Monday, October 31, 2005

excuse me, while i diss the sky

Okay, I can't really complain about the sky, because my new wristband GPS seems to work just fine. But, I had talked myself into believing that The Standard Loop that I was running was 6 miles, and maybe even 6.2 miles, meaning I was doing my own private 10K each time I ran it. According to the GPS though, it's only 5.8 miles. The GPS also punctured any delusions I might have been harboring about my running pace, although that is harder to pin down exactly because of the stops and starts necessitated by the various stoplights on my route.

Exactly how I will continue with the delusion that I am adequately preparing for a half marathon (13.1 miles) in 24 days by running 5.8 miles is beyond me. Especially when, for a variety of reasons, I took three out of the last four days off running. (The only one of those days I'm not going to apologize for is Saturday, when it was snowing here, and a catastrophic laundry failure left me without anything dry to wear on my head.)

Anyway, I was just musing today in my office about how remarkable it is that there are people out there who are so naive about the way that numbers get produced in the world that they could utter something like "numbers don't lie" (or, even more incredibly, "statistics don't lie") with no sense of irony. Numbers that come from a gizmo on your wrist that is linked to satellites in the sky, on the other hand--those numbers do confront a person with the chilly obduracy of truth.

i suppose it is fitting on halloween for things to return from the dead

Update: This is the post I deleted yesterday, back by popular demand and the approval of Ms. Maroontext herself (see comments to preceding post-about-a-deleted-post). Original title: "secrets of effective money management revealed"

Note: Though I am sure that Ms. Maroontext would disagree with details of these interactions, this is basically how Mr. Purpleprose remembers it.

Excerpt from phone conversation #1:

"Let's face it: you just don't manage your money very well."
"I know, I know."
"Do you know how much I would love putting you on a budget?"
"Only by analogy to how much I'd love fitting you with a shock collar."
"You need to [insert list of 8-10 things that, yes, I would be better off if I did with my money]."
"Yes, I recognize that my handling of these affairs leaves much to be desired."
"I'm going to have a million dollars by the time I retire."
"You'll only have that million dollars if the revolution doesn't happen--the revolution that you purport to endorse."
"Oh God no! I've never said that. I don't want a revolution. If there was a revolution, I might have to change my own oil."

Excerpt from phone conversation #2, two weeks later:

"I'm having trouble deciding whether I want to get my two side tables from [noncheap furniture place #1] or from [noncheap furniture place #2]. Part of the issue is whether the tables from [noncheap furniture place #2] will match the coffee table I'm getting from [noncheap furniture place #1]."
"Where do you get all this money to spend on these things?"
"Well, [my parents] might get me one of the tables for Christmas and the other for my birthday."
"Still, you really like [expensive things], and it seems like you've got plans to spend a lot of money on it. I don't get how this fits in with that complicated money management plan you were telling me about so you could have a million dollars when you retire."
"That was your money management plan. I'm going to inherit a million dollars from [my parents]. It's already being set up."

Sunday, October 30, 2005

[this post, on second thought, was probably ill-advised]

And so has been whisked away into the e-ther. Halloween is scary enough without having to worry about Ms. Maroontext coming after me.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

urgent request! and for the sake of art, no less!

A friend of mine from Seattle called me today at work. She was much distressed because she is scheduled next week to go onstage with a piece of 60-second performance art that she has apparently been "conceptualizing" for quite some time. She has everything she needs for the performance--which, among other things, involves a lot of paper mache--except she doesn't have the background music which is purportedly the vital linchpin for the entire thing.

That song is the 1983 minihit "White Horse", by Laid Back. If you know 80's music, you know it: "If you want to ride, don't ride the white horse / If you want to ride, ride the white pony." As far as I can tell, the song is not available on iTunes, it's not available on Napster, it's not available in the extensive JFW 80's archive.

It's arguably one of the worst songs of that entire decade, I know.* But she really needs it. And, no, I am not making this up, not even the part about the paper mache.

Would, um, anyone out there know how I might get a copy of it? The entire Pacific Northwest Very Brief Performance Art World would be grateful.

(And as long as I'm making requests: have you put a tack in my map yet? I've even added it to the sidebar. Completely pathetic for me to be a pest about it, I know. But something about the whole thing buoys my spirits; I won't profess to be able to explain it. Part of it, maybe, is that I've always had this thing for maps. They have a drama and romance for me that I don't think they have for very many other people. Like the time I saw a map of the New Jersey turnpike that was so poignant I began to weep.)

* Although not the worst, as of course that dystinction belongs to Glenn Frey's "The Heat Is On."

Update: Thanks to the help of a certain SynthPopQueen, the mission has been accomplished! Very Brief Performance Art is safe for another week!

Friday, October 28, 2005

a shocking recommendation

As we all know, is meticulously optimized by hordes of marketing-statistician-whiz-kids grown in vats in Seattle and raised to focus single-mindedly on figuring out how to program their interface so as to use the information from your past visits to provide the absolute most optimal ads on the front page for what you might be convinced to buy from them next.

