Thursday, July 29, 2004

something tells me i'm in for something dead

As Dorotha has probably already explained at some point on her weblog, her mother collects dead creatures, keeping some of them in a freezer in their house. Yesterday, Dorotha sent me an e-mail asking if I wanted her to bring me back any souvenir from her ongoing trip to Texas. Presumably you can connect the dots; if not: "Sure. Fetch me something dead from your mom's freezer." Apparently Mrs. Harried is now "REALLY excited" at the prospect of providing me with such a present. I did ask D. to confirm that any gift was (1) really, truly, irreversibly dead and (2) something that could be readily scanned for posting to my weblog. She responded that I shouldn't "look a gift horse in the mouth", which, if not for flight restrictions on the size of luggage, would make me worry I was due to receive the carefully-cryogenically-preserved corpse of Seabiscuit. Anyway, I'll keep y'all posted.

further heresies of jeremy freese

Today's headline in today's Wisconsin State Journal is that the gift from the local philanthropist responsible for the building of a new performing arts center totals $205 million. To be sure, giving $205 million for the building of a public good is better than spending the money on Diet Pepsi Twist and building a wicked-huge iTunes collection, as I might do. But, I tell you, if I was in the position of making a charitable donation of $205 million, it wouldn't be on a public good for a public as already relentlessly pampered as the local people of Madison. It wouldn't be on giving the upper-middle-class a nicer place to watch ballet. For $205 million, I would want there to be lives that were unmistakably and fundamentally changed, perhaps even saved, rather than incrementally improving the leisure-time lot of residents of a place already regularly ranked among the best places in the country to live. 

Either that or I would spend it on building a Mirah tribute museum.  Or on a really elaborate practical joke.

Monday, July 26, 2004

twist 'em like a pretzel, minnesota

Following the link from Ann, I took the state quiz. While she got to be anchored- down-in-Anchorage, I get to hang with Prince and Paul Westerberg:
You're Minnesota!

You love hanging out around lakes, even if they're frozen solid. Given
your probable Scandanavian heritage, it all just demonstrates that you're pining for the
fjords. Your obsession with wrestling got a little carried away for a while there, and this should prompt some serious reflection about the separation of mind and body. It may be time to celebrate, even throw your hat up in the air. You're going to make it after all.
Speaking of "obsession with wrestling," I have not yet noted on my weblog that when I was last back to the family farm, I retrieved this scrapbook that my high-school-girlfriend's mother had made for me as a graduation present. This wonderful-wonderful woman had meticulously saved years of issues of my hometown paper for just such occasions, and she went digging back through them for Jeremy Freese coverage to clip-and-paste for the scrapbook. As a result of her efforts, then, I can here provide photographic evidence of me pinning someone, back in the day:

Update, 9 am: I receive an almost immediate e-mail from a reader from Skinnytaunter, WI: "The interesting thing is that you were wrestling at 135 lbs. Are you sure you shouldn't go for a walk IMMEDIATELY, BRISKLY, RIGHT NOW BEFORE YOU DOUBLE THAT FIGURE????" And people wonder why I haven't activated my comments feature yet. But, anyway, if you think 135 pounds is impressive, when I was a freshman in high school, I was about 5-foot-8 and wrestled at 112 pounds--and had further slimmed down to where I was all ready to make weight at 105 pounds when my season was ended by mono (imagine that). Some time after that my metabolism slowed down. Even so, and despite The Astonishing Weight Gain of 2003, I haven't doubled that last figure either.

when i am an old man, i will wear a red lego hat

(Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo, age 54, which I recognize is not really "old," at a recent show)

in which the author and his mother discuss various natural and man-made wonders

"Sandy said the card you sent her had a painting on the front."
"Yeah, it's a Van Gogh."
"And you said when you were in Los Angeles were at the museum that had that painting."
"It's called the Getty. It was practically empty when I was there, so I stood there with my nose three inches away from that painting for close to ten minutes."
"Why was it empty?"
"Well, actually, there were lots of people there, but they were mostly outside. They were having these concerts and plus it's just a gorgeous area to walk around in. The buildings are some of the most absolutely breathtaking architecture."
"What was it like?"
"I can't really describe it. I actually just spent most of my time wandering around the grounds looking at it."
"Hey, have you ever been to Australia?"
"What? Mom, do you really not know if I've ever been to Australia?"
"In Australia, there's this Opera House."
"The one in Sydney?"
"Sydney Opera House.* I think that's the most beautiful building I've ever seen.** It looks like it has sails. That's not the same person who did this Getty?"
"Have you seen that giant rock they've got in Australia?"
"Giant rock?
"Australia is known for two things: the Sydney Opera House and that giant rock."
"You mean the Great Barrier Reef?"
"No, Jeremy, I don't mean the Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef is underwater. This is a giant rock that looks like it dropped out of the sky."
"Let me look on the computer."
"You haven't heard of this rock?"
"No, I - I haven't."
"It's World Famous, Jeremy."
"I don't know what to say, Mom."
[Google: huge rock australia]
"Ayers' Rock?"
"Ayers' Rock.*** It looks like a great big anthill in the middle of a field."
"You're right, it kinda does."
"I can't believe you've never heard of that."
"If you wanted a smart child, you shouldn't have listened to so much bad country music while you were pregnant."
"Didn't Vincent Van Gogh spend some time around here?"
"You-you mean in Iowa? I don't think he was ever in the United States, Mom. You know, he was from--"
"Amsterdam, I know. I thought I saw something on PBS about this art dealer in southern Iowa who had sold paint to him."
"There wouldn't be anybody alive who sold paint to Vincent Van Gogh."
"Well, when did he die? He died more recent than people think."
"That is true. But it was still like in the 1880's."
"I thought it was later than that.**** He wasn't famous until after he died. I guess a lot of painters are that way."
"They've got his ear at the Getty."
"It's in their special collections. Only the really big donors get to see it."
"They do not. Criminy, I don't know what even makes you say things like that."

* She has a way of repeating my guesses at what she's thinking of like it had just been on the tip of her tongue. I know it can't actually be on the tip of her tongue, at least not always, as she does it even when it turns out my guess is not what she was thinking of at all.

** On TV. My mother has never been outside the United States, or even to either coast.

*** Said in the same way as described in the first footnote.

**** She's right! 1890.

except for his nose...

...the guy in this picture is supposed to look like me.  At least that's the word on NinaNet.  To me, there isn't much of the guy to see, except for his nose.

the borderline between sharing personal experience and grief-stricken authorial self-indulgence

As I have discussed before, my ever-weak willpower is especially challenged in bookstores. Consequently, not only do I buy a lot of books, I buy a lot of bad books--books that I probably could have figured out were going to be bad if I had spent some time scrutinizing the book beforehand rather than succumbing so readily to a primordial buy reflex. Yesterday, as part of my efforts to be a more understanding collegiate instructor, I bought and began reading this book called Borderline Personality Disorder DemystifiedNote to clinicians considering writing a book about a psychiatric disorder: if you decide to have Chapter Two be descriptions of two cases of the disorder, to give readers a more concrete feel for what you are talking about, and you happen to have a sister with the disorder who met a tragic end, you might ask yourself whether you really have the distance to be able to write about that case in a way that will be useful to readers.

In BPDD, the author gives us twelve pages on his sister, including spending an entire page reproducing a poem that she wrote that includes stanzas like:

Because of the times--I'm me.
Because of the clime--I'm me.
Because of the pall, wrapped over the ball,
In spite of the pall, I am me.

Because there is caring--I'm me.
Because there is sharing--I'm me.
Because there is fate, indifference, and hate,
In spite of my fate, I am me.

The author spends two full pages specifically on his sister's death, which does sound truly awful, but you would think if there was a long account of a death in a book like this, it would be a death that was somehow closely connected to the person's having Borderline Personality Disorder. Instead: the sister was having dinner with her husband and children on her 43rd birthday, choked on a piece of food, excused herself quickly to the restroom, where minutes later she was found unconscious; she had suffered massive brain damage from the loss of oxygen, and spent twenty months in a coma before, after a court battle, her family was allowed to discontinue life support. Horrible, obvously. But it doesn't exactly provide much insight into the disorder.

Friday, July 23, 2004

a longish post expressing confusion about something many of you perhaps know more about

As some readers know, I do not watch television. I don't cop an attitude about or anything, but I don't.  Not surprisingly, then, this blog does not provide commentary on current television shows. What I can provide commentary on, however, is commentary on television shows. Consider it akin to pieces you read about what seems so confusing and odd about America from the standpoint of someone who's never been to America but instead knows it only through its various depictions (or has just arrived from a very different place--Yakov Smirnoff, how we miss ye.) 

