Sunday, February 29, 2004

(slippery slope) next i will be baking a cake with a hacksaw hidden inside

(Janeane Garofalo, mug shot of choice among members of MENSA Behind Bars)

A frequent reader from Denton, TX e-mails to applaud my decision to post a picture of Elisabeth Shue for my new pen-pal--pun intended, ha!--JD (see most recent post). However, she suggests, as long as I was going to be posting photographs of women for incarcerated men seeking self-improvement through education, "why don't you find some way to work in a picture of janine [sic] garafalo, the thinking person's dream girl?"

do not pass go. do not collect $200.

(Elisabeth Shue, behind bars)

Already I have had reader complaints about the absence of any posts yesterday. So, here. I did get this e-mail yesterday from a reader of unknown location, which leaps to first place on my list of weird inbox arrivals resulting from my weblog.
-----Original Message-----
From: JD [fakename] [dointimejd @ [domain].com]
Sent: Saturday, February 28, 2004 2:29 PM
To: [my sbcglobal address]
Subject: hAya

Deeer doct or profss or Freese


iDont no u but I like you I get special compter prileges here in jail an I find yur wblg thingy i reed it when I can,, donnt you worry none cause I aint no crazy stalker kinda feller, no I done sole drugs an stole stuff nuttin violent an al. Pluz I am turnen me life around C we got lots incommon) Im now in the educatshon biznes like you now)) Im fixn toget my GED degreee - I wanna go to colag.e I cannt make up my mind what /i shuld studee - weldentruckdrven ora hairweeveng or preeschen scool bnutt 1ist I half ta passt this here gedbs witch why I writ uyo.> U beeng s mrt an all culld hep Me wit thes Ged stuf ; I dunnknow thee math stuf 2 wel an u alwys taklen buot number stuf to Bee tellen the truef, i donnrt reely under stand much wht you bee talken bout, butt Im lik en ya"" Yu r good 2 yur MAMA liken i Is> I tel mi MaMAA boot you win she cu m seee me| SHe say i schuld writ you an, all so i Is.

Thss writen stufhard tha gurdd telen me I gots ta huryy UPCuld you hlp me wit mie gED stuf/???/ Iam heer in jaile en [place]. I sniched on sum peepal an tha lwyerss ay tht i cannt goto the state pen cauuse so thy send me heer 4 myn own saftee

Gob hald you en his hendlikeMe!!!!!!!!!!


Pee sss yioculd yuo pleez putt sum piks off chiks on yourn welblog thngy THe jayl half A filtrr thingy n wil not leten me luuk ayt gurlzx.,I licke y urne frend hteh abraacrambee chik
Okay, so, no offense to my burgeoning incarcerated readership, but presumably we can all agree that this message is a prank. However, it seems a pretty elaborate (if peculiar and sophmoric) prank. I mean, did the person get an e-mail address especially for this? The message itself seems like it took awhile to compose, especially to work in the various references to actual content of my weblog. I mean, somebody couldn't have composed this and then sent it to a whole bunch of different bloggers. Emily thinks it's a high school student who stumbled across my weblog somehow. Or she wondered if it might be a friend of hers who has read my weblog and is, in her words, "clearly a sociopath." Or, apropos of nothing, she suggested it might be Elisabeth Shue (star of Adventures in Babysitting and Leaving Las Vegas; ex-girlfriend of Freaktoastt J and the late Alan Thicke; here, I'll include a picture of her above, especially since Emily agreed with JD's suggestion that I include more photos of attractive women on the weblog). All of these plausible enough, I suppose. In any event, the question is whether the prank is by (a) someone I know, (b) someone who I don't know but has come to read my weblog via referral from someone I know, or (c) someone I don't know at all. Any guesses or math tips for JD, pass them along.

Friday, February 27, 2004

causality bites, continued

From today's NYT:
"For years, at thousands of New York City intersections, well-worn push buttons have offered harried walkers a rare promise of control over their pedestrian lives. The signs mounted above explained their purpose:

To Cross Street
Push Button
Wait for Walk Signal

Millions of dutiful city residents and tourists have pushed them over the years, thinking it would help speed them in their journeys. Many trusting souls might have believed they actually worked. Others, more cynical, might have suspected they were broken but pushed anyway, out of habit, or in the off chance they might bring a walk sign more quickly.

As it turns out, [as usual], the cynics were right.

The city deactivated most of the pedestrian buttons long ago with the emergence of computer-controlled traffic signals, even as an unwitting public continued to push on, according to city Department of Transportation officials. More than 2,500 of the 3,250 walk buttons that still exist function essentially as mechanical placebos, city figures show. Any benefit from them is only imagined."
Incidentally, as a contrast to the false sense of causality highlighted in this story, I should note that I just received word that has been bought out by a larger company, a mere three days after it received national prominence upon being linked to from my weblog. Who says one cannot change the world from the comfort of one's RV?

talk about the passion, #2

Much as Jesus was tempted thrice by Satan and successfully resisted each time, I believe that one of my sisters is trying to bait me into exasperation by forwarding me increasingly implausible e-mails that all (a) evince some kind of dramatic narrative consistent with a politically conservative and religious worldview and (b) are completely, wildly untrue. Today's attempt pushed me close to the edge by invoking Paul Harvey, whose show I am sure will be piped through loudspeakers while I am being flogged by the devil's minions in hell.

jeremy, why nothing on the weblog this evening?

Is it because you have been out doing something fun?
Is it because you have been engaged in some scintillating bit of social research?
Is it because you have been trying to do something about the domestic tar pit that the RV has become?
Is it because you are driving around in your spunky new Corolla?
Is it because you were making phone calls to Ohio voters on behalf of Little Edwards?
Is it because you are catching up on your grading for your class?
Is it because you are getting your next class ready?
I give up.
I've been getting my last class ready. I just spend more time than I care to explicitly state figuring out how to word a handout and re-do some PowerPoint slides for something that I felt like I didn't explain very well today.
You should just let those things go.
I know, I know.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

insomniaTunes, continued

I have bought 50 songs in the 37 days that I have had iTunes. I don't even know if I spent $50 on music in 2003, unless you count CDs I bought as gifts.* The vast majority of these songs were bought in the middle of the night and on a completely spontaneous impulse, which before iTunes would been just a short-term culture-craving that passed unfulfilled. My three most recent acquisitions: (1) "Survivor" by Destiny's Child (Survivor)**; (2) "You Can't Hurry Love" by The Supremes (Millenium Collection edition); (3) "Be My Plus One" by Freaktoastt J and The Mountain Goats (Paprika Twill).

* In which case, the tally would include, inter alia, Clay Aiken's Measure of a Man, which I bought for a certain friend's mother after the friend told me that her mother had put it on both her birthday and Xmas lists but her family had conspired not to give it to her.

** This was apparently one of those gazillion-selling played-everywhere hit songs that, being completely alienated from all mass culture, I had never, ever heard (or even heard of) before a couple of graduate students did it at karaoke.

she was successful beyond all her expectations and wondered what could possibly be the capstone of her great career. and then she met rick dees.

MEMPHIS, Tennessee (AP) -- Estelle Axton, co-founder of the famed Stax Records Co., which generated hits from acts including Sam and Dave, Otis Redding Jr. and The Staple Singers, has died. She was 85.


"Were it not for her, there's no way Stax could have become what it became," said David Porter. [...] Between 1960 and 1975, Stax's roster also included Booker T. and the MGs, Rufus Thomas, Albert King, Johnnie Taylor, The Mar-Keys and the Bar-Kays.

Axton and other family members went on to establish the Fretone label which produced Rick Dees' 1977 hit "Disco Duck."
Update, 9:20pm: iTunes does not have "Disco Duck" available for online purchase!

quick: e-mail the onion, subject line "goats"

From: Onion Promotions [] 

Sent: Wednesday, February 25, 2004 4:23 PM
To: Jeremy Freese
Subject: Re: goats
You win!
Your name will appear on the guest list as "(your name) +1"
> From: "Jeremy Freese" []

> Date: Wed, 25 Feb 2004 15:01:45 -0600
> To: []
> Subject: goats
> ___________________________________________________________________
> Jeremy Freese Office: 8105 Social Science
> Assistant Professor Tel#: (608) 262-1217
> Department of Sociology fax: (608) 265-5389
> University of Wisconsin-Madison
> 1180 Observatory Drive
> Madison, WI 53706
> ___________________________________________________________________
Awesome! I'll update you when/if I find out what it is I just won tickets to. As long as it has goats, I'm happy.

headline of the day

From Yahoo! News: "Disney Asks Judge to Throw Out Pooh Suit"

once again adding to your JFW experience

I think this link will work so that my weblog can be added to one's BlogRoll. If it does work, I'll stick it at the bottom of the page, by the completely worthless Google-based search feature.*. I have no idea what kind of marketing lists, etc., one gets oneself on by enrolling in BlogRoll, so I can't take responsibility for whatever may happen. For that matter, clicking on the preceding link could incinerate your machine, for all I know. I don't really understand what BlogRoll is, or if the R in the middle really ought to be capitalized, but it seems to have high visibility in blogging circles and so I feel like I'm substandard without it. The description on its website makes it seem completely unuseful if you are capable of using, say, bookmarks in your web-browser. Kids these days, they're always coming up with some newfangled thing or some new crazy flailing dance.