The other day, I placed an order from Amazon for a GPS device that I can wear on my wrist when I run, partly so I can't get lost when I stray off my standard loop and partly so I might have some better grasp either on how far or how fast I'm running. This is what was generated for me as the main advertisement the next time I visited Amazon:

Yes, Amazon seems to believe that so long as I've taken up running far enough that I need a GPS system, my next gadget fetish will be something for when all this running puts me into cardiac arrest. Thanks for the vote of confidence, Amazon.

Thank God my family did not have one of these in the house when I was growing up. Being a youngest sibling, I can guarantee you that if we did, I would be dead. The last words that I would have heard would have been my sister shouting "Clear!" to whichever friends of hers were holding me down.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


I'm not sure I ever announced this on my blog, but my running schedule went on about a two-week hiatus as a result of my pulling/tearing/cleaving/pulverizing one of the tendons/ligaments/muscles in the back of my right knee. For awhile, I was afraid I was going to have to bury my half-marathon-plans at wounded knee, but I've been back at it the past week and a half. You'd be surprised at how much running you can do with only minimal movement of your right knee, so long as your left leg, right ankle, and arms are willing to pick up the slack. Anyway, getting back just to where I was before has been slow, and tonight was the first night where I really felt I had my lungs at something approximating 90% of where they were.

When I got back, I was fairly exhausted, and upon going into my bathroom to shower, I slouched back against my back wall, just like I have numerous times before. Before, though, nobody was using their heat in the building, so the fact that I'd been slouching against one of the radiator pipes went unnoticed. As opposed to tonight, where that same pipe seemed like it was somewhere around 300 degrees. It felt sort of like that time the phone rang when I was ironing. Anyway, I'm going to be annoyed if at the end of this fellowship I look back and think: two years at Harvard, and all I have to show for it is some freaky vertical scar down my back. If it does scar, I'll have to come up with a better story to tell about it, preferably involving my foiling a plot to take over the world and perhaps some Ninja as well.

the letter c: it's not just for cookie anymore

Yes, if you take this quick quiz over on Hey Ya! Jeff's* blog, the answer is indeed C. (Long story.) Meanwhile, a weird thing about Hey Ya! Jeff's blog lately is that he keeps writing these posts about how he's never had a nickname (here and here). Hey, uh, Hey Ya...

* The reason he's called Hey Ya! Jeff by some (e.g., ok, i.e., me) is that the man does a karaoke version of Outkast's "Hey Ya!" that is nothing short of miraculous. Seriously. Reports from Madison's recent Zombie Lurch are that at least half the corpses had been reanimated by the psychic force of one of his performances just so they could shake it, shake it, shake it like a Polaroid picture.**

** Granted, a Polaroid picture in which the zombie herself doesn't actually appear, being undead.***

*** This is a completely non sequitur footnote, added because I was just talking to my friend Kathryn, and she was upset about yesterday's revelation that I write all my posts for you and never-even-one-bit for her. (See the trouble you get me into!) She said the least I could do would be to give her a shout-out sometime in a footnote or something. So: Yo! Shout-out to Kathryn! Word. Peace. Word again. Peace redux.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


Unlike virtually everyone else who has been in the blogging racket for any length of time, I have never used any kind of sitemeter. Nor have I asked readers to give me a shout out on Lurker Day. I have never had any idea how many people have read this blog at any particular point in its peculiar history, nor have I ever particularly wanted to know.

Why not? A big difference between most other bloggers and me is that other bloggers write their posts for the whole world to read. Not me. I'm different. Every post I write, I write only for you. I don't mean the general, universal "you." I mean you, specifically. Yes, you. Whoever else reads this is unimportant. You are my priority, my muse, the wind beneath my jfwings. All this text, all this time, has been just for you. You!

And I don't even care that it's unrequited. That's how special you are!

So, given that I've gone to all this fuss for you, could you take like ten seconds and put a thumbtack in the Official JFW Map*? Put yourself down as being from wherever. Sure, it would be interesting if some other people put tacks in my map as well. But, seriously, all that really matters to me, the real hope that is buoying this post, is that you will do it. You! As hard as it is to type with my fingers crossed, that's what I'm doing, wishing upon all my lucky stars for a pushpinny shout-out from you.

* This being not the first idea I've expropriated from Eszter. You can put a tack in Eszter's map too if you want. But, remember: she blogs for everyone. I'm blogging for you.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

welcome to my world

So, it's gotten pretty cold here the last couple weeks. Over the course of last week, especially, the need for me to turn on the heat in my apartment became increasinly acute. I did not do so, however, out of of any thriftiness, thermatoughness, or thought of energy conservation, but because I didn't know how. I've never lived in a place with old-style radiators before, and they have these various knobs and valves and whatever, and after turning one knob and having nothing happen, I decided it was beyond my limited mechanical comprehension. Meanwhile, it got colder.

By Saturday, I decided that this had gone on long enough, and that I needed to ask my neighbor how it worked. She looked puzzled at me as I described my general confusion about radiators and then finally just asked, "You know you have a thermostat, right?" To which I said, "Um, no." And then I immediately Hoped To God that it was in some obscure place in my apartment where it could have been plausibly overlooked. "Should be right in the middle of your wall." Which it was.

The events described above, I fear, actually provide a more incisive summary of some of The Central Defects of Jeremy Freese than I would care to admit, but an exposition of exactly what those flaws are and how they are made plain by the example will be left as an exercise for the reader.