So, as everyone is presumably aware, there's this guy on Jeopardy! who has won however many hundred games in a row. I did watch Jeopardy! in a hotel room during some trip I made last year, but before that I have no idea when the last time was I saw it somewhere.

I do know the guy's name, and even the cute little abbreviation many are using for it, but referring to him as "the guy" seems more to emphasize my complete insulation from any first-hand witnessing of his performances.   I know all of what I know exclusively from text on my comptuer screen.

Anyway as I read some of the coverage about this guy's winning streak, I'm having trouble understanding the public awe over the feat. Certainly: winning once on Jeopardy! once is quite impressive. Winning the five times in a row that used to be the maximum number of times was very impressive. But as this streak goes on, why does it become more and more impressive? I mean, there's a story on it on that tries to impress upon readers exactly how tough Jeopardy! is, in a way that is supposed to increase our sense of astonishment and marvel at the guy's feat but actually does exactly the opposite to my non-starry eyes:
"Jeopardy!" in particular, is much harder than it looks. I was lucky enough to appear on one show back in 1988, and though I'd been a longtime quiz bowl player and trivia-book fan, nothing prepared me for standing on that set, in front of a studio audience of 300 and a possible TV audience in the millions, my heart beating so hard it felt like it was hammering off the opposite wall.

And it's not just the atmosphere. "Jeopardy!" is a game of timing. Players are prevented from buzzing in until Alex Trebek finishes reading a question, at which point a neon light -- not visible at home -- signals the circuits are open. So buzz too soon and you're locked out; buzz too late and, well, you might be too late.

That's why you see players getting in a rhythm, going into a category and running it from one end to another....
Doesn't all this convey that being on Jeopardy! is a tricky and nerve-racking experience that is easier once settles into a rhythm? Doesn't this suggest that it's probably especially unsettling for people the first time they appear on the show, not to mention the first minutes of the first show. Every day this guy wins, he gets one day more experienced and comfortable, and then he gets to face two absolute neophytes again the next day.

Remarkably, the column on seems to stroll right up to this observation, but rather than see it as perhaps suggesting some massive advantage to experience on the show, instead it is chalked up to the virtues of the champion:* 
He's hard to knock off balance, even when thrown a tough question. And when the Jennings steamroller gets going, the other contestants are knocked out of the game before they can even begin.

I saw one show in which Jennings, starting from the top-left hand column, ran off 12 straight correct answers before his opponents even got settled in. By that time Jennings was up something like $6,600 to $0 to $0.
Again, as I read this, it kinda sounds like an only-slightly-less-extreme version of a TV show where you get to watch somebody who bowls every day compete against two new foes who've only ever watched other people bowl, and then everybody in the world is amazed and astonished that the person thrashes the novice competition day in and day out. I mean, I'm sure the guy can really bowl. Is it really that entertaining? Would America be enthralled by a show that pitted a kid who plays video games all the time against continually new groups of kids who've always thought it would be so awesome to get to play a video game just once? It's fun for the kid, maybe, but is it really that fun to watch?

I know, I know, Jeopardy! is a Test of Knowledge. You don't get more trivia knowledge just from practice, except for the specific questions practiced, which is just wasted practice from a knowledge standpoint since those are questions he's guaranteed never to be asked on the show again.

But, at least back in days when I did watch it, before the Final Jeopardy round it always seemed at least as much a game about timing (as the reporter says above) and about quick, confident recall; the latter, incidentally, seems exactly the kind of cognitive dimension you'd expect to exhibit strong negative effects for nervousness and task unfamiliarity. And my understanding is that very few of this guy's games have ended with him not being more than the clinching 2x ahead for Final Jeopardy.

Presumably, I'm missing something vital to the appeal here. What?** From the seat of ignorance I'm sitting, however impressed we should be with this guy, we should be many times more impressed with the person who finally beats him. Unless he gets bored and tanks it, or Jeopardy! producers decide he's plateaued and they should rig things to purge him. 

* Two references to the fundamental attribution error in two days: if not public sociology, at least give me credit for public social psychology.

** I know it's annoying when I pose questions that ask for reader help but then don't have comments enabled for a response.  E-mail me!  I know you don't get to present your views to the world this way unless I post it.  I have plans either to enable comments or writing a post explaining why I don't have comments enabled, but like many promises made on this weblog, there are many competing obligations that make its time to fulfillment unknown. 

important addendum to last post

Dorotha has sent me a couple of angry missives today demanding credit for her own pioneering role in developing the Wisconsin Model of Karaoke Cheering. Certainly, her active and innovative presence in the Karaoke Kid Field Laboratory during the crucial creative period cannot be denied. For this reason, not to mention that her threatened storm of lawsuits would quickly bankrupt the JFW Legal Defense Fund, I wish henceforth for her to be considered a full collaborator in the articulations of the general theory that have been provided in this forum. Please update your citations from (Freese, 2004) to (Freese and Harried, 2004) accordingly.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

the official jfw karaoke recap: often imitated, but never successfully replicated

(two guys I don't know, but who, even if they don't realize it, owe virtually the whole of their karaoke mojo to sociology)
This year with grandpa's help we have asked a man who has speakers to play the 40, 50, and 60's music, called Karoecke (sp) music, with a TV and the words to the song on the TV to play before the King and Queen crowning.

I will have to find out how to spell Karoeche before i start the ads for the King and Queen crowning. Every year I put ads for the King and Queen in the [local ad circular], [local paper], [local radio station], on [local television station].

--From an e-mail forwarded to me yesterday by a reader whose grandmother organizes a King and Queen contest for senior citizens at here local county fair
I've had karaoke-recap writer's block because one of my colleagues today referred to me as "the greatest social psychologist." After watching me at karaoke. Not onstage, but in the audience, and while I explained my general theory of karaoke audience participation. A full exposition of which would scroll for several minutes, and includes a discussion of the Fundamental Attribution Error of Karaoke: too much credit/blame for how a performance goes is given to the person on stage, and too little to the audience. Two simple observations: (1) Karaoke performers do better when they have confidence, (2) the confidence of karaoke performers is largely in the hands of the audience. Which, in turn, boils down to two urgings I have uttered before: (1) do not wait until the end of the song to cheer and (2) cheer for people you don't know as loudly (or, in the strong version of the theory, more loudly) than the people you do know.

The colleague, I think, was especially impressed because I began explaining all this while a guy not with the sociology group was getting up on stage early in the evening to do "Hey Jealousy." He looked enthusiastic enough but was a little unsure and tentative. A deer who could either be caught in the headlights of self-doubt or released to lope freely across the vast plains of karaoke possibility. "See, we need to give this guy confidence," I said, "Watch." By the end of the evening, this guy and his friend had drawn the only logical conclusion given the reaction they were getting: that they were Karaoke Gods. And indeed, once they got going, they were in fact pretty good. (I was not, however, responsible for the later successful urging for one of these guys to start unbuttoning his shirt during "Kokomo," although I did take a photo as evidence of the powerful effects of social forces.) If sociology hadn't stepped to the plate and started cheering these guys from their first chorus when they first got onstage, they would have left fifteen minutes later, sullen and bored, perhaps to go on to finish the evening with a vandalism spree or some other hooliganism. I believe that, if everyone would just cheer raucously enough, we could save the world through karaoke, one Beach Boys song at a time.

And, so, I have come to think of myself as the karaoke equivalent of one of Lance Armstrong's humble teammates, laboring in the pelaton so that someone else can reach the top of the mountain in glory. I have no singing ability; I can, however, shout and clap and make high-pitched whooping sounds; this is the humble toolkit God has given me; I try to contribute how I can.

Other karaoke developments: (1) the widely acclaimed Wisconsin Sociology debut performance of an excellent karaoke enthusiast, whom I later had the honor of introducing to the emeritus professor who is one of Our Karaoke Founders; (2) the affirmation that "Total Eclipse of the Heart" is the best karaoke song ever; (3) the just decision that if two people both want to do "Proud Mary," the person whose birthday it is should get to be Tina; (4) the arrival of one of our karaoke regulars in a doleful mood--however, with a sufficient sense of style to express this foul mood not by frowning or scowling, but instead by showing up in a t-shirt reading "I Hate Myself and Want To Die"; (5) the thoroughgoing demonstration that (at least?) one of our karaoke regulars, when she finishes her dissertation, needs to be given some kind of Lifetime Karaoke Achievement Award in gratitude from our department.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

toward an equilbrium process theory of pseudonymous blogging

[Inspired by a exchange elsewhere today about provocative and perhaps-poison-pen posting from behind the possibly-porous-protection of a pseudonym.]