* Yes, it's made by Google, the company responsible for the most miraculous technological feat of the last decade--yes! that includes the Swiffer WetJet!--and yet it still sucks. Try searching for "Brian Dietz," for example; no wonder we aren't having any luck tracking that guy down. I don't even know why Google offers it; I feel like it besmirches their otherwise hallowed name.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

regarding some songs mentioned in recent posts

1. Regarding "Mandy", from a reader in Copacaba, NA: "This song has SO been on my mind! I was so jazzed to see you downloaded it! I bought the sheet music to this song sometime in the 70s and tried to learn to play it on the piano."

2. Regarding "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "God Only Knows": From a reader in Surf City, USA: "It's so creepy that you just said this - I was just making the exact same point to some friends this weekend. Same two songs and everything. I tend not to use the word oeuvre, but you know." I probably wouldn't use the "creepy," especially since the merits of the songs have always seemed an objective matter to me (in other words, what's creepy is that other people should argue with us about it.) Another reader from Hawthorne, CA, was surprised by the omission of "Don't Worry Baby," which I did decide was good enough for the Beach Boys Bronze Medal and honored it with a download from iTunes.

3. Regarding #2 above, I should also note that I had a friend in college who had this grand scheme to start a band that would play only (and alternately) Beach Boys and Kiss covers, while dressed in adult-sized Underoos-costumes of various Marvel Comics superheroes. I was surprised when he did not get any credible responses to the posters he put up looking for bandmates. I remember the poster had this sentence attesting to his good singing voice and stage presence and then went on about how onstage he "would gyrate when the situation warranted and was tasteful" or something like that.

frequently asked questions about jeremy, continued

Q: Does Jeremy enjoy being up at 4am grading?

A: No.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

"i laughed! i cried! no, i didn't actually laugh! but i did almost cry!"

Through an odd concurrence of events, I saw the film 50 First Dates. It was one of the most peculiar cinematic experiences I have ever had in my life. Granted, I don't see that many movies and have not seen any Adam Sandler films except for Punch-Drunk Love, which I saw precisely because of reviews claiming it was an outlier for him. Anyway, I probably thought there were about 8-10 funny moments in the entire film, in contrast to maybe 150-200 painfully unfunny "funny" moments piled on top of one another throughout . It's one of those comedies that has a large ensemble of peripheral characters who are supposed to be providing comic relief, and none of them are funny. Rob Schneider delivers a Spectacularly Unfunny performance as Sandler's neo-Cheech-ish native Hawaiian best friend, and he spends many of these scenes with these five sassy children who have lines that are completely predictable and completely unsuccessful in their efforts to amuse. And Schneider is still less unfunny than either of the other supporting cast members with large roles: Sean Astin and this gender-ambiguous Scandanavia-accented character who caused me to wince every single time s/he uttered a line. So, anyway, 75% of the time I was watching this film I was marvelling at how stupid and subsitcom it was.

But, the peculiar thing: amidst all this falling-flat comedy there are like a five or so scenes in the film that are genuinely moving. As in, starting-to-feel-your-eyes-welling-up-with-tears-moving. You begin to feel like you are watching a movie with Some Emotional Weight, and then the scene would be over and the inanity would resume.

As an entirely different matter, the film did validate my long, often lonely, argument that the Beach Boys' "Wouldn't It Be Nice" is a great song and, along with "God Only Knows," easily the best in the otherwise insipid Beach Boys' oeuvre. Indeed, I downloaded both just now from the iTunes site.

(politics) no longer mad at nader, continued

I have received some e-mail from friends expecting that I am going to be annoyed by the recent announcement that Ralph Nader will once again be mounting a Presidential campaign on behalf of George W. Bush. Readers may have forgotten my earlier pledge that I will henceforth confront my Nader issues with love. Granted, I have not been perfect in my efforts to live up to this pledge. However, I have confronted the most recent turn of developments with equanimity usually observed only in the highest echelon of lamas.

Among Nader's statements in announcing his candidacy, he said that those who were saying he should not run were making "a contemptuous statement against democracy, against freedom, against more voices and choices for the American people," and he also said that "it is an offense to deny the millions of people who might want to vote for our candidacy." The Old Me would have stomped around the RV in anger about the disingenuousness of this statement, and would have felt some need to expound at length the reasons why the statement is a manipulative distortion of various left ideals. Sure, the New Me may have typed three or four thousand words to this effect just now, but the New Me then lovingly hits the delete key rather than to post them. Hooray, New Me!

A sociologist of a different sort from your weblog author does display some bitterness and anger toward Nader in an article in Salon. While he (Todd Gitlin) makes all kinds of points The Old Me would applaud, the New Me appreciates his reasoning but still feels that I should send the Salon author an e-mail suggesting he should let go of the poison inside him like I have. Indeed, here goes:

I used to have the same kind of relentless and seething anger toward Nader for the 2000 election as you did. Through breathing exercises and grudge-reducing crystals, however, I have been gradually able to let this go. As a result, I would say that I now feel better--more free, more healthy, more connected with myself--than I ever could have imagined with a Republican in the White House. While I appreciate the eloquence with which you articulate your rage, I would urge you to work on your own Nader issues and to consider the possibility that some of the anger that you believe you feel toward Nader is really anger you feel toward, in Michael Jackson's words, the "Man in the Mirror."

Give Peace a Chance! Let Love In Your Heart!
Click and send. Granted, my half-sister Dahlia might be annoyed that I signed her name to the message instead of my own, but the New Me does not want to risk backsliding as the result of getting pulled into any colloquy regarding Nader.

The New Me sees no bile, however, in repeating a few sentences from Gitlin's essay regarding the argument that a national candidate can gain considerably by mobilizing turnout of new voters:
"if you take a hard look at the turnout argument, you see that the legions of nonvoters are the spectral cavalry of the marginals -- the phantasmagorical saviors waiting in the canyons. Nader invoked them in 2000. Howard Dean invoked them this year. They are an argument of last resort in political fantasies."

Saturday, February 21, 2004

acquisitions update, #10

(An indigo ink blue Corolla, albeit not an S series. Add a spoiler and a little more jaunty underbody design and you have it.)

I have bought a car. A "Indigo Ink Blue" Toyota Corolla S. I may pick it up as early as Monday, although a couple of things need to be done to it. I have the option then of accepting a $100 trade-in on my decrepit '93 Saturn. Received opinion varies on whether I should do this.

I believe that I did not get an awful deal. The only negotiating tactic I used was to not to ever look at all at a sticker price and to have the first thing I said after the test drive be, "So, what's the invoice price on this?" This resulted in the quoted price being about 3% over invoice and closer to invoice than MSRP.

I did have a strictly comparable color choice between indigo-ink-blue and black. I decided that blue seemed like more fun. I'm less sure about that choice, however, than the ultimate decision to go with the Corolla.

Key advice leading to the Corolla was given to my by my friend from Beauxbaton, who, while wording it more kindly than this, made the astute point that I seem to be sufficiently oblivious most of the time while I am driving that a substantial amount of the marginal increase in fun-of-driving between, say, the Corolla and Passat would be lost on me. So, I thought, even though I could afford the Passat, the difference in price could still probably be applied to something I would more mindfully enjoy. I did splurge on a couple of add-ons for the Corolla.

Click here to take a 360-degree tour of the interior of a 2004 Corolla.

talk about the passion

Of course, there has been the entire debate about the potential manifest or latent anti-Semitic content of Mel Gibson's Passion, now set for a debut on 2,800 screens. Seems perhaps understandable that the Anti-Defamation League would be a little concerned by a film about the Passion from a man whose father still today says that the Holocaust was "mostly a fiction." True, I would hate to be judged by some of my father's more idiosyncratic views on world affairs, but then again (a) these views, even at their nuttiest, are nothing even remotely-remotely along the lines calling the Holocaust "mostly a fiction" and (b), more importantly, unlike Mel Gibson, I have no problem with explicitly disavowing paternal positions I think are nutty.

Anyway, this post isn't about that part of Passion anyway. It's about this idea that Passion might serve this nice function in the service of religion by helping the strengthen the faith of believers and perhaps to convert some of the unfaithful. While perhaps true, it overlooks another function I expect Passion to serve in the spiritual realm: even without seeing it, I have become convinced that, along with, say, the cinematic oeurve of Pauly Shore, it will be in heavy rotation among the films playing on the video screens in the torture cell where I will spend eternity rotting in hell.

(politics) crimes of electoral confusion, continued

Even some of Nader's closest progressive allies have their doubts. "I love and appreciate him, but I definitely want to get Bush out of office, so I won't vote for him, which would be a first for me," says Medea Benjamin, the Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate from California in 2000. She says it's good that Nader is not running as a Green Party candidate, because it will allow someone else within the organization to gain national attention as a presidential candidate.