Anyway, I turned the thermostat on and then went to a party. I didn't get home until around midnight and it was cold and rainy. I was back in my newly warm apartment maybe five minutes and there was a knock on my door, which had to be my downstairs neighbor. Which it was. Apparently one of my radiators wasn't hooked up quite right and so had been spraying water into her apartment for the last several hours, and so she and her son had been working on staunching the mess and waiting for me to get home.

Fortunately, that turn of events is harder for me to turn into any especial indictment of my character. I could even feel chivalrously cold the next two nights--instead of just like an idiot who couldn't figure out a radiator--since I had told my neighbor I would just keep my heat off until the problem was fixed. And, lo, the plumbers succeeded this morning after hitting a snag yesterday, and so now my place is warm.

Monday, October 24, 2005

major events of 1971

Turns out that e-mail and I are the same age. Needless to say, we've grown at different rates over the years.

Friday, October 21, 2005

once you leave a place, people there will often talk about you in the past tense as though you were dead. sometimes, as though you are undead.

Working away here in my office on the conclusion of a paper, I got a call from three folks back in Madison. Apparently, there is going to be a Zombie March in Madison this Saturday, perhaps to protest the departure of some highly delectable brains from the city over the past year. The three Madisonians were calling to report that when one of them complained about how she wanted to go to the Zombie March but didn't know what to wear, another offered the suggestion that she could just dress in the "Jeremy costume" she had worn to karaoke once. Why dressing as me would be an appropriate approximation to zombie attire was left unexplained.

(As for what exactly what a "Jeremy costume" consists of, the woman in question wore a button-down shirt that was only partly tucked in and had one button unbuttoned. The frequency with which I actually commit either of these fashion don'ts, however, is a matter of considerable debate among the apparel scholars in Jeremy Studies nationwide. Another person's "Jeremy costume" included also a T-shirt that said "I love bacon" on one side and "Stata is my friend" on the other.)

Thursday, October 20, 2005

of course, the important thing is to check back in thirty-one years for how he feels about the idea

OKLAHOMA CITY -- A man got a prison term longer than prosecutors and defense attorneys had agreed to because of Larry Bird.

The lawyers reached a plea agreement Tuesday for a 30-year term for a man accused of shooting with an intent to kill and robbery. But Eric James Torpy wanted his prison term to match Bird's jersey number 33.

"He said if he was going to go down, he was going to go down in Larry Bird's jersey," Oklahoma County District Judge Ray Elliott said Wednesday. "We accommodated his request and he was just as happy as he could be.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

geek now, or forever hold your peace

I have a computer stipend for my fellowship. I haven't used it yet because there is a machine on my office desk that does not appear to be needed/wanted by anyone else and which suits my desktop needs just fine. Accordingly, the obvious temptation is to use the stipend to buy a laptop. However, because I am always more tempted by the less obvious, I'm thinking about using the stipend to buy a tablet PC (specifically, this one). If you know anything about them and have opinions, let me know.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

three observations

1. If you do a little bit of work on something each day, then eventually it adds up to a lot.

2. If you do no work on something, that doesn't add up to anything.

3. If you do a little bit of work on something different each day, that doesn't really add up to anything either, or at least not anything that ever gets done.

Monday, October 17, 2005

bleach blanket bingo

In case you are boycotting RWS's blog until she gets her own favicon: Sociologists interested in the intersection between karaokology and the recently-hip enterprise of "whiteness studies" should check out this crazily-complete-caucasification of "Baby Got Back." It's whiter than Extra-White Wite-Out(tm). It's whiter than anything Whitestrips(tm) could ever do to your teeth.

two mostly pointless (but geekariffic!) timesucks

Despite my best intentions to allow my work only to be distracted by my obsessive reading about the pharmaceutical industry, large swaths of the afternoon got sucked up by two distractions:
1. Trying to import as much album artwork as possible into my iTunes collection using this newly-discovered little utility. All the while when I was doing this, I wondered what the benefit was going to be of having an album's artwork show up on the postage-stamp-sized screen of my Nano as it bounces around inside my pocket while I'm jogging.

2. Figuring out how have my very own favicon (the little icon that appears to the left of the URL in one's browser).* This necessitated the impromptu creation of an Official JFW logo. Unfortunately, so far as I can tell, the logo does not actually work in Internet Explorer but instead will only be visible to whatever Firefox users read this blog other than Eszter and I.**
In case you are wondering, yes there were better ways I could have been spending my time. The menace of accumulating laundry being an obvious example.

So long as I'm venting my geek-spleen, let me add that I have always wished Blogger had tags (by which I mean keywords, or categories for posts; see example tag cloud), and I have been lately tempted to try to subcontract someone to export my entire blog--archives, comments, karaoke photos, everything--out of Blogger and into some other platform just so I can have them. I say "subcontract" because even I have to draw the cyberprocrastination line somewhere.

* This page creates the icon for you and explains how to change your template to include one. But: if you use Blogger, you have to serve the icon from somewhere else.

