Tuesday, February 28, 2006

in the whole vast configuration of things I'd say you're nothing but a scurvy little spider

I spent the better part of a T ride contemplating the movie It's A Wonderful Life, and specifically the question of how Bedford Falls would have looked in the counterfactual where Mr. Potter had never been born instead of George Bailey. I think it says something about one's practical instincts about capitalism whether one thinks the place would have been much different or not.

Monday, February 27, 2006

(minneapolis) ten thousand lakes

Thanks for all the ideas people have offered for "How To" stories. Given that I need to get a talk ready for a presentation in New York later this week, I suspect I will not end up doing anything. If you miss a week, you can e-mail it later or can bring it to class the following week to be read and workshopped by the class on the spot.

When I looked to my bookshelf for inspiration, I realized the only book I have that begins with "How To" was How To Speak Minnesotan. I believe this is a book that I borrowed from someone and never returned, although I can't remember why I ever would have wanted to borrow How To Speak Minnesotan. In any event, I am not one of the zillions of attempted and actual Ph.D.'s who owns that book How To Write Your Dissertation In Fifteen Minutes A Day. I did entertain the latter as a story premise, however, especially since I couldn't figure out what would happen in a short short shory called "How to Speak Minnesotan."

My favorite Minnesota band, btw, is the Gear Daddies, especially their songs "Cut Me Off" and "Stupid Boy."*

* Wow, this sentence contains perhaps the most stupefying cognitive lapse of my entire blogging career. See comments.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

how to?

I've got a bunch of other things going on right now that would already have made putting together something for Short Short Fiction difficult. But, worse: the assignment for next week is to write a "How To" story (with the title beginning "How To...). I've checked repeatedly, and my creative cupboard is bare on this one. If anybody has any great ideas, and especially any great ideas accompanied by 400-600 words of prose, let me know.

Friday, February 24, 2006

the continued oratorial misadventures of jeremy freese

I presented at Eastern Sociological Society meetings today in Boston. Only on like Wednesday did I realize that I was also appointed "presider" of the session, so I felt an extra impulse to be their a little early to make sure the AV was set up, etc.. The talk was at 1pm, so I planned to leave my apartment at 11:30, maybe 11:45. As it turned out, I was still fiddling with my slides at ten 'til noon. And then I realized that my flash drive didn't work, so I couldn't use the most obvious means of moving the presentation to my tablet. And then I couldn't get a wireless connection in my apartment. So I ended up having to walk over and duck into one of the classroom buildings to log my tablet into Harvard wireless and move the talk over that way. I made it there in time, partly because of a kickass cab driver: "I have been doing this 16 years. I know all the best ways to everywhere."

I would have just as soon realized I had forgotten to tuck my shirt in sometime sooner than when I was standing in front of everyone making sure the projector was set up properly.

The talk itself went well. Moreover, despite certain suspicions about sociology's regional meetings, the panel as a whole was at least as good as the average panel I've been involved with at the ASA meetings.

(Also: brief sightings of a couple sociology bloggers (here and here), even though I was in the hotel for only two hours total.)

Thursday, February 23, 2006

fetish weapon for my war on paper

My officemate has purchased one of these smallish sheet feeding scanners that is expressly designed for reading in multipage documents and making PDFs of them. The extent to which I covet this piece of equipment is almost unbearable. (Of course, he said I can use it whenever. Equally of course, I want one that is mine, all mine.)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

correlation, or causality?

Okay, so I survived the first of the three talks I'm giving in the next nine days. Apparently the e-mail from Lawrence Summers to everyone at Harvard announcing his resignation was sent while I was speaking. To my knowledge, these two things are not related.

Monday, February 20, 2006

(ssf) warren jay meanwell: the complete and annotated discography

This week's short short fiction assignment was to write a story that's a list. Given that I am supposed to be doing three presentations on different topics in the next eleven days, things are a little hectic here. The story was originally going to be titled "[artist name]: The Complete and Annotated Discography", but, despite various tries based on great suggestions from readers and others, I decided it was better without a name. So the result is currently titled "The Complete and Annotated Discography" and is available here. It feels suspciously like something I would have written at age nineteen, but then again I'm not sure that anything about me relevant for fictional production has so much improved since age nineteen as just changed. As always, let me know if you have any comments or suggestions that will not gut my joie de vivre or make me cry.

