Sunday, December 31, 2006

(annual tradition!) my official recommended novel from 2006

I figure that if somebody regularly reads novels and seems like someone of compatible taste, they ought to be able to recommend one novel a year just on their say-so. "Seriously, read this." More than one and they need to sell you with actual reasons and/or a convergence of positive reviews from other people. Or else, they are being pushy, one of those people who wants to colonize your reading queue.

If somebody gets me to listen to a song and I don't like it, so what? 3 minutes. With a novel, we are talking about putting several hours of someone else's time on the line. And so, while it isn't to be approached as gingerly as "Seriously, take this job," a substantial pinch of ginger is in order.

Anyway, I'm thinking of what would be the one novel I would recommend to the world (i.e, you) from my reading this year. Although I am militant about keeping novel reading in my life [see p. 8 6 here], I don't read that many, so maybe I don't even deserve an annual recommendation. I've decided my three finalists are: Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl; The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster; and Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics is basically written for women under 30, at heart if not chronologically, and I felt both age and gender wrong for the book even as I enjoyed it. So, I'm going to offer it here as my recommended book for women, but, regardless of your gender, you can only read it on my recommendation if you promise first that you will not hold me responsible for the sucky "goldfish" speech near the end.*

New York Trilogy are three novellas that add up to few pages than either of my other finalists. It plays heavily on Boy Themes related to accomplishment, obsession, and losing one's way, and has all these recursive turns of paragraph and plot that seem to appeal more to the geek-male reader than anyone else. So it wins as my recommendation to male readers: especially because it's a more risky recommendation, and studies show men are less risk-averse than women, and yet also shorter, and studies show men begrudge a disappointing book recommendation more than women. Seriously, dude, read this.

I suspect some people won't like the idea of separate recommendations for female and male readers, or will at least think of themselves as not someone for whom gender-specific recommendations are pertinent. For such people, I recommend Cloud Atlas. In terms of the most moments of my reading and thinking, "Dear God, this book is a freaking miracle," Cloud Atlas is the clear winner for this year and likely in my all-time top ten. If there is someone out there who is putting together more interesting English-language sentences one-after-another than David Mitchell, I want to know who it is (I mean it, let me know). Cloud Atlas is a big clever puzzle-box of textual wonders, but it's main shortcoming is that it's a book that uses a really smart conceit to show off Mitchell's virtuosity at the expense of any overarching plot. The book is instead a confederacy of six different plots that are not intended to "come together," and while they do add up to more than the sum of their parts, the sum is maybe still not enough or else it would be the year's hands-down winner.

Importantly, none of these novels is as good as The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, which remains my favorite contemporary novel. If you haven't read it, seriously, read that. If you've read it and didn't really like it, I don't know why you'd pay any attention to any of my recommendations above.

I'd love to know any recommendation from your own reading that you have for me. Note the singular noun, though: one year -> one novel that's worth a try just because you say so. Beyond that I have to be persuaded.

* The only more dramatic lapse of form I've read in the past few years is the second-to-last page of the The Boy Detective Fails (Joe Meno), which literally made me feel a little stupid for having enjoyed so much of the rest of the book. If you read The Boy Detective Fails, have someone black-out the second-to-last page for you before beginning.

Update: Lucy, who read 120 novels last year, has come out with her top 10 11 list, which includes The Boy Detective Fails and spurns Spec Top Calam Phys, even though her recommendation was why I read it in the first place.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

2006: the year in review

Really, the world moves so much faster nowadays that what used to be a year is really only two months, max.
November 4: Jeremy Freese writes a blog post that makes reference to the Notre Dame sociology department.

November 7: Dan Myers, chair of Notre Dame sociology department, learns of post, comments on it.

November 9: Dan Myers starts "whitecards" online discussion group.

November 14: Dan Myers starts blog.

November 18: Dan Myers follows four fairly staid "public sociology" style posts with post about soft drink cans, and the slippery slope toward Wisconsin School-style blogging is begun.

December 14: Dan Myers writes anniversary post (which, given the speed of the blogosphere, are indeed properly measured in months rather than annums), in which he notes having posted 37 times in his first month.

December 30: Dan Myers admits blogging addiction, posts photos of himself with custom-made bloggerwear.
Goal for 2007: Contribute to setting three more chairs and a provost on the path to blog addiction.

Consistent with it being the end of the year, I've been in a nostalgic mood, although not necessarily for this year per se. One great thing about blogging is that after awhile the posts combine into a kind of record that is sort of like a prose scrapbook (indeed, blogging is a lot more like scrapbooking* than I think myself or many other grown-up academic disdain-for-scrapbooking types would ever care to admit). For example, I was thinking about this post earlier, which now has a certain quaintness to it.

More pertinently, though, I had an exchange with Emily today about this episode before I started my blog, where she had her friend Henry draw a comic for her birthday based on an e-mail I sent her. This, I don't want to lose, so I'm putting it in the scrapbook here (readable size here.**):


* I went out some years ago with a woman who gave me a tour of her scrapbooks on our second date. Suffice it to say there was no third date.

** Sometimes I think I should beg Henry to update the drawing of me that is featured on the top of my sidebar. Other times, I think I should beg him to make a drawing of a rendition of an even younger me than my current sidebar drawing.