** Or is it "other than Eszter and me"? Ugh: lately I feel like I've acquired some kind of grammatical brain lesion or something.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

pharma chameleon

Last week, I had an appointment with a physician to get a refill of a prescription drug that I take for a chronic condition I have.* The physician seemed friendly and competent enough. But when it came to writing the prescription, she recommended that I take a brand-name version of the drug that I was used to taking in the generic. The brand-name version was, she said, "often better tolerated" and "sometimes more effective" in patients than my generic. She also just entered the prescription into her computer rather than writing it on a prescription pad so that I could just pick it up in the downstairs pharmacy.

Because She's The Doctor, I didn't question any of this until after I left the office. But then:

Why did she switch me to a brand-name drug, exactly? Even if the brand-name really is better tolerated and possibly more effective in more patients, I wasn't having any problems with either the effectiveness or tolerating the drug I was taking. I just wanted a refill. And where did she get this information that the brand-name drug was better? I mean, the brand-name drug is made by a major pharmaceutical company with presumably a small army of reps providing "education" to physicians, while the generic likely has very few folks, if anyone, out there specifically pushing it. And, by not giving me a prescription, she pretty much guaranteed I was going to fill the prescription there, which means her organization gets the markup for the prescription rather than somewhere else. The brand-name prescription only cost me $5 more, but the online prices for the drug suggest that the difference covered between me and my insurer is a little over $40. If I refilled the same drug at the same place over the next year, that's $500 more in revenue.

So, I mean, maybe this physician's changing the prescription really was the best thing in terms of my health interests, and, even if not, it could still be that she really, truly believed it was the best thing in terms of the information that she's been given. But it also happens to be that her actions increased the amount of revenue the pharmaceutical industry and her provider organization made from our appointment. What to think? What to do?

I presently have the luxury of having been specifically told that it is a perfectly good expenditure of time from the standpoint of my employer to spend serious time reading about health policy. And so, I've been on a bender this past week reading books about the dark side of the pharmaceutical industry (here and here and here and here). I've personally never had much affinity for the phrase "Big Tobacco" and sequels thereof--it seems like, you know, name-calling or whatever--but the set of corporations that get called "Big Pharma" really are large and powerful and have a set of incentives and legally-available-lines-of-action that do not align well with my sense of what the public interest is. Moreover, everything after the "really are" in that last sentence seems a ridiculously massive understatement.

As much as I know y'all only read my blog for bacon photos and conversations about raw butter, but don't be surprised if I post more about this.

* No, what specifically I take and why is none of your concern. And it's not what I imagine you would guess, either.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

goodbye, earl! goodbye, disposable income?

So, as your fearless consumer reporter, I decided to check out the new feature on iTunes that allows you to buy new music videos. I typed in the names of a few songs whose videos I could imagine myself feeling a sudden Apple-generated Need To Own (namely: "Take On Me," "Hey Ya!," and "No Scrubs"), but none were available. Then I just started looking through their Top 100 sales list, and I saw maybe 10 that I immediately hankered to own (e.g., "Tubthumping", "Maps", "Billie Jean", "Fast As You Can" ...).

I decided, though, to be frugal and just to buy "Goodbye Earl", or, at least, to buy just that and "Tubthumping". I tell you, nothing about watching some sassy women singing about a vigilante homicide to get one's spirit going in the morning. $2 is hardly an expense to fret over, especially when it is so easily justified by my decision not to spend $20 to use my monitor to watch the Hawkeyes-Hoosiers football game on my monitor this afternoon (yes! my two alma maters square off!).* Still, it did seem like the beginning of a spending pattern that could cumulate to Real Money quickly. Fortunately, perhaps, the video playback isn't of particularly impressive quality on my system, so I think it won't be anywhere near as tantalizing as I might have imagined.

I've read that I can download a video on my Nano and then buy some cable or gadget that would allow me to play it at higher quality through the television that I recently claimed in the national press not to own.** I will not be doing this.

* Not to mention also deciding not to spend $240 to perform "Goodbye Earl" myself at karaoke with Constance.

** Okay, it's a time-old philosophical question, but: if a television sits in a cabinet not hooked up or even ever plugged in, do you really have one? Are you really lying if you tell a reporter that you don't?

Friday, October 14, 2005

instead, my weekend travels end up going only so far as the last screen on expedia before my credit card would have been billed

Take your thumb and forefinger. Place them a micrometer apart. I was that close to buying a ticket to come back to Madison for a couple days this Saturday through Monday. I do need to do a day or so of business there, and it seemed like, well, why not have it overlap with karaoke-with-careyoke? Especially since there were some great plane fares available online.

Then sanity prevailed. With me, the victory of Sanity over Irrational Whim is by no means assured, but in this case it managed to eke out a come-from-behind win. I am, after all, presently in the throes of a stupefying headcold, so it's not exactly the best time to be traveling. And I would probably be better able to make better use of my business time in Madison, not to mention my social time, if I gave people more than a couple days warning before showing up for a visit. And every weekend I spend elsewhere is a postponement of whenever I will feel fully settled in here.