Friday, February 20, 2004

it has to be said, even if unelaboratedly so

In recent years, my family, taken as a whole, has gone from being "crazy" to being CRAZY. I think there are many families out there, even families as large as mine, where my own peculiarities would give me a fighting chance at being The Crazy One In The Family. But, among the Freeses, I'm not even a contender for the top three. At least we're a colorful bunch, I suppose.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

acquisitions update, #9

A reader e-mails regarding the recent proposal that I buy the showroom model of the Passat I've been looking at:
A friend of mine who used to work for a new car dealership told me that 
the salespeople (actually, I think salesMEN would be accurate in this
sentence) he worked with bragged about having sex in the cars on the
showroom floor. I have no idea if this is true but it if so I would
think a discount of $300 is not quite sufficient.
Well, that pretty much rules that option out.

"thoroughly traumatizing! four stars!"

Erin has sent a movie review that is about as positive as her reviews get: "i saw ___________ last night. wow. it was really good and very heartbreaking. i cried for half an hour in the theater, and then laid awake feeling sad last night." I will leave it as a mystery for readers to wonder what movie she was talking about. Keep in mind, to get a positive review from Erin, she not only has to leave the theater impressed, but also distraught. For a rave review, she must be inconsolable for at least for 3-5 hours afterward.

Meanwhile, we are having a debate over e-mail as to whether any scene Bill Murray has ever done manages to approach the scene that Erin uses as her standard for the greatest performance by an actor ever captured on film: that of the father driving his pickup and waving to his kids behind the doomed schoolbus in The Sweet Hereafter.*

* Update, next day: Erin e-mails to insist: "you have to remove or post something about the second paragraph following the movie review. some people may not know this is tongue in cheek and it will ruin my reputation among serious critics." (Note, incidentally, that she does not contest the assertions made in the first paragraph, in case you thought I was exaggerating there.)

Update Friday: Another reader e-mails in to say: "You should tell Erin to watch out: any who has been 'quoted' on the weblog knows that Jeremy is usually a sticker for accuracy and because of this reputation for fairness and verbatim reporting people are likely to believe even things that seem out of character for those 'quoted' individuals." Or maybe the reader said the opposite of this and I'm dissembling. Who knows? I do, I suppose, but I'm not telling. Ah, the power of having your own weblog, especially if you haven't set it up so as to allow readers to leave their own rebuttals of claims made about them in posts.

acquisitions update, #8

I asked the Passat dealer a question about financing and about what they had available on the lot, and here is his response:
Hello Jeremy,
Thanks for getting back to me. I have some great news for you.
Volkswagen is offering a low 2.9% financing special for up to 66 MONTHS!.
Also, if you wanted the one on the show floor, and chose to sign up for it
this week,(you could take delivery any time this month.) we could offer you
an additional $300 off. If you choose to take advantage of the low interest
rates, at 66 months works out to be $xx9.10 per month. That's with $x000
It ends up being a pretty sweet deal. We also have Fresco Green with
gray cloth on the lot. Thanks for the interest and let me know what you want
to do.

What's the deal with wanting me to take the car off the showroom floor? Does anyone know anything about that? Is it because all kinds of people have been in and out of it?

crimes of sloganeering, continued

Another of UW-Madison's professorial bloggers has a post criticizing John Kerry for starting his acceptance speech last night with reference to Wisconsin's motto being "Forward!" Which fails to make the obvious point: what kind of weak-tea slogan for a state is "Forward!" anyway. I'm not even sure exactly which sense of "Forward!" they mean:

1. "Forward!" as in "march forward", like in the dictionary definition: "Being ahead of current economic, political, or technological trends; progressive"

2. "Forward!" as in we Wisconsinites are really presumptious folks, the kind who will ask intrusive questions or invite themselves to social events: "Lacking restraint or modesty; presumptuous or bold"

3. "Forward!" as in if you have recently arrived in Wisconsin, you should immediately re-direct yourself to some other location: "To send on to a subsequent destination or address"

weblogs JFW cannot compete with, #2

Checking back in at the HAC weblog, I still suspect it's actually a social-science-fair project of the three guys listed under "My Cool Links," who are probably all dorm roommates or something. "She" is currently leading her admirers in a discussion of the proper reading of the Bible with regard to homosexuality.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

(politics) what the footsteps sounded like six weeks ago

While there are various obituaries from the Dean campaign running today, I went back and spent some quality nostalgia time reading punditry and coverage of the race from before the race in Iowa tightened. An example from January 7th (Slate): "Just as a press release at the Oct. 9 Phoenix debate showed that the Dean campaign considered Dick Gephardt its main obstacle of the moment, these flyers, however mild, demonstrate that [Wesley] Clark has become a big enough irritant to merit a swat of his own. 'The Howard Dean campaign is starting to get a little nervous,' Mo Elleithee, the campaign's New Hampshire communications director, crows at a conference call slapped together to gleefully respond to Dean's 'negative attack flyers.' 'They're hearing our footsteps.' "

(politics) dean's intriguing 15

My friend from Beauxbaton has directed my attention to the Wisconsin exit poll data, where voters were asked if they had ever supported Howard Dean's presidential bid. 2% of voters who said that they have never supported Dean's bid nonetheless voted for Dean.

Update: Talked to my friend earlier and between her, I, and one of her friends, we have three theories for this 2%:

1. The 2% (N~15 people) are strategic Republican voters who voted for Dean just because they thought a vote for him was the most subversive act. Or, if not strategic Republican voters, at least Republicans who went to the polls with their tongues in cheek.

2. The 2% are products of sheer errors in recording by exit poll interviewers or by the interviewees. This is my friend from Beauxbaton's theory, and if she reads this update she will likely be annoyed at the way I've stripped her idea of all nuance, especially when I go into detail about my own:

3. The 2% are people who had just made up their mind to vote for Dean and misunderstood the question as being about having had supported Dean for something longer for the day before the election. This was actually my theory. It's vaguely buttressed by these various analyses I have done of peculiarities in how respondents answer questions with "ever" in them and how they answer questions that seem like pose logical entailments with previous questions. With regard to the latter, I've long thought that all the failures of people to follow logical entailments when explicitly asked was simply a matter of people not being so logical as we might otherwise imagine them to be. More recently, however, I'm coming to suspect that part of what may happen is that if you give a person a question that might otherwise read like its answer is obviously logically implied by the preceding question, this may lead them to try some alternate reading of the question.

I mean, imagine a real conversation along these lines:
"Who did you vote for?"
"So, have you ever supported Dean's presidential bid?"
You can see where some people (say, 15 or so) might think that you are meaning 'support' in some sense beyond just voting for him.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

spandau ballot

I have just returned from casting by ballot for Little Edwards. I almost ran over one of my colleagues (and, in a near two-fer, his wife) in the parking lot. Sometimes I wonder if I don't see as well at night as I used to. All the more reason for me to get this black-with-black-interior Passat.

The first candidate named on my ballot was Lyndon LaRouche, Jr.. Why hasn't he been asked to participate in the debates? Why does the Establishment always conspire to keep the fresh voices of social change from being heard?

selected hearsay-feedback regarding my pedagogy

Somebody told me today that one of the student's currently in my methods class said I had a "mad genius" style of lecturing. That's about as good as it gets for me. I mean, given that I can't do anything about the "mad" part, the best I can hope for is that the adjective modifies something like "genius."

betrayed by "hey ya!"

OutKast fans [are repeatedly instructed] to "shake it like a Polaroid picture," but the instant camera maker is warning consumers that taking the advice of the hip-hop stars could ruin your snapshots. [...]

[T]he company says that shaking photos, which once helped them to dry, is not necessary since the modern version of Polaroid film dries behind a clear plastic window.

The image "never touches air, so shaking or waving has no effect," the company said on its site. "In fact, shaking or waving can actually damage the image. Rapid movement during development can cause portions of the film to separate prematurely, or can cause 'blobs' in the picture."

(check-in) so, jeremy, how's 2004 going?

So far, 2004 has been going substantially better than 2003 did. Which is not to say anything about anyone I may have had more interaction with in 2003 than I have had so far in 2004. There are various sources for this improvement, none of which will be specified in this check-in post. I know that many regular JFW readers would shudder if it ever started to smack of a gratitude journal.

Monday, February 16, 2004

primary, priqueen of scots

Wisconsin Democrats vote tomorrow. I don't know if I am supposed to vote in the precinct where the RV is parked, and if so if I can change my registration to give the RV's "address" as of Election Day. Or should I just vote where I voted back when I lived above the Dairy Bar, as I'm pretty sure I'm still registered at that address.

In any case, if I am able to vote, I'm voting for Little Edwards. I was persuaded by the rousing endorsement given by the wonktacularly wonkish Wonky McWonkerson editors of JFW.

If you question the causal importance of this weblog, note how the New York Times today has a story on the scramble of automobile companies to make a hybrid SUV after my posts about how SUVs came to be ruled off my own car shopping list.

acquisitions update, #7

Car salesmen, they e-mail you now:
Sent: Monday, February 16, 2004 10:22 AM

To: ''
Subject: Passat....
Hello Jeremy,

I just wanted to thank you for stopping in on Saturday. I'm glad
that you enjoyed the Passat and I'm also happy that I could be of
assistance. If there is a time that you could stop back and take another
test drive, I would be glad to help.
Have you come up with any other questions over the weekend? We still
have great specials going on right now and want to do whatever it takes to
earn your business. Mostly, however, thanks for your interest and time. You
can reach me at the number below or email if you prefer. Thanks again.

this minute's fantasy monograph title

The Hopelessness of It All: Some Remarks on Prevailing Logics and Practices in Social Inquiry

Sunday, February 15, 2004

crimes of surveying, continued

A current reader poll on
Does U.S. Sen. John Kerry now have the Democratic nomination in his grasp?