Friday, December 29, 2006

fan of the year!

So, my father has always been a huge high school sports fan.* About a decade ago, after an incident involving my father, the principal of my hometown high school, and my father's middle finger, my father ceased his allegiance to my school, and indeed he later worked to help defeat referendums that sought to raise additional tax revenue for it.

Then he started following sports for the consolidated school of the towns to the north and west. Now that he is retired, he goes to home and away games for both boys' and girls' teams. Anyway, all his loyal travelling and attendance has been this year rewarded, as my father was recently selected "Fan of the Year" by this school:

fan of the year!
fan of the year!

Apparently one of the things this school does at the halftimes of its basketball games is have this contest where you pay $1 and get to attempt a halfcourt shot, and after halftime is over half the pot is divided among whoever made theirs. My father has won this contest several times, although because his hands are arthritic he's had to get approval to be able to wear these special gloves that help him grip the ball:

dad's basketball gloves (action shot!)

During football games, the cheerleaders from this school do jumping jacks every time the team scores -- one jumping jack for each point of the total score at the time, so they do more jumping jacks as the game goes on. My father, to "help motivate the team," does the same thing from some place off the sidelines, only he does a sit-up per point instead of a jumping jack. My father is 72 years old. For a game in which the team scored over forty points, this amounted to over 150 sit-ups over the course of the evening. I could maybe do 150 sit-ups, over the course of a month.

My father believes he can affect the outcome of high school sporting events using the power of prayer. However, he only uses this power when a team that truly deserves to win would lose if not for his/His intervention. He has a story about a time when this school was losing as a result of poor refereeing but then won on a last-second desperation heave by an unlikely player who was falling out of bounds as he shot. I mean, it's a fine enough basketball story in itself, but when my father tells it, the last two minutes of his play-by-play are interspersed with his supplications to God to allow true hoops justice to prevail. However dubious I may be of the idea of a supreme being who meddles with high school sports, the spiritual asides do make the story much more intimate and compelling, and if anything I've come to be disappointed by his accounts of other games where it's only about the players and not also his calling God for aid.

* We will not here discuss on this happy blog the implications of my father being such a huge high school sports fan and having a son so devoid of athletic aptitude. To his great credit, knowing other families with dads who are really into sports, my lot could have been far worse.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

counterfactual thursday

Sure, as far as titles go, "Leader of the Free World" is more important in the abstract than "Godfather of Soul." Still, if a shadowy figure stepped into the wayback machine and contemplated the following options:
red button: Going back to 1913 and preventing Gerald Ford from being born, or

blue button: Going back to 1933 and preventing James Brown from being born.
Does anyone really doubt the world would be more different from what it is now if the shadowy figure pressed the blue button vs. the red button?

Plus, it seems also more straightforward that the ways the world would be different would be for the worse had James Brown never been born than if Gerald Ford never been born. Artists have this advantage. With an elected official, you can point to how they did A and B and C, but they also kept someone from holding that same office who would have done D and E and F. I think it's very likely we would have had the Nixon pardon and "Whip Inflation Now!" even if Ford had never been born, while I think it's very unlikely we would have had "Get Up (I Feel Like Being Like a) Sex Machine" had James Brown never been born.

That said, I do have these married friends that had an unusual number of aspects of their courtship involve Gerald Ford--e.g., a pivotal date being a trip to the Gerald R. Ford presidential museum--so much so that they sent him an invitation to their wedding. He did not respond. Their love endured the snub.

Meanwhile: That John Edwards is running is the only reason I have not provided an early JFW endorsement of Barack Obama for the 2008 presidential race. Likewise, the seemingly likely Obama candidacy is the only reason Edwards's announcement was not accompanied by his getting the official JFW endorsement today.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

jeremy freese: the footnotes interview, final part

[in response to questions e-mailed by a writing doing a piece for sociology's newsletter, Footnotes; links to parts 1, 2, and 3]

Question #4: Do your students read your blog?

I think this question is most interesting with respect to the question of whether one's undergraduate students read one's blog and, if so, how this influences content. Graduate students do not influence content of my blog any more than the general knowledge that anyone out there could be reading my blog, but I might imagine approaching my blog a little differently (as in more self-consciously) if I was teaching a class of first-year undergraduates at the same time. I have not had that experience yet with my blog.

Question #5: How do you decide what topics to blog on and do you believe they go beyond the scope of sociology?

My blog posts mostly happen by me happening to be at the computer when I think of something I think would make a good blog post, and then I write it. Most of my blog posts are resolutely not works of sociology or about sociology. I did not start my blog as an act of "public sociology," and, even if I did, I generally regard as objects of disdain and intellectual suspicion those in sociology who fret overmuch about whether they are talking about things in a consistently "sociological" fashion. In any case, I view my blog as more an outlet from my non-sociology and meta-sociology thoughts. I think if I had started my blog with the idea of it being something where instead I would write only about my take as a sociologist on issues of the day or whatever, I would have written about five posts before getting bored with it and giving up.