Even so, I'll confess that I've been missing Madison lately. It might be because, here in Cambridge, I don't think the sun has come out in a week. Gray, rain, gray, rain, rain, gray, gray, gray, rain. I think maybe I need to get one of those full-spectrum lights and mount it on my head like a miner's helmet.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

nominee, jfw award for least convincing display of incredulity ever

...[A]n inquiry continued into an allegedly out-of-control party involving several Vikings players, drunkenness, nudity and visible sexual activity on a pair of charter cruises last week.

[...] The locker room was mostly empty during the time it was open to the media, and all the players who spoke refused to comment on the outing or any of the implications. Running back Mewelde Moore acknowledged he was present on one of the boats, but he said he saw none of the alleged behavior.

"That's crazy. Sex? Come on," said Moore, the team's leading rusher with 187 yards.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

inside inside higher ed

BTW, I'm quoted in a story in Inside Higher Ed today about blogging professors and tenure.


I continue to be ravaged by insomnia. Anyway, last night's topic of contemplation: what I would do if I won a contest where I was given a few million dollars with the mandate that I had to use it to attempt to start a magazine.

I decided my magazine would be called Ketchup. It would be for people who don't watch much TV, see many films, or listen to much new music--and who are just fine with these habits--but who still want to be able to follow the pop-culture references that permeate everyday conversation and perhaps even insert occasional references of their own. The articles would describe ascendant trends in various media from first principles, with no presumption that you have any interest in going and consuming the media yourself. Some quick ideas for regular features:

1. "What's That About?" As in, "What's That About?: Lost" or "What's That About?: Entourage." With subheadings "The basic premise", "Who watches it?", "Why do the people who love it love it?", "Who's it making famous?" and "5 intelligent general insights you can pass off as your own".

2. "Three Minute Cinema", where the word length per movie would be whatever is the number of words the average reader reads in three minutes. Contains: a complete summary with all spoilers, 3 "upshot" assessments taken from movie reviews, and 3 short descriptions of the scenes that are most likely to be scenes people make reference to.

3. "The Three Songs You Should Download This Month If You Want to Pretend You Listen To:" where the subcategories would be "Top 40", "Hip-hop", "Hipster College Kids", etc..

4. "Join the Backlash" a short essay with arguments you can repeat about what something most people like is hopelessly overrated. Like "Join the Backlash: March of the Penguins." Again, includes a complete summary so you never have to even watch the movie or TV show to diss it in the first place.

5. "Subtleties" contains examples of pop culture references made in newspaper columns or overheard at parties that a non-pop-culture-consumer might not realize were references at all, with a full explainer of where it's from and what it means.

6. "Fresh Meat" would each month contain a short, to the point profile of one man and one woman who have just now reached the status in which you can expect them to get dropped in hip as a reference to a generic hottie.

7. "Scrape Off Your Mold" This would list various events and pop culture references and how old people of different ages now were when they happened. In the last year, I've heard people giving talks with a largely student audience where they made joking references to "Where's the beef?" (1984, when the average undergraduate was being born) and "I've fallen, and I can't get up" (1990), and of course these joking references fell flat. It's also great when people talk to relatively new graduate students about the Reagan presidency as if it were something about which they have first hand-knowledge, presumably by following the Iran-Contra hearings in their kindergarten classrooms.

Catch up with Ketchup, coming to a newsstand near you. Or, if you are sufficiently withdrawn from culture that you do not go into bookstores, presumably it will be available by subscription as well.

Monday, October 10, 2005

and i feel, and i feel, and i feel like I just got smote, and I feel...*

From the Associated Press:
"JERUSALEM - A song on Madonna's upcoming album dedicated to a Kabbalist rabbi is drawing criticism from other rabbis, the Israeli Maariv daily reported Sunday.

The album, 'Confessions on a Dance Floor,' is to be released on Nov. 15 and features a track entitled 'Isaac' about Yitzhak Luria, a 16th century Jewish mystic and Kabbalah scholar. [...]

Rabbi Rafael Cohen, head of a seminary named after Luria, suggested Madonna's actions could lead to divine retribution.

'Jewish law forbids the use of the name of the holy rabbi for profit. Her act is just simply unacceptable and I can only sympathize for her because of the punishment that she is going to receive from the heavens,' Cohen told the newspaper."
*Footnote for the Madonna-impaired: It's a "Ray of Light" reference, lyrics here.

are you there god? it's me, rambo

Murray has started a blog. The only Murray I know personally is this guy I sat next to on the bus every day when I was in fifth and sixth grade. I don't think it's the same Murray, especially as that Murray hated his name so much that as soon as he escaped our hometown and got to college he introduced himself to everyone in his dorm as "Scott." I am sure there is great geographical variance in how easy it is to grow up a Murray, and rural Iowa would be on the 'unrelenting persecution' end of the continuum.

Around when I was graduating from high school, there were these teenage parents in one of the towns near where I grew up who named their child Rambo. I assume he's had an easier time than Murray did, or at least will until Rambo tries to leave rural Iowa and go to college, at which point he might be wise to pull the Scott trick himself.

Blogger Murray was apparently inspired by me to begin his blog. It's always a treat to be mentioned in somebody's first post; it's gives one a rush of virtual fatherhood without all the dirty diapers or messy legal responsibility (click here and here for two especially distinguished examples of my being cited in a first post). Murray says that he's been "spending too much time" reading my blog but is impressed that I manage to blog despite being an "assistant prof at Madison." No offense, Murray, but if you spent even more time reading my blog, you might discover that I am no longer an assistant professor, nor am I currently at Madison.