Brief elaborations/caveats/comments for the eight arrows:

A: Along with security/safety concerns and perhaps the desire for an "alternative self," presumably this is a primary motivation for the anonymous (pseudonymous) weblog.

B: Not necessarily, of course, most notably in the example of long rambling uncomfortably psychpathologically revealing posts.

C: Insert demand-side theory of blog-reading here. The uninhibited "private" password-protected or otherwise hidden-from-public-view blog attacks the equilibrium process at precisely this point.

D: In terms of increased curiosity from an increased number of people about the identity of the author. Perhaps stronger if the author is a member of a relatively circumscribed community of which readers-who-enjoy-juicy-or-gossipy-parts are also members. Also, of course, juicier posts (as well as their less juicy counterparts) would provide more of a trail for any blogbloodhounds who were interested in trying to identify someone.*

E: Here is an obvious place where the equilibrium process could be broken, by the person becoming less anonymous and yet remaining uninhibited, such that they decide they no longer care if people know it's them writing what they do.

F: The other obviously place where the equilibrium process can be broken, as it doesn't necessarily mean worse posts, but it does seem to imply a posting style for which there is less gain from anonymity.

G: Given the Darwinian dynamics of blogreading attention.

H: Only under special circumstances of mortality or forgetting does the number of people who know any secret decrease, so this shouldn't be taken completely literally. But, of course, one could imagine decreasing interest in expending the effort of finding a secret out, for example, so beans can thus become more or less close to spillage. Also, one regains quasi-anonymity to whatever extent people know who an anonymous blogger is but aren't actually reading what the person is posting.

* Just to be clear: excepting as a response to real miscreancy, the official JFW position is that one should not attempt to figure out the identity of anyone who wants to be blogging anonymously, and especially not just because one thinks one could figure it out or just because one is curious.

crimes of science reporting, suicide edition

Compare today's NYT account of the same study whose CNN/AP report I discussed in my last post. Even after I double-checked the names of the study's authors, I wasn't sure they were talking about the same study. I double checked the current issue of JAMA to make sure. The NYT article has a much better grasp of what the stronger implications of the study are, which is that there doesn't appear to be any difference among four major antidepressants for suicidal ideation/behavior risks. But compare and contrast: the difference between the two stories, at least to my reading, is both remarkable and weird.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

causality bites, epidemiological edition

"A study of nearly 2,800 British adults and children bolsters the evidence that patients are prone to suicidal impulses when they are first put on antidepressants... Study bolsters antidepressant-suicide link ... The study looked at four drugs and found that suicidal thoughts or attempts were four times more likely during the first 10 days of treatment than they were after three months. Suicide was almost 40 times more common early on than later in treatment, though there were only 17 suicides, all in patients older than 19."
Yikes, if this study is as it's described, then it really doesn't provide anything anywhere close to the strength of evidence touted by this article. The retort from two psychiatrists, that the result "simply means that antidepressants are being prescribed for the right indication, and that they do not immediately eliminate suicide risk," is buried ten paragraphs down and not explained, even though it would seem exactly on point.

Just think about it in the abstract. Say somebody is severely depressed, worse than they have ever been before. If you had to bet, would you bet they are going to be have a higher level of depression (a) tomorrow or (b) three months from now?

You could say this about every chronic illness that exhibits considerable fluctuation: if you had to guess, people are going to be more like they were yesterday than they were three months ago. When someone initiates a treatment for depression, or when the decision is made to initiate a medication regimen, they are probably near the bottom of their overall distribution of affective fluctuation. So we have two general principles: (1) that people tend to be bad off when they seek treatment or new treatments are tried and (2) that people who are bad off have a greater probability of getting better than getting worse (there are certainly illnesses for which this is not true. Depression is not one of them.)

You really can't know without a clinical trial. The study is not a clinical trial. It's hard to imagine an ethically palatable clinical trial. But this isn't even a strong non-clinical trial. At least as reported. What the study really needs to do is, in the absence of a placebo condition, really do what it can to try to figure out how one might estimate how many participants one would have committed suicide in the absence of a placebo condition. The actual study might try to do this; it's a very hard inferential problem.

The kicker here is to imagine what would happen if the antidepressant really did have a therapeutic effect within the time window that the medications claims (that is, 4 or so weeks, rather than within 2 weeks). Then the above stated results would look even worse! There would be an even stronger call not to give antidepressants to teenagers! In other words, if one adhered the above reasoning, the more effective an antidepressant was, the more dangerous it would seem!


As I've discussed in previous posts, sites like Tradesports allow the masses to bet on political and other events in a futures-market-like format.  The result is that contract prices can be read as market-based probabilities of something happening, which, for a contract with decent trading volume, seems likely to be superior to pundit-based probabilities (and, trust me Tom, it's far better than any econometric-based probability).
Anyway, the probability of Bush winning the election has in the past traded as high as about 70%, in early January, but has been on the decline since.  For the last few weeks, it's been fluctuating between 50.1 and 53.0, never reaching that hypothetical point where the world thinks Kerry has exactly as much chance of winning as Bush does.  But, today, I wake up and there it is at 50.0. 
I recognize that this probably all sounds boring and that you have likely ceased reading this post by now, but you have no idea how excited this makes me.  I have an extremely difficult time distinguishing when I'm being pessimistic and when I'm being rational, as the two in my experience are substantially correlated.  So while I've wanted to believe that Kerry was going to win in November, I've always tempered this with the morose belief that, well, it probably wasn't actually going to happen.  But, now, I can beat back the forces of pessimism by saying that if the market says it's a coin-toss, it's irrational for me to be so gloomy. 
It doesn't take an avatar of probability theory to realize that this is making way too much out of a difference between 50.1% and 50.0%, but, I have very exacting criteria for when I will ever allow myself to feel even the twingiest twinge of hope in the actions of the American electorate.
But, even as I write this, the last contract price is back up to 50.3.  Welcome back, despair!* 
* Incidentally, despair always enters my body through my toes.  The best way I can describe the feeling is that it's like the RV had commenced being flooded by cold water.   I have no idea why.  I once took a medititation class--hard to believe, I know, except for the part where I dropped out--where a key part of the instruction was that you were supposed to breathe through your toe.  Right before saying the breathe-out-of-your-toe part, the instructor took pains to warn the class that parts of the instructions were more metaphorical than "in a strict scientific sense", which seemed like it was directed at me since I had freely admitted in the pre-enrollment interview that I was probably going to have trouble taking the class seriously and promised to try hard never to burst into my giggling-snort-thing and distract the rest of the class.  But, when she told us to breathe out of our toe, I was probably less fazed by its anatomical impossibility since I was already accustomed to thinking of them as My Orifice of Despair.


Q: I can't believe you had the nerve to criticize Barbara Ehrenreich! She's my idol! I've committed most of her columns so far to memory! You're just jealous because she has the guts to speak the truth to The Powers That Be and to Bill Cosby (as if these two are not one and the same)! I know she's not a "licensed" sociologist, but she's about as prominent a public sociologist as there is today. How can the so-called American Sociological Association have a so-called conference on so-called public sociology and not prominently feature her?

A: Au contraire. Of course Ehrenreich will be there. She'll be doing a back-to-back plenary and thematic session.  Thanks to my good friend from Coreyhart, MD for e-mailing me the program listing.
Plenary Session. Speaking to Publics: Limits and Possibilities
Monday, 8/16/2004 from 12:30 p.m. - 2:15 p.m.

Barbara Ehrenreich (Author)
William Julius Wilson (Harvard University)
Frances Fox Piven (City University of New York)
Eric Wanner (Russell Sage Foundation)

What publics can sociologists address? Are they disappearing? What are the ways of addressing them? Why should we bother to address them? Four commentators who straddle the boundaries of sociology from different directions discuss these questions and their own experiences with diverse publics.

Thematic Session. Berkeley's Betrayal: Wages and Working Conditions at Cal
Monday, 8/16/2004 from 10:30 a.m. - 12:10 p.m.

Barbara Ehrenreich (Author)
Gretchen Purser (University of California, Berkeley)
Amy T. Schalet (University of California, Berkeley)
The panelists will discuss their collaborative research on the wages and working conditions of clerical and service workers at UC-Berkeley. They will also explore the opportunities and challenges of engaging in a "public sociology" intended to galvanize and inform public debate on campus work conditions.