Incidentally, if anyone does answer this question by saying they have an exclusively sociological blog and it's a blog they have managed to keep up for, say, more than a fifty posts, I want to know who they are. To my knowledge, no true "sociology" blog, in the narrow and tedious sense presupposed by the question, exists. All the better for sociology, I say.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

(ongoing series) ways i am different from my family

872. My lack of enthusiasm for milk.


Photo from Xmas dinner at my sister's. Which place at the table was mine will be left as an exercise for the lactose-lovin' reader.

873. My lack of enthusiasm for scatological humor.*

defecating reindeer

Above is the stocking stuffer given to myself and others by two different immediate family members this holiday. In case it's not clear from the photo, the idea with "The Super Dooper Reindeer Pooper" is that it's a plastic reindeer that you press on its tail and it defecates brown jellybeans. Seriously, there is basically a two-step surefire recipe if you want to make my family double-over with laughter and me squirm uncomfortably: (1) take a joke that would otherwise be maybe funny, maybe not and (2) add poop.

* As always when I use a book for the background of a photo, a coveted JFW virtual kewpie doll will be awarded to the first person to identify it.

Monday, December 25, 2006

xmas dispatch from the freese family farm

wide shot in field
(me, out back)

I am sitting here on Xmas morning watching Live With Regis and Whatever Her Name Is. I am doing this because I believe that, as a reminder of the true reason for the season, I should start of Xmas morning with a glimpse of what hell might be like. (Kidding. While my personal spiritual beliefs are not a matter for discussion on this blog, I will say that if I did believe there was a hell that featured morning television playing in an eternal loop for the damned, it would not be this show but rather The View.)

The trip back to the farm has been fun. I spent some time yesterday scouting the area from the top of my dad's old sheep trailer:

on trailer

I spent time with my great niece:

with delani

And, because I have learned that keys to psychologically successful trips home are preparation and assertiveness, I made sure I had appropriate dress for playing the role of adjudicator should any disputes of protocol break out as the family was opening presents:


Merry Xmas, all!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

jeremy freese: the footnotes interview, part 3

(parts 1 and 2)

Question #3: Talk about about blogging as a sociological phenomenon.

Everyone talks about blogging like the first phenomenon to be explained is why people have blogs. Blogging is people providing material they wish to share with whoever cares to read it. The Internet makes it possible for anyone to enter an attention market for very low cost. Attention markets have always had a lot of entrants -- many people, it seems, really like attention -- and so it's not surprising many people would start blogs. Attention markets can be brutal and cold to the casual entrant, and so it's not that surprising many people who start blogs would stop not long afterward.

If there is a sociological puzzle about blogs, it's why people read blogs, not why they write them. If blogging collapses and later comes to be seen as a "fad," it will be caused more by some steep decline in blog-reading, not a collapse of interest in blog-writing. There are many different types of blog readers, and I would love it if the sociology of the blog reader was understood better than it presently is. But: A major cause of blog-reading, as far as I can tell, is the rise of occupational circumstances that give people large amount of unstructured reading time in front of a computer. Here people are looking for very short diversions, not to watch whole television programs before they get back to work. Blogs provide a nice, brief, regular connection with another person, where that author may have something entertaining or emotional or edifying to offer you.

As for larger sociological implications, before blogs the agenda for what news stories were important and how they were interpreted was concentrated in the hands of a frighteningly small number of people given prevailing delusions about our being a participatory democracy. Blogs have helped open that up. From a System of Professions perspective, blogs are encroaching into the jurisdiction of journalists, and journalists have shown both a fascination and fear of blogs. Both reactions are deserved.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

jeremy freese: the footnotes interview, part 2

(part 1 here)

Question #2: What are your views on the controversy surrounding academics who blog (ie, hiring committees that look askance at it, perceptions that blogging is taking time away from "legitimate" scholarship, etc)?

The issues surrounding hiring committees using information from blogs in their evaluation of a candidate are more complicated than what I have time to answer.

But: I think hiring committees are short-sighted if they take the existence of a blog per se as a strike against a candidate. Given two candidates who seemed otherwise equal but one had a blog and one didn't, I would go with the person with a blog. I think having a blog and reading blogs is a good indicator of being intellectually alive and wanting to remain so. The latter is especially important in sociology, as there are so many promising sociologists whose curiosity is dead by the time they are five years out of graduate school. Blogging is also a good indicator of being able to write and being eager to share ideas, which are attributes sociology departments should value.

As for blogs taking time away from "legitimate" scholarship, I understand that there are sociologists who have monomaniacal devotion to their craft to the exclusion of all else. However: many sociologists pursue hobbies, watch television, practice religion, engage in extensive personal grooming rituals, or have kids they refuse to neglect. I have little patience for anyone who does any of these things and thinks me derelict for the time I spend blogging. I have much enthusiasm for my work and spend much time at it, but I am not going to forgo all other things I enjoy for the sake of sociology.

Friday, December 22, 2006

xmas hotel foxtrot

I just received a handsomely formatted Xmas e-mail sent out by a guy from high school. Back when he was an eighth grader or so, I remember he and three other guys formed this heavy metal band together, and they even rented the VFW hall a couple times for performances. They wrote this one song that started off with "I lost the battle / I lost the fight / I choked before I / Took the first bite." It was called "It's Too Late," but then they decided they shouldn't do such downer metal lest parents or guidance counselors intervene, so they kept everything the same but changed the refrain to "It's Not Too Late." Fame and groupies did not follow.

