Saturday, December 31, 2005

sneezy, sleepy, happy, grumpy, dopey, doc, and me, only shorter

I went to a party this evening where the only person I knew was one of the hosts. There, I was reminded of the Cocteau quote about how stupidity was amazing "no matter how often one encounters it." Not because of any stupidity at the party; indeed, everyone there seemed quite bright. Rather, I was reminded of it because relatively early on it occurred to me that what Cocteau said about stupidity I could say about my own ineptitude and awkwardness when placed in the company of strangers. I am still amazed by seeming insuprability of my shyness, each and every time. I imagine that I will be better, and then once again I am not.

Someone once described me to others as being so shy that when she first met me, she presumed there was something wrong with me. I recalled this tonight as well. As in me thinking: "Come on, Jeremy, you're doing that thing where you're so awkward you come across like there is something wrong with you." Such thinking does not, as it happens, help.

Friday, December 30, 2005

recommended hosts?

Say I were to want to commission the services of a private-sector provider of space for, say, blogs running something like WordPress and webpages. Any recommendations?

july, july!

"What's up with you this morning? You sound so happy."
"I went jogging this morning. I'm always happy after I go jogging."
"Why don't you usually jog in the mornings, then? And why did you go a month without jogging?"
"Because this is my central character flaw: I am vulnerable to settling into bad routines."
"Well, it's good that you are back at it now."
"I know, especially since I've got this marathon in May. Or as I like to put, I've got this marathon in Will."
"Or as I like to put it, Jeremy's got this marathon in Stupid."

Interestingly, as a variant on the dreams reported last week, I dreamt last night that the Madison marathon was tomorrow. The reversion to being out of shape has done much to demonstrate me that I had, indeed, been in rather good shape, thirtysomething-cardiovascularly-speaking, before. So, anyway, I was all panicked because there was no way I could even run a 1/4 marathon, much less a 1/2 marathon, much less the whole marathon, but I was forced to go ahead and try because, after all, I told my blog I would.

Anyway, current nominee for the pantheon of great winter jogging songs: "July, July!" by the Decemberists, recently recommended to TB (a.k.a. "The Consumption") and introduced to me in an exercise mix assembled by RWS. Any song that causes me to spontaneously raise my arms above my head in quasi-triumph while jogging, and especially while uncertainly and pantingly jogging, gets promoted to said pantheon.

Not part of the pantheon: "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" by The Postal Service, which is just fine as a song-per-se, but I'm not sure how it made its way onto my exercise playlist. I don't really need to hear the lyric "I'm finally seeing / I was the one worth leaving" over and over again while I run, esp. as I've had that re-piphany who knows how many times in how many contexts over the past however many years.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

finish the sentence: "The result was as violent, as disturbing, and ____."

Correct answer: "and as memorable a knockout as you will ever see." Sayeth one of the boxing columnists in awarding his Knockout Of The Year for 2005. Later, he gushes:
Midway through the eruption, Codrington [the punchee] was already out cold, yet with the blows coming so fast, he took several more shots before the referee could finally jump in. But it was too late.

Codrington's limp body bent in half, and he slid between the second and third ring ropes, where he dangled face down like a wet towel hanging on a rack. His body was half in the ring and half out of the ring.

"Until I saw the fight [on tape], I didn't realize how awesome it was," Green [the puncher] said. "When I saw it for myself, I thought, 'Whoa!' To me, that was the worst knockout I have ever seen. It was brutal. I had not seen anything like that before, and I'm not being partial. I'm just being honest."
Woo-hoo! He's not being partial. I haven't seen anything quite like it either, and now I feel like I could use some emergency psychological counseling. You can check out the award-winning madcap misadventure of Mr. Codrington for yourself here (click on "Post-fight report").

I used to like to watch boxing, even into my early years of graduate school. Then I, like, acquired a sense of humanity or something. I don't know from where. But now, I can't even bear to watch it, feeling both squeamish and sullied. A pugilistic prude, I guess. That said, I'd still be willing to fight Loïc Wacquant at the upcoming ASA meeting as an author-meets-critics exercise in ethnographic fact-checking, if someone wants to set it up. Such is my dedication to the principle of replication at the interaction of social and sweet science.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

besides, it's not like I got nothing for xmas

Oh, yeah, baby: Statalicious. Which isn't even to mention certain other presents, including a few from certain blog readers who know perfectly well who they are and perfectly well that they are loved.

if you are wondering who that mysterious reviewer c was, here are some people you can rule out

So, a few days ago, for quite different purposes, I listed the 6 people who had been elected to top ASA posts last year and the 6 people who were nominated for the three top posts this year. Today I got my December 2005 American Sociological Review (the flagship journal of the ASA). Being the last issue of the year, it contains the list thanking the 800 or so people who have engaged in the otherwise-thankless-task of reviewing at least one article for ASR in the past year. I wondered how well the two lists overlapped. The results:

[no] Judith D. Auerbach, American Foundation for AIDS Research
[yes] Randall Collins, University of Pennsylvania
[no] N. Jay Demerath III, University of Massachusetts
[no] Bonnie Thornton Dill, University of Maryland
[no] Evelyn Nakano Glenn, University of California-Berkeley
[yes] Arne L. Kalleberg, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
[yes] Michele Lamont, Harvard University
[no] Douglas McAdam, Stanford University
[yes] Victor Nee, Cornell University
[no] Frances Fox Piven, City University of New York
[no] Gay Seidman, University of Wisconsin-Madison
[yes] Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, University of Massachusetts-Amherst

I must admit, I would have expected that at least half the people sociology put into top leadership positions would have been active-in-the-past-year reviewers for sociology's top journal. What to make of this not being the case, however, I don't know.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


If you work on multiple machines (i.e., home and work), have appropriate rights on those machines, and have folders that you would like to keep synchronized, I've been playing with recently, and it seems very promising. If anyone knows about any problems with it that I haven't yet discovered (other than the 10,000 files per library limit), let me know. But otherwise, if you haven't heard of it and have syncing needs, you might want to check it out. I think it might obviate some/much of my need to lug my external HD back and forth.

Monday, December 26, 2005

who can take a nothing day and make it all suddenly seem worthwhile?

I'd sure you like to know, because this has ended up being a nothing day par excellence. One big highlight, though: Tina's tip to the free "Lazy Sunday" SNL video download available on iTunes (see also NYT story here). You can call us Aaron Burr from the way we're dropping Hamiltons is my current nominee for best single lyric of 2005, although I'm certainly open other suggestions.

how time turns a clash of titans into titan versus titanito

With the bowl season of college football upon us, has been doing these polls where they ask readers who would win a hypothetical game between various pairs of "all-time great" college teams. A couple days ago, they asked about a game between the 2005 USC Trojans and the legendary 1955 Oklahoma Sooners. I looked up the rosters. The average weight of an offensive lineman on the 1955 Sooners team was 201.6 pounds. For the 2005 Trojans, the average weight is 299.7 pounds. I tried to project from contemporaneous track-and-field times what the likely difference in the speed of skill position players, but instead all one can say that is that the Trojans players are "way faster." So, in this hypothetical game, the Sooners would be at a ridiculous disadvantage of size and speed. I am sure, however, they are more crafty or plucky or something.

Actually, I just looked up the roster for the 2005 Odessa Permian high school team (the school that was the subject of the book and movie Friday Night Lights). The average weight of an offensive lineman there is 229.3 pounds.

for sale. baby shoes. never worn.*

One of the tasks dispatched over Xmas was browsing the catalog of the Cambridge Center for Adult Education for Spring possibilities. Winetasting and Introductory Cooking turn out to be filled. I was thinking that I might take a class on "Short Short Fiction." You know, where the maximum is 200 or 1000 words, or even 55 in some variants. Anyway, it's either that or "Yoga/Pilates." (I think I'll postpone contemplating the possibility of "Adult Swimming for Beginners" until a warmer season--not that the pool will be any less indoors then, but travel to and fro would be less inconvenient.)

* Ernest Hemingway (see link for details).

Sunday, December 25, 2005

(long version of: an engine, not a camera. and not just any old engine, either.)

Consider the game of Go, which works better than chess only because computers are not now better than the best Go players and that point might contaminate intuition when thinking about chess. (You don't have to understand anything about Go for what follows, other than its a game where players take turns and no random element--e.g., dice--is involved.)

Imagine there was a academia-based enterprise called "Go Science." Along with whatever else, Go Science might have two projects, with the respective central questions being:

1. How do people who actually play go decide what moves to make? (descriptive)
2. How should people who play go decide what moves to make? (normative)

You can imagine the debates in Go Science about what real Go Scientists should be spending their time focused on, etc.. All the while, there is also this thing in the world that is the world of competitive Go, with big prizes to the winners.

You can also imagine that for the descriptive projects of Go Science the explanations for why people make the moves they do will fuss much about the distinction between: (1) moves are made because they are the optimal move if we assume people are trying to win the game, (2) moves that are suboptimal. Obviously, one can imagine a sprawling array of studies to understand how people come to make the optimal move in those times they do make it--in other words, optimal move-making is itself a thing to be explained. And, even more obviously, one can imagine the all the work of trying to understand why people, despite that they want to win and thus want to make the optimal move, fail to make the optimal move on the table.