Update, Monday AM: I wake up to an e-mail that says: "Yes, that story is nothing compared to your others. Brave of you to post it, especially given that your others have been so good." To which all I can say is: (1) thanks for the compliment about my previous efforts [and my courage] and (2) you try writing a story that's a list. (Indeed, if you could try by Tuesday 8pm ET and would be willing to let me turn that in for my class instead, that might be especially helpful.) But I do agree with the person's basic point, I suppose. My other list-story ideas were, I'm confident, worse. At least it's short. Here, just read my shortbread story instead. Ugh. SSF is harder than it looks.

Update, Monday AM still: Revised (shortened). Title is now just "Discography" until/unless something better comes along.

Update, Monday PM: Title is now back to what it was when I started writing the story (post title has been changed accordingly).

Sunday, February 19, 2006

two points for my manifesto

1. There is no such thing as a "direct effect" of education on a later-life outcome, and thinking that way only leads to confusion. As far as I can tell, all coherent narratives of the effect of education on a later-life outcome can be expressed in terms of the above diagram.* The way people talk about education "effects" would be clearer if people were forced to express what they think they mean in terms of this diagram.

(Note that the diagram does not have an arrow that goes directly from education to the outcome; that's a big part of the point. The diagram may seem obvious or banal, but I can point to about 1000 confused papers that I've read that would have benefited by being forced to be clear of what they are claiming in exactly the terms above.)

2. As a general thing, people overestimate the extent to which education "effects" result from processes carried along the yellow arrow. They underestimate the spurious relationship borne along the blue arrows, and the true causal effects of education that proceed through the red arrows. The spurious relationship borne by the green arrows, I think, variously and weirdly ends up being both overestimated and underestimated.

* Adding the proviso that any instances of two arrows entering a node allow for the possibility of 'interaction effects' and where person-situation casuation both earlier and later in life can be more 'dynamic' than what is strictly depicted in this diagram.

crimes of counterfactualism

Nicholas Kristof starts today's NYT column with:
"Suppose that Anne Frank had maintained an e-mail account while in hiding in 1944, and that the Nazis had asked Yahoo for cooperation in tracking her down. It seems, based on Yahoo's behavior in China, that it might have complied."
Call me crazy, but I think Otto Frank was far too smart to have been letting his daughter do e-mail from their Secret Annexe. Not to mention that I don't think Yahoo! would have still been operating in Amsterdam in 1944.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

i don't ask you for much

I need a male first name with quirky/dorky connotations for my SSF. Three syllables perhaps preferred though not required. It doesn't even have to be a real first name, as long as it has a plausible first name ring to it. Help!

(Without help, I might go with "Murray". Or "Warren," which I've always liked because of its connection to scared rabbits.)

Update: All helpful suggestions so far. More, please. I don't know if it really needs to be three syllables or not, now. As background, the character in question plays the accordion and writes songs about his pain. (The assignment, btw, is to write a story that's a list.)

Friday, February 17, 2006

something seriously different about shoaib's action

I love reading stories about cricket. I don't understand anything about cricket, except that it's kind of like baseball except there are only two bases, a few orders of magnitude more runs, and you can have games that last for days if you want. What I like about reading about cricket is precisely that the stories never cause cricket to make any more sense, but instead always just make it ever more exotic and mysterious. For example, here are actual sentences from a current story about a match between India and Pakistan:
"Since the second Test at Faisalabad, where Shoaib put in fiercely quick spells on the third afternoon and fourth morning, there have been whispers about ICC's concern with Shoaib's action. Cricinfo has learnt from sources close to the team that one of the on-field umpires during the Test had privately expressed his concern over some deliveries Shoaib bowled to the Pakistan management but did not report it officially.