Anyway, apparently he's still kept his connection to the music business in various ways, although he's no longer into heavy metal. Indeed, he and his wife have just had a baby. The boy's middle name is Lennon. His first name is Wilco.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

jeremy freese: the footnotes interview, part 1

I received an e-mail from someone who is writing a story on sociologists who blog for Footnotes, the official newsletter of the American Sociological Association. I told him I would do the interview over e-mail and he sent me five questions. I've decided I am going to answer them here, in addition to replying to his e-mail.

Question #1: Why did you start a blog and do you feel it contributes to a wide audience?

I've had people ask "Why did you start a blog?" and "Why do you have a blog?" as if the two questions are interchangeable. Most people who start blogs stop shortly thereafter. I think the question of "Why do you have a blog?" is really two questions: "Why did you start?," and "Why do you continue?"

I started my blog on a whim because it was summer, I was working hard but also a little bored, and it looked fun. The only blog I had ever seen was Kieran Healy's, and since he called his Kieran Healy's Weblog, it never occurred to me to call mine anything other than Jeremy Freese's Weblog.

I figured when I started my blog that I would probably do it for two weeks, get bored and stop. That was three and a half years ago.

The main reasons I keep blogging are that it allows me to introduce a different kind of creativity into my day, and it provides a different way of feeling connected to other people. Blogging has been good for me in a number of other ways, including leading me to embark on some fun adventures that were justified solely by the thought they would make for a good post later.

Do I feel like my blog contributes to a wide audience? Strange question. Reading blogs is a sedentary activity, and so the time people spend reading my blog is time they could be spending exercising. Still, I would think that even those readers of my blog who are relatively "wide" would not blame my blog for it. Indeed, when I went on a diet and tracked my progress on my blog, several other people joined the same diet and also lost weight. For this reason, I would say that if anything my blog has played a positive role in the ongoing War on Obesity.

If the question instead refers to the number of readers, I have no idea how many people read my blog. I do know that more people at the sociology meetings recognize me for having a blog than recognize me for anything scholarly I have done so far. Obviously, I have very mixed feelings about this.

As for whether I contribute anything to the people who read my blog, I view blogs as much more ruthless than the academic world, which has many forums that allow people to contribute by expressing their thoughts to essentially captive or otherwise coerced audiences. With blogs, if you aren't giving people anything in your posts, they won't keep reading. That said, exactly what I'm contributing to those people who check in on my blog from time to time remains mysterious.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

strange mishap, or sociology job market saboteur!

I'm still in Madison, about to embark on an evening of egregious violation of established wisdom about designing social surveys. Ah, the damage deadlines do to science, especially in combination with competing obligations and indefatigable procrastination.

Anyway, the secretary for my program at Harvard sent me the following e-mail today:
Jeremy, the U.S. Postal Service returned a recommendation letter for  
[name] to [university] today. The letter was torn in half and the
return address was showing. It came in a plastic bag. I'll leave it in
your mailbox, but wanted you to know the receipient didn't receive it,
in case there is a deadline.
Indeed, there was a deadline. This is regarding a letter I sent over a month ago. Clearly, someone with some serious postal connections is trying to thwart the power of my prose.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

odd man out

family new year
(Evite list for 'A Family New Year's Party')

A friend of mine got married shortly after college, and they have had a tradition of having a New Years' Eve party ever since. I've lived elsewhere and have only been able to attend once, although he's kept me on the invite list every year. Reports of the party from the early years suggested that it was at least a slightly rowdy affair. Over time, and with the birth of two children, the name of the party has changed from something like "C. & J.'s New Years' Eve SuperMegaUltraBoozerBash!!!" to now being called "A Family New Year's Party." As you can see from the guest list above, one of the entries is not like the others. Ah, aging. Ah, the failure to make normative life course transitions.

Monday, December 18, 2006

how my psyche is like a snowflake

Quoth an e-mail received just now:
I was talking to [name] about how you seemed really distracted yesterday. He said, "I've never seen that guy in the same mood twice!"
Meanwhile, extremely busy here in Madison, so I am not sure how much blogging the world will get from me.

In the Kurt Vonnegut story "Harrison Bergeron," the protagonist is a genius who, due to certain statutory mandates for equality, is required to wear a device that lowers his intelligence to normal levels. The way this is accomplished is simply that the device emits a incredibly loud noise in his ears every fifteen seconds, preventing him from working up any cognitive momentum. I have come to think maybe this is part of my problem with meetings when there are more than three people and no clear agenda. You'll get like three turns of talk from different participants that seem like they are on the topic you are trying to resolve, and then the fourth just seems to completely derail the momentum toward action onto something else (although, of course, to that person what they are saying may be completely on topic, and it's your own turn that may seem to provide the Bergeron beep.)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

an open letter to anyone who happens to find themselves someday running a sociology department

Sociology departments will often bring in multiple candidates for a single junior position, and decide that more than one candidate is suitable. Say Candidate A is the department's first choice, and Candidate B the second. A common strategy has been to call Candidate A and make her the offer, and not say anything to Candidate B until Candidate A has made up her mind. One justification is that if the turnaround time for a negative decision by A is relatively brief, B can then be given the offer under the impression that he was really the first choice and the committee just took its time deliberating. I'm not sure this was ever a great strategy from anyone's standpoint, but it really does not make sense in the age of the sociology job market wiki. Junior candidates who take the time to give a talk at your university and get all excited at the possibility of a future there shouldn't have to find out someone else has the offer from a wiki. That's just cold*, and sociology is supposed to pride itself on being nicer than certain neighboring disciplines.