Update: I just used my Googlestalking skills to track down the Murray/Scott from my hometown, whom I have talked to since high school, and sent him a link to my post. He reports:
"I am at peace with Murray at this point. My wife, some months ago, 
took to calling me Murr. I for some reason then started calling her Murr,
most likely to prevent her from calling me Murr. Therefore, we both call
each other Murr, though we try to avoid it in public because it sounds
very odd."
I think if I was out in public and heard a couple calling each other Murr, I would presume they were just getting in the Xmas spirit and had two children they nicknamed Gold and Frankincense.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

a second post about shopgirl?!

Remember from "Manic Monday" the lyric "These are the days when you wish your bed was already made." Return home from a (quite fun) dinner party much later than you had originally anticipated, and realize that not only is your bed not made, not only is your bedding down in the coin-op dryer in the basement, but that because the dryer takes your 50 cents and only runs about as long as your average Bangles song, your bedding is still wet. Such are the nights when you wish your bed was already made.

There was another guy named Jeremy at the dinner party, who looked possibly older than me and was not British. I noted my excitement about the forthcoming film adaptation of Shopgirl because of its having a character named Jeremy (see previous post), which, exactly as you would expect, caused me to come across as a freak.

I think the main reason I have watched the Shopgirl trailer a few dozen times is the Death Cab for Cutie song, but I do also like the line where the Jeremy character says (to Claire Danes!) "I think this is the moment, and, in this moment, I think we should kiss." Jason Schwartzman does the line well, better than Jimmy Fallon would have said it had he taken the role, and even perhaps with nearly Freesian panache. Personally, if I was Jeremy, I wouldn't be that afraid of competing against Steve Martin for a heroine's affections, so long as it was anywhere other than in a film based on a novella and screenplay written by Steve Martin. It's one thing to be a celebrity's romantic rival, but quite unsporting to have to do so in that celebrity's own fictional universe.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

are you there god? it's me, cholera

For whatever reason, I woke up about an hour ago and haven't been able to get back to sleep. For whatever reason, my diversion the last few minutes has been to try to think of what would I choose to name a child if the rule was that the child had to be named after some kind of bodily affliction. My Top 10 picks:

1. Sciatica
2. Melancholy
3. Rubella
4. Palsy
5. Cholera
Honorable mention: Chills

1. Typhus
2. Bends
3. Lockjaw
4. Ulcer
5. Croup
Honorable mention: Dandruff

Friday, October 07, 2005

shopgirl, interrupted

I remember being in a bookstore and picking the novella Shopgirl off the shelf with no intention of buying it. I opened it somewhere in the middle and the very first words I saw were the title of one of its chapters, "Sleeping with Jeremy." I walked immediately to the counter and bought it.

Shopgirl is a flawed novella, both in micro (prose) and macro (plot) terms. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed it. Moreover, I don't think my enjoyment had much to do with Shopgirl having a character named Jeremy or even that Shopgirl Jeremy is somebody who fulfills my own chronic aspirations for Significant Self-Improvement. The book pulls off a charming combination of melancholy and sweetness, and it contains many clever one-liners that only occasionally careen over the cliff of Too Cute.

Now it's coming out as a movie. Jeremy is being played by Jason Schwartzman, who was third choice for the role: Jimmy Fallon dropped out just before filming began due to other obligations, and Jeremy Freese declined because of what stardom demands might do to his social science productivity. Jeremy competes with Steve Martin for the affection of Claire Danes. Jeremy faces many disadvantages in this contest, and so perhaps it is for the best that Shopgirl Jeremy, unlike Blogger Jeremy, enters the gladitorial stadium of romance with perfect teeth and a full head of hair.

I've watched the trailer for Shopgirl at least ten times in the last few days. I'm not sure why. I think it has much to do with its prominent use of the song "The Sound of Settling," by Death Cab for Cutie, which I also downloaded to my Nano last night and had propel me along for the first part of last night's run.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

often, you can actually judge a book quite well from its cover. you just have to look at it for more than two seconds.

As reported here on JFW, I recently became quite annoyed with myself when I realized I was aimlessly browsing in a bookstore as a way of procrastinating on this talk I needed to work on, and I resolved that as punishment I would spend what I would have spent on other books to buy two books on procrastination instead. The second of these, The Tomorrow Trap by "Karen E. Peterson, Ph.D.". I basically bought because I liked the title, thought it had a nice drawing on the front, and I was by that point in a hurry and didn't want to continue procrastinating by, say, dallying to scrutinize prospective procrastination book purchases. When I took it off the shelf yesterday, I realized that a closer look of the cover would have revealed that it was probably not going to be a book I actually wanted to read.

The cover talked about resolving your "Procrastination-Protection Syndrome" and made it sound like it was going to be much about trying to solve a personal problem by figuring out what happened back in childhood that is its "root cause", which I think has been overwhelmingly demonstrated over the last hundred years to be generally a spectacularly unhelpful approach to personal problems, including (especially?) whatever problems genuinely are rooted in childhood experiences.