The fires were fuelled further by Greg Chappell's comments during the subsequent Test at Karachi, in which he is alleged to have said there was 'something seriously different' about Shoaib's action."

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

the causal effect of economics

Today in the NYT:
"Even some patients with insurance are thinking hard before agreeing to treatment, doctors say, because out-of-pocket co-payments for the drug could easily run $10,000 to $20,000 a year.

Until now, drug makers have typically defended high prices by noting the cost of developing new medicines. But executives at Genentech and its majority owner, Roche, are now using a separate argument — citing the inherent value of life-sustaining therapies.

If society wants the benefits, they say, it must be ready to spend more for treatments like Avastin and another of the company's cancer drugs, Herceptin, which sells for $40,000 a year.

'As we look at Avastin and Herceptin pricing, right now the health economics hold up, and therefore I don't see any reason to be touching them,' said William M. Burns, the chief executive of Roche's pharmaceutical division and a member of Genentech's board. 'The pressure on society to use strong and good products is there.'"

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

nominee, jfw award for the most depressing sales pitch of the year

From the Lincoln Financial Group, for some kind of financial planning service: "Retirement isn't an end. It's the beginning of what you were meant to be doing all along."

Yes, be sure to wait until you retire to start on that.

Monday, February 13, 2006

(ssf) marshmallow

Okay, taking this short short fiction class turns out to have been a fabulously fun idea, even if sometimes a timesuck comparable to blogging at its most addictive. This week's assignment is to write a story that has something to do with a prohibition, violation of the prohibition, and consequences. In addition, the story was also supposed to include two distinct appearances of some "object," although I'm not sure I fully understood that part. I do like how we have specific assignments, although occasionally they feel a little more like improv comedy directives than writing exercises.

My story is called "Marshmallow" and is available here. Like last week's story, it involves academia, although again nothing autobiographical or quasi-autobiographical. It does, however, include a reference to an actual study from the annals of social psychology (albeit simplified in its details). And, as with one of my earlier stories, even though it certainly isn't anything I would label "erotic," I would still suggest you skip it if you are superprudish or my mom. Otherwise, of course, I'm grateful to anyone who takes the time to read it. As always, I welcome any fragile-writerly-self-esteem-respecting comments or suggestions.

(JECG: If you read this, this story is for you, and you know why.)

Sunday, February 12, 2006

my shivering depravity

I just walked out in a freaking blizzard to get a Coke Zero. At least I had the foresight to buy a second for later.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

a perfect poster boy if your goal is never to have to worry about actually selling any posters

The cover story in this week's Madison alternative newspaper is titled "Couples Town: For Singles, Things are Tough All Over." The thesis of the story is basically what you'd expect from the title, especially as applied to thirtysomethingish singles. I was talking to someone yesterday who told me that they had a conversation about the merits of the article. As part of a counterargument that there are indeed attractive single men in their thirties in Madison, I was apparently named as an example. Um, wow. Let's be honest: you know someone is really grasping at straws when they invoke me in as an example of either "attractive" or "living in Madison," much less for both simultaneously. It's like somebody saying a city has good restaurants and then, when pressed, offering up as an example an Appleby's thirty miles away.

Friday, February 10, 2006

i love you mom

With this e-mail, my mother announced her return to the Internet. Way back, I gave my mother an old computer and an Internet connection. Last summer, at her request, I discontinued it. Then, when I was home in January, my three sisters independently told me that my mother missed e-mail more than she let on. So I returned to Cambridge with the mission of catapulting my Mom back into cyberspace. This involved me arranging the shipment an old computer from Madison to the farm (thanks Sal) and my sister coming over to hook everything up (thanks Peg). It also involved arranging for some kind of microwave connection that goes from the living room of my parents' home, through their window, to a receiver on top of the grain elevator two miles away.

After getting the e-mail I talked to her on the phone. She had gone through all the messages that had accumulated in her Hotmail account. She asked what was the deal with the message I had sent a few weeks ago regarding "something about nymphos." I had to explain to her how spam could be sent to make it look like it came from someone you know. I am not sure my she was fully convinced--the e-mail did, after all, have my name right there after "From:".

