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.)