Too early to say
Or is this really a CoS? Is the Too Early To Say category just an incoherent version of "No," or is it to provide grounds to express the philosophical position that Kerry indeed now does either have or have not have the Democratic nomination in his grasp, but that we will only later be able to determine which it is.

Does that make sense? Like, I could ask, "Am I writing a blog post now?" and you could respond "Too early to say. You are writing something now, and if you post it than the answer is 'yes.' Nut you may end up hitting cancel, in which case you wouldn't be now writing a blog post, and the answer is 'no.'"

(boring) things that make me wonder if I'm actually a sociologist, continued

I just finished reviewing a manuscript for a journal, an activity that I must admit often induces within me some combination of surliness and despair. While one cannot properly quote or cite a manuscript under review, one can discuss it in broad conceptual terms, which is all that is needed for the point of the present post.*

Consider the following empirics: Molly and Polly are identical twins. Even though identical twins tend to be more alike than fraternal twins and much more alike than a pair of randomly selected students, there are certainly still many differences between them. We take a snapshot of their lives at age 16, and we see this:
Molly gets better grades in school and does better on academic tests than Polly. Molly has more friends who are high-academic-achievers than Polly, and she belongs to more nerdy extracirricular activities (e.g., debate, the school paper). When you talk to Molly and Polly's parents,they seem to have higher aspirations for Molly than for Polly. For that matter, Molly herself also reports having a greater desire to go to college than Polly does.
It would seem reasonable to imagine that these above differences are all somehow connected to one another. But how? Two possible narratives:

#1: Molly and Polly's parents, for reasons unrelated to any observable characteristics of either child, begun having higher aspirations for Molly than for Polly. Also, for reasons unrelated to any observable characteristics of either child, Molly began hanging out with higher-achieving friends and joining nerdy clubs. As a result of these activities, Molly has become more interested in going to college. Then, as perhaps the combined result of these differences in the aspirations of her parents, in her extracirricular activities, and in her own college plans, Molly has now started doing better in school.

#2: Molly has for many years done better than Polly at school. Because of this, and because people tend to make friends with people like themselves, Molly has more friends who are academic high achievers than Polly does. As people who do well in school also tend to show the most interest in nerdy academic clubs (for various reasons), Molly's higher academic achievement also explains why she is in more nerdy clubs than Polly. Their parents have observed the difference in how well Molly and Polly have done in school, and this is mostly why they have higher educational aspirations for Molly. The twins' own knowledge of their performance mostly explains why Molly sees college in her future more than Polly does.

The reason for today's post-review despair is that, in the way that I apprehend This Society In Which We Live, possibility #2 seems much more plausible than possibility #1. Or, alternatively, it may be that Possibility #1 describes what happens for some pairs of twins and Possibility #2 describes what happens for some others, but, in that case, my guess would be that Possibility #2 happens a good deal more often than Possibility #1. And, in any case, if one was going to decide which possibility should be given the benefit of the doubt if there is no evidence distinguishing the two, my idioepistemology sees Possibility #2 as more straightforward and so more deserving of this presumption than Possibility #1.

Meanwhile, the paper I was reviewing today seemed based on an apprehension of This Society in which Possibility #1 was regarded as easily the more plausible scenario, and Possibility #2 indeed only warranted occasional and mostly cursory mention. Indeed, the paper mainly concerned with whether or not data were consistent with the empirics presented above than with whether those empirics, if observed, could maybe perhaps be construed as evidence for Possibility #2 instead of Possibility #1. Everything was based on cross-sectional data (data based on taking a single snapshot in time) where the empirics implied by the two possibilities are mostly the same; indeed, since the possibility of Possibility #2 entered the story only peripherally, that everything was based on cross-sectional data was not acknowledged as any way problematic.

Obviously, the paper didn't present things in anything remotely like the stark-Molly-Polly-twins terms I presented above. But, at least as far as I can tell, the key and thorny causal-ordering issue can be re-expressed and boiled down to those terms.

The despair is that the paper was using fully orthodox sociological reasoning in interpreting the world as a Possibility #1 World. Meanwhile, my own way of thinking sees this reasoning as kind of like Bizarro World, in the Superman Comics, where everything is switched the wrong way around. I sometimea even feel a little like I'm being some kind of disciplinary spoilsport for being so insistent about the plausibility of Possibility #2. Ugh.

* I've also changed some things to further insure that I am not engaging in an unseemly divulgence (but, without, making any distortion germane to the logic of what I present).

acquisitions update, #6

I went shopping for a car yesterday. I ended up plunking down cash for a ... futon. I told one of my colleagues this and he replied, "Well, put some wheels on it and you might have a better product than many models coming out of Detroit."

The futon will be going in the home office I've set up in the RV, making it a home office/guestroom in the case of visitors and also giving me another place to sit and read. I bought a zesty mostly-yellow patterned color with these turquoise pillows that the nutty woman who runs Cottonwood had trouble finding for me because "turquoise isn't a real popular color these days." "Well, if I had usual tastes, I wouldn't be talking to you about buying a crazy yellow futon to put in my residential recreational vehicle, would I?" I did not reply.

Stops on the JFW Automobile Acquisition Tour were at Volkswagen and Toyota dealerships. Right now, VW and Toyota are looking like sort of the Kerry and Dean of the Iowa Caucuses of car shopping, with Honda perhaps being the Little Edwards of the group. At the Toyota dealership: I took a good look at the Prius, which is really a nifty looking car, but it's apparently on an 8-month back order so that automatically disqualifies it from the competition. The Camry Solara was ruled out on the basis of just a walk-around inspection, when I recognized that it was a vehicle that I would likely feel a little silly driving (or like I had passed immediately from my extended juvenility straight to a midlife-crisis). I drove a regular Camry, but it really did feel like a weirdly illegitimate car for me to be driving without a family, sort of like one of those crazed loners who decorates their apartment with picture frames with the original model pictures still in them so that he can create the fantasy of having an attractive, happy, and extensive family/friendship network. So, the Camry has been crossed off the list.

Near as I can tell then, this leaves the Corolla as the only remaining option in the Toyota line. I drove a Corolla 5-speed--the dealer had another customer and just let me take it, without riding along*--and was at first dismayed by how sluggish it seemed as I was taking it down Odana. After taking it a confused half mile where I was trying to punch it up to speed and wondering why anyone ever bought Corollas, I noticed a strange, burning smell and realized that I had the emergency brake on the whole time. Which immediately restored my enthusiasm for buying a Corolla even while I simultaneously ruled out any possibility of buying the particular car I was driving, since God knows what kind of damage I had just done to it. The Corolla then redeemed itself as being a pretty spunky little car.

A strange thing about the Toyota dealer I went to--for Madisonians, I'm talking about Smart M.** on Odana--they didn't seem to have very many cars around. The Camry, I thought, was the best-selling car in the entire Toyota line. There wasn't a single Camry with an automatic transmission for me to test drive. I wanted to test drive a high-trim-line version of the Corolla, and they didn't have one.

Anyway, my visit to the Passat dealer went much better. The Passat is a great car. There were all kinds of little things about it that were better than the Corolla. Problem is, depending on what model I go with, and even with it being less $ over invoice than the Corolla, it's still $6-8K more expensive. So then the question is whether I would really derive that much more extra enjoyment in driving it. I may go to the other Toyota dealership in town and see what they have, and I plan also to go to a Honda and maybe Nissan or Mazda dealer.

I talked to Erin on my cel phone and she said getting a Passat would be almost as bad as getting an SUV. If you get anything that's not near/at the bottom of its company's line, in her view, you are basically just shuttling your cash back to The Man.

* I had not provided my name or any other information about myself to the salesman. As far as I know, he did not see me drive in so didn't see for sure that I even had a car there I was leaving behind. And he hands me the keys to this new Camry and sends me on my way. Can somebody explain to me what security they have against somebody just driving off with the car in this situation?

** The "M." stands for "Motors" of course, but I don't want to type the full name of the place in a post so that some Toyota official doesn't google the name of the dealership some day and see this story about me trying earnestly to test out the acceleration of a Corolla with its emergency brake on.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

convincing via couplet

I have this situation going on in my extended family for which I was trying to convince my mother that the proper reaction was for us to be sympathetic rather than blaming. I didn't appear to be making any progress until I said, "But, Mom, if that's true, we should get sad instead of get mad." That sentence seemed to have some magical transformative effect on how my mother viewed the situation, even though the only difference between it and what I had been saying all along was that the sentence rhymed. It was at this moment that I realized that, had my mother been on the O.J. Simpson jury, she would have been unable to resist Johnnie Cochran's rhetorical charms.