Peg will surely show my mother my blog one of these days. If it's soon enough and she scrolls down far enough: Um, hi, Mom. Do not believe anything that those who may leave comments on this blog may have to say about me. And, click here and put a tack on my map. All the other bloggers' mothers have put tacks in their maps--you don't want me to be the only one. The way I was the only boy who didn't have an Atari 2600.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

they make it look so easy

In a variety of contexts over the past month, I have heard the phrase "slam dunk"* used seemingly a hundred times to refer to situations that were easy, simple, or straightforward. The phrase, of course, has been common parlance for a long time, and I've probably heard it used closer to a thousand times in different conversations. And yet, I have never heard it used by someone who seemed like they could actually slam dunk a regulation basketball on a regulation court. Or, for that matter, even if you lowered the hoop by a foot.

* a.k.a. "slam dunker" in the idiolect of certain immigrant bloggers I could name.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

go, dog. go!

Sal talked me into signing up for this marathon in Madison on May 28th. My original plan was to have a special T-shirt made for it, that on the front said "Where's Sal?", perhaps with a photo, and on the back said, "If you can read this, either (a) you're not Sal or (b) the race has just started." Since then, Sal has been reading running books and training religiously, while I have been writing short short fiction and stewing about health policy. So now, I've reverted back to the same official goals I had back for the half marathon I did in November: I would like to finish it without either (a) having to stop or (b) losing control of any of my bodily functions. (And, in case there is any ambiguity, if I fail at [b], I will also immediately and willfully fail at [a].) After using the winter as an excuse for far too long, I've run my standard (6-mile) loop three times this week, and my basic proximate goal between now and then end of March is to get to the point in which running that was about as easy as it was for me this past fall when I was running regularly and feeling asymptotically immortal.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

things i learn reading the newspaper*

In the NYT:
"By not allowing couples to end their marriages by mutual consent, New York has kept some of the strictest barriers to divorce in the nation. Currently, one party in the divorce must allege cruel and inhuman treatment, adultery, or abandonment — literal or sexual — for a year."
New York doesn't have no fault divorce? Really? And, people are always trying to pass it off as so civilized.

* Online, of course. I will never subscribe to a print newspaper ever again, as I have declared a permanent War on Paper.

Monday, February 06, 2006

(ssf) joy

The assignment for my short short fiction class this week was to write a story that begins with the words "This is going to be fun." With, as the instructor repeatedly pointed out, the quotation marks and the period. To practice doing dialogue, I think, except the last three stories I wrote have been nothing but dialogue, so I didn't want any more of that.

Instead, it seemed like a splendid occasion to see if I could write a shiny, happy story that would make readers feel all gooey and warm about humanity. Norman Rockwell with a word processor, that sort of thing. Not really. The result is titled "Joy" and is available here. It's about academia, but, in case this isn't obvious, it does not have any connection to anything autobiographical or quasi-autobiographical.

Anyway, the suggestions I've received via comments or e-mails for previous ssf-orts have been extremely helpful, so let me know if you have any non-despair-inducing reactions.

Update, Tuesday night: Minor revisions, in response to comments.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

halftime show

I was commissioned to provide an invention as part of the grand prize for Rob Clark's Famous NFL Pool (in previous years, I have provided haiku and a recipe for the same purpose here on JFW). Rob's mother, as it turned out, won the pool this year. You would think with a name like "Grace," a Grace-specific invention would be easy, but I was mostly stymied. I was, however, listening to the Mirah song "Murphy Bed" while commisserating with a friend about how much productive time can be lost to being slow to get out of bed even when one has Important Social Scientific Things To Do, and I had an idea for an invention there. I wrote/drew the invention up on my Tablet PC and uploaded the pages to Flickr (it's four pages, so you can follow the photostream to see the invention in its full splendor).

exit tina & brayden

Pub Sociology has closed its doors. And it had such a cool favicon, too. It will be missed. (So will they, except I presume this isn't the last we hear from them in one way or another.) Sigh.