It could be that, from the standpoint of understanding why players do what they do, the best route to understanding is not to make use of the information that the move the player made was the optimal. Like maybe people's styles of Go playing vary dramatically depending on whether they are from Japan or the US. In a particular situation the Japanese player makes the optimal move and the US player makes the suboptimal move, but in other situations the US style leads them to make the optimal move while the Japanese player would make the suboptimal move. Understanding why each made the move they did in some situation is to be explained by this cultural difference in style, an expalanation which works the same for the optimal and suboptimal case, and indeed the fact that the move the Japanese player made was "optimal" can actually be misleading if introduced into the explanation as the cause of the behavior.

Of course, one could only make this mistake of invoking the fact that the Japanese player's move was optimal as a cause of the player's behavior if there was some way of identifying the move as being, as far as could be discerned, optimal. Which is exactly what the normative arm of Go Science is trying to figure out.

There is, of course, a huge catch to all of this. If the normative arm of Go Science succeeds in figuring out the optimal move in a given situation where the US player makes the suboptimal move, then we might expect US players who hire Go Scientists as consultants will pick this up and start making the optimal move instead. And if the Japanese players didn't likewise make use of Go Scientists to figure out and provoke change in cases where they were making the suboptimal move, then we could expect the US players to start beating Japanese players regularly.

In the end, if Go players are capable of playing to the state-of-the-art of normative Go Science, then that is exactly how they will play. For the parts that Go Science has worked out, there is no individual 'style' of play if everyone is playing to win. Go Science, in this scenario, comes to "perform" Go, as the explanation of why a given move is performed in a given situation is to be found in the science, not the player who wins by allowing herself to be performed by the science.

Sure, maybe Go Science is wrong in its judgments of optimality sometimes. The error either goes undetected, or some enterprising Go player figures it out, and wins a big tournament because of it. And thus Go Science would change. Either you follow Go Science strategy, or you make a short-term gain but thereby contribute to Go Science.

The state-of-the-art findings of Go Science would result for some social process and are thus "social constructions," and yet explaining why these findings are state-of-the-art instead of some others would run up the issue that, as far as anyone can discern, they are right. One could imagine critics insinuating that Go Science is really a collective delusion, perhaps even using all kinds of complex prose in offering their arguments, but these critics would always be held in check by the point that they can't actually provide an alternative that wins on the board.

Go Science is made possible by the rules of Go. Indeed, the fact that Go Science is today a very uncertain endeavor and Chess Science is instead a successful project is to be found in the greater complexity of the former than the latter. Tic-Tac-Toe Science is something for which you figure out all its findings for yourself by the age of eleven. Meanwhile, something like Charades Science would certainly be able to provide people with strategy for better clues, etc., but you can't even talk coherently about one clue being best in all situations, etc.. Dating Science would be even harder, even though anyone could identify some things as better to do on a date than others, because of the fundamental divergences that exist outside of fraternity houses about what constitutes a "winning" date.

Economics is like a successful normative Go Science, and it works very well in situations where decisions are like Go. A question about economics is the extent to which its existence and success--or the success of the broader changes in cognitive technology of which advances in economics are part--result in the world reconfiguring itself to be more like a series of games of Go as opposed to being a series of games that range from Tic-Tac-Toe to Dating.

In other words, to what extent does an apparatus for figuring out the right move in well-defined but tricky situations put into play social processes that increase the extent to which the world is reconfigured to present actors with a series of problems that are well-defined but tricky? That is, does it increase the number of situations for which sophisticated levels of rational decision making become a handy tool indeed? One may even be able to imagine increasing kinds of differences in the fates of individuals based on their success in assembling patterns of behavior consistent with what economics would recommend versus those who, for various reasons, are not very good at assembling behavior patterns like this.

Although I realize no one is still reading this post, the last two paragraphs basically characterize the way that I think this century will go. Put together the three key components that protect the rational actor from predation: low preference malleability, high ability to make use of information, high time-consistency of preferences. These things should not be thought of as personality traits, necessarily, as people can change their environments to effectively make themselves better at these things despite themselves. But they basically comprise the three main fronts for the war of the colonization of individuals by various kinds of "consumerism," and, while already important, variation in these effective achievement of these three things will be increasingly vital for understanding why some people's lives turn out better than others.

time + money + energy + mailing + donner + blitzen

I got an Xmas card from my mother yesterday. It began with a sentence about the weather. It ended with "Love, Mom and Dad." Here was the rest:

Saturday, December 24, 2005

not even a mouse

Regardless of the reasons why one has come to be in the situation, the bottom line is that being thirty-four years old and facing an Xmas Eve and Xmas Day that will be spent completely alone does prompt some reflection about whether one's life is proceeding as it ought to be.* Not that I'm that find the solitude per se that unpleasant; it's just a particularly symbolic solitude, especially because you know all the merriment that is going on in other abodes elsewhere while you are sitting in your pajamas typing up a blog post.

In any case, 'tis what it is, and I'm not going to be overdoleful about it. Instead, I have decided that I am going to spend the time trying to take care of 100 different small life infrastructural things. I'm not sure I'll be able to come up with a list of 100, especially since some obvious candidates require business to be open as opposed to their employees spending happy time with their loved ones, but I am working on dispatching items on the list while I am working on generating new to-dos for it.

Each load of laundry, just to be clear, counts as a separate item toward the 100. Jogging today and jogging tomorrow also count as two separate items.

* Or, at least, this is the bottom line if one was raised in a relatively straightforward Xian tradition, even if one has strayed rather far from that in the intervening years.

asa & aa,a?

It took only five weeks after first being noted here in JFW, but prominent gender scholars in sociology have now also listservly noticed the curious difference in the gender distribution of those who won elections in 2005 and those who the relevant ASA committee assembled as the slate of candidates for 2006. The following was sent to the Sociologists for Women in Society listserv Thursday:*
Date: Thu, 22 Dec 2005 14:14:00 -0500
From: Judith Lorber
Subject: ASA 2006 ELECTIONS

Compare the results of the 2005 elections with the slate for 2006.
Affirmative action, anyone?

[2005 Election Winners]

Frances Fox Piven, City University of New York

Vice President-Elect
Bonnie Thornton Dill, University of Maryland

Council Members-at-Large
Judith D. Auerbach, American Foundation for AIDS Research
Evelyn Nakano Glen, University of California-Berkeley
Michele Lamont, Harvard University
Gay Seidman, University of Wisconsin - Madison

Candidates in 2006 ASA Election

Arne L. Kalleberg, University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill
Victor Nee, Cornell University

Vice President-Elect
Randall Collins, University of Pennsylvania
Douglas McAdam, Stanford University

N. Jay Demerath III, University of Massachusetts
Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, University of Massachusetts - Amherst
The issue came up recently again when I asked a friend and ASA member (who, if she reads this, knows who she is) if she still followed the rules she once told me for how she votes in ASA elections. In order, she votes for (1) people she knows and likes, (2) people whose work she knows and likes, (3) women, and (4) racial/ethnic minorities. Not that there is anything wrong with this! Or, um, necessarily wrong with this, would probably be closer to how I feel. In any event, there's not much that ends up being consequential about this, and certainly so in comparison to the continued male domination of certain other democracies that have a bit more power. Besides, I'm sure my friend is alone in the way she approaches the ASA elections, and everyone else carefully reads the candidate statements and casts ballots on the basis of those.

Anyway, the most interesting election from a sociology-of-sociology-and-gender standpoint is the race for Council: namely, seeing whether Dalton Conley, who I think would have been likely to win a seat otherwise, will still win after his recent NYT op-ed that provoked much disagreement from many sociologists (myself included, although I didn't blog about it).

* (Thanks to the SWS subscriber who forwarded this to me. The Lorber e-mail also included the slate of council candidates, which is also mostly men, although that count doesn't entirely reflect the slate chosen by the ASA committee because at least one candidate is on there by petition.)

eats shoots & loves

Among the things I will be glad to see gone when Xmas is over are all these Coke cans that say "give live love." I am removed from all television and radio culture, but I presume there is some accompanying media campaign that indicates that it is supposed to be understood as "give, live, love." I, being the grammatically unpresumptuous sort, do not naturally read commas into statements if they aren't actually there, so when it says "give live love" I read it as "give live love" and wonder if they are speaking out against those who would give dead love or those who would give tape-delayed love. Both are unfortunate, I suppose, especially here at Xmas time.