Monday, July 19, 2004

the burdens of blogging

"Write something for your weblog."
"I'm working right now."
"Something funny."
"It's not like I have a funny faucet I can just turn on."
"Okay. But do write something funny, not something mean. Your weblog has been on kind of a mean kick lately."
"A mean kick?"
"Yes, you've been a nabob of negativism. It's gotten to where I half expect to log in and see that you've uploaded a film of yourself setting fire to a marmot."
"No animals have ever been harmed in the making of my weblog."
"What about that bug you squashed?"
"I assure you that I would have squashed that bug just as swiftly had Al Gore never invented the Internet."
"Whatever. The point is: sunny-side-up! Nobody likes a churlish blog."
"I know I have a tendency to see the glass as considerably less than half-full."
"You have a tendency to see the glass as empty."
"I have a tendency to see the glass as broken and lying in shards on the floor, posing a tetanus peril to random passersby."
"Wasn't there some student who said you walk around like you've got a raincloud following you wherever you go?"
"Yeah, but I don't need a raincloud. I manage to find the black lining in every cloud."
"I suppose it's better than the student who said you look like you sleep in your car."
"Speaking of gloomy, I was talking to this friend of mine with a blog last week and all of a sudden she burst out with 'All these blogs! I feel like they are going to just implode one day and destroy us all! I can't stand it!'"
"What was that about?"
"I'm not sure. I think she gets overwhelmed by having to keep straight who blogs under their real name versus a fake name versus no name. Who changes the names of other people and who doesn't. Which details people disclose about their lives on their blogs are true and which aren't."
"Why is she complaining to you? You don't make up anything on your blog."
"I know. I'm like a beacon of honesty in a maelstrom of half-truths. Anyway, I have to go. I have to get this work done so I can spend some time this afternoon cleaning up the RV."

Sunday, July 18, 2004


So, public sociologists everywhere seem to be all excited about Barbara Ehrenreich's summer stint doing op-eds for NYT (examples here and here). These reactions are actually more mild than the utterly uniform glee I've heard from sociologists expressing their opinions about it in non-public forums. There have also been various cheerleaderly calls by journalists for Ehrenreich to be given a permanent position at the NYT.

Her column earlier this week was a celebration of the need to break free from pressures to conformity of thought. In the spirit of what she extols, I feel emboldened to say something to demonstrate my independence from those on basically The Same Political Side as myself: namely, I have found Ehrenreich's columns to be more annoying and alienating than anything else.

I know, I know, how dare I type something like that. I should be forced to go to confession and do ten Hate Bushes right away, or else be sentenced to permanent scarequotes around any leftward identification: that Jeremy, he's a "liberal."

If there is anyone else out there, anywhere, who (1) considers themselves on the left part of the political spectrum, (2) has been reading Ehrenreich's columns, and (3) does not finish them feeling awash in ideological self-satisfaction, I would certainly appreciately hearing from you, as independent thinkers aren't necessarily thrilled about being lonesome independent thinkers, especially when they don't get what everyone else is so enamored of.

In today's column, Ehrenreich disses Nader. Of course, she did vote for him in 2000. In Florida. You go, Barbara! It apparently wasn't until "well into the reign of Bush" that she figured out Bush was a sufficiently bad president that the Nader-for-2000 campaign came to seem like maybe it was a bad idea. She defends her 2000 vote for Nader in part because, before the election, Bush seemed like he would be a mostly harmless president. She's so perceptive!

If I seem surly about all this, the column of hers that really caused me to turn on the NYT Ehrenreich was the one on Bill Cosby. While I was not pleased with some of Cosby's recent remarks, in my mind he certainly didn't deserve this kind of treatment. He didn't deserve to be cast as Billionaire Bashing Poor Blacks without also noting his far-less-than-privileged background (granted, pretty much everyone has seen Fat Albert). He didn't deserve to make it sound like he's not also very critical of existing social policies. He didn't deserve to be lumped in as another example of those who "routinely excoriated poor black women for being lazy, promiscuous, government-dependent baby machines."

I mean, from where I'm sitting, if you ask me the question of who has done more for blacks in America: (a) Bill Cosby or (b) Barbara Ehrenreich, where for (b) you also throw in the whole of white public sociology since 1970, I'm still going with Cosby. So pardon me if I'm reticient to consign him to a Villain role in the professional-wrestling-melodrama of contemporary political discourse.*

Besides this, the main thing that bothers me about Ehrenreich is that I think that she's disingenuous, by which I mean she's willing to say things that she knows are misleading in order to score points for The Cause. Sure, there are all kinds of people on the right who do this, and, well, frankly, they annoy me even more, but you don't get off my annoyance hook just because you are arguing to a basic end I agree with. But, where this probably bothers me most is in some of the ways she cites statistics, but it's late and I don't want to get into that. At least until something else she writes sets me off.

For the sociologically-inclined readers, however, I can't resist taking note of this strangely old-school-functionalist and anthropologically dubious turn smack in the middle of the groupthink column from earlier this week:
"Societies throughout history have recognized the hazards of groupthink and made arrangements to guard against it. The shaman, the wise woman and similar figures all represent institutionalized outlets for alternative points of view. In the European carnival tradition, a 'king of fools' was permitted to mock the authorities, at least for a day or two. In some cultures, people resorted to vision quests or hallucinogens -- anything to get out of the box."
Woo-hoo, wild characterizations of the origins of institutions in other societies as a way of making a political point for The Cause. You could use this paragraph as the running example for a short primer on the problems of functionalist social reasoning (especially the point that functions institutional arrangements might serve or come to serve are not, just by virtue of [here, even, rather dubiously] serving these functions, evidence that the functions explain the origins of the arrangements). We should draft a resolution for the American Sociological Association meetings to demand that the Times give us more!

*Google something like "Cosby remarks" and read various statement by Black critics of Cosby's remarks--setting aside the issue of the many Blacks who acclaimed them--and you can see how at variance Ehrenreich's reaction is from that of Black leaders on this issue. A more nasty person than myself might observe that, given that she's such a case of only-very-late-onset-Nader-voting-remorse, we probably shouldn't be surprised not to see much influence of Black perspectives on her views, even on Black issues, especially when an opportunity for posturing presents itself. That's pretty much Nader in a nutshell for the past decade. But I'll refrain from observing that, especially since this post has already seems so negative already. The Cosby column really irritated me and has been festering with each new column since. I'll try to come up with something light'n'chirpy for my next post.

more of jeremy's minimalist social commentary on social issues of the day

Regarding a story in today's NYT:
"The fast-growing movement to unionize graduate students at the nation's private universities suffered a crushing setback yesterday when the National Labor Relations Board reversed itself and ruled that students who worked as research and teaching assistants did not have the right to unionize.

Sheldon E. Steinbach, vice president and general counsel for the American Council on Education, a trade group that represents universities and other educational institutions, called the ruling 'magnificent' but said he was not surprised by it because of the labor board's changed lineup. The N.Y.U. decision was itself a reversal of the board's decades-old position that graduate assistants should not be able to unionize."

"The previous decision in the N.Y.U. case overturned over 30 years of determinations by the National Labor Relations Board on whether graduate students who worked as teaching and research assistants were students or employees," Mr. Steinbach said. "And it threatened the traditional [exploitative] relationship between colleges and their graduate student assistants."

Friday, July 16, 2004

greetings from tashkent

so in the true spirit of guest blogging for JFW, i’ve been functioning on uzbekistan time for the past week or so, working on the dissertation at all hours of the night, with insomniac or reno 911 playing in the background. i hardly ever see amy anymore. we occasionally cross paths and give each other a familiar nod.

hey, speaking of the dissertation, here’s something. i just did a word search on my now 102-page single-spaced proposal*. betcha don’t know what i found.

bling: 0
deplane: 0
edutainment: 0
Foucauldian: 0
guesstimate: 0
impact: 3 (as a verb)
irregardless: 0
linkage: 19 (whoops)
signage: 0
synergistically: 0
touch base: 0

actually, linkage and links have two different meanings.


yeah, linkage means “a series of links.” so there are times when “linkage” is more appropriate than “links.”

give me an example.

i don’t know. i can’t really think of one right now.

why couldn’t you just use “links” to refer to “a series of links”?

okay, so i am now kneeling before the great JFW confessional. what should be my penance? i could say the world “linkage” 1,000 times. or i could go back into the document and replace all 19 of the “linkages” with “links.”** better yet, i could take one of the words from JFW’s enunciation candy and insert it into the title of my dissertation. it would have to be subtle, of course. see if you can pinpoint my placement of the enunciation candy word in this version of my dissertation title:

The World as System or Society?
Introducing the (Epi)Phenomenal Cultural Dimension to
Chopsocky Network Analysis, 1980-2000***

* it is still technically a proposal, i suppose, given that there are no findings to be found anywhere in the document. it’s still all lit review and methods at this point. hats off to my committee AND AMY for wading through this monstrosity for the proposal defense.