Update, before I've even finished typing the original post: I just now got an e-mail from my mother. Earlier tonight she had forwarded me this magic trick. (I'll have to make it a pdf so you can see it... ok, it's here.) I asked my mother to please tell me that she was not actually fooled by this trick. Her reply:* "OF COURSE IT FOOLED ME, GIVE ME THE ANSWER, I SHOWED THIS TO DAD AND HE LOOKED BEHIND THE COMPUTER THINKING I WAS DOING SOMETHING TO THE PC ................... I DON'T KNOW WHERE YOU GOT YOUR BRAINS, ............ BUT .............. I DIDN'T LOOK BEHIND THE PC................ MOM."**

* My mother's e-mails are always in all capital letters. This is especially interesting because when I gave my mother my computer and set her up with Internet access, one of the first things I had to show her was how you make a capital letter by holding down the SHIFT key while typing the letter. She has definitely taken that lesson to heart. The thing with using 10-20 periods for ellipses is new. Update, next day: To clear up the confusion of at least one reader, the above message was cut-and-pasted, the ellipses are part of my mom's message, not added by me as a way of indicating removed content.

** My mother is the best.*** Do not be confused on this point by the fact that I sometimes poke fun at her sometimes on the weblog. I love my mother beyond anything that could possibly be conveyed within the confines of a weblog. Besides which, she is my hero (really, truly, really-truly). Besides which besides which, she just sent me an e-mail saying she figured out the trick.

*** Yes! My mother > yours. No offense.

Friday, February 13, 2004

quoth jason and josh: "no, dudes, really, it's by choice"

(Jason and Josh, high school students in Orlando, FL)

acquisitions update, #5

Okay, the kitchen chairs from my online furniture spree have arrived, and I received notice that my armchair is on its way. The kitchen chairs were just sitting in a giant box in front of my door when I got home; I don't know if the armchair will also arrive that way. I suppose I'm fine with that, but I will be annoyed if that is how they intend to deliver the sofa I've ordered.

I talked to my mother tonight that I would have a new car within two weeks. I'm hoping that it does not take even that long. A gold-club-premium-subscriber in Tashkent, OH noted that this is perhaps the first car search conducted over a blog that has included both the Toyota Prius and an SUV as part of its seeming list of finalists.

Speaking of which, I had the following conversation on my cel phone the other night, as I walked from the social science building to the parking lot:

"Who was it that said you wouldn't be forgiven if you got an SUV?"

"No one said that specifically, that was more a characterization of the basic sentiment."

"Who said it?"

"Numerous people. People with all sorts of different connections to me wrote in to advise me with some urgency that I should not get an SUV. It may be the single most voluminous expression of opinion that I've yet received regarding any idea floated on the weblog."

"Do they know that compact SUVs get about the same gas mileage and have the same emissions as some of the dumpy suburbanite wannabe sedans you had on your list? Do they know how much better the all-wheel drive handles on the snow in winter?"

"I know, I know, but I'm not going to get an SUV. I'm a conformist. I'm conflict-averse. You know that I have a longstanding and amply-documented pathological need for the approval of others."

"You are so infuriating. You are such a scared little kitten of a man."

"I mean, come on, when you get e-mails from people that you haven't heard from in years, who turn out to have been reading your weblog for who knows how long without any inclination toward saying hello, but then they write in because they feel this urgency to implore you not to buy an SUV, you get the sense that driving around in an SUV--which I would remind you was never something I had that much enthusiasm for in the first place--would be the kind of thing that would just be an enduring source of ridicule."

At this point I'm entering the parking lot, walking toward my car. I realize that I have been talking quite loudly into my cel phone and hadn't noticed that a couple has been walking fairly closely behind me. Their vehicle turns out to be near the front of the lot, and, sure enough, it is an SUV.

In any case, an original intention of this post was to announce officially that the compact-SUV has been officially crossed-off the prospective purchase list. I was then caused to reconsider when a reader from Vanishing Hitchhiker, CO e-mailed to say that "a major reason people buy SUVs is because the high carriage means people can easily see underneath the car in the parking lot of the local shopping mall in case some dangerous youth is lurking there, waiting to slice their achilles and take their purchases." Given that I have also been thinking about buying one of those platform beds out of fear of this same threat, I thought perhaps the compact-SUV should be thrown back into the pool of serious deliberation. Ultimately, however, I have decided that even if it means that I need to invest in some high-backed-blade-proof boots, I'm not going to give further consideration to buying a compact-SUV.

where are they now? new contest: josh klugman

While the hunt for Brian Dietz continues, popular demand has asked me to see about the possible summoning effects of another shout-out for someone back from my days in graduate school: Josh Klugman, a member of Rob Clark's cohort and at least rumored to be the son of the beloved star of the Odd Couple and (better) Quincy, ME.*

I finished up and left Bloomington in December 2000, during the court-assisted ascension of GWB to the Presidency. Reports then were that Klugman was leaving to join the new Bush administration as an subundersecretary in the treasury department, although such assignments are very often cover for those being recruited into either secret US intelligence posts or super-secret "dirty tricks" re-election rogue operations.

Three Kluggish sightings have been reported to our bureaus over the past year:

1. I thought I saw him when I was in Taiwan last fall. He was wearing a dark suit and speaking furtively into a walkie-talkie; we made eye contact, and then he stepped quickly into an alley and was gone. I'm not sure it was him.

2. Rob thought he saw him in the background in the Amazing Race (3?) episode where the contestents were in Chile. The man in the background was wearing a beret and circa 1973 Chilean military fatigues. He was holding something that looked like a giant citrus zester and shaking it menacingly at another fellow.

3. An generally unreliable informant told us she saw Klugman in Bloomington recently. We think that's unlikely, but if it is true, it's almost certain that he's there in some kind of secret and most likely sinister capacity. He has likely been trained in the dark arts of the current administration and may have even had a chip implanted in his brain. So, while JFW wishes to know what Josh is up to these days, approach him with utmost caution and UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES ATTEMPT TO APPREHEND HIM.

Our own research makes us even more dubious of the Bloomington scenario. A search of turns up only two entries for Josh Klugman:

Klugman, Josh
Palo Alto, CA 94301

Klugman, Joshua
4387 Marraco Dr,
San Diego, CA 92115-5642

On the strength of this, it looks like our California correspondents may have to carry the ball for us on this one. Leave no stone unturned! Go forth, cyberbloodhounds, and do not rest until Josh Klugman has been found!

* God, did I love Quincy, ME. I had seen every episode at least thrice by the time I left the farm, and I believed that I had a psychic/empathetic bond with his hardworking Asian-American assistant Sam.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

research note II: attack of the clones

My comrade in positivism in Sheboygan, WI recommended a follow-up study to my earlier scientific exploration of the What to Rent website. What she encouraged me to do specifically was to simply log into the site twice and pick exactly the same personality profile, etc., and see to what extent it duplicated the same movie list. What I did was, using the new user account REPLICANT1, first try to repeat the exact choices I made last night in the "Wouldn't do it" experimental condition. What I discovered quickly was that it was giving me exactly those movies that had been recommended under any of the three conditions tested last night. I had it keep generating movies until it recommended something that hadn't been recommended last night, which took all the way to its 13th suggestion (of 15 total generated last night).
REPLICANT1 recommendations, in order: 1. Rushmore; 2. 25th Hour; 3. The Royal Tennenbaums; 4. The Hustler; 5. Reservoir Dogs; 6. Chasing Amy; 7. Igby Goes Down; 8. Rocky; 9. Lost In Translation; 10. Punch Drunk Love; 11. Boogie Nights; 12. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly; 13. Gattaca [first movie not in set of movies recommended yesterday]
Conjecture: The three experimental conditions last night were run concurrently. Perhaps the website, through its sinister web-cookie-insertion technologies, actually did not treat SCIENCE1, SCIENCE2, and SCIENCE3 as three separate users after all, but just as the same user. Anyway, let's shut everything down and then start over with brand new user REPLICANT2.
REPLICANT2 recommendations, in order: 1. Rushmore; 2. Rocky; 3. 25th Hour; 4. The Royal Tennenbaums; 5. The Hustler; 6. Reservoir Dogs; 7. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly; 8. Lost In Translation; 9. The Insider [recommended yesterday, although not in the list above; alas, this is where the server connection aborted, and the study had to be, at least for now, abandoned]
The second list is similar, but not identical, to the first list, which means that it is also similar to the movies generated last night. To be sure, What to Rent really thinks I'm itching to see Rushmore again. I should also note that every movie in the above list that I have seen (~2/3) I liked, to varying degrees. That, the degrees to which I liked them are completely (or, perhaps, mildly inversely) unrelated to the order in which they were recommended by the site.

Update, Friday morning: From a reader in Schwartzman, WI: "I just did my profile on the What to Rent site, and guess what my number one recommendation was? Yes, indeed, Rushmore! None of our other top tens matched. Makes me wonder who is financing the site and why are they so desperate to rent copies of Rushmore to unsuspecting patrons."

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

just now

"I think you have the wrong number."
"This isn't Doctor Worth?"
"Um, no."
(laughter) "Sorry, man."

as if i did not already have enough things fanning my various neuroses right now...

So the way it happens is that there is some Wednesday afternoon in February where I'm up at the office, going about my business-as-usual, and I get this sense that my senior colleagues have what, for lack of a better phrase, one might call a "heightened cognizance of my existence." Like someone says an unusually jovial or engaged hello to me in the hallway. Or by the copy machine. Or while I'm at a urinal. Always very friendly. It only takes two or three such interactions now for me to put together what day-of-the-week and time-of-the-year it is and then to know: the Executive Committee must have met today, and one of the items on their agenda must have been My Annual Tenure Review.