* Given the common (but dispreferred!) pronunciation of my last name as rhyming with "knees" instead of "niece," nicknames given to the blog proprietor in graduate school by The Other Guys included "Frosty" and "2-Kold." These, certainly, were superior to nicknames from junior high or high school, which for obvious reasons of pride and propriety will not be shared here.

Addendum: Given that there are now several people actually in charge of sociology departments who are known members of the sociology blog universe, I suppose I should state explicitly to those prone to seeing subtext in blissfully subtextless posts that this not directed at any known blog author or blog reader. I have, though, heard more than one story of bad-news-delivery-via-wiki this year, which I think is fine at the stage of people finding out they didn't get a (first-round) interview but not at the stage of finding out they didn't get an (first-round) offer.

Friday, December 15, 2006

my contribution to eszterfeszt

Today is Eszter's birthday. She put out her gift request awhile back:
I’m well aware of the comment “There comes a time when you should stop expecting other people to make a big deal about your birthday. That time is age eleven.” Nonetheless, if you care to contribute to my upcoming celebrations, I’m collecting photos of the number 3 from around the world. So email me one if you can (or better yet, post one on Flickr and send me the link). (Yes, I know I can find tons of 3s on Flickr, but these would be from you to me.:)
Okay, Eszter, this one is from me to you. My apartment is number 3, so that's easy enough to consider personalized. And we both have ThinkPads, so I can work that in. And you love Flickr, so I can pull up a photo of the two of us from your Flickr page. And, hey, maybe I can balance it just so there will be three fingers showing in the photo. Happy birthday!


Thursday, December 14, 2006

latest assault in my ongoing war on paper

journal (un)renewal
(asterisks old, checked boxes renewed)

I just renewed my membership in the American Sociological Association. I cut my number of journal subscriptions from five to two (American Sociological Review and, proud to say it, Contexts), which is the minimum needed to have immediate online access to the rest. Subscriptions to academic journals aren't cheap, but I'm fortunate presently to have a research account that I can use pay for my journal subscriptions. The bigger problem: I don't want them! I want the shelf space, and freedom from the weird mental obligation of maintaining a complete run of some journal on my shelf even though, when I do want to read an old article in a journal I own, I usually still just look it up online so I can print out an 8x11 copy and put it the appropriate project binder once I've marked it up. Indeed, most of my journals are back in Madison and I haven't missed them at all.

BTW, when I was in graduate school I snapped up a nearly complete 30+ year run of ASRs from a retiring professor. A few months later I thought: What the hell is the point of having these? and sent out an e-mail to the soc grad student listserv asking if anyone wanted them. Of course I got several immediate replies. The guy who took them who had spent several years in the past living under a false identity while wanted by the law under his real identity, and he was doing his dissertation on "false identity" by interviewing various folks who knew him back when he was someone else. Sociology. I don't know what happened to him.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

truest thing i'll type all day

In an e-mail, just now:
Starting a blog has easily been the single greatest generator of unanticipated consequences of anything I have ever done in my life.

Meanwhile, as for the question of truest things, I was recently trying to think of what I thought was the truest thing ten words or less in the recent history of popular music. The reason I was thinking of this was a candidate sprung to mind, the line "How you gonna win if you ain't right within?" from Lauryn Hill. The candidacy of this statement has two problems, though--one being that maybe it is profound but still not quite profound enough, the other being I don't really think it's actually true, as certain ways of being "not right within" seem to be quite consonant with winning, i.e., monomanical tenacity (to bob for a couple examples, take Bobby Fischer and Bobby Knight). Let me know if you have any nominations.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

an engine, not a camera. and not just any old engine, either.

Okay, so I was touting Donald MacKenzie's An Engine, Not a Camera, even before announced its symposium on it. Yesterday Kieran put up a post of journal-article quality and length about the book. Reading that caused me to write my own post. Not a response to Kieran's--especially since I haven't finished reading it--but some of my own thoughts on the relationship between economic theory and the world-at-large by way of an extended analogy. The issue is one I've been trying to think through even before reading MacKenzie, but has certainly been influenced by it. Since it's a longish post of limited interest to people who read my blog to see if I've written about bacon night, conversations about raw butter, or short short fiction about dead babies, I've used the Magic Weblog Wayback Machine to post it here instead. The post does include a rousing conclusion about what I currently regard as the inexorable direction our world has been and will continue to be headed.