** by the way, i also did document searches on link (2 hits), links (3), linked (5), and linking (2). even when adding all these together, i still get a number significantly lower than the 19 i found for linkage. nineteen!

*** i know, i know. there’s no colon to be found anywhere in this title. just like my master’s thesis. this is perhaps even more unforgivable than any egregious use of a JFW despised word. similar to my master’s thesis, i keep coming up with questions to serve as the first clause of my title for some reason. luckily, i’ve been able to avoid publishing anything from all my work at IU, so i’m still eligible to say that all my publications will have colons in them.****

**** okay, i actually do have one publication, and it actually has no colon in the title. but i’m the fourth author and i used an alias (Rob J.***** Kroska) as a silent protest against the de-colonized title. amy still thinks i was operating under some sort of egalitarian logic. thus, despite the fact that my vita consists of three things in which i’ve had an authorship role (master’s thesis, dissertation proposal, and a publication), and none of them have colons in the title, i still insist on being the world’s strongest advocate of using colons in titles.

***** J is not even my real middle initial. my real middle initial is V. i took amy’s middle initial to symbolize an even more silent protest against the lack of colon(s) in the publication title.

confessions of a contrarian grammarian, continued

Ann takes up the question of whether states' rights should be spelled with an apostrophe.  She argues by analogy to "individual rights" and "gun rights" and "abortion rights", none of which have an apostrophe, that states' rights shouldn't have one either.  She concludes that those who put an apostrophe in are being hypercorrect, meaning that they apply a grammatical rule in an instance where it might seem to apply but actually doesn't belong, and so they effectively make a usage incorrect by correcting it.  I disagree.  The analogies Ann draws doesn't work, because they are all instances of de-possessiving a potential possessive by making it singular--if we would say "individuals' rights", there should be an apostrophe, but if we talk about the same thing by saying "individual right", we essentially imbue it with a higher degree of abstraction--I'm sure there must be a fancy name for it--such that it's no longer a possessive.  You write "human rights" but if you wanted to write "humans' rights", the possessive belongs.  To take two common examples, some people refer to "children's rights" and "prisoners' rights", both of which should have possessives, while other people nowadays refer to the same thing as "child rights" and "prisoner rights."  If my argument is correct, then Ann is being hyperhypercorrect, by making something incorrect by disapplication of a rule that seemed on first glance correct, then on further consideration incorrect, but then on still further consideration turns out to be correct. If my argument is wrong, then it is I who am being hyperhyperhypercorrect.

Here I am, a person with sociology credentials expressing his view on an issue of relevance for all kinds of human rights: does that make this post public sociology?

in local news

Madison's alternative paper, the Isthmus, is running a cover story this week on the Scrabble Club I used to play in.  The cover also contains the explanation for why I never sought to go beyond playing in the sub-expert level of the club.

Which doesn't mean I can't kick your [expletive deleted]. Unless you are Corrie, who was always the better anagrammer when we played at club together.  Indeed, she could have been a Scrabble Star, except she was also unenthusiastic about the whole "surrender your life" thing.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

"Liberte’, Egalite’, Fraternity’" Hey, it’s Bastille Day! (ok it WAS)

While JF continues to negotiate with the A-list celebrities, you get me, the blog virgin, Francophile, and South Madison devotee,’ the guaranteed one and only, Teddy Love.

Okay, but first a caveat/pledge. I, the person who has never shown restraint in anything, am pledging here and now, with you, the loyal JFW readers as my witnesses, that I will show enormous restraint in said blog. For one, as a blog virgin I’m just not sure what is bloggable or blog worthy, so I’m going to go slow here (ok, doubtful). For two (hmm), I’m really supposed to be studying for what better be my last prelim exam in social psychology. And of course, what better way to procrastinate, er approach, such a daunting task than to start blogging, move to a new apartment, get divorced, start dating again, and become a SERF afficianado (in no particular order, however all of which I have managed to do in the past 30 days).

So, now that we’ve established some ground rules (wait, this could be my only post! See, I’m already becoming unrestrained), a few thoughts or rather questions that have been running around my head:

1) Would I really date a 25 year old?

A digression is in order here because this very question is what actually led me to blog in the first place. See, a couple of months ago I decided to date men and I figured the place to find some might be (come on, the social science bldg. is not the biggest dating pool … or is it?). So I wrote this little profile thing (and wrote and rewrote and obsessed some more and wrote and then finally hid the entire profile) for the three day free trial on Match. At any rate, when asked the age range of men I was looking for, without hesitation I typed “25.” I mean, there’s nothing wrong with being 25 of course and indeed some of you may be 25. It’s my math (and possibly more) that may be wrong. As it turns out, somehow, suddenly, 25 is like 17 years away from my own age (I’m still trying to figure out how this happened)!

So, somewhat further digression. My three day free trial resulted in a completely pleasant dinner date and then breakfast a couple of weeks later (these were two discrete events, not one long date with only two meals). He was not 25 but he was cute, interesting, and fun. Then I start getting emails and lots of glossy photos from a man who is 25 and I’m thinking … would I really date a 25 year old even if he is an articulate law school student and part-time model?

But before I could answer, I discovered Nerve/Salon personals. Apparently, this is like the big leagues of hip dating and I’m not sure if I’m ready for this and of course I have to type in the age thing again except now I’m not sure what to say. I mean, even if I would date a 25 year old Nerve/Salon man would he date me with no blogging experience and hardly any practice being 21st century cool and not being at all tragically hip (having just rediscovered a love for the color pink—definitely not tragic—and only last week learning the name of some Star Wars character called Bobba Fleck or Bula Feck or something which I have already forgotten, sorry my dear Dorotha). But wait, I’m not looking for a 25-year old comic book nerd! So then I had the dream about Ashton. A goofy teenaged dream in which I said something like “Oh, Ashton” and then we were kissing except, you guessed it, I was 42 and he was 25. So ok, maybe I could date a 25 year old non comic book nerd. So what should I put in the profile? Do you know the weight, height, and age of the people you want to date (I can barely decide on the gender)? I mean, not some kind of gestalt vision, but the actual numbers? Would you actually commit to some, then have the person of your dreams click right by because they were say only 5’4” and a half? I mean, how do these numbers work? Are they rules? Norms? Roles? Attitudes? Beliefs? Schema? Yeah, yeah, okay … prelim study is calling.

So, the question remains unanswered. But I thought it might at least get some attention (if not an answer) as my headline (oh yeah, check out the profile I started last night particularly if you have any interest in knowing the five things I could not live without). So this is blogging, huh?

Yours truly,
Teddy Love

p.s. for any of you looking to meet sweaty, testosterone-filled men younger than 25 (who appear to be at least momentarily sober), the SERF weight room around 6 p.m. appears to be your best bet.

p.s.s. for any of you looking for neo-burlesque, i.e., feminist women of all ages, shapes, and sizes, doing song, dance, comedy, and a little strip tease don’t miss the Cherry Pop Tarts and my friend Lonnie, their producer/emcee, on July 23 and 24 at the Club Majestic.

leaving no stone in athletics unturned, nike is now sponsoring its own performance-enhancing drugs. maybe the pills have little swooshes on them.

Torri Edwards, who placed second in the women's 100 meters Saturday at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials, tested positive for a banned stimulant earlier this season, sources familiar with the case told the Chicago Tribune.

According to the Tribune, Edwards tested positive for nikethamide at a meet in Europe.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

in other weblogs

Note that Althouse is celebrating its six-month anniversary today, on the heels of the recent appearance of its proprietor on a radio show about blogging. And, for that matter, this event comes only a week after this weblog's one year anniversary. A brief statistical comparison of two UW faculty weblogs:

JFW: In existence 53 weeks, 842 posts, 192K words, implying an average of .54 BWPWM.*

A: In existence 26 weeks, 993 posts, 232K words, implying an average of 1.33 BWPWM.

BTW, JFW is honored to have a post linked by A on its half-year anniversary. Although, look, my sidebar list of detested words has already expanded by more than a power of three.