I did not subsequently receive an e-mail from the department chair telling me not to even bother showing up to teach my class tomorrow, so, as long as my luck holds and inbox stays clear of pink slips until midnight, it would appear that I have beaten my imagined/feared/glumly-expected worst-case scenario for the third year running.

Update, 10pm: A subscriber from South Bend, IN parenthetically notes: "(I had no idea guys ever spoke to each other while at the urinals!)" To which I reply: "'Tis true. This would not be the case, however, if I had been the deciding vote at the meeting where that particular portion of the Guy Code was determined."


One of the favorite phrases of my friend Erin is, "It's like that, only ALL THE TIME." This sleeping problem, where I end up aimlessly awake in the middle of the night, has certain affinities to the temporal-displacement-sensation chronicled in Lost in Translation, except it's ALL THE TIME. Or at least ALL THE TIME that is the middle of the night as of late. And I'm not in a posh hotel in Japan, but in my RV here in Madison. And the sidekick from Ghost World is not anywhere around to keep me company. But you get the general idea.

Tonight, I actually came back here from work completely exhausted and was asleep by 10, but then I was awakened 3 1/2 hours later because I had Type I of my two recurring nightmares:*
Type I Recurring Nightmare (a.k.a. Jeremy's Meta-Dream): In this dream, I have this realization that I am dreaming and that, for whatever reason, it is desperately important that I wake myself up. So the whole dream is about me trying to mentally get myself to wake up, which usually involves this thing where I am trying within the dream to get myself to open my eyes or to cry out. I spend some time being thwarted and increasingly desperate in these efforts. However, given that we tend to only remember dreams if we awaken while having them, the occurrences of this dream that I remember are those where I have actually succeed in waking myself up.

Type II Recurring Nightmare (a.k.a. Jeremy's Meta-Meta-Dream): In this dream, I have this realization that I am dreaming and that it is desperately important that I wake myself up. I manage to wake myself up. So then I'm in my bed, awake. Maybe I even get out of bed and am walking around. But then I realize that I'm not really in my bedroom or that there is something otherwise amiss. I realize that I must still be dreaming, and that it is even more desperately important that I wake myself up. I manage to wake myself up. I realize that I'm still dreaming and need still more desperately to wake myself up. This can repeat for 6-7 times, ending with me really actually waking myself up.
I've had variations of the Type I nightmare maybe 2-3 times a year for as long as whenever I first noticed the pattern, at least college and maybe high school or before. The first time I had the Type II nightmare was maybe six years ago and it completely freaked me out. I've probably had it once a year or so since.

* Really, truly, I'm being serious (or, at least, honest and accurate) here. These are basically the only two nightmares I have that I would classify as recurrent. And they're not all that recurrent. Any other claims that I may have made on the blog regarding recurrrent nightmares were likely just me joshing. There was some consternation among a couple of readers regarding how much was "real" about this recent post that I wrote that involved dreams. While JFW has a standard operating policy against providing such clarifications, the e-mail from my Tashkentian friend in that post was what was "real", and the story about the e-mail was what was, say, less "real."

research note

BACKGROUND: A reader in Sheboygan, WI suggested that I take a proper scientific approach to Question 8 on the What to Rent site [see immediately preceding post], by filling out the personality profile exactly the same except for changing my answer to that question. This way, we could see exactly what kind of difference the question made for the What To Rent secret algorithm's judgments about one's cinematic tastes. "Brilliant!," I thought. So I immediately created new accounts with the usernames SCIENCE1, SCIENCE2, and SCIENCE3, and filled them out with the answers I would normally give--exactly the same in all cases--except I selected three different answers to Question 8.

RESULTS: Here are the recommendations I received:
Wouldn't Do It: 1. Rocky, 2. The Royal Tennenbaums, 3. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, 4. Chasing Amy, 5. The Shawshank Redemption

Have Such Monetary Desperation, Short-Sightedness, or Low Self-Regard That I Would Strap on an Ugly Fanny Pack for Life for $1000: 1. 25th Hour, 2. Reservoir Dogs, 3. Dirty Harry, 4. Lost in Translation, 5. Boogie Nights

Have Such Severe Monetary Desperation, Short-Sightedness, or Low Self-Regard That I Would Strap on an Ugly Fanny Pack for Life for $100: 1. Rushmore, 2. The Hustler, 3. The Insider, 4. Igby Goes Down, 5. Punch Drunk Love

DISCUSSION: If there is any pattern here, either in terms of the similarity of suggestions made within any scenario or to the differences between scenarios, I have no idea what it is. Still, I feel good for having just done some real science.

* The seemingly straightforward of doing this would be to select opposite answers to the question and see what happens. However, as another Crime of Surveying** that I didn't bother mentioning in my last post, the survey actually has you respond using this continuous slider that allows you to select any intervening point between adjacent categories. In the present case, the categories are listed in the order I presented them: "Wouldn't Do It," "$100," "$500," "$1000." Little contemplation is required to see the problem: the person who wouldn't wear the fanny pack forever even if offered $1000 is more like the person who would do it if offered $1000 than the person who would do it if offered $100. So the ordering of categories should be "$100", "$500," "$1000," and "Wouldn't Do It."

** More accurately, it's a Crime of Ordinality. As far as I know, I have not hitherto discussed on the weblog that subcategory of rationalthoughtcrimes that I refer to as Crimes of Ordinality, but this is a fairly crude example. Crimes of Ordinality are numerous, take a subtle variety of forms, are something that I have spent a surprising amount of time thinking about, and could be the object of a 50,000+ word, thoroughly abstruse post that would convince all but the most faithful JFW readers that I had lost it completely.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

crimes of surveying, continued

Even though I never rent movies*, I just checked out What To Rent, this site that has you fill out a short personality test and then tells you what movie to rent. One of the questions is:
Question 8:
How much money would it take for you to wear a neon green fanny pack around for the rest of your life. You would not be able to tell anyone you were paid to wear it. (A one time payment in American dollars.)

Wouldn't do it.
We're talking the rest of your life here, and the most they are willing to sweeten the deal is to $1000? For anybody planning on living more than 30 more years, we are talking about something southwards of a dime a day. Who would agree to this, even if they thought it was a comely neon green fanny pack?

* Renting is, after all, for suckers.

acquisitions update, #4

I appreciate all the advice regarding the car that I have received so far. The two major themes, received from all kinds of quarters:

1. Jeremy, you will never be forgiven if you get a SUV, even a so-called compact one.

2. Consider Toyota first. Then, maybe Honda, VW, Mazda, Nissan, Volvo, and associated companies. That's it.

Current favorites in the car search, listed alphabetically: Toyota Camry Solara, Toyota Corolla, VW Passat, Toyota Prius.

Further advice welcomed, encouraged. Sorry for the brevity; I am already up way too late and still have more work I have to get done before tomorrow. Ugh.

Monday, February 09, 2004

crimes of surveying, continued

A reader from March, MA alerted me to this question currently being asked of college basketball fans on
Which team has the best chance to finish the regular season unbeaten?

Saint Joseph's (45.9% of answers so far)
Stanford (20.3%)
Both (6.7%)
Neither (27.0%)
As the reader points out, the question as worded would seem to have three answers: either Saint Joseph's has the best [sic?] chance, Stanford has the best chance, or they would both have the same chance. There could be a fourth category for "don't know," I suppose, and a fifth for "don't care," et cetera. But, as you can see, this is not what the poll has done. Instead, they allow to choose either that both teams have the best chance of winning, or that neither team has the best chance. What are they thinking? The reader from March supposes that the question is asking a different question than the question one is supposed to read into the answer categories (the latter being something like 'Which of these teams will finish the regular season unbeaten?'). Could be. A separate but closely related possibility is that the espn.go pollsters intended this to be a half-full/half-empty semantics-measurement question, where the readers can interpret exactly equal probabilities as meaning either that both teams should be regarded as having the best chance or that neither does. An entirely different possibility, on the other hand, is that the pollsters use of "best" is the grammatical gaffe it might seem. Instead, perhaps "neither" is meant to suggest the possibility that the reader believes there is another team out there, who, despite having been 'beaten' according to the standards of NCAA record-keeping, is in reality 'unbeaten' and more likely than either Saint Joseph or Stanford to remain so.

acquisitions update, #3

I just spent another hour when I should have been doing data analyses (or, more properly, I should be sleeping, but given not sleeping, I should be doing data analyses) trying to gain clarity on this car situation. The thing I hate most about this is the whole pecking/status order system that the car companies seem determined to want to foist into your head. If there was a car whose main virtue is that it would free me from that, and just be my means of transportation and not some larger statement about my place in the larger chain of social being. I've been spending some time trying to get more information about the Toyota Prius, not out of any particular environmental concern, but because it might offer that kind of liberation.

Anyway, I had a long consultation with my friend, and, to no small extent, idol Jean-O this evening. He did a good job of trying to psyche me up for the task of not letting myself get pushed around by car salesman. This is especially important given my pattern of astonishing disapparations of spine wherever money is concerned. Jean-O also did a good job of convincing me that I was in a good position because not only is this a buyer's market, but I am so open to various alternatives that, even in spite of my spineless tendency, I hold the advantange of being able to walk away from any deal simply because I don't have any strong mental committments to any particular alternative.