Anyway, then I started to read the prolegomenon:
Unlike other books that focus on mere behavioral change*, this book offers right-brain, emotional techniques--such as nondominant handwriting, indirect interviews, photohistory and the unique five-stage psychoautobiographical writing--for discovering and eradicating that "thing" in the back of our minds. That "thing" is a universal, unconscious sense of shame that is a normal part of the human condition.

This underlying shame, which can trigger procrastination, is usually rooted in the first few years of life--regardless of one's upbringing. Because our memories of these pre-verbal years are stored primarily in the right brain, we must utilize right-brain techniques to eliminate problems of procrastination.

In response to each of these normal, everyday childhood experiences, a droplet of unconscious shame is added to a gradually expanding pool that may resemble an irritating muddy puddle; a deep, dark lake; or a raging sea. This pool corresponds to our level of procrastination, which can be of low, mid- or high intensity...

These techniques are greater toward allowing individuals to break free from the past and embrace a new way of living, working, and believing. If I can do it--while simultaneously consquering premenstrual syndrome, depression and seasonal affective disorder (I'm bracing myself for menopause)--you can, too.

Care to come along for the ride?
Er, no, thanks. You can keep the $15.

* Me, I think that "mere behavior change" is hardly ever "mere," especially if you are talking about a change that is supposed to last more than a couple days. Plus, I think if you are interested in changing a behavior, focusing on behavior change sounds like about exactly the best place to start.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

partial credit

In a seminar I sat in on last week, one of the Harvard professors repeated a theory he had heard that the biggest difference at the margin between Harvard undergraduates and other undergraduates was in their ability to obtain partial credit. He did not explain whether this was because Harvard undergraduates give better wrong answers, or are better at offering up some complete bullshit when they don't know the answer, or are better at the war-of-attrition style argumentation that gets partial credit after initial grades are given.

Anyway, it's not like when I are walking through Harvard Yard, I look into the faces of the undergraduates and they somehow look smarter. They do look a good deal more style-conscious than what I am used to, or, less charitably, their sartorial and other choices mean they walk around with more of a air of affectation, of self-conscious-self-presentation, than what I am used to. Maybe it's in my head, or maybe it's an East Coast thing, rather than being something specifically about Harvard.

There are also seem to be more disconcertingly-too-thin undergraduate women walking around campus than the already nontrivial number I'm used to from Madison. (This is quite different from the generally lower rates of obesity around here.) Maybe it's in my head, or maybe it's an East Coast thing, but maybe it's something about the overachieving tendencies that are a crucial part at least one route into Harvard. Not only am I going to be valedictorian instead of that boyfriend-stealing Muffy McMiffin, I'm going to be thinner than her too! I don't care if I have to argue for an hour to get partial credit for that problem I missed in AP Physics, and if I have to eat nothing but part of a grapefruit for lunch every day from now until graduation!

An entirely different thing that I've noticed in my travels around Cambridge is that there seem to be many more and steeper kinds of discounts and deals available for Harvard students than what I remember from either Iowa City, Bloomington or Madison. This is one thing I've noticed as I've made my from the rural-working-class to the academic-middle-classes to opportunities at vicarious glimpses of the daily lives of current and future elites: not only do the rich have more money, but they also get all kinds of stuff for free or massive discounts as well. Because I am never anything less than 100% honest on this blog, I have to confess that I have identified myself as a "postdoctoral student" on a couple occasions to avail myself of discounts.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

perhaps it's no coincidence that 'cedar rapids' anagrams to 'crap is dared'

(me in front of the "Tree of Five Seasons" sculpture in Cedar Rapids)

This past weekend was my first time flying in and out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. From afar, I've long admired the seeming chutzpah of Cedar Rapids. I've always--or at least when it does not result in incoherent foreign policy or the dismantling of our domestic safety net--been a sucker for the aggressively aggrandizing lie, for the kind of hucksterism that does not just try to convince you that his lemons are lemonade, but that they are a lemon-colored limousine that you would be crazy not to want as your own.

One obvious disadvantage confronting Cedar Rapids in its effort to appeal as a tourist or permanent destination would be its wildly variable weather. Other cities in the same situation might offer meek or mildly apologetic slogans about how it's a great place to visit during some parts of the year or a great place to live despite the weather. Not Cedar Rapids. Instead, it proclaims itself to be "The City of Five Seasons."

Yes, really. In response to all those folks moving to areas with temperate weather year around, not only does Cedar Rapids emphasize that you are supposed to enjoy the changing of the seasons, but it boasts that it actually somehow has one more season than everywhere else. Whether this extra season implies three equinoxes or three solstices is not specified.

I asked my friends what the fifth season was called and when it was. They couldn't really say, except that it wasn't actually a specific time of year but something that was supposed to transcend all seasoning. Online sources indicate the fifth season is supposed to be "a time to enjoy," which makes me glad it's not supposed to be a specific time of year or else I'd wonder what they expect you to do during the other four.