* Blog Words Per Waking Minute, a metric I invented just now but which seems sensible, based on a 16-hour waking day. Incidentally, I read recently that Ronald Reagan's presidential diaries were a half-million words (in longhand! while President! Not to mention that, as a further disadvantage to his diary productivity, he also had to write most entries backwards and in high heels). This translates to a impressive DWPWM of .18, or .19 if you consider that Reagan much preferred getting nine hours of sleep instead of eight.

crimes of lexicography, exposed

At the end of the flight to Madison, the flight attendant made an announcement about when we would be able to "deplane" and I thought immediately, "Dear God, how I hate that word." I mean, it lowers the quality of my day a little bit, each and every time someone says it. Inspired by this, I have decided to start a sidebar section for the words I most despise. Please e-mail me any suggestions you have.

As per my post from two nights ago, I am also in the midst of negotiations for a couple of A-list celebrities for special guest host appearances. So don't be surprised if someone else makes a sudden splashy appearance at the JFW soundstudio.

short post consistent my current state of bloggerly restraint, if not exactly more general weblary restraint

Check out the account of a phone call between Salon's editor, Ralph Nader, and Nader's spokesperson. While I disagree with several things the Salon editor says, the tenor and content of the exchange does seem to add further to the accumulating evidence for the "psycho" theory of Nader's candidacy. (Note that, in an unexpected bit of fealty to my sociology credentials, I am usually reticient to endorse "psycho" theories. However, when the cracked-glass slipper of insanity so snugly fits, any rational prince would conclude that he must be staring at his Psychorella.)

Still, it would be nice to see Salon (or somebody else) run a story sometime that tries to figure out who Nader's supporters are and why they are backing him. Not the 0.001% or less that are volunteering to work for his campaign, but the 2-4% who are telling pollsters they plan to vote for him. If a story like this does exist and I just haven't seen it, let me know.

Okay, it's almost midnight, meaning that I have to post and exit Blogger before I turn into a pumpkin myself.

Monday, July 12, 2004


The Santa Monica slacking has left me way-way behind on things here, including this paper for which I have been The Amityville Horror of collaborators. I have to show bloggerly restraint until I get this mess under control. Please, dear readers, understand.

I'm imagining myself with one of those WWJD bracelets on my wrist. What would JC do? How better to respond to trouble than to try to think of how Johnny Carson would handle the situation? And, so: What I really need is a guest host. (And an orchestra. And that big turban he would wear when playing Carnac the Magnificent.) Joan Rivers is probably too pricy. I wonder what David Brenner is doing, though.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

like butter

"I've decided I'm going to start eating only raw butter."
"What makes something 'raw' butter?"
"It's made with raw milk."
"What makes something 'raw' milk? Is it not pasteurized?"
"It's not pasteurized."
"Pasteurization is bad?"
"Pasteurization is bad."
"Has someone told the French? Practically every town in France has a Rue Pasteur."
"Rue is right. Pasteur is way overrated. He hurt more people than he helped."
"I didn't even know you could legally buy unpasteurized milk."
"You can't legally buy it. It has to be your own milk."
"You're going to start making butter from your own milk? I didn't even know you were lactating."
"No, I mean, you have to own part of a cow."
"You own part of a cow?"
"No, I'm getting it from this guy who owns part of a cow."
"Of course. Why buy part of a cow if you can get part of the milk for free?"
"You're not funny."
"I can't believe you went out and found some guy to be your butter daddy."
"He's not my butter daddy. I have to pay him like ten dollars a pound for it."
"So he's your butter dealer? Great. How did you find some guy who'd sell you contraband butter?"
"There's like a whole underground raw milk network. You'd be surprised."
"Is it supposed to be healthy?"
"It's supposed to be really healthy. The guy said he eats a half pound a butter every day."
"Does he just eat the whole half pound, or does he melt some of it and drink it?"
"You know, he said he does both. Seriously."
"I remember back on the farm, nothing would be better after a hard day's work than a tall, cold glass of butter."
"He said he eats a pound of raw meat every day too."
"From the same cow? Does he make raw beef and butter smoothies?"
"I don't think eating raw meat is healthy. I've heard this guy is really, really skinny."
"It's hard to put on weight when your intestines have been replaced by a giant tapeworm."
"But I bet that tapeworm is really, really sick of butter."

Saturday, July 10, 2004

but that was my plan c!

Last week, I discovered someone else doing my Plan B. And now I check out and what do I see:
"Diners at a McDonald's in southern Norway were stunned when a man dressed as the U.S. fast food chain's mascot Ronald McDonald launched into a diatribe criticizing its policies and food, the outlet's owner said Friday.

The man -- a performance artist -- was arrested by police summoned by restaurant staff when he refused to leave and continued his tirade against the Oak Brook, Illinois-based fast food chain. The incident made national news in Norway on Friday.

"He was screaming and yelling. It was very unpleasant," said Alf Floernes, owner of the restraurant in the southern town of Kristiansand, by telephone. "It was supposedly some sort of art. If that is art, I'm a truck."

the verdict on lambuel

While opinions varied, the JFW official ruling is: hoax. Three separate people were convinced that it was a hoax by following the links to the Baby Jesus Anti-Fornication Thong, which does indeed seem revelatory.

dispatch from santa monica, #5

A reader expressed surprise that I had described myself as profoundly shy in a recent post. Afterward, however, the reader did remember an initial interaction we'd had where my behavior could be interpreted as shyness. At the time, however, the reader had instead concluded from my behavior that I was "mean."

Today, at the workshop, one speaker discussed the WLS.* Given my heavy involvement in the WLS, the speaker noted that if people had questions about the data they could ask "Jeremy Freese, the kind of shy guy in the back of the room." So there. I'm sufficiently shy that it shows. I suppose I would rather be identifiable that way that by someone saying, "Jeremy Freese, the kind of mean guy in the back of the room."

Thing was, I wasn't even actually sitting in back. I was off to the side. It's like I project pathological shyness so strongly that it makes wherever I sit seem like it's the apogee of the room.

* [W]isconsin [L]ongitudinal [S]tudy, the survey of 1957 high school graduates that I work on.

Friday, July 09, 2004

dispatch from santa monica, #4

Talks on the second day of Mini-Medical school were on Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, and cognitive aging. All three talks were great and puts the judgment meter into "Very Glad I Came". Although, wow: nothing like a series of talks on the biology of aging to get your mind a-dwelling on your own mortality and that of anyone around you. None of us, in case you didn't know, is getting any younger. We are all, moreover, going to die.

I'm writing this using the wireless connection from the hotel restaurant, where I'm having breakfast. The woman who did the cognitive aging talk is sitting two tables away from me. One part of her talk was about medication adherence, and included a discussion of a study of rheumatoid arthritis patients they did where they monitored compliance with these special pill-bottle caps that were equipped with a computer chip that would record the times when the pill-bottle was opened (subjects weren't allowed to use a pill-box for this study). Anyway, among the interesting findings from this study were that middle-aged people were less adherent than older (age > 65) people; and that the leading predictor of non-adherence was how busy people were. The speaker's explanation of that second finding was mainly in terms of the first; that middle-aged people have busier, less routinized lives and that older people were more likely to have The Taking Of The Medications as a ritual around which their lives were built. Meanwhile, an economist in attendance spoke up to ask: "As an economist, I would wonder if it might also be the case that older people are more motivated to adhere to their medications because the consequences of non-adherence appear more severe and more imminent." To which I thought, why would somebody have to be an economist to wonder this? Sometimes economists seem to think they are the only ones who are aware that human beings often respond to changes in the apparent costs and benefits of different choices; a more accurate opinion would be that (some) economists are (about) the only ones willing to push that idea to obviously absurd and empirically untrue ends.

Meanwhile, a postdoc at Rand saw my nametag and said that she had visited the sociology department at Wisconsin a couple of years ago. She's an avid Scrabble player, and when she visited she had wanted to meet me after seeing that I had changed the nameplate on my door to my name spelled out in Scrabble tiles. Alas, I had to tell her that I didn't play Scrabble so much anymore (and have changed my nameplate back), although I didn't go into how the decrease to zero in Scrabble playing occurred as a result of my starting a weblog and having that come to monopolize My Hobby Time.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

crimes of skimming, the lambuel edition

Okay, the Lambuel site in the last post is a hoax. When I first went to it, I scrolled down and saw the atheist thing and was already freaked out and cropping away in Photoshop before I had the chance to check out the site further. So sue me. Besides which, it really didn't seem that far-fetched.

Update, one minute later: Or maybe it's not. I can't decide. If someone spends more time looking at the site and can render a clear verdict, let me know.

how to teach your children religious tolerance, the lambuel edition

Who/what's Lambuel, you ask:

What's Lambuel's highest priority safety tip for young readers?:

Thanks to a reader in Beansuppah, ME for directing me to this site!

quick, be hilarious! quick, be cruel!