Resolved: I am not going to dither about this endlessly. I am going to move swiftly, systematically, and, then, decisively.

The current ambition is for me to settle on 3-4 contender vehicles, with no more than one contender per manufacturer, and then move swiftly toward trying to get quotes and financing information on them and make a decision.

While I have done reviewing within each category, ultimately the first decision that needs to be made is which genre of vehicle I need to target for figuring out the contenders. There are three contender categories. I'll list them with their Toyota variants for comparison: (1) modest sporty (the coupish Corolla, or the Celica); (2) as-if-i-had-a-spouse-and/or-kids regular sedan (Camry); (3) compact SUV (like the RAV4). Kathryn has been an advocate for #3; among other things, she believes that it would be nice for the winter weather and more congenial to my borderline ineptitude behind the wheel.*

Anyway, opinions on the decision between (1), (2), or (3) are welcome. Or, for that matter, comments on these categories and what I may be leaving out. I am giving myself a Thursday midnight deadline to make the genre decision.

* (Update) Meaning that she thinks it will help me avoid accidents, not, as some have wondered, that it will help keep me safe while crushing others in the event of an accident.

insomniaTunes, continued

Last week's middle of the night music purchase: "Mandy" by Barry Manilow. Tonight's: "Troy" by Sinead O'Connor, which I already have digitized in some other format but couldn't find it and decided that I wanted to listen to it right now and was willing to pay the dollar. Figuring out what connects these two dots will be left as a diagnostic exercise for the psychomusicologically-inclined reader.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

(recommended reading) throw in some snot and we've got a deal

I just got off the phone with my friend from Beauxbaton, where, as part of the conversation, I started looking up things you are forbidden to sell on e-bay. Have you ever checked this out? It's quite a fascinating commentary on the ingenuity of the entrepeneurial spirit and the attempt to tame it via legal provisos. A random exemplar:
Humans, the human body, or any human body parts may not be listed on eBay. Examples of prohibited items include, but are not limited to: organs, bone, blood, waste, sperm, and eggs. You may not include such items as a gift, prize, or giveaway in connection with an item listed on eBay. Items that contain human hair (such as lockets) as well as skulls and skeletons that are used for medical purposes may be listed on eBay.

(photos) sixteen months later, the glasses are gone, the scarf and good friends remain

(rob and me, erin and me, seattle, november 2002; these photos were recently mailed to JFW by a mysterious benefactor)

acquisitions update, #2

Okay, yesterday I bought $3000 of furniture three-dimensional-sight-unseen off the web. Now, after actually visiting a car dealership yesterday and going that route, I have decided that I am instead going to try to go as far as I can toward the purchase of a new car while sitting at my computer. Brave new world! I have purchased a subscription to the Consumer Reports Car-Buying Kit, and now I poring over that. A central problem, I have already realized, is that I have absolutely no idea what kind of car I want--that is, not just do I have no idea what model of car I want, but I have no real sense of what attributes I would prioritize in a car.

six feet wonder

A reader from Wheaton, IL offers two potential explanations for what makes the recent Double-Dare Physical Challenge challenging:

[...] There would seem 

to be two competing theories as to why the feat is impossible, or
seemingly impossible. A model of control basically looks like this:

| | |---------------|
| Central | Control signals | |
| Cognitive | --------------------> | Motor system |
| Processor | | |
| | |---------------|
Of course, it's a great over-simplification, but it will do to explain 

the competing theories. The idea is that the central processor has to
arrange a sequence of signals to the motor system so that the actions
are carried out as desired (waving a hand to form a 6, or moving a foot
around clockwise). Often the control signals are considered a "fixed
language" and learning occurs by having the central processor
incrementally build chunks of signals to have useful scripts performed
by the motor system. Typically a lot of trial and error is involved in
assembling these chunks of signals. Most of this happens with little
conscious awareness.
One theory (the hardwired/nativist theory) is that the language of the 

control signals is not rich enough to provide contrasting instructions
to different segments of the body. Again, to over-simplify for the sake
of clarity, perhaps there is a directional bit that needs to be set
whenever circular motion is needed. A '1' indicates clockwise and a '0'
indicates counter-clockwise. If there is only one bit for both hand and
foot, then it would be impossible to do the double-dare.
The alternate theory (learned behavior) is that it is difficult for the 

central cognitive processor to assemble the needed sequence of signals
to issue the instructions for performing the double-dare. One possible
reason for the difficulty is that the central processor tends to use
pre-fabricated chunks as much as possible. In other words, it's usually
most efficient to issue instructions composed of micro-routines that
have already been developed and are well rehearsed. (By the way, this
is my best bet why it's really hard to get rid of an accent when
learning a foreign language) It might be the case that we are generally
practiced to only give consistent sets of instructions. Also, it might
also be difficult to assemble these two scripts simultaneously because
we are not very rehearsed with either one.
I'm going to practice the double-dare with a variety of techniques.  If 

I master it, that should lend some doubt to the first theory.
Okay, so I've just been trying this again. It seems that I can do this as long as I employ one of two strategies: one is to make big slow looping circles with my foot and then slowly trace the six; the other is to make really fast circles with my leg so that I've got some momentum going when I start to make the six. The biggest problem I have is trying to make an honest assessment of whether or not I am successfully doing it. What seems to happen when I am not successfully doing it is that my leg magically reverses direction, like the e-mail claimed, but that I stop making real circles with my leg and instead it is more or less just moving straight up and down instead of in a circle.

It's not at all apparent to me that I'm getting better at this with practice, although I've probably only practiced it for a dozen or so hours and tend to be a slow learner anyway. Such observations, it would seem to me, would support a variant of Theory #1: the task is asking the body to do something that it's wiring really doesn't want to do, but, the task allows for a sufficient range of ways it can be attempted that you can figure out 'work-arounds' that allow you to fulfill the letter of the task without, perhaps, fulfilling the spirit of the task in its prototypical sense.

This all seems in line with another e-mail I received about the task, from Boot Liquor, TX:
[name] tried to explain the physiological principle underlying 

this inability (first, she said "you can't make an 8 either, can you?"
okay, it is not specific to the number 6). I did not understand
exactly, but seems to be that our brain must aggregate together the
motions it thinks we will make simultaneously -- like the zillions of
motions that are necessary to walk -- if we were to try to disaggregate
them, we would overload the brains processing ability and, thus, be
unable to walk. Which would be worse of course, than not being able
to spin our foot clockwise while tracing a 6 in the air. I guess our
brains did not anticipate that we would one day have so much free time
on our hands that we would feel the need to do such an odd pairing of
things simultaneously.

acquisitions update

Here's the Official Pottery Barn Catalog depiction of the sofa that I purchased online today, in its selected hue (paprika):

Any advice for my forthcoming car purchase is welcome. On my way back from Best Buy this afternoon*, I resolved to stop in at one of the car dealerships on Odana Drive. As I was going by them, however, I began to get panicky and so drove on by. Then, however, in a surprising moment of ascendant pluck, and turned my car around and went to the Toyota dealership, where I asked a series of moronic questions to a salesman that made it clear that not only was this my first new car purchase**, but my first purchase of anything really expensive. "So this number here, is this the price?" "So how does that financing thing work? Do you have to put 20% down?" "So, I can get any car in any color, right?"

* I bought a USB 2.0 card, so I don't have to wait 10-20 minutes to synch my e-mail files on my computer and portable hard drive.

** My mother bought a bright yellow Ford Escort wagon when I was like ten, which is the only time in my lifetime (and perhaps ever) that my parents purchased a new car.

(moody, introspective) poster's remorse

A fellow Madison professor/blogger has written a post about her fear of writing a weblog post that is going to cross some line of offensiveness. One interesting thing about her post is that she apparently has the idea that it may be relatively easy to offend Iowans; for this, I can say only that Iowans who move elsewhere all learn swiftly that they will either (a) need to develop a thick skin, (b) keep secret where they are from, or (c) move back to the state.

But the more interesting thing to me about her post is the resonance with my own ever-present-back-of-the-mind-weblogging-angst over who I could conceivably be offending with a given post. (Actually, while my fellow blogger seems worried exclusively about crossing the line in terms of offending people, I worry chronically about crossing that line and also the line where people go from thinking of me as "[endearingly] eccentric" or or "[benignly] weird"* to being "[too] eccentric" or even "[kinda creepy] weird.")

Anyway, I have this strange diurnal variation in the extent to which I fret about this. I seem to be at my most apprehensive immediately upon waking in the morning. This sense goes away steadily over the course of the morning, afternoon, and evening, such that I seem to have increasing abandon as the night wears on (in that regard, it might be saying something that this post is being written close to midnight). As a result, I have this recurrent problem where I wake in the morning worrying about something that I have posted the day before. I have even twice scurried out of bed and deleted earlier posts--neither occasion was it anything that, upon reflection, warranted my getting so worked up about. Sometimes I also wake up and have the idea that the whole Great Blogging Experiment (aka Year of Living Bloggerously) has been a inane or juvenile or embarrassing exercise, and I want to delete the whole thing. At these moments I allow myself the grandeur of imagining that I can empathize with Kafka, who destroyed much of his own writing and left orders upon his death for everything left to be burned. I bet Kafka wrote those orders first thing in the morning.