Friday, December 23, 2005

they tasted all right to me, earl

Lisa asked me to contribute a recipe to a informal cookbook she is putting together comprised of recipes from different people who have crossed her path in one way or another. Asking me to come up a recipe is a little like asking the parish priest for amorous advice, given that I don't cook. (Even so, strangely enough, this is the second time I've been asked to devise a recipe in the past year.) Anyway, I suspect Lisa is putting together the cookbook because she is approaching an especially nostalgia-provoking point in her life. Here seemed one propitious nostalgia candidate for Lisa and me, as reconstructed from Careyoke's karaoke recaps:
Lisa says: "Remember when Jeremy was Earl?" So what does she do? She sings "Goodbye, Earl" of course! And Jeremy plays Earl again. Earl explains to us what the FFA is and argues Earl’s innocence. Then he "dies." Though he does and then is resurrected (Happy Easter!) so that for every new chorus he can die again. Seriously. You need to see this. It is crazy. I’ll try to describe: During one death sequence, he knocks over the stool on the stage, drops the microphone, and flails around so much that Lisa has to get off the stage. Ang says: "Awesome convulsions!"" Lisa then puts her foot on his stomach, indicating how she has conquered Earl. Well done!
And so, here was the recipe I submitted:

8 ounces bacon
2 large onions, chopped
1 1/2 cups chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
2 cups chopped celery
3 cans (15 ounces each) black-eyed peas
3 tbsp. arsenic trioxide
1 can (4 ounces) chopped mild green chile pepper
1 bottle of Pinot Grigio wine
chopped pickled jalapeno pepper, to taste
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
Cook bacon until fat has rendered. With slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a large stockpot or kettle. To the bacon drippings add onions, green and red pepper, celery. Cook, stirring, until vegetables are tender. Add peas to the stockpot with bacon, then add the cooked onion and pepper mixture, chile pepper and jalapeno, and salt and pepper. Simmer over medium low heat for 30 minutes. Add arsenic. Serve hot to Earl. Drink wine. Wait. Taunt.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

sure, maybe we disagree on this, but what do you expect? i'm a pisces.

In terms of the cognitive health of America, I would immediately and gladly trade the one-time reading of a one-page statement about "intelligent design" in science classes for the elimination of horoscopes from newspapers.

and if i live to be a centenarian, i just don't think i'll get over that one girl from college who dumped me for a veternarian

Ever since seeing Garden State last week, I've had the line from that Colin Hay song in my head: If I live to be a hundred and two, I just don't think I'll ever get over you. Over and over again. Singing it to myself out loud (if softly) while I'm walking around Cambridge, without especially caring who overhears. I have no idea what this is about. I do know that whatever other luggage may be knocking about in the cargo hold of my my head, I do not suffer from the burden of some Insurmountable Person From My Past.

(And can I just say, thank God: for if there is anything I've learned from second-hand observation of certain relationships, it is that you should never try to keep a relationship going with a person once you come to realize that the person, no matter your relationship goes, will always think that The Great Love of Their Life was actually someone who preceded you.*)

Anyway, as such, it is patently ludicrous for me to be walking around singing I just don't think I'll ever get over you. So then I changed the lyrics and suspect whatever melodic loss is regrettably compensated by greater biographical accuracy: If I live to be a hundred and twelve, I just don't think I'll ever get over myself.

(Speaking of which: Dear God, I can be such a drama queen sometimes that it truly astounds and slightly frightens me. That's all I'm saying.)

* Unless, I suppose, the same is true for you as well.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

do you see a white stick protruding from my body anywhere? does it look like i'm wrapped in white paper with little pictures of fruit on it?

No! And do you know why not? Because I'm not a sucker, that's why not! That's all I'm saying.

the kind of post i write when I am preoccupied by things i am not going to post about

Remember Belinda Carlisle's song "Heaven is a Place on Earth"? Remember when she wails "Baby I was afraid before / But I'm not afraid anymore"? Substitute "naïve" for "afraid." That's all I'm saying.

(Except that you should know that, even when I am preoccupied, I still care enough about you as to figure out what the html code is for an i-with-an-umlaut, rather than just typing "naive.")

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

tales of acadreamia

Back when I was a college student, I would sometimes have this dream where it was the end of the semester and I discovered that, through some technicality, I had not dropped a class that I had thought I had dropped, and so there were all these assignments and midterms I had zeroes on and I was supposed to take a final exam for a class that I had never attended.

Back when I first started teaching, I would sometimes have this dream where, through some mix-up, I thought I was supposed to give a lecture on one topic and then, only a couple minutes before class started, did I realize that it was supposed to be on a different topic. (Now that I know a bit more about teaching, that this scenario would rise to the level of a 'nightmare' is now rather amusing.)

Meanwhile, as a reflection of my career "progress," here are two dreams I've had in the past couple weeks:

1. I am giving a PowerPoint presentation at a conference on a project that I'm doing with a collaborator. As I start the presentation, I learn that the collaborator has inserted all these weird slides that he thought would be "cute" or "funny," but for which I didn't know what I was supposed to say to accompany them or even how they were at all connected to the presentation.

2. I am attending a talk given by a candidate for a position in my department. While the presenter is charming, I appear to be the only one who can tell that what he is saying doesn't really make any sense. After listening to the Q&A for awhile, I begin an exasperated line of questioning, which is answered with even more charismatically deliveraed but mostly nonsensical answers. I continue this line of questioning, and continue to get these utterly unintelligible answers from the speaker that are met with smiles and nods from the rest of the audience, until eventually the chair keeps trying to cut me off and everyone is looking at me like I am an incredible jerk.

remember 'remember the president who won two wars?'?

Alone perhaps, I continue to find it intriguing how the question in Iraq has gone from "Will we lose the peace?"* to "Will we lose the war?" In a fit of morning nostalgia, this led me to re-read this post from Ann Althouse. How well the post has worn with thirteen months of intervening history is left as an exercise for the reader.

* See, e.g., this interview with Howard Dean from July 2003. One quote: "We had estimates before we went into Iraq that this was going to be over within 18 months, then it got to two years, then four years. I believe that we are going to be there for a very long time... We cannot afford to lose the peace in Iraq under any circumstances, and yet this president seems to be handcuffed in terms of his ability to straighten the situation out over there."

Monday, December 19, 2005

many people like watercolors. some just like water-color.

I learned something new about my friend Elbert when he was visiting recently. His second- and third-favorite colors are white and "chocolate," respectively. So he's already out there on the margins of the color wheel. But his favorite color of all, he insists, is clear.

"That's not allowed. Clear isn't a color."
"Yes, it is."

So, that's that. Why Crayola doesn't issue a crayon in its jumbo pack that contains no dye and just makes the paper all shiny, I don't know.

more yule blog cheer

You do understand that a gift card is basically an interest-free loan to whatever company issues the gift card, right? I am amazed that there are companies that start deducting value from a gift card if it goes unused for such-and-such a time, when the longer gift cards go unused, the more money the company makes. You also understand that the key nonsymbolic difference between a gift card and just giving somebody cash is that by giving somebody a gift card you force the recipient to spend the money where you want them to spend it, as opposed to where they might otherwise prefer to spend it? Not that I haven't given gift cards as gifts, and not that I haven't been touched by gift cards I've received from others. I'm just, you know, saying.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

memorandum from the firm of dasher, dancer, prancer, and vixen

Turns out, for a complicated set of reasons, my plans to make a return trip to the Freese Family Farm for Xmas have been abandoned, meaning that I will be here in Cambridge by myself for the holiday. I am not sure yet what I am going to do. Contrary to what you might otherwise predict, however, I assure you that I will not be spending the day swilling white wine and watching a DVD of A Charlie Brown Christmas over and over again on my monitor.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

science is magic that works*

(actually, as we were to learn, we had the 3-D glasses on backwards. instead of looking three-dimensional, wearing the glasses backwards makes everything on the screen look like it has collapsed to a single point.)

My friend Kathryn came a-calling to Cambridge yesterday. We went to the science museum. Whenever I end up on my deathbed, I suspect I will look back over the whole of my life and regret that I did not spend more time in science museums. I did use this particular excursion, though, to make my very first Flickr photoset.

Hanging out with Kathryn is always fun, even though we are very different in my ways. For example, to me, the word "noon" is pronounced with only one syllable. Also, she completely kicked my [slang term for posterior] when we went head-to-head on this "dexterity and coordination" test they had which involved putting little yellow shapes in their proper holes (indeed, she posted the best time of this day, while me, as is typical for cognitive tasks that also require fine motor skills, finished well below the mean).

* From Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle, and a recurrent signature quote used by Jeremy Freese, inveterate e-mailer and spasmodic technophile.

Friday, December 16, 2005

anagrams of 'jersey, free me!'

I rented and watched Garden State last night. To the several dozen folks who recommended this film as one they thought I might like: why didn't you recommend it more emphatically? I don't watch that many films, but Garden State is my favorite film of any I've seen since ETotSM, which is my favorite film.

Angela recently asked people to name the first album they owned. Mine was Business as Usual, by Men at Work. I knew that Colin Hay, the former frontman for Men at Work, had a song on the Garden State soundtrack--indeed, this was supposed to be a real career rejuvenating coup for him. So as I was watching the film I was waiting for it. It's a strangely sweet love song, and thus I was expecting the romance in the film to develop in a direction that would make the song relevant. And then, there it was, for all of seven seconds, as they finish burying a hamster: I just don't think I'll ever get over you.

BTW, it's Beethoven's birthday today. I may forget the birthdays of various friends and relatives, etc., but every time I see December 16th on the calendar, I think "Beethoven's birthday." Not because I have any erudition in classical music. But because Schroeder made a big deal out of it once in a series of Peanuts strips I read when I was seven, and I've never been able to shake that fact from my head in the years since. All the encyclopediae of useful or interesting things that I've forgotten over the years, but, Beethoven's birthday, that I will apparently remember always. Worst of all, it's not even actually his birthday.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

it's not just krugman you're missing by not having a subscription to times select

Maureen Dowd, today:
Never ask a guy who's in a bubble if he's in a bubble. He can't answer.