Two brief updates after further reading: (1) I finished reading Kieran's post and his discussion of "game-changing tricks" is pretty intimately related to (and far more eloquently stated than) how I mean to be thinking of that part of what "performativity" is about. My broader thinking is something like stapling the idea of "game-changing tricks" to the Boyd and Richerson concept of "work-arounds" and having "performativity" emerge as the rabbit out of a much grander hat than just financial markets; (2) I also re-read my dead babies story linked above and it made me wish I had re-enrolled in short short fiction. That class was so much fun.

when i'm out wandering upon the hills of iowa, i am, in fact, thinking of you

Okay, so my understanding from other blogs is that I can do this as long as (1) the link is only up for a temporary period of time, (2) it is plain I am putting it up noting that it is part of an album that I strongly recommend that you own and mean to be promoting here, and (3) I reiterate that I will immediately remove it upon objection from the copyright holder or any other interested party.

In that spirit, here is an ephemeralink to Dar Williams's "Iowa", the song I believe should be adopted as the official song of my home state.* If you haven't heard it, it's worth a listen. If you don't own any Dar Williams albums, I would recommend Out There Live, which features a live version of "Iowa," over any of her studio albums. Indeed, I am convinced that Dar Williams's fame has been hindered by strange studio production decisions that make the live versions of many of her songs better than the versions she had many takes to work on with professional mixers and producers and such. (Case in point: "As Cool As I Am," a beautiful and catchy song that somehow got horribly polluted by horns in the studio.)

* Whatever the likelihood of my ever actually living there again, my home state will always be Iowa.

Monday, December 11, 2006

we never mean to bother, but don't think we will ever go to one of your concerts again if you don't do a certain song

sheeptrailerwhat's in back of the backyard
(way back, where I come from [set])

"So, are you going to, like, be screaming in-between songs for her to do 'Iowa'?"
"I cannot even begin to tell you how un-Iowan that would be."

Saw Dar Williams tonight. Her opening act was this guy who sounded the way you'd imagine an obese goat sounds as it's being killed. (At least if your imagination is accurate; me, I grew up on a farm, and so don't have to imagine.) He also had these highly autocorrelated lyrics where you imagined him sitting down to write and each time he managed to come up with a new line thinking, "That was tough! How 'bout next I just sing that same line again."

Dar Williams has two songs that are better known than her others. One, "Iowa," I have already offered 50% of all future earnings to a campaign to have it made the official song of my home state. The other, "The Christians and the Pagans," is this hokey-boppy-Kucinichy song regarded with distaste by myself and fellow emotionally discriminating DW fans. When she closed her set having done "The Christians and the Pagans" and not "Iowa," I was clearly Not Happy. Fortunately, she came back and did it as her encore, and all was well.

The lyrics from "Iowa" include "Way back where I come from / We never mean to bother / We don't like to make our passions other people's concerns" and "What is love? / Where did it get me? / Who ever thought of love is no friend of mine." I am convinced that if I could get the bill passed to make it the state song, within five years every rural bar every Saturday night there would be a moment with farmers sitting with their arms around one another, swaying and bellowing these lines.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

sometimes the world inside my monitor is such a beautiful and wondrous place that it makes me almost weep

(this! there is nothing in the world I would rather share with you right now more than this!)

Okay, I can't believe no one has called my attention to it before, but linked above is the hands down winner of the coveted JFW award for best music video of 2006. It would win even if not for the fact that the bald singer looks suspiciously like one of my Madison colleagues sporting fake sideburns. I am sitting here in my office on a Saturday night 'cause I've got many things to do, and yet I am mesmerized by this video, especially the thirty or so seconds of choreography starting at 2:20, which I believe must have been divinely inspired.

Speaking of treadmills: I have been going out running here in the cold with my hearty Iowa sweatshirt, ski mask, and kicky Nano exercise mix to keep me warm. Last year's experience leads me to strongly suspect that this is not a feasible all-winter solution, but that the only way I'm going to keep exercising is to pony up the $150 initiation fee plus monthly fee to join the gym near Porter Square. Either that, or get over my fear of working out in proximity to Harvard undergrads.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

the little drummer goy

I'm officially ready for the holidays! A friend gave me my very first dreidel!*


First time I met a Jewish person was my first semester of college. He was this short, fat guy that everyone called Sludge-O, who flunked out because he could not get himself out of bed in the morning to go to classes. As I have since discovered, there are many Jews who do just fine in higher education. When I started on the faculty at Madison, I mentioned to a certain Jewish professor friend of mine that I was surprised by the number of my new colleagues who were Jewish. "Jeremy," said this person in a low, let-me-clue-you-in-farmboy voice, "Madison is a top-ranked department."

Anyway, if I kept an annual list of the 100 people I'd interacted with most that year, I'm quite sure the percentage of Jews (or people with, e.g., a Jewish father) on that list has increased more or less every year since starting college. It's not (yet?) a majority, but that I would have to ponder this a moment for a group that is <3% of the US and <1% of the upper Midwest population says something. For me, this has been accompanied by an increasing bystander fascination with certain aspects of Judaism. Coming from my background, I learn about various Jewish practices and regularly think: Wow, Jews really know how to do a religion.