A problem with having a reputation for being funny--or so I've heard from people with such reputations--is that people then expect you to be able to be funny on command. A friend of mine, "J.", has even had people stop by his office with visitors and introduce him with something like, "This is J., he's funny." How on earth does one respond to that? Is he expected to break out into a stand-up routine right then and there in his office? Maybe even a full-fledged hallway-comedian show with props: a unicycle, one of those fake cans of peanut brittle with the spring-loaded snakes inside, some balls to juggle, a dancing marmot, all accompanied by a laugh-track set to run from his computer.

My experience talking to people with weblogs is that most people who write amusing posts hate to have their weblogs characterized as being in the genre of "humorous" or "funny" weblogs, partly for the light'n'airiness it may imply about their bloggerly lives, but more because they don't want the pressure. As a broad-generality-with-certain-exceptions, if someone proudly advertises their as being "humorous"/"funny", it's probably not actually very humorous/funny.

In any case, poor Dorotha. Not only does she suffer the expectation of some that she will be witty and amusing on command, but she also has to deal with the expectation that she can be mean on command as well. It would seem to me to be difficult to get off both those hooks simultaneously. That is, everyone recognizes that a funny person might sometimes not be in a mood to be funny, but you would think that if a mean and funny person was not in a mood to be funny, the least she could do would be to be mean about it. (For the record: Dorotha greatly exaggerates her mean-ness. She is, however, funny. And much better to be funny-but-not-as-mean-as-she-thinks than to be mean-but-not-as-funny-as-she-thinks.)


Today is my first bloggerversary. Yes, me, JFW, one year. Yikes. Originally, people were planning a week of blogger bacchanalia on my behalf, but then everyone has become so swept up with working on their astrosociology projects for next month's Sociology Science Fair. For my part, I was going to write some moody retrospective post with various reflections regarding my year of living bloggerously, the benefits and costs of blogging, etc., but I still haven't even posted any kind of remarks on my class reunion that was almost two weeks ago.

One thing about blogging is that once you start to think of your life in terms of what you can post about it, you only get to post maybe a third of the ideas for posts that you have. And, even then, you feel like you are spending way too much time blogging.

dispatch from santa monica, #3

The first day of mini-medical school went all right. One more day, and it's Xanax for everyone!

There were three talks over the course of the day. Two were interesting. One was on the cardiovascular system, various different things that can go wrong with it, and why those things become more and more likely to happen as you get older. The other was on cancer, the various things that all have to go wrong for a malignant cancer to develop, and why this becomes more and more likely to happen as you get older.*

The third talk was a biologist laying out an extensive and, as he presented it, heterodox theory bringing together evolutionary history, caloric-restricted mice, demented mouse lemurs, and several other things in trying to explain the relationship between inflammation and the life span. Or something. As far as I could tell looking around the room, no one else knew what to make of it, either.

Afterward, I went for a walk near the ocean. Being a lifelong midwesterner, I have not spent much time near the ocean--neither of my parents have ever seen an ocean, apart from TV--and I have never walked along an ocean by myself. Where I was walking wasn't exactly by the ocean, as there was this superhighway below where I was walking, and then a giant parking lot after that, and then the beach after that, but the ocean was there, looking all, you know, big. I was thinking about actually going down to the beach, but then I felt this thing on my forehead and went to brush it off and got stung--it was some kind of bee/wasp/hornet/yellow-jacket/flying-scorpion-of-death. It still hurts a little bit this morning. Back on the farm, there are wasps' nests all over the place. However, I've never been stung by anything there, but instead the only time I had ever been stung by an insect before was, inexplicably, when I was in the middle of the library at the University of Iowa.

Anyway, after that I retreated to the hotel. There was a dinner for the attendees, but, in the interests of defending my title as the Most Relentlessly And Counterproductively Shy Person On The Planet, I skipped it.

* The cancer talk centered on the concept of "antagonistic pleiotropy", which is basically the idea of having some part of a genetic program have both good and bad effects. In this case, the idea was roughly that certain processes that work to prevent cancers early in life can contribute to their occurrence later in life. The researcher giving the talk threw me into linguistic-confusion-and-self-doubt by pronouncing "pleiotropy"--a word on my list in the sidebar--differently than I do (she says plee- and I say ply-). Merriam-Webster sides with me, so I'll assume my way is a legitimate alternative.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

dispatch from santa monica, #2

A couple readers have asked, "Am I in Santa Monica on vacation?" Alas, no, I have not yet reached the stage of male-spinsterhood where I go off to exciting places for vacations by myself. Instead, I'm here for medical school: the RAND Summer Institute's Mini-Medical School for Social Scientists. Whatever it takes medical students four years to learn, social science Ph.D.'s can apparently get all caught up in two days. No word yet--but already a substantial waiting list--on whether I will be allowed to legally prescribe drugs after it's over.

I'm off now to find the RAND compound where the medical school will be taking place. I really have no idea what to expect. There is a workshop on Thursday and Friday that was the main reason for my coming out here, but when I saw I could extend the trip by two days and have med school behind me, I couldn't pass it up. I hope they give us warning before they wheel out the cadavers!

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

dispatch from santa monica

I'm writing this from my hotel in Santa Monica, allowing me to add California to the list of States From Which I've Blogged. As befitting a flight to LA, I sat one row back and across the aisle (i.e., diagonally, or, as we say on the farm, kitty-cornered) from Somebody Sorta Famous. Given my estrangement from popular culture, I have no idea who he was. A college-aged couple sitting behind me approached him midflight to have their picture taken with him. The flight attendant said something about how she especially liked his show because she'd had four children in five years. I heard someone behind me say something that made it sound like his name was "Todd" and he had something to do with "TLC", which at first made me think he was the guy they were bringing in to replace the late Lisa "Left-Eye" Lopes on their Reunion Tour, but then I realized that TLC is not just a band but also an acronym for The Learning Channel. He was a tall blond guy, one of those guys men are surprised to discover that women find attractive because he strikes men as having weirdly prominent, Cro-Magnon-mannish eyebrows. You know the type. Anyway, he couldn't have been that famous, as he was flying in coach.

Monday, July 05, 2004

the most remarkable thing you will read today, even if you do not recognize it as such

My inbox contains less than 10 messages. My team of biographers is going back trying to see when the last time was I was so on top of my e-mail-to-dos. Granted, this is just my account; apologies to anyone who may be languishing in my sbcglobal account, which I'm always meaning to get to but often do not.

BTW, I go to California tomorrow morning, and will try to send a dispatch or two (or several) from there.

the seedy side of madison

At our blogger dinner last week, Ann noted that when she was in New York, she was drawn to visiting some of the uglier parts of the city specifically because they would make good photographs (that would then be posted on her weblog). Today, right here in Madison, Ann starts off on a walk at the pleasant enough local zoo but then, her camera in town, she once again is drawn to exploring municipal squalor. And what did she feel was the apex of the "unsightly" local things she decided to post? Why, the back door of the building where I lived for more than two years! Yep, that's it, reproduced above without permission--hey, I paid like fifteen thousand dollars to keep up that photogenic view--the posterior side of good ol' 1515 Monroe Street. Hey, it was close to campus. And cheap. And it didn't get unbearably noisy until shortly before I moved out. But now, perhaps, Ann understands my enthusiasm for moving into an RV.

Update, 7pm: Stop the presses! That's not my back door. That's the door next to my back door. My door is out of the picture to the left. All that ambivalent nostalgia for naught!

This possibility occurred to me when I wrote my original post, but then I looked at Ann's other picture and saw that the door was just to the right of the dumpster in the alley, and I thought, that's mine--just to the right of the dumpster. But now I remember: there were two dumpsters in the alley. The dumpster in the picture is the dumpster for the place next door, whose owner would completely flip out if you used his dumpster for your trash. It could be the most I've been worried about getting killed over something in Madison, not counting my graduate methods course. So, I think, out of fear, I more or less repressed that dumpster for the remainder of my time living there--a panicky but functional psychological blindness motivated by the idea that I couldn't accidentally throw my trash away in something if I didn't actually allow myself to see it.

Sunday, July 04, 2004


If you read this soon after I post it, check out Dorotha trying to fix her template. She's all tangled up in HTML. Use the e-mail address listed on her site--if the formatting is sufficiently coherent on your screen for you to read it--to taunt her (or if you are one of those knowledgable-do-gooder-types, you can help her, I suppose).

Even in the form it is in this moment, the template is still an improvement over its predecessor, which had a clashing color scheme (perhaps just on my monitor) that made me want to claw my eyes out, even worse than that time I discovered that I had accidentally murdered my father and married my mother.