'Cause he's in a bubble.

But the NBC anchor Brian Williams gamely gave it a shot, showing the president the Newsweek cover picturing him trapped in a bubble.

"This says you're in a bubble," Brian told W. "You have a very small circle of advisers now. Is that true? Do you feel in a bubble?"

"No, I don't feel in a bubble," Bubble Boy replied, unable to see the bubble because he's in it. "I feel like I'm getting really good advice from very capable people and that people from all walks of life have informed me and informed those who advise me." He added, "I'm very aware of what's going on."

He swiftly contradicted himself by admitting that "this is the first time I'm seeing this magazine"


Brian struggled to learn whether W. read anything except one-page memos. Talking about his mom, Bubble Boy returned to the idea of the bubble: "If I'm in a bubble, well, if there is such thing as a bubble, she's the one who can penetrate it."

"I'll tell the guys at Newsweek," the anchor said impishly.

"Is that who put the bubble story?" W. asked. First he didn't know about it, and now he's forgotten it already? That's the alluring, memory-cleansing beauty of the bubble.
With the last remark, I was reminded of the time my stoned-and-psycho freshman roommate woke me up in the middle of the night to say, "Dude, I was at a party and met this girl named Tracy. I think she could be the one to break down my psychological barriers." As it turned out, Tracy was not interested in such demolition work. I did end up becoming friends with Tracy myself later, although by that time she was known more around campus by her nickname, Satan. I suppose it is better that our president has his mother to penetrate his barriers rather than Satan, even if Satan is married now with a kid somewhere in the Chicagoland area.

the full thonty

Okay, so I haven't been running since the half-marathon on Thanksgiving Day. No matter:

Sal is doing it, too. You should join us. I mean, I could try to encourage you by saying that if I can do it, you can do it. But, come on, let's be real here: if Sal can do it, you can certainly do it.

m-i-c-k-e-(die) m-o-u-s-e

Someone I know here at Harvard does work where she has to Kill Mice For Science. Apparently she had to kill another ten the other day. Before coming to Harvard, she would just break their necks. Now, she still breaks their necks, but apparently Harvard rules are such that she has to anesthetize them first. Interestingly, however, she says the rules do not permit her to just anesthetize them all the way to death. Instead: sleep, crunch. The only other permissible way is to kill them is by asphyxiation: you put them in a canister that pumps in CO2, so all they can breathe in is what they are supposed to be breathing out. She says she's done this before but won't anymore because she regards it as not unequivocally humane.

My own preferences, just in case I die and am reincarnated as a mouse in a lab (which, karmically speaking, I can't claim would be undeserved): anesthetize to death, anesthetize and broken neck, broken neck, trapped in a glass container with the wrong kind of air.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

monotonicity and my head

There are plainly days when people actually get less older in at least one important sense: there are days when a person's health can improve in ways such that an accurate actuarial reckoning of how long the person has to live is actually more at the end of the day than it was at the beginning.

Meanwhile, there is no sense in which there is any day when I am getting less balder.

Monday, December 12, 2005

i hate being this sick of winter already when it isn't even, technically speaking, winter yet

C'mon solstice!

pretty in pepto-bismol pink

"I don't like the blue."
"I was getting sick of the purple."
"Purple is my favorite color."
"It's historically been my second-favorite color, but now I'm going through a winter of purple discontent."
"My second-favorite color is pink."
"Really? What kind of pink? Pepto-Bismol pink? Conjunctivitis pink?"
"Ick. Have you ever had conjunctivitis?"
"Yeah, it's awful."
"It's more than awful. If I were going to name things I hate, the first would be lice, and the second would be conjunctivitis."
"Hmm, for me, the first would be cooties, and the second would be genocide."
"You can't say genocide. It's not in the same category."
"I thought the category was things we hate. You don't hate genocide?"
"Lice and genocide aren't the same thing."
"Lice and conjunctivitis aren't the same thing. The third thing I would name would be olive green."
"Aren't cooties and lice the same thing?"
"I think the term cooties is broader. It includes, like, crabs as well."
"Crabs are lice."
"Oh. I wouldn't know, to be perfectly honest."

Sunday, December 11, 2005

global search and replace

All you have to do is take the whole of social theory, search for the terms "limits" and "constraints", replace these with "resistances", and various assertions about human affairs become so much more plausible. I know every year we have some political issue that members of the American Sociological Association proffer up a resolution about, but couldn't we do this one year instead?

Any proclamations about limits with respect to human beings or the institutions they staff is just so, ugh, limiting. Why can't the word just be abolished, plowed into the lexical soil along with barrels of salt so that it will never sprout again?

freakasso's blue period

I decided to change template colors. Out with the red & purple, in with the black & blue. No, one should not infer anything about my mood from this change. In fact, in a fit of enthusiasm from my recent readings on synthetic dyes, I wanted to make the whole thing mauve, but I couldn't get it to look good. Not that the black & blue particularly looks good, I guess. What can I say? I was in a mood.

Let me know what you think. And put a tack in my map if you haven't. I'm only four away from having 100 from ostensibly different persons, at which point I will shut up about it.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

(by request) the massively-maligned tie i wore for my talk in madison

(Photo courtesy of Sal)

And no, just in case you were wondering, I did not deliver the entire talk clutching a beer in one hand and my laptop power cord in the other.

Friday, December 09, 2005

crumpets denied

(the view outside my window RIGHT NOW)

I was invited to a Holiday High Tea at Harvard today. At least for someone who grew up in a dilapidated house in rural Iowa, there is something very alluring about the idea of being able to say that you went to a High Tea at Harvard once. Turns out, however, that the allure is still wealth than the disincentive to perambulation presented by the blizzard currently underway outside, as there is no way I am going outside in this.

currently on sale

(link here)

...four calling birds, three heart attacks, two turtle doves...

If I ever teach the concept of causal inference from discontinuity again, the graph above is an example I will use. The graph is the stock price of Merck (a corporation sufficiently large as to be one of the 30 used to compute the Dow Jones index). Sometime during this two year period, Merck withdrew the drug Vioxx from the market amidst safety concerns. I'll leave it as an exercise for the blogpost reader as to exactly when they think this event occurred.

(Merck is in the news today because an "expression of concern" has been published by the New England Journal of Medicine over the strange omission of three cardiovascular events among patients taking Vioxx in trial results published in NEJM four years before Vioxx was withdrawn. So much can be said about those three heart attacks. For anybody interested in the intersection of corpora of knowledge, corporations, and corpses, the Vioxx story is absolutely, utterly, completely fascinating. If any such person is casting about for, say, a thesis topic, the intellectual possibilities of Vioxx as a case study are enormous. I mean, just look at the graph above and realize how much Merck had riding on the science of Vioxx panning out.)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

sorry for not writing lately. you see, i've been writing lately.

Actually I've been doing a number of other things in addition to writing, including such exciting things as losing my cel phone and brooding, but those do not make for as recursively cutesy post titles.

Monday, December 05, 2005


I just realized that today is the fifth anniversary of my dissertation defense. And already this trip back to Madison has occasioned much reflection about The Direction Of Things on various life fronts.

Friday, December 02, 2005


Time talk would have taken if delivered at optimal pace given its length: 50 minutes.

Time Jeremy projected talk would take, given that he knows he often goes "a little fast" during talks: 45 minutes.

Time talk actually took: 34 minutes, 50 seconds.

Necktie bought for the occasion: Widely maligned.

Talk: Went over better than the necktie, at least.

And now: Done.

the showring awaits

Two and a half hours before my talk. After going to all the effort to buy a tie that matched my PowerPoint slide, I did a surprisingly sloppy job shaving this morning and also have a cold that raises the possibility that I may be hocking up phlegm on the first row.

Anyway, if there was anything I learned from my father's many years of raising purebred sheep on the farm, it was that it's a lot more fun to go to the county fair when you know you've got a good sheep. Way back when in '99 when I gave my job talk here in Madison, I knew I had a pretty good sheep. Today, I feel like this Mary's got a spindly and sclerotic little lamb. Serves me right for trying to put together a new talk for the occasion rather than just going with a talk I already had given somewhere else.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

as if

As if I am going to post anything today. I am working on the departmental lecture that I am giving tomorrow. Its title was developed over the course of an acceleratingly maniacal series of e-mails with the person assigned the responsibility of getting me to cough up a title after I kept putting it off. As a result, I've violated one of the fundamental rules of academic titles, which is that it is acceptable to be cutesy either before or after the colon, but never both. (The part before the colon is a pun on one of the more influential books to come out of Wisconsin sociology, Opportunity and Change.)

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

(madison) honestly?

I'm so happy to be back in Madison for a week. It's a wonderful place. (Nothing against Cambridge, of course.) I'm sort of surprised I haven't been back earlier.

An intriguing thing about Cambridge is that I think the way that I have developed my habits and haunts there has basically made it as Madison-like as possible. In other words, I've shrunk the Boston metropolitan area to where it is basically the walkable part of a college town. What this says about me and my ultimate geosocial preferences will be left as an exercise for the reader.