At the Cedar Rapids airport, I noticed that my flight was going out of Gate B7, and that another flight was going out of Gate C6. Madison, which seems like it would have at least as much air traffic as Cedar Rapids, only has like 9 gates at its airport, and they are numbered 1 to 9. How, I wondered, does Cedar Rapids manage to use up three letters and 6 or 7 gates within each letter. My investigation of the airport led me to conclude that "Concourse A", if it exists, is not anywhere inside the normal passenger part of the airport. Meanwhile, Concourses B and C aren't very far apart--there are some consecutively numbered gates further apart in major airports--although you do have to go up a small escalator to get to Concourse C. But then, I saw on Concourse B their strategy for getting 7 gates out of 3 doors:

("Concourse B" at the Cedar Rapids airport)

In fact, there are nine gates on Concourse B, although Gates B8 and B9 looked like what other airports might refer to as "side doors to be used by maintenance personnel."

Monday, October 03, 2005

the pink thing

(a friend who insisted her decision to wear pink and order a pink drink the day before the game was just a coincidence)

While I was decked out in the more traditional black and gold this weekend, quite a few Hawkeye fans last weekend were wearing pink. Because I never stop doing social science, I did some counting of a few sections and my estimate is that there were maybe around 5,000 fans dressed in pink. The color was especially popular among both the female fans in attendance and the students (by my count, at least one in five women in the student section was wearing pink). The University of Iowa's student paper ran a headline story after the game titled "The Pink Revolution."

Why the pink? This was the first home game since the Hawkeyes made national news because of a visiting adjunct law professor's complaint over the visitors' locker rooms at Iowa being painted pink. They were painted pink over twenty years ago by a former coach beloved for bringing about the renascence of Hawkeye Football, who had been a psychology major and enamored of the research (whose ultimate epistemic status I am ignorant) about the subduing effects of Miller-Baker pink. This manuever became part of the lore about this coach and then a matter of "tradition." When the Hawkeyes renovated their stadium recently, the locker room was renovated, and now instead of just being painted Miller-Baker pink, all of the fixtures and everything else is also pink.

In case you were unaware, the color pink is associated with femininity in our society.* In case you were unaware, there are people who like to do things like, for example, denigrate football players deemed insufficiently tough by yelling about how they play "like girls." Or even yelling something like, "You should be wearing pink if you're going to play like that, you stupid sissies!" These are some fairly large dots on our cultural landscape, and you don't exactly need a law degree to connect them.

You also don't exactly need to be a genius to see that if you want to stir up a backlash in a state that has plenty of good reason to feel like it is looked down upon by the liberal elite of society, have the standard bearer be a visiting adjunct law school teacher. Yes, imagine it: "She's not from Iowa," "She's not even a real University of Iowa professor," "She's a lawyer."

My own opinion on the matter is that the pink locker rooms are distasteful and, if there were an alumni referendum on the matter, I would vote to change them, perhaps to an equally soothing green pastel. I do not regard this as being anywhere near the same league of distasteful as Indian mascots, and, in terms of sexism in college football, regard it as less regrettable than the progressively frank objectification of pom-pom squads (which I do regard as, just so there is no ambiguity, regrettable).

In any event, there won't be a referendum on pink, and if there was keeping the locker rooms pink would now win with at least 90% of the vote. Because the way this controversy has played out has made the locker rooms into now being A Matter of Tradition. And nothing makes folks dig in their heels against politically sensitive change quite like the successful evocation of the idea of Protecting Tradition And Heritage. Had UI just decided not to go with pink when they built the new locker rooms, this then-minor tradition would have passed without much of a whimper. Now the forces of faculty senate resolutions may indeed get the pink removed, eventually, but it will be one of these things done over various threats of donor withdrawals and legislative intervention.

In any case, the law school teacher who raised the complaint did so in part on her blog, which she has since abandoned and deleted in the face of death threats and other ugly gestures from Hawkeye fans. Her voice deserves better than that, obviously. You can retrieve her post from the Google cache here.

* Although, famously for social constructivists, at least some American commentators associated pink with masculinity less than a century ago.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

(iowa city) this year's fall fashion statement

So, one might think that my decision to leave my foam Hawkeyes head and talons in Cambridge would imply that my wearing of University of Iowa regalia to the homecoming game was going to be more subdued than usual this year. One would be wrong:

(me, on the right; the guy on the left is a college friend who is the founder/CEO of the apparel company Asymmetric Shorts)

Indeed, near the end of the Hawkeyes victory over Illinois, the Hawkeyes beloved mascot, Herky The Hawk came bounded up the stands to where I was sitting and stopped so I could get a picture with him:

(notice that the black half of the face-painted 'I' shows up much better than the gold part, leading some people to be confused about exactly what I was meaning to have done to my face)

Turns out that Herky was so struck by my boa that he asked for it. When I handed it over, I wasn't sure if the idea was that I was giving it to him or if he was just borrowing it, but Herky was certainly excited to wield the boa in several other photos with people in our section, including the man next to me who turned out to be surprisingly enthusiastic about getting a picture considering that his cap and mirror sunglasses made him seem like he was trying to attend the game as incognito as possible:

(prior to this moment, I was convinced the guy on the left was on the run from the law or a star in disguise or something)

Anyway, I concluded that giving my boa to Herky The Hawk was exactly the right ending for it--given that my yellow-boa-needs are presumably much less back at Harvard--but then he brought it back over to me before heading further up the stands.