects are also intriguing because the dimensions on which they are rated can be related to dimensions of personality. Little et al. (1992) reported that highly conscientious people feel their projects are progressing well, [people highly open to experience] believe their projects are particularly meaningful, and that those high in Neuroticism find their projects stressful." (p. 221)
(originally guest-posted to Pub Sociology)

money changes everything*

I spend way too much of my time doing peer reviews for someone who is untenured.  I am on the editorial board of ASR and a contributing editor for AJS**, responsibilities that I accepted in part because I thought that doing both would force me to decline doing any other reviews.  Here I am this evening, however, reviewing a grant proposal for one of the government agencies that funds social science research.

Before I began reviewing grants, an empirical regularity I had noticed with puzzlement was that reviewers on grants seem much more unfriendly--even the course of providing what are ultimately positive reviews--than reviewers on articles.  Now I totally understand it.  I mean, I suppose one can get all worked up when doing a review with the thought that, "This section is pretty sloppy for somebody who thinks this paper deserves 20 pages in A Leading Journal."  But it's way easier to feel terse-n-surly from the thought that "This section is pretty sloppy for somebody who thinks this proposal deserves a quarter of a million dollars."

* Also the title of what is, incidentally but inarguably, the best song in Cyndi Lauper's underappreciated oeuvre.

** Oops, I lapsed into Assumed Sociology Acronyms, and this is supposed to be public (pub-lish?) sociology here. ASR = American Sociological Review, AJS = American Journal of Sociology.

(originally guest-posted to Pub Sociology)

ho ho ho

Just in time for the holidays: It's a Wonderful Life, condensed to a thirty-second cartoon with bunnies playing all roles. (Via the blogging firm of Drek, Moredrek, and Slag).

(originally posted under a pseudonym to SconnieSoc)

crimes of fame mis-estimation, mafioso edition

"'Pete, they gotta hate me because I became a legend,' John Gotti said, noting that a newspaper columnist had said he could find 53 books in which Gotti had been mentioned. 'Fifty-three books. You can't find 53 Abraham Lincoln was mentioned in.'"
What is unclear is whether this indicates an underappreciation of Lincoln's legacy, an underestimation of the number of books that exist, or a possibly correct estimation of Pete's poor library skillz.

(originally posted under a pseudonym to SconnieSoc)

an example of a song lyric that disconcerts me each and every time i hear it

From Salt 'n Pepa's "Whatta Man":
My man gives me real lovin',
that's why I call him "Killer"
(originally posted under a pseudonym to SconnieSoc)

when i am an old man, i will play solitude on my computer. and you won't know where my office is.

Evaluations of a professor taken from (and reproduced on a fellow sociologist's blog here):
This guy has got to be like 400 years old or something. Ancient. He sometimes falls alseep during lectures and sometimes asks students to copy his notes on the board while he plays solitude on his computer. He tells everyone he just wants out of academia, to collect his check and go home. He won't tell us where his office is and seems really tired all the time.

This guy is super old and he just wants out and he'll tell you this. NO one in class knew where his office was and he told them it was no accident because he didn't want anyone bothering his afternoon naps. He said he was retiring in a year or so and didn't want to be bothered. [...] When people complained he suggested maybe they jump off a bridge but make sure not to mention his name in the note. He always said he didn't care, and we didn't understand how much he didn't care.
(originally posted under a pseudonym to SconnieSoc)


An advertisement for:
Advanced Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Workshop

Las Vegas, Nevada April 6-8, 2005 9am-5pm

This is an advanced class for those who have a good working knowledge of domestic violence principles...
Especially if they are going to have it in Las Vegas, I think that, for the sake of clarity, they should have the words "research" and/or "prevention" somewhere in the heading.

(originally posted under a pseudonym to SconnieSoc)

the chosen wun

The current description of this blog begins: "We aren't the department wunderkind." Autumn can correct me on this, but wunderkind is singular, with the plural being wunderkinder (and, the talented-and-gifted schools for the youngest of them being, of course, wunderkindergarten; the most sweet-tempered of them are sent to this country in the hopes of creating a wunderkindergentleramerica).