Not to say that back in Cambridge I don't enjoy taking Red Line to Green Line to various things in Boston proper, but doing so feels like an excursion to somewhere else, rather than really part of the place where I'm living.

(madison) the pole prevails

Tonight's riveting dispute to prompt the opening of the laptops: the proper pronunciation of banal. The proprietress of NinaNet said it rhymes with canal, she mentioned a fellow blogger friend who said it's just like "anal" only with a b on the front, and I've always pronounced it BUH-nahl. According to, all three are correct, but the tiebreaker of order goes to rhymes-with-canal.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

nominee, jfw award for dutch-iest citation ever

From Pricing the Priceless, page 160:
"A variety of an outlier scheme is the ceding ex ante of expected high-cost patients to a common pool (van Barneveld, van Vliet, and van de Ven 1986)."

Monday, November 28, 2005

2, 4, 6, 8, with what should you medicate! zoloft! zoloft! yay, zoloft!

Seriously, before you move on to the next blog you read, check out this story in the NYT on the recruiting of college cheerleaders as drug reps. It provokes so many different thoughts from different angles that I find myself unable to articulate anything specific about it.

Except that: Consider the question of why, given that there are many other lucrative careers in sales, there might be a particular premium in the pharmaceuticals industry. Especially since drug reps are not supposed to be selling at all, really, but just providing information so that physicians can make a better decision about which drugs to prescribe. I mean, isn't it interesting that there would be an especial premium for attractiveness in an industry where the "salesperson" in not interacting directly with the consumer, but rather with an agent who is supposed to be serving on behalf of the consumer but doesn't do any of the purchasing (or, for that matter, consuming) himself?*

Article highlight #1:
Mr. Reidy remembered a sales call with the "all-time most attractive, coolest woman in the history of drug repdom." At first, he said, the doctor "gave ten reasons not to use one of our drugs." But, Mr. Reidy added: "She gave a little hair toss and a tug on his sleeve and said, 'Come on, doctor, I need the scrips.' He said, 'O.K., how do I dose that thing?'."
Article highlight #2:
[P]harmaceutical companies deny that sex appeal has any bearing on hiring. "Obviously, people hired for the work have to be extroverts, a good conversationalist, a pleasant person to talk to; but that has nothing to do with looks, it's the personality," said Lamberto Andreotti, the president of worldwide pharmaceuticals for Bristol-Myers Squibb.
I mean, regarding the second remark, if companies offer statements like this about the people the hire, what should you think about the statements they make about the effectiveness and safety of the things you put in your body?

* Yes, this was a deliberate use of the gendered pronoun.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

we're running to the chapel and she's gonna get ma-a-arried

Still morose because you haven't found that special someone? Well, maybe I can help. See, apparently all you have to do is run a 1/2 with me, and, within three days, you'll be engaged! It's worked every time so far!

Indeed, there was another person who originally signed up to run the 1/2 marathon with Madame Simpleton and I, but then he backed out at the last minute. Apparently-- and I know you aren't going to believe this--he's also become engaged in the last three days. (Yes, really! I'm not making this up!) So perhaps all you need to do is sign up to run with me, as long as I go through with it.

In any case: Congratulations, Madame Simpleton and Mister Simpleton-Elect!!! (And you know I'm excited if I'm using multiple exclamation points, as normally I hate that.)


In my efforts to be a good citizen for public sociology, I just wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times. Because the NYT has a policy of not publishing letters if they have any appearance elsewhere, I can't post it so long as there's hope they might publish it. But it was in response to this part of today's editorial:
All elderly Americans can use software on the Medicare Web site to help pick the best plan for them. Beneficiaries can type in such data as the drugs and dosages they use, the pharmacies they patronize, and the premiums and deductibles they would prefer. Presto, they get a list of plans that meet their criteria, the estimated annual cost of those plans, and, with another click of the mouse, suggestions on how to cut costs further by picking cheaper drugs. The Web site may be daunting to those who are inexperienced with the Internet, but it should offer their computer-savvy friends and advisers a valuable tool to sort through the options.
I will leave it as an exercise for JFW readers as to what might irritate me about this paragraph. Those aware of certain recent directions of my research have an advantage.

Saturday, November 26, 2005


I got a course catalog today in the mail from the Cambridge Adult Education Center. I know a couple people here who have reported taking classes and finding them interesting, and so I thought about the idea of signing up for one myself. You know how I have this thing where I am otherwise wholly secular in my thinking, but I believe fate takes control of my hands and eyes and makes meaningful the first thing I see when I open up a book (example here). Anyway, I opened up this catalog full of enthusiasm and what do I see:

Ugh. I don't want to "Master the Art of Aloneness." I just thought maybe I could maybe learn how to paint watercolors or make bouillabaisse, okay? I'm still surly from looking at this famous New Yorker cartoon:

and being struck with the thought that basically the whole process by which people go about making connections to people in a new city has proven itself over the years to be My Own Personal Step Two. Double ugh.

Friday, November 25, 2005


I had two personal goals for the half marathon: finish without having to stop and without losing control of my bodily functions. Turns out this was setting the bar a little low. I think I could have run the entire marathon at the same leisurely pace that we ran the half. I know I could have run the whole marathon, and probably at a faster pace, if I would have kept to the running schedule I was on before the drastic reduction due to knee and cold disincentives. So now I'm contemplating signing up for the marathon in Madison on May 28th. Madame Simpleton?* Anyone else?

* Also known as the Best Running Partner Ever. Not all that long ago, Madame Simpleton would go running with me when I could only run about a mile before having to stop. Later, she indulged me when I insisted on reciting lyrics from Kirsty MacColl's "Terry" as inspiration before we began the final push to the end of our runs. During the half marathon, she was patient in allowing me to engage in a near-constant commentary on how awesome we were, and she went along when I insisted on punctuating the sentiment with high-fives at regular intervals.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

champs like us, baby we were born to run

(official number, finisher's medal, and the "Life is Good" and "Everybody Loves a Country Boy" t-shirts worn during the race)

P.eS.zter: Note this is my first use of Flickr for a post. And I figured out how to do it all by myself. Certain flickr-flogging-bloggers would be so proud.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Writing this post from my phone. I'm on my way to Atlanta for the half marathon. I am desperately underprepared for this, and keep thinking that I feel like a grad student who is about to take a prelim after only studying for a couple days. I can either have a positive outcome or a just one, but not both. Fans of fairness, root for me to wheeze and fail.

This is as light as I have ever traveled by air before: one not very full backpack. The only clothes I've packed are what I plan to wear to the race. So, of course, I managed to accidentally spill Coke Zero all over my pants while getting on the subway. At least one advantage of looking incontinent while you travel is that other people give you a wide berth.

Madame Simpleton, her partner, and I are supposed to meet at 6:30am tomorrow. None of us are bringing our cel phones to the race but instead we are counting on having a foolproof plan for making sure we find each other amidst the 8000 other halfthoners. This feels weirdly risky. How did people ever coordinate with confidence before cel phones?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

your honor, my client is far too cute to incarcerate

From the AP:
TAMPA, Fla. - A female teacher pleaded guilty Tuesday to having sex with a 14-year-old student, avoiding prison as part of a plea agreement.
Debra Lafave, 25, will serve three years of house arrest and seven years' probation. She pleaded guilty to two counts of lewd and lascivious battery. [...]

[Her lawyer] said in July that plea negotiations had broken off because prosecutors insisted on prison time, which he said would be too dangerous for someone as attractive as Lafave. He said then that she planned to plead insanity at trial, claiming emotional stress kept her from knowing right from wrong.
Three observations:

1. My guess is that it is not at all rare for 25-year-old teachers to get busted for sexual entanglements with 14-year old students. What is instead rare is for it to make national news. It's interesting that the reason that this particular case has made the national news is so plain: not just because it is a female teacher and a male student, but because it's a really attractive young female teacher and a male student. How often do you have a news story play so blatantly off the idea that there are all kinds of guys out there who will read this story and feel envious of the crime victim? I can only imagine the comments being made In The Company Of Men in bars across the country when this woman is shown on TV and the newscaster announces she's been "convicted of lewd and lascivious battery..." (No, I am not one of these men.)

I just Googled her name and see that, in addition to various fan sites, she also has her own Wikipedia entry.

2. My understanding is that there is already ample evidence suggesting that attractive people get off with lighter sentences for crimes, but it's refreshing to see someone trying try to make the argument directly as opposed to hoping that psychological/pheromonal biases go their way.

3. If she would have managed to get the insanity defense to fly with a jury for this, that would prove beyond all reasonable doubt that attractive people's lives follow entirely separate laws of social physics from those that govern the rest of us.

Monday, November 21, 2005

the continued oratorical misadventures of jeremy freese

I gave a talk today here in Orlando. When I finished the slides for the presentation, I figured that I really had about a 18 minute talk and would have to move at a good clip in order to get it done in the 15 minutes I was allotted. But, then, when I got there, I learned that a scheduling problem reduced my slot to 12 minutes, and then give some issues with the set-up after the preceding speaker had finished and some other matters, it was really maybe on the short side of 11.