Are there any surviving blogs that have "sociology" in their title?

Saturday, February 04, 2006

this will not be a regular feature

Eszter tagged me for this. I'm not really a meme-ish blogger, but then again neither is she. As an academic aside, I've thought about writing a post on the ironic mutation of the term 'meme' for these things from its original use in Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene (basically, one of the serious problems with Dawkins' theory is manifested in what has happened to the word 'meme' since he coined it). But anyway:

Four jobs you've had in your life:
1. Walking through soybean fields and spraying weeds with Roundup. I did this when I was in junior high and high school. Roundup is a really nasty chemical, if you don't know. Some of the more 'concerned' parents would dress their kids in elaborate clothes and gloves and all that. We would get in fights with the Roundup, as though our spray bottles with squirt guns.
2. Walking through cornfields, removing from the tassles from the tops of the cornstalks. I used to know why/when this needs to be done.
3. Pizza-making and delivery
4. Telefundraiser

Four movies you could watch over and over again:
1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (I've contemplated having this be the only movie I ever watch for the rest of my life)
2. It's a Wonderful Life (yes, really, sue me)
3. Punch Drunk Love ("I have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine.")
4. 8 Mile (okay, actually just the 'Sweet Home Alabama' and rap-battle scenes)

Four places you have lived:
1. Rural Iowa (Manson, IA and the Freese Family Farm)
2. Iowa City, IA
3. Bloomington, IN
4. Madison, WI
(Except for the summers at Stats Camp in Ann Arbor, this list brings you up to date 'til this move to Cambridge.)

Four TV shows you love to watch:
1. (None, I don't watch television anymore.)
2. (I haven't since the early days of graduate school.)
3. (The last show I watched regularly was the first season of Survivor, with a group of friends from graduate school.)
4. (When I was a kid, I really liked 'Quincy, M.E.')

Four websites you visit daily:
1. Bloglines (from which all blog reading is conducted)
2. NYT
3. ESPN.com (strange given that I don't really watch sports, given that I don't watch television)
4. Google/GMail

Four of your favorite foods:
1. Fruity Pebbles
2. Long John Silver's fish
3. Whatever that pesto dish is at Noodles
4. Chewy chocolate chip cookies
(Note: In the interest of my physical shape and well-being, I don't actually eat any of these foods anymore.)

Four places you'd rather be right now:
Too-melancholy provoking.

Four favorite places you've ever been in the world:
Too-insecurity provoking (I feel desperately ill-traveled)

Four bloggers you'll be tagging to do this meme:
I'm not the tagging type.

Four people who will put a tack in your map:
Who knows? I don't think anyone has put a tack in my map for awhile. But I said I wasn't going to mention it anymore, so I won't.

Friday, February 03, 2006

therms of endearment

So, I was surprised last month when I opened my gas bill and it was $300, considering how small my apartment is and the radiator in my bedroom doesn't even work. This month I've mostly kept the thermostat at 58 degrees, which is easier for me than most people because of my inner radiance. I got my gas bill yesterday and opened it eager to see what difference my icy determination had made. Lo:

Which was less distressing once I remembered that I hadn't actually paid my bill from the previous month. Meaning this total included that, and my bill for this month was less than half of what it was the month before.

I should still call my landlord and ask why the radiator in my bedroom still doesn't work. I recognize that the previous sentence contains two stills, but I'm in a hurry and a non-cumbersome edit that exactly preserves semantics is not obvious to me.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

nominee, jfw award for most unfortunate use of the word 'probably'

The NYT has a story about a Christian film company being criticized for casting a gay actor as a missionary in one of its films. The story includes the following quote from the weblog of someone listed as a president of a Baptist seminary:
"Granted, we must not overreact. And it would probably be an overreaction to firebomb these men's houses. But what they have done is no mistake. It is a calculated strategy."
Actually, if you want to have a rousing round of despair, check out the post itself and comments to it.