I don't know if readers would be more surprised to learn that Wisconsin Sociology only has one wunderkind, or that we have a wunderkind at all. In any case, do y'all know who the wunderkind is? Are they kept locked in the chair's office in a special plastic bag so that nothing will happen to them? Do they have to wear a scarlet W wherever they go, and, if so, is this a badge of honor or shame? Do you get to play ring-around-the-wunderkind at recess? Can we organize a rousing game of Pin The Tail on the Wunderkind for Visit Day?

(originally posted under a pseudonym to SconnieSoc)

she's so unusual

Letters of recommendation are, generally speaking, institutionalized acts of hyperbole that pose for reading committees the problem of trying to figure out what are the true sentiments lurking amidst all that lavish praise. Some places ask writers to fill out a form in addition to providing a letter, but the chronic problem with these forms is that writers just go through and fill in the best candidate for a student. In questionnaire research of any kind, when you have clumping on an extreme category, the usual solution is to add even more extreme categories, and this appears to be what Berkeley's graduate school is trying to do with its form. For "Please rate this applicant in terms of overall promise," you have 7 options:

1. Below average
2. Average
3. Somewhat above average
4. Good
5. Unusual
6. Outstanding
7. Truly exceptional

But, in addition to this, you can also check:

8. Best student this year
9. Best student in five years
10. Best student in ten years
11. Best student in _____ years

Missing, strangely, are "Best student there ever was" and "God."

(originally posted under a pseudonym to SconnieSoc)

spoiling the blogger broth

Team blogs, I think, have not been analyzed enough using the concepts and findings from the sociological literature that have been done of intentional communities (e.g., residential co-ops, communes, cultish-free-love-shacks of one form or another).  Since I have no great familiarity with this literature, don't expect such an analysis to come from me.  However, there is a great experiment happening right now here in Madison Sociology.  The graduate students have recently started a team blog with a lot of participants, and their only executive decision has been that all of them get full administrative privileges to the blog.  Already there seems to be a squabble where people have been changing the name of the blog back and forth from "at wisc dot edu" to "dot wisc dot edu" (neither of which is particularly compelling, but the latter being plainly superior in my view).  So one can sit and watch whether this devolves into chaos.  Or, alternatively, one can also see whether this devolves into boredom and a lack of posting inside of two weeks, which is of course the modal fate of team blogs regardless of how they allocate administrative privileges.

(originally guest-posted to Pub Sociology)

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

an open letter to my weblog

Dearest JFW:

I love you. I do. You have been an important part of my life these last sixteen months. I would not trade the memories of the time we have spent together for anything. You will always have a special place in my heart.

And, yet, I need a break from this relationship. Some Time Apart. It's about me, not about you. Well, not really: it is, in no small part, about you. You are pretty high maintenance, after all. You do demand a lot of attention. Or, at least, I start to feel guilty if I feel like I'm neglecting you.

Truth is, I just haven't been that into you lately. We always said we would break up if it ever started to feel like a chore. While I do enjoy so much of our time together, I would be lying if I didn't say that lately it has, indeed, started to feel a little like, well, a chore. You deserve better.

I know this must all be very hurtful for you to hear. Usually, in a letter like this, the writer can at least bear some illusion that the recipient will get over it with time and move on. I know that you, however, will not move on. You will just sit here and wait for me. Forever, if necessary, or at least until you are euthanized by whatever algorithms Blogger has for dealing with the abandoned. I feel guility about this, I do, but I have to take care of myself and my own needs right now.

So, a break. At least for December. Maybe forever. We'll see. I know I will miss you. Whatever happens, I will remember you fondly, always.


P.S. I really will be taking a break at least for the whole of December. I have A LOT going on right now, even by usual standards. Whether I will come back to blogging in the start of 2005 will depend on how things go. I do appreciate so much everybody who has checked out my blog and especially-especially-especially anyone who has taken the time to read it regularly.