In such contexts, I often turn out to give impressive presentations, but they are impressive not for their substance or insight but because of how fast I can speak and still manage to sound as though I'm saying things that, were they said slower, would be reasonable and perhaps even sporadically eloquent. And, lo, while I did also get some positive remarks on the substance, once again more than one spectator offered a reaction that was mainly a marvel at my vroom-vroom-volubility-velocity.

"I wish I could talk that fast and still make sense," was one person's comment. On other occasions, such a remark might be the highest praise I receive for a talk. Today, however, that honor went to another person's statement that the opening example I gave for my paper "grabbed the audience by the [spanish word for a part of the body where, had I actually grabbed even one audience member by it/them, I would be languishing in a squalid Disney jail right now.]

Sunday, November 20, 2005

the biggest disappointment of his presidency was not being able to convince it to join the league of foundations

Clarification: the nonprofit organization sponsoring the health care policy program that has brought me to Harvard is the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It is not, as a certain person down here referred to it, the Woodrow Wood Wilson Foundation.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

(orlando) i got the some-day-my-prince-will-come-but-until-then-bibbiti-bobbiti blues

I'm in Orlando for the Gerontology Society of America meetings. Tonight I went with a group of people to the House Of Blues at "Downtown Disney." You might wonder how Disney goes about Disneyfying the already credibility-suspect House of Blues and tonight the secret was made plain as soon as we were seated: for, lo, there isn't actually blues at the Disney House of Blues. Instead, what's playing in background is neither blues nor loud enough for you to really hear ver well even though it was blues. According to our server, they do have live blues three times a week (Thursday through Saturday), but then only after 11pm. And, tonight, we stayed around 'til past 11 so we could hear the live blues at the House of Blues. But it wasn't blues at all; it was basically an especially well-meaning flavor of zydeco, with a woman whaling away at a wearable washboard as its main instrumental highlight.

The House of Blues does have a music venue next door which has various acts come play. The Christian-turned-crossover-turned-Christian-turned-autotribute metal band Stryper, for instance, is on their November schedule. As is Cyndi Lauper, and I shouted something at a man out front who said something mocking about her (yes, I really did this). Tonight, however, the featured act was Biz Markie, with tickets priced at $45. I told the server that while we weren't going to the show, I would gladly play at least twice that for a picture of myself with Mr. Markie. She expressed some skepticism of whether I was just making up my enthusiasm for Biz Markie, upon which I immediately provided an essentially perfect rendition of the chorus of "Just a Friend" (yes, I really did this). Unfortunately, she came back and told us that Biz Markie had apparently cancelled his performance for this evening, so no photo opportunity would be available.

Friday, November 18, 2005


I found this in one of my books this evening. The handwriting is mine. It used to be that everything that mattered happened recently.

It's true statement, really, or at least true for me for over the last few years. It used to be everything that happened either happened not that long ago or happened when I was, to greater or lesser degree, still a kid. Now I say things like "Oh, that was 10 years ago" or "I haven't seen so-and-so in 7 or 8 years," with no sense of irony, because there is none.

Even so, when did I write this? Did I make it up, or did I take it from somewhere? And why did I write it on a sheet of memo pad that says "We were just friends who had sex"? Where did that come from? When in my life was I writing with a gold pen?

It used to be that I would only write something like this down if it struck me as especially interesting. When would I have thought this observation was interesting enough to write down?

And when would I have used it as a bookmark? It used to be that I was so absent-minded that everything that mattered would end up getting used as a bookmark: paychecks, my phone card, ketchup packets, kleenex.

It used to be that everything I'd written I'd remember having written. Now I keep getting confronted with random instantiations of my thoughts and having no idea of their provenance, or even if they were my thoughts or just my transcribing someone else's. It used to be that I knew when I was stealing material from other people. It used to be that I knew when I was repeating myself. For that matter, it used to be that I knew when I was repeating myself.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

ask not for whom the bus stops

One morning a few weeks ago, a woman here was hit by a bus as she was crossing the street at a perfectly ordinary intersection near where I live. Supposedly it was completely her fault--she just stepped out in front of it. I don't know how badly she was injured, or even if she survived. Regardless, my thought was: what kind of moron gets hit by a bus? Buses are, after all, quite conspicuous and travel more slowly than the median motor vehicle. I wondered if maybe she was mentally ill, or maybe it was a suicide attempt, or maybe she was a highly-driven Harvard supergenius who was so absorbed in her ideas about making nuclear fusion from maple syrup that she was just oblivious.

Late this afternoon, during my run, I almost got hit by a bus. Same freaking intersection, maybe, or no more than a block away from it. I looked to my right, and I saw a bus coming but not too close. I looked to my left, and there was a car coming but not too close. So, still looking to the left, I took a couple strides to bound through the intersection. Then I glanced back to the right, and the bus was RIGHT THERE. It's like somebody put the bus on superfastforward while I was looking to my left. So now I'm wondering if there's some kind of optical illusion under which the Cambridge buses look farther away than they are.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

jfwwe smackdown!

So, Tom has written a critique of my post about Krugman's column about the doughnut hole. Some things to keep in mind: Tom (a) has approximately the same basic values about the socially just and good as I do, (b) knows more about the general issues about insurance pricing than I do, (c) knows more about the specific issues about the plan than I do, and (d) has thought more about all this than I have. For that matter, he also (e) has more money than I do, (f) is married, (g) has ridiculously adorable kids, and (h) is taller. At some point, one has to recognize when one is probably arguing the Flying Spaghetti Monster side in a debate, even if one doesn't understand quite how.

Still, given that history has proven amply that I am no lover, I might as well be a fighter. However, I don't want to offer a counterargument. That would, after all, require considerable contemplation and, worse, work. Instead, I want to offer a bet. A beer, say, to be settled five years from now.

Understand that there are basically four parts to the "template" of the Medicare prescription drug plan:
(1) the first deductible (to $250)
(2) the first coverage ($251-$2850, 75% coverage)
(3) the second deductible ("the doughnut hole," $2851-$5100)
(4) the second coverage ($5101+, 95% coverage)
My wager is that when people of the Rational Liberal stripe are talking about this bill five years from now, one part will be regarded as a bigger mistake than the others. And it won't be (3). It will be (4).

(No, this is not me just choosing a number other than 3 at random. This is based on my belief that, at the end of the day, I may well have underestimated the pathology of the doughnut hole, but the greater pathology remains the American refusal to discipline drug prices through any of the means other countries do. I could be wrong about what implications this will ultimately have for the Medicare plan, but, spiritedly, I'm willing to bet on it.)

gender curiosities in the two main democracies of my life, revisited

If you flip a coin 18 times, the chances of getting either >15 heads or >15 tails is less than one in a hundred. By the astrological standards that govern publication in the social sciences, this means the result is divergent enough from what is expected by chance to be worthy of two stars.

Nonetheless, a few months ago some people were annoyed with me for noting that in the most recent election of the American Sociological Association, 15 of the 18 elections were won by women (including all of the top 6). I posted it mainly I was struck by the point that I participate in two democracies, both with relatively equal proportions of male and females, but one (my government) elects overwhelmingly men and the other (my professional association) had just elected overwhelmingly women.

Yesterday, I spent a couple minutes at the Harvard Coop leafing through Dick "Dick" Morris's book speculating about a forthcoming electoral showdown of Condi vs. Hillary. After a streak of forty-three consecutive XYs in the Yte house, he proposes the streak would be broken by having two women face off.

Today, I was looking up something on the ASA website, and I've noticed that next year's ASA slate of candidates is out. Check it out:
Arne L. Kalleberg, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
Victor Nee, Cornell University

Vice President-Elect
Randall Collins, University of Pennsylvania
Douglas McAdam, Stanford University

N. Jay Demerath III, University of Massachusetts
Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, University of Massachusetts – Amherst

Council Members-at-Large
Dalton Conley, New York University
Mary Pattillo, Northwestern University
Brian Powell, Indiana University
Mary Romero, Arizona State University
Ruben Rumbaut, University of California - Irvine
Rogelio Saenz, Texas A&M University
Thomas M. Shapiro, Brandeis University
C. Matthew Snipp, Stanford University

Committee on Publications
Ronald Aminzade, University of Minnesota
Amy S. Wharton, Washington State University
Howard Winant, University of California – Santa Barbara
Yu Xie, University of Michigan
15 men, 3 women. And 6 men and 0 women running against each other in the 3 head-to-head elections.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

every generation has its own vicious cycle

Public service announcement from the 1980s:

Conversations I have had with more than one person in the 2000s:

the amazing adventures of larry, the guy who can only take in one new piece of information at a time

Author's note: My favorite edible discovery in Cambridge so far has been a modified version of the Magnolia sandwich at Darwin's Ltd..

"I'll have a Magnolia please, with cheese but without tomatoes or sprouts."
[vacantly] "One Magnolia. Cheese?"
"Yes. No tomatoes or sprouts."
"No tomatoes."
"Or sprouts."
"No sprouts."

[proceeds to make sandwich, omitting cheese. wraps and tries to hand to customer.]
"Did you put cheese on this?"
[polite stare, but stare nonetheless]
"No." [takes sandwich back]

Incidentally, so far as I can tell, it's not that Larry's dumb. Or that he's surly, alienated, oppressed, malingering labor. Instead, the most plausible hypothesis seems just that he's stoned out of his mind. I wouldn't begrudge him this, if he could just remember the cheese. And keep his controlled substances away from my sandwich, of course.