And, yet, this weblog marches on--midnight will make it seven months. And now I'm curious as to whether I will wake up tomorrow morning and think this post was just too moody and introspective and want to delete it.

* I think I have come to feel somewhat offended if someone has spent any substantial amount of time interacting with me and does not appear to have formed the impression that I'm at least a little eccentric, as I believe it means they must not have been paying much attention.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

two causes for kerry trepidation

From profile of the different candidates:
1. Favorite movie of the past year: "Old School"
2. Worst subject in school: Math
I suppose #1 is a more objective cause for alarm, while #2 reflects my own concern about the continued manifestation of general American innumerancy in the Oval Office. At least he didn't say "Fuzzy math."

My own favorite movie of the past year: "Spellbound"

My own worst subject in school: penpersonship (elementary school), music (high school; I participated in choir so that I could be in the musical, where I was a lock for the largest male role that didn't involve any singing--as a senior, this meant being Ann Margret's boyfriend in Bye, Bye Birdie).

(dread) car or couch/chair/coffee table? help!

Okay, my car has all kinds of things wrong with it--I started to make a Top 10 list for the weblog, which I still might do--and I have a desperate dearth of furnishings for the living room of the RV. I am presently sufficiently paralyzed by the conjunction of these problems that I'm not moving on either of them.

So, I am turning for guidance from you, weblog readers. Do not let me down.

Which should I focus on first: Getting a new car or getting some living room furniture? I dread both of them, as I dread shopping that involves interaction with a salesperson who is working on commission, as I always end up either regarding them as sleazy or feeling like I must be being duped because they don't seem sleazy.

Update, like 20 minutes later: I decided that it was unfair to offload this kind of purchase pressure onto loyal JFW readers. So I just took the earlier online furniture recommendations from a friend who has a strong interest in home decor (as well as, incidentally, Alan Thicke's health status), and I just now plunked down $3000 to buy some living room furniture online. So that's that. I have lamps and a coffee table to buy, but I figure that's better done here in Madison.

weblogs JFW cannot compete with, #1


Thanks to a reader from Six Pimentoes, AR for directing my attention to this blog that is either an captivating bit of weblog performance art, or, if not, should be one. I'm trying to figure out if it is for real or a hoax or something in-between. The set-up: there is this weblog whose official title is "Hot Abercrombie Chick!", that begins with the banner that I've copy-and-pasted above. The author introduces herself as a college freshman who is interested in philosophy. Then: the weblog contains all these very long and pretty-smart-for-a-freshman political and philosophy posts, some of which seem like they must have taken at least a couple of hours to type. The intrigue here is not whether somebody can simultaneously be "Hot Abercrombie Chick!" and write intelligent posts; our culture, I would hope, is Past That. The intrigue is in the effect that such a combination will have on heterosexual male blog readers. The thing to read is not the posts, but the comments to the posts (as well as the guest book linked on the right side of the screen). If you haven't read many blogs besides JFW, you might not appreciate that the number of comments per post for her weblog is huge. Better than this, however, you get to see all of these guys falling all over themselves and trying different angles and wanting to come across as smart and appropriately worshipful in order to get her attention.

Friday, February 06, 2004

(nostalgia) I got me a ___________ it seats about 20 / so hurry up, it's also got a hemi

80's music fill-in-the-blank lyrics quiz.

(double dare) physical challenge

My mother forwarded this to me. I've never seen it before. When I first read it, I thought this was some kind of physiological urban legend. I've sat here and tried it for a few minutes, and, indeed, I cannot do it. I can keep my foot going clockwise, but when I do I'm not at all sure that the figure I just traced with my finger was anything like a 6. Is this really something that nobody can do, or is it just further evidence of how uncoordinate I (and my mother's genetic lineage more generally) am? If it is something that other people can't do, would the problem be reversed if we were south of the equator?
1. While sitting at your desk, lift your right foot off the floor and make clockwise circles.

2. Now, while doing this, draw the number "6" in the air with your right hand.

3. Your foot will change direction and there's nothing you can do about it.
Wait, wait, now I just wheeled away from my desk and did it in the middle of the room where I could have my foot making big circles and my hand making a large 6. Then I could do it no problem, where I'm confident I was making a 6 and my foot kept going clockwise. Part of the things that's hard is trying to keep track of what both parts of your body are actually doing so you know whether you've done it all.

Update: A reader from Bukowski, IA asks "Is it cheating to start tracing the 6 from inside its belly?" Yes, that's cheating!

forget my mother! adopt me!

Quite some time ago, I suggested that supporters for various Democratic candidates write my mother to try to sway her all important caucus vote. Now, apparently, as someone who will be voting in the Wisconsin Democratic primary, the fate of the final gasps of the Howard Dean campaign is apparently in my hands. (Who would have thought?) Since Dean has already long been soliciting to people to write to Democratic candidates, you can just cut out the middleperson and write to me directly:

Jeremy Freese
Department of Sociology
1180 Observatory Drive
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Madison, WI 53706

or my home address:

Jeremy Freese
That RV Parked Out in the Stuckey's Parking Lot
9345 Itinerant Drive
Madison, WI 53711

or you can just e-mail me, if you aren't so concerned with imbuing your appeal with the extra personal touch that only a posted letter can provide. The weblog has already switched endorsements once, so I seem a bit of an electoral wild-card. More to the point, that big $700,000 ad buy you are running in Wisconsin isn't going to reach me, because I don't watch TV except for special events (e.g., Super Bowls, preferably sans wardrobe malfunctions). So, again, if you don't want to see that special-safety-hot-dog-fork stuck in your candidate to indicate that it's all done, you better start churning out some persuasive appeals to me now.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

tomorrow is another day

I gave a stupefyingly boring lecture in my graduate methods course today. I hate being boring. More accurately, I hate knowing that I'm being boring. Ah, well, otherwise the course seems much improved over its preceding two incarnations, so I will not allow myself to get discouraged just yet.

Meanwhile, the winter Storm of the Year rages outside my window.

(eek!) dross pointe blank

(the entire Manson High School graduating class of 1989, including, somewhere, your weblog author)

An unexpected gust of nostalgia to start the morning. I just got an e-mail for my 15th high school class reunion, to be held this summer. Maybe that will motivate me to start on that diet. I didn't go to the 5th or 10th year reunions, being down in Bloomington for both, but, who knows, I may go to this one.

The organizer included in his e-mail the photo of the 39 of us, which must have been taken shortly before graduation.

Update, 7:50pm: A reader e-mails: "It took me a little while to find you in your senior class picture. But then I realized Jeremy was most likely to be surrounding by girls."

Update, next day: Another reader e-mails "You are as handsome now as you have ever been. I should also say that among the females in the photo, the size of their collective hair is, well, astounding. Perms must have been all the rage." Yes, I hadn't really remembered hair-size being this huge--the value of objective photographic evidence. And like many other things before I went off to college, I'm sure it seemed to me like it couldn't be any other way.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

another example of JFW making a positive difference in people's lives

From a reader in Ballpoint, PA:
You don't know how you've made my day. I saw your weblog post about the $X million space pen. When I was in high school, the coach of my academic decathlon team... gave us all space pens. I have held on to mine since then, though sometime along the way the ink ran out. Periodically, I would look in stores for replacements but I never found any. I followed the link to the debunking-the-pencil site, and found replacement ink cartridges. I ordered one, and it came today... And my new pressurized ink was waiting for me. Now, I can lay on the sofa and write upside down. Yippee.

(retraction) growing pain

Okay, relentless Little Miss Smartypants Down There In Indiana, you are right. Alan Thicke is not dead. I was just making that up. Subsequent e-mailed reiterations by me that he really was dead, up to and including links to and fake webpages I may have created to substantiate my claim, news releases and that moving eulogy by Kirk Cameron, were also all just fabrications. I do this sometimes. No, I don't mean I sometimes make up things for the weblog, I mean I sometimes specifically make the completely false assertion that Alan Thicke is dead. I've been saying for years that Alan Thicke was dead, well before the blog, slipping his name mournfully in various recitals of the recently deceased. Every single time I have ever done this, Alan Thicke was actually alive.

Why Alan Thicke? Why not Alan Thicke? He's just about the right level of obscurity to be recognizable and yet one could plausibly think that he could have died without one hearing about it or with one having forgotten. Do I actually wish Alan Thicke ill, like this freakazoid does? No, because then there wouldn't be any point in saying that he is dead. The whole point is that Alan Thicke is not dead. If you want a one-sentence snapshot of me, it could as well be that I'm the sort of person who would randomly start saying one day that Alan Thicke was dead and then carry on doing so, only seldomly but with perfect consistency (always Alan Thicke, always dead), for no particular reason and with no particular mirth, for years.

Gordon Jump, on the other hand, really is dead, and, yes, I'm still dealing with that. And Buddy Ebsen. And Charles Schultz. And Red Buttons. And Johnny Cash. All dead, all unfortunately so, although not as sad as Gordon Jump. Or Soupy Sales, you know Soupy Sales was hard for me too.