Actually, she's made progress even since I started this post. In Dorotha's defense, an annoying thing about Blogger is that you can't tell from the preview exactly what your template is going to look like, so you have to publish it as you make modifications.

Update, 3:50pm: Now she has everything in pretty good shape. Props to her for the line "It's like this: I need more attention. Read or don't."

in which a compact disc is purchased

(my copy of the Turbo disc and its packaging)

For our younger or more-blurry-memoried readers, compact discs are round metal discs, about five inches across, that were the standard medium on which music was sold back when music was sold on media (in "record stores"!). They are like the CD-ROMs still sometimes used to distribute software--indeed, the "CD" in CD-ROM stands for compact disc--only they contain music rather than software.

Anyway, while I am currently spending as much on music as I ever have, I have not bought a compact disc since I don't know when (come to think of it, I do know when). Until now, that is. Via PayPal, I purchased a copy of Turbo, recently released by the Chicago-based Millimeters Mercury. I much enjoyed an mmHg (get it?) show I saw last year in Madison, despite being permanently brain damaged by the dirty taps at the bar where they were playing.* This alone would have been cause enough to buy the "CD", not to mention that it's what all the cool people seem to be listening to nowadays (hipness-insecure readers take note). Additionally, however, I had to buy Turbo on CD because it's not available on iTunes due to the sometimes capricious and suppressive regime at Apple Music.

Given that mmHg had to distribute Turbo on "CD", they made it fun: the album comes packaged inside a real 5-1/4" floppy disk, floppy disks--first in this larger size, then in a smaller and less floppy size--being the primary means of distributing software before the CD-ROM. According to their website, you can specify the color floppy disk you want; I didn't realize this or I would have selected yellow.

Of course, the first thing I did upon receiving the "CD" in the mail--music, sent through the mail! such a reminder of the Great Columbia House Binge of 1995!--was import it into iTunes. I really don't know when the last time was I actually played music off a "CD" instead of as a computer file; I wouldn't even know how to go about doing so here in the RV (can you play CDs in an Xbox?).

From my first time through it, Turbo gets the official and coveted JFW two-thumbs-up, with an extra mutant-thumb-up for the innovative packaging. Two of my favorite songs are "The Sun is Falling" and "Broken Typewriter," which are both available for perusal in live versions on the mmHg website.

I have heard from another mmHg fan there is a hidden track somewhere on/in/near the CD, but I can't find it.

*I lost four IQ points and an entire day of my life from the ensuing headache--the result of drinking a mere two pints of the tainted beer--leading to my resolution that I will never ever drink beer on tap again except at the halcyon hypersanitary environs of The Karaoke Kid.

november ii: election boogaloo*

Corrie down at Pottery Blog has been a fan of changing the world by an increase in voter turnout (as inthis example back from her days on Privet Drive). In the past, she's gone along with the standard explanation for America's low voter turnout--apathy, disaffectedness, the lack of a shrieking candidate to inspire the electorate, etc.. However, she's apparently now all enthusiastic about a new theory: more Americans would vote if only they could remember when the election is!

Meanwhile, as I was telling Corrie yesterday at Starbucks, I was surprisingly unsurprised by Kerry's preannouncement announcement yesterday that the world would be first notified of his vice presidential choice via e-mail. It's as if his staff was sitting around and thinking "How could we do this in a way that would generate the least excitement? What if we came up with some way where there would be no sound bite and no compelling video image, but instead just a still shot of a computer screen with an inset photo of the candidate?"

I am becoming increasingly convinced that if the vice-presidential-short-list is really down to the contenders being reported and Kerry picks someone other than Little Edwards, it would not only be a bad choice per se but also bode ill for the campaign decisions we will get to witness over the next four months. It's like it has turned into a multiple choice question with the options (a) bland guy, (b) bland funny-looking guy, (c) bland guy who comes across as a tool of organized labor, and (d) charismatic guy who seems like he could make Dick Cheney look like an surly-pompous-country-club-jerk in a debate. If somebody gets that question wrong, how well should you expect them to do on the rest of the test? Then again, I'm of the opinion that if Edwards had been the nominee, he would be ahead of Bush by five points now (seven without Nader).

I am worried that the next four months will feature much of me checking the political news on the web obsessively, pacing agitatedly around the RV, and occasionally shouting at my monitor.

* (Reference to this.)

Friday, July 02, 2004


In addition to changing her blog template to use a color scheme that hurts my eyes, Dorotha has just posted a conversation with her psychiatrist/general-practitioner-posing-as-a-psychiatrist in which, in seeming violation of Wisconsin law, the doctor declined to tell her what the side effects were for a particular drug she was taking. The doctor did apparently seem to be jocular about it, however, so maybe there is an exculpatory clause in the relevant statute for that.

I have a friend who used to go to a psychiatrist who would, in addition to telling her the side effects of particular drugs, also be sure to point out which of the drugs she was taking could be readily used (in only a modest overdose!) to kill oneself. If we presume the doctor did not actually want patients to kill themselves, my best guess as to the philosophy here would be that the doctor wanted patients to know what drugs most definitely should not be deployed if one were to stage a cry-for-help/"fake" suicide attempt.

On the topic of drastic changes, my last post has drawn e-mails from fellow Indiana grads excited to read a mystery novel by one of our own, while I continue my hobby of devising plots for set-in-academia mystery novels that I do not actually write. As another career change idea, one person looked at the photo of my hand on NinaNet and said I could be a professional androgynous hand model, if only I didn't bite my nails. As still another alternative, somebody suggested that I could drop everything and become a touring speaker who taught remedial comedy to humorless business executives who wished they were funny,* as a certain Brad--former employee of one of the shops on Monroe Street?--did. "First, of course, you'd have to actually get funny yourself," the would-be-midlife-guidance-counselor immediately added.**

Speaking of which:
"Did you know [name] reads your blog?"
"No, really?"
"Yeah. She says you've been in a slump lately."
"Maybe you could try being more interesting and funny." [Note: Actually, I'm not at all sure if the person said "more" here or if some primoridal-auditory-defense-mechanism kicked in to insert it.]

* BTW, the optical illusions on this site are pretty good.

** Or I could just steal some of this guy's material. Here, let me try: "What's that under my desk??? Ugh, it's CHEWING GUM! How disgusting! Oh, wait, it's Juicy Fruit." I could even steal the pictures of his family he has on his site, as it probably helps to have readily-presentable photos of family if you are doing the corporate comedy circuit. It'd be just like that movie Single White Motivational Speaker.

but that was my plan b!

As has been mentioned elsewhere, I recently provided to comfort to at least one graduate student by clarifying that life, in fact, does not end when academics suffer career setbacks. Although not specifically about tenure, another example was discovered in a recent trip to Borders: a guy who went to graduate school with me at Indiana--and who initially had trouble finding any tenure-track position upon leaving graduate school--has not just gotten that settled but is currently living my dream: he has a couple of mystery novels that have been published by real presses and sufficiently successful that you can pick up one at your local (or at least my local) Borders.

do these clothes make me look fat? okay, then, what about these weblogs? do these weblogs make me look fat?

I had dinner with the Madison's Three Divas of blogging last night. The suspense after such a dinner, of course, is wondering what about the dinner will be subsequently posted. NinaNet is running a photo of me with a dessert, which she notes was eaten "after a sumptuous tortelloni dish preceded by a monstrous fried calamari plate." Ann chimes in that the dessert "violates the rule against eating anything larger than your head." Quick clarifications: we all shared the calamari plate; I didn't come anywhere close to eating all the Tortelloni; I didn't come anywhere close to all eating the dessert, either, despite Nina's ravenous assistance; the dessert was actually a good deal smaller than my head, although larger than what I was expecting from the description.

I will admit I am somewhat to blame for this exchange in that I asked Nina how come she never took pictures of our food (e.g.) when we went out to dinner. I am also thankful for the photo for calling my attention to a hitherto unnoticed and slovenly-looking stain on my shirt.

Recaps of the night also note a conversation about the mating merits of People Magazine's Sexiest Senator Alive, Russ Feingold. After Feingold was judged deficient by one person, a follow-up asked by another person to tried to narrow down the location and nature of standards by replacing Feingold with the Woody Allen of today as a prospective romantic partner. To me, this was akin to somebody finding out that you wouldn't eat a box of earwigs for a million dollars and then following up with, "Oh yeah? Well, how about for fifty thousand dollars?" (And, no, despite whatever impressions you may have been given by other blogs, it's not the case that if you put some chocolate syrup and powdered sugar on those earwigs I would scarf them down for free).