Monday, November 14, 2005

an avuncular moment regarding article titles

I received received a paper to review. In the interests of discretion, I am not going to say what its title is here. But it's something analogous to "Forty Dependent Variables." Please, please, please, PLEASE, anyone who reads this blog and submits research articles for publication, do NOT do this. Your article can be titled "Forty Dependent Variables: [something indicating what the paper is about]." You can put anything you want in front of the colon--I'm probably more a fan of precious stuff in front of the colon than I should be--so long as the part of the title after the colon gives some idea what the paper is about. But don't give your manuscript a title that provides absolutely no indication as to its substantive content.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

dispatch from the ministry of unusually apt surnames

"BROOKLYN CENTER, Minnesota (AP) -- Police shut down a suburban shopping mall Saturday after screaming fans of the boy band B5 rushed the stage during a free concert, grabbing at the band members' clothing and overwhelming the small team of security guards.

'Things were falling off the stage, girls were falling off the stage, girls started fighting,' said Theresa Curtis, who was working at a store near the stage. [...]

'It just seemed like a girl frenzy,' said Christopher Taykalo of Radio Disney. [...]

B5 is a group of five brothers from Atlanta -- Dustin, Patrick, Kelly, Bryan and Carnell Breeding -- ages 10 to 17...

i mean, if one can take down os/2, netscape, and almost apple, why should one be intimidated by a little mosquito?

It just blows my mind how little money has been spent on malaria research. What has prevented the rich world from attempting this? I just keep asking myself, Do we really not care because it doesn't affect us? Is that what it is? Human suffering as a result of malaria is incomparable. By many measures, it's easily the worst thing on the planet. I refuse to accept it. I refuse to sit there and say, O.K., next problem, this one doesn't bother me. It does bother me. Very much. And the only way for that to change is to stop malaria. So that is what we are going to have to do.*
You know, if somebody has to be the richest person in the world, we could certainly do worse than Bill Gates. I mean, I do understand that he could be spending his money even better--like building a museum to celebrate Jimi Hendrix, or building Madison an acoustically awesome cultural center--but trying to singlehandedly make up for the market perversity that makes erectile dysfunction drugs more attractive to pharmaceutical manufacturers than malaria medicine does seem a more laudable expenditure than, say, spending tens of millions of dollars to buy your name onto a building at an already overendowed university.

* Bill Gates, as quoted in 10/24/2005 New Yorker.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

yo, man, it was either that or join a synth pop band, and stuffed animals are way cheaper than a synthesizer

From today's NYT:
"Robert Marbury, an artist who photographed dozens of Manhattan bumper fauna for a project in 2000 (see, said he had once asked a trash hauler why he had a family of three mismatched bears strapped to his rig.

'He said: 'Yo, man, I drive a garbage truck. How am I going to get the ladies to look at me?' ' Mr. Marbury recalled."

Friday, November 11, 2005

moment of liberal shame

I know that a lot of people are unhappy that the NYT has started requiring people to have subscriptions in order to read its columnists. For those of you who are Liberal Like Me but (unlike me) do not have a Times Select subscription, all I can say is that you are better off today for not being able to read Paul Krugman's column. It's about the Medicare prescription drug benefit, which is something I've come to know something about, and, wow, at least in my view it's really misleading. And misleading in ways that Krugman is definitely smart enough to know better, which makes it disingenuous.

Anyway, I'll reproduce the way he describes the drug benefit below:
Before we turn to the larger issue, let's look at how the Medicare drug benefit will work over the course of next year.

At first, the benefit will look like a normal insurance plan, with a deductible and co-payments.

But if your cumulative drug expenses reach $2,250, a very strange thing will happen: you'll suddenly be on your own. The Medicare benefit won't kick in again unless your costs reach $5,100. This gap in coverage has come to be known as the "doughnut hole." ...

One way to see the bizarre effect of this hole is to notice that if you are a retiree and spend $2,000 on drugs next year, Medicare will cover 66 percent of your expenses. But if you spend $5,000 - which means that you're much more likely to need help paying those expenses - Medicare will cover only 30 percent of your bills.

[...] The people who are actually likely to need a lot of help paying their drug expenses were deliberately offered a very poor benefit. According to a report issued along with the final version of the bill, people are prohibited from buying supplemental insurance to cover the doughnut hole to keep beneficiaries from becoming "insensitive to costs" - that is, buying too much medicine because they don't pay the price.

A more likely motive is that Congressional leaders didn't want a drug bill that really worked for middle-class retirees.
Don't get me wrong, I have much to argue with the prescription drug bill as well. In particular, I don't like the part where Medicare is legally prohibited from having any role in negotiating the price in drugs (and Krugman mentions this), which is basically a gift to the pharmaceuticals industry and also important to explaining the doughnut hole.

Because the doughnut hole can be so easily described in ways that make it seem strange, everybody seems to have fixed on it as though it was some kind of crazed (and, by Krugman's insinuation, deliberate) irrationality. While it's not the way I would designed things, the doughnut hole--and even prohibiting people from buying insurance to fill it--does make sense when you understand that the prescription drug benefit is really two separate benefits stapled together. It's really less an insurance program than a "discount" program for seniors with average drug costs, and then it is an actual "insurance" program for seniors with catastrophic drug costs. Part of the reason the "discount" program is needed is that, so long as you are going to make the program optional, you need to get these relatively healthy people to enroll in it to make the "insurance" part of the program an actual insurance program, as opposed to just something people sign up for when they know they are going to have huge drug expenses.

Anyway, nowhere in his column does Krugman mention that once you get past $5,100, the government picks up 95% of your drug costs. If you are going to say that the program provides a "very poor benefit" for those who need "a lot of help" with their drug costs, it seems dishonest not to mention this. It gets worse, and I don't have time to get into it, but Krugman knows full well that once the government legislated itself out of any capacity to control or negotiate prices, something had to be done to keep the response of drug companies (who, granted, helped a lot in writing the bill) from simply multiplying the price of their drugs in response to the benefit. Drug prices are the problem, not the doughnut hole.

thus spoke colathustra

Remember the time the Dalai Lama called and said, "Dude, I've been watching the DVD of Natural Born Killers, and you know what: senseless violence rocks." Well, this is sort of like that, only more unexpected. For lately, I have found myself walking past the Diet Pepsi--even when Diet Pepsi Twist is available--and buying Coke Zero instead. Yes, me, the foremost proponent of Pepsi products of his generation, is now opting for a cola made by Coke.* It astonishes me each and every time I do it, and makes me wonder if perhaps now we are living in a world out of equilibrium, maybe even one on borrowed time.

* I know, I know, I shouldn't be drinking cola at all, or soda at all, it is destroying my bones and turning my brain into caulk, etc., etc..

Thursday, November 10, 2005

my god, i've been so naive. the gap makes ugly shirts on purpose, don't they?


1. I shop at the Gap sometimes. I'm sure others have various reasons for regarding this as objectionable, but, for the purposes of this post, whatever.

2. In my experience, the Gap always has some really ugly button-down shirts on sale at a much cheaper price (say $15) than its regularly priced shirts (say $35).

3. The really ugly shirts are usually really ugly because they have some displeasingly unorthodox combination of colors in some displeasingly unorthodox arrangement.

4. All else being equal, orthodoxy has to be as cheap to make as unorthodoxy. In other words, it's not like it costs the Gap less to make non-ugly shirts, and might even cost more.

5. I've always imagined that the really ugly shirts at the Gap originally sold for a much higher price ($35), didn't sell because they were so ugly, and now the Gap is trying to unload them more cheaply ($15).

6. But, while the Gap has some selections I don't like at all prices, the $35 shirts are never quite as ugly as the $15 shirts. If the really ugly shirts languished $35 and then, only because they languished, the Gap decided it needed to move them by slashing the price to $15, you'd think I'd see them at the higher price more often than I ever do.

7. Upon reflection, it probably makes more sense to presume that the Gap knows more than I do about making shirts and especially about making money from selling shirts.

8. Say the really ugly shirts are being sold at a loss. It could be to the Gap's advantage to have some relatively inexpensive shirts to affect the overall perception that there are good deals to be had the Gap. After all, it is one more big red SALE sign. But, if they were willing to offer some shirts at a loss just for the perception of having SALE values around, it'd still be in their interest in selling as few of those shirts as possible. So, make them really ugly.

9. The Gap might be making money even when it the really ugly shirts at the sale price (say $5). But they make way more money when they sell less ugly shirts at a higher price (say, $5 vs. $25).

10. Even if they do make money on the really ugly shirts, it could be like a bait-and-switch. The existence of sale shirts gets you in the store, the ugliness of the shirts discourages their actual purchase, but now that you are in the store you can be subjected to the ministrations of their sales clerks to buy something else.

11. When I see ugly shirts in stores, my inclination is to marvel at the variation that exists in people's aesthetic preferences. But when I see those ugly shirts on the sale rack, maybe what I should be marveling at is the variation in people's preferences about prices.

12. People come into the Gap with all kinds of variation on how much they are willing to pay for a shirt. But the Gap cannot charge different prices in the same store for the same shirt.