Awhile back, I was going to do a whole post listing maybe a dozen different ways in which I think Judaism has a clearly superior way of doing things (e.g., sitting shiva, and having a holiday where a key part is getting so drunk you can't tell two old men apart), but let's just focus for now on a religion should do the weekend. My chronic problem when I am in situations where I have work for my job to do over the weekend is that I engage in all this guilty procrastination on Saturday and then really only get down to business on Sunday. If I were an adherent to the religious tradition in which I was raised, this would mean that I would feel guilty for procrastinating on Saturday and then feel guilty for working on my Sabbath on Sunday. If I were Jewish, meanwhile, I could justify my procrastination on the grounds that my religion didn't want me working that day anyway, and then Sunday I could get down to work guilt-free.

* As always with photos that have a book in the background, this blog is sponsoring a contest giving a official JFW virtual kewpie doll to first person to identify the book. Readers are reminded of rules of this contest, including those prohibiting the reselling of the doll and prohibiting the author of the book or her/his relatives from entering.

Friday, December 08, 2006

somewhere out there, kool & the gang of four are wearing berets and plotting

Fiji's military commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, announced Tuesday he had taken control of the country from the elected government in the South Pacific nation's fourth coup in two decades.
Don't get me wrong, I'm all for democracy, but I can see where a former member of the Commodores ("Brick House", "Three Times a Lady") and Bainimarama ("(I'm Your) Venus", "Cruel Summer") might get a little frustrated by the fall from the spotlight and engage in desperate stunts to regain attention. You can't just expect them to be happy with playing state fairs and bars of dwindling size and trying to work connections to get a gig on The Surreal Life. Besides, what's more retro than a coup? A few more and maybe Behind the Music will move from VH1 to CNN.

maybe we could save the surprise until after we're there

surprise cab
(my taxi receipt from the company in question)

So, early in my time at Cambridge, I walked by a place called LUCKY LAUNDRY and thought that if there was ever a domain in my life where I didn't want being lucky or unlucky to be an issue, it was with my laundry. Whatever that story is an example of, however, was far exceeded this Monday, when I was off to the airport feeling like I was running a bit late and I got into a taxi run by SURPRISE CAB.

As ever with photos on this blog with a book in the background, a virtual JFW kewpie doll to the first person to identify it. (Please, do not resell.)

BTW, above is the first photo blogged from my Treo camera phone. I'm no Dan Myers with this thing, that's for sure. Incidentally, Myers presently has the distinction of being easily the most entertaining blog on my Bloglines list for which I am so far the only Bloglines subscriber, so you should check it out.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

should i stay or should i click?

blogger beta

Finally, Google has seen fit to extend me the invitation to upgrade to the new version of its blogging software (Blogger Beta). To my knowledge, most other blogspot users have been offered this already. Should I do it? It says "content and layout will not change," but I'm suspicious of this. Lucy said when she switched it messed up like half her template, although she seems to have it all back in order nicely. Then again, she has more computer skills than I do, and doesn't have to worry about a cartoon drawing of her head getting somehow cybermulched in the transition. I suppose the main draws of switching are that I would like to be able to tag posts, and that I already have enough angst about my real self obsolescing that I don't need to feel like my virtual self is doing the same.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

come on, work with me here!

do not open until christmas!

I feel like I want to push my last post down the page since it doesn't exactly have the joie de jeremy with which I usually carry forth this blog. But, I'm too exhausted at the moment to be entertaining. Can someone, like, tell some knock-knock jokes in the comments? Or maybe explain why six is afraid of seven?

The talk in Ann Arbor went all right; it stimulated good discussion. I am coming to realize that one problem with me is that it is almost a given that I don't sleep well the first night when I am traveling, and when I travel to give a talk the first night traveling is the night before my talk, which means that I'm regularly giving talks on ridiculously inadequate sleep to audiences that are much better rested. Solution: departments should come to my apartment to hear me speak. I'll serve cocktails!

I received a box in the mail from Sister A today. Inside was a present wrapped in festive snowman paper. The tag says "Do Not Open Until Christmas!" And, then: "I mean it!" But, then: "Ha!" Does that mean it's okay to open it now or do I have to wait? You be the holiday ethicist!

Monday, December 04, 2006

the bird in hand versus bush calculation is a little different to me when the bird in question is "genocide"

From Paul Krugman's NYT column today:
It’s true that terrible things will happen when U.S. forces withdraw. Mr. Bush was attacking a straw man when he mocked those who think we can make a “graceful exit” from Iraq. Everyone I know realizes that the civil war will get even worse after we’re gone, and that there will probably be a bloody bout of ethnic cleansing that effectively partitions the country into hostile segments.

But nobody — not even Donald Rumsfeld, it turns out — thinks we’re making progress in Iraq. So the same terrible things that would happen if we withdrew soon will still happen if we delay that withdrawal for two, three or more years. The only difference is that we’ll sacrifice many more American lives along the way.
Okay, so I suspect like the vast majority of my readers, I certainly didn't want this war in the first place, and I've since been astounded by how ineptly it's been conducted by the administration. I will not profess to any clear idea about what the United States should do going forward; indeed, my ideas get more cloudy the more I keep reading.