13. Consider somebody who gives some premium to the Gap brand, but otherwise values price much more than they value aesthetics. They buy the ugly shirt and the Gap makes money on them. As opposed to offering a shirt that is low-priced because it is shoddily made, the ugly shirt does not Gap's reputation for how well-made their clothes are. It's just ugly. It could even be regarded as "daring."

14. It wouldn't make sense for the Gap to offer shirts at the lower-price point if it cost them sales at the higher-price point. If people didn't much prefer higher-price point shirts to the lower-price point shirts, even people who could otherwise be persuaded to pay $35 for a shirt would pay $15. So the $15/shirt racky is a risky one, and so the shirts at better be really ugly. Which they are.

[Okay, I'm going to stop now. But this actually gets weirder and more sinister, because now I realize that the whole reason I've been to the Gap more lately than I'd ever gone in Madison is that there are not a lot of men's clothing stores in the Porter Square area anyway. I'm sure the Gap is paying a premium rent for that exclusivity, and now they have male customers in a position of a much larger convenience trade-off than Gaps in malls have. For reasons to complicated for me to try to articulate now, I think this provides the Gap with an even stronger incentive to serve up objectively ugly shirts.

But, seriously, maybe all this is obvious to everyone else, but this is an epiphany for me. (Granted, sort of one of those I've-been-a-moron-all-this-time epiphanies, but still.) The ugly shirts are intentionally ugly. They could just as easily make non-ugly shirts, but if they put those non-ugly shirts on that sale rack, they would sell fewer of their higher-priced shirts.]

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

i think if the president ever got to know me, he'd like me. maybe he'd even give me a nickname and say i was doing a heckuva job here at harvard.

[Virginia gubernatorial candidate] Jerry Kilgore got a boost Monday from President Bush, who made a last-minute dash into Virginia to urge die-hard conservatives to help turn out voters for the former attorney general.

"The thing I like about this fellow is he grew up on a farm," Bush said in a brief stop on his return from a South American trade mission. "He doesn't have a lot of fancy airs."
Reading In Cold Blood the other night had been reminiscing a lot about growing up on a farm. [Spoiler warning not for In Cold Blood and Capote] The book is about a farm family that is murdered by two men who believed (erroneously) that there was $10,000 in a safe in the house. A nice thing about my family and our little house on the prairie, I suppose, is that no one ever would have had any delusions that we had a bunch of money in a safe somewhere. Which doesn't mean that my mother is free from worries about criminal victimization, much of which seems to be the result of a knack she has for being able to adapt on-the-fly the things she sees in urban crime dramas to sinister scenarios that could unfold in middle-of-nowhere Iowa.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

intelligibility is in the eye of the beholder

When a manuscript is sent out for peer review, the reviewers will usually later receive a copy of the editor's decision as well as the other reviews. Today I received others' reviews of a manuscript for which I was Reviewer C.

Reviewer A begins:
Before you submit your paper to scientific journals and ask their editors and reviewers to invest considerable time and effort in evaluating it, please have your colleagues read it over, to make sure that it makes sense to other people. It is part of the professional courtesy. Unfortunately, you have failed to do this most fundamental task. As a result, your paper is very unfocused and makes very little sense to other readers...
Reviewer B begins:
This paper is clearly written...

Monday, November 07, 2005

a brief and slightly exasperated statement on conjunctural evidence

Okay, I'm way behind today on work and trying to catch up. And, for that matter, I have no particular opinion on whether Truman Capote wrote some/much/most/all of To Kill A Mockingbird (see previous post), or whatever. I do know that Capote supposedly had repeatedly hinted as much to others, but I also know that Capote also supposedly claimed to be friends with celebrities that he had never, in fact, met. But, my having broached the topic in yesterday's blog post notwithstanding, I have no especial opinion on the matter or even any real interest, beyond just thinking the idea intriguing.

BUT, I do care about clear thinking about the evaluation of evidence. The reason I am intrigued by the idea of Capote's participation in To Kill A Mockingbird is co-existence of two separate facts that had earlier circulated independently in my head:

(1) that Capote and Lee were neighbors from the same small Alabama town. Start counting on your fingers: Capote, Lee, and other Alabama writers who have the same level of public recognition as Capote and Lee. Did you even get to your second hand? Now think of how remarkable it is that two of those fingers were neighbors growing up.

(2) Find a list of the top 100 American novels of the 20th century. If you were going to choose the one novel on that list for which there was the least independent evidence of the talent of the author outside that novel, you'd likely decide on Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird. I mean, if I'm wrong about this, please correct me: but doesn't the rest of her published oeuvre consist of like a handful of short and indistinguished magazine articles? Even if you look at people who wrote one great novel and killed themselves promptly thereafter (Confederacy of Dunces, Raintree County), you probably have a longer independent paper trail than Lee's.

Either of these facts, alone, wouldn't lead me to be especially intrigued by the Capote-TKAM theory. But, put them together, and the pair is greater than the sum of its parts. So, counterarguments like "Jason Williams and Randy Moss went to the same high school," even if it wasn't a bad argument-by-analogy for other reasons, not only misses the point but does so in a rather frustrating way. It's the combination of the almost-uniquely-weird lack of independent evidence of Lee's authorial gifts AND her having this close-friend-since-childhood who had indisputably forbidable authorial gifts, that makes the idea intriguing to me.

Again, the true answer about the authorship of To Kill A Mockingbird isn't very important to me. I'd much rather know if Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. But, please, try to understand that when the conjunction of facts A and B can be offered as evidence suggestive of a hypothesis, the counterargument that A isn't much evidence on its own for the hypothesis should not be regarded as very compelling.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

have you seen capote yet? it's very good.

I don't have to, like, provide "specifics" or a "review" or anything, do I? You'll just go see it, right? Or not, but you'll be missing out.

BTW, Harper Lee is a character in the movie. She was a childhood friend of Capote's from Alabama and accompanied him on the first research trip for In Cold Blood. Isn't it statistically remarkable to have such literary talent growing up as neighbors in some southern small town? And to have them be both particularly great short story writers to boot? (To Kill a Mockingbird was originally submitted for publication as a collection of short stories.) And isn't it strange that Harper Lee never wrote another book?

Or, um, well:

Saturday, November 05, 2005

________ in, ________ out

I remember that I first heard the phrase "desperate people do desperate things" in some made-for-TV movie when I was in junior high. It was said by a high school coach of a team that was losing miserably to explain why he was putting this uncoordinated-freak-always-sits-at-the-end-of-the-bench-loser into the game. I think the kid turned out to have supernatural powers or something, I don't remember.

Anyway, ever since, the phrase has been one of my mental slogans. When I see someone take some drastic action, my first explanatory impulse is to presume they were desperate and then think why they might have been so. It's been especially helpful in understanding some of the weird things I've seen people do in the name of romance, incidentally. Why does [X] keep pursuing [Y] even though it's clear s/he's not interested? It's never going to happen, and it just makes [X] look so desperate. To which I think: but [X] is desperate, so what do you expect her/him to do?

In the past few years, the slogan has morphed into a sequel: "mentally ill people do mentally ill things." The slogan arose from my weariness about hearing people complain about the crazy things done by crazy friends of theirs; or, more specifically, crazy things done by crazy people who had been crazy ever since their friendship began and who perhaps in the first place had been befriended precisely because their craziness made them interesting. But then I would have to listen complain and ask why their crazy friend had to do this particular crazy thing that annoyed them when any normal person would do the normal thing instead. So "mentally ill people do mentally ill things" became a stock reply, intended to reject the idea of speculating about why a person is engaging in some particular instance of abnormal behavior when they have never given any reason to think that they ever approach the world or apprehend reality in anything like a normal way.

Seriously, it's like moving to Antarctica and then whining about how you don't understand why it can't ever just have normal weather.

More recently, as I've been doing all this reading about health care, a third version of the slogan has been forming in my mind. It's current incarnation is "perverse incentives produce perverse results." (Yes! My economist friends would be so proud!) But, really, you see a system that seems altogether twisted in its outcomes, it really is helpful to think: what are the incentives for the people in this system. And, lo, they are often twisted incentives, or at least twisted incentives from the point of view of wanting a nontwisted system as a result.

Of course they're acting desperately, they are desperate. Of course they're acting crazy, they are crazy. Of course the outcomes are perverse, the incentives are perverse. Pathological conditions produce pathological consequences. The pathological conditions are the thing to be puzzled over an explained, rather than acting like the consequences themselves are otherwise genuinely surprising or puzzling. Which isn't to say there aren't real surprises or puzzles: desperate actions by those who have no reason to be desperate, strange behaviors by those who have given no previous reason to expect it, or perverse outcomes from institutions that seem like they should yield better. Or, for that matter: desperate people who do nothing; crazy people who have their moments of complete togetherness; perverse incentives that yield systems that are not nearly so screwed up as one might expect.

* I've also invoked the phrase to explain instances of myself taking drastic action (see here for an example that didn't work or see here for an example that, well, also didn't work). Indeed, I almost see it as a normative theory: if you feel desperate, you should first wait awhile and ponder whether your desperation is truly justified, but then, if you are still desperate, why aren't you taking drastic action?