But, still: when we are talking about "a bloody bout of ethnic cleansing," the argument that if it's going to happen in three years, we might as well get it over with now just doesn't do it for me. If the argument is that the ethnic cleansing will be worse if it's postponed, that's a different matter. Otherwise, having many (many) thousands of people survive several additional years is not nothing. If given the choice between myself dying today and dying in three years, for instance, I would choose to wait.

Whether it's worth the price for America is the question, but: one's moral calculus of how many Iraqi lives are worth one American life is not a matter I'm going to get into this morning, although I'm surprised at how high many fellow liberals seem to put the figure. I myself am uncomfortable with how cavalier some people seem to be about trading off hundreds of lives for one life just because the former were born in Baghdad and the latter in Des Moines. (Of course, I'm typing this from the comfort of not personally being on either side of the grim equation.)

dispatch from ann arbor

dale (driver from dtw to ann arbor)
(dale, who drove me from the detroit airport to ann arbor)

I am still someone who feels a non-teensy thrill whenever he arrives at an airport and a professional driver is there, in a coat and tie, holding up a sign for me (just like I was someone important!). Presumably, if I stay in this business long enough, one of two things will happen:
1. I will experience this a sufficient number of times that I will no longer feel this thrill.

2. I will phase out of ever getting invitations anywhere that would ever go to the trouble or expense of arranging this for me.
Either eventuality I would prefer to postpone as long as possible.

It was snowing a bit on the drive from Detroit to Ann Arbor, my first experience with snow this season (talk about another eventuality I was preferring to postpone as long as possible). It's quite cold here. Still, as we were driving into town, I was reminded of how much I adore Ann Arbor. (I've been here several different summers as part of their social science stats camp.) Ann Arbor is a lot like Madison, only a bit smaller, a bit less crunchy, a bit more cosmopolitan, a bit less pretty, a bit better restaurants.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


(me, Venus)

Studies have shown there are two kinds of people in the world: Jeremy supporters (of which there are eight) and Jeremy detractors. The latter have regarded my project of visiting all the sites in the Boston area model solar system before I leave Cambridge as being delusionally ambitious, and they have also conspired to place various obstacles in my path, such as removing both Saturn and Neptune from their reported locations. Today, after an errand brought me nearby, I decided to scale the parking garage of Boston's Museum of Science, at the top of which Venus was reputed to be. With the help of a paid sherpa (called "Sara") and an exotic new climbing technology (called "the Elevator"), I reached the summit, located Venus, and had "Sara" take this photo.

While Jeremy detractors may be saddened by losing yet another round in their unending battle to thwart me, they can take comfort in my looking more slovenly and in need of a haircut in this photo than I might otherwise like.

BTW, at a restaurant the other night, a woman was wearing a T-shirt that said "Pluto: Never Forget." Don't worry, I won't forget: I just hope I reach the Riverside Train Station before it's removed or vandalized. I have six sites down--Saturn, Uranus, Pluto, and the Sun remain.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

fighting the oppressions of capitalism, one speedy walmart exit at a time

Interesting story here about a man who refuses to show those stores that ask his receipt when he exits. An excerpt:
Finally the security guy responded. “Sir, our people checking receipts are doing their jobs. It’s a store policy that we inspect receipts. We’re trying to make sure you paid the right price.”

We get served a lob like that only so many times, and I wasn’t letting this one go. My research was finally paying off. I chose to be polite, because the security guy was actually quite calm and friendly about the whole incident. “This is a warehouse,” I replied. “There are no prices on those items in my cart, so how would they know if I were overcharged? Never mind, here’s another thing you should know. In my last five visits here, I allowed your staff to see my receipts, and they instantly marked them without so much as glancing at the totals. They were simply making certain that I had paid for something, and that I could not come back and use that receipt at a later date. In other words, to stop my attempts, present and future, at theft—you know, as though I were a potential shoplifter. Your sign with the message about ensuring that I wasn’t overcharged is what shoppers like me sometimes call bullshit. That’s Home Depot behind us. I spent a few hundred dollars there last year. Just to our right is Sears. I spent almost that much there last Christmas. No one reviewed my receipts at either store. Please tell me what I’m doing wrong.”

The security guy walked away, perhaps wondering if Costco had not fully explained to him all the details of “receipt review.” It’s also possible that he knew, without a doubt, that I was just one more jackass who “didn’t get it.” These are store policies, damn it.
If I were more gutsy, I would try this. Somebody gutsy has to read this weblog. Indeed, I bet there is someone with two pancreases who reads this weblog. Anyway, can somebody gutsy try this at a store and report back to me? Or, maybe, if you are in sociology, you could assign a student in your class to do it, as a project on "breaching social norms." So: do it, do it, report back, maybe upload it to YouTube.

the secret life of walter 'i [heart] mean girls' mitty

I just got an e-mail from The New Yorker offering me a free poster of Lindsay Lohan (along with trying to get me to subscribe to GQ magazine). This, from the magazine that long thought color covers were too tacky for its image, and that still insists on sticking in an umlaut in words like "coördination." William Shawn, I imagine, is spinning like a high-end centrifuge in his grave. James Thurber, meanwhile, I suspect is probably laying in his grave quite titillated by the idea, wishing someone would smuggle a DVD player into his coffin so he could watch Herbie: Fully Reloaded.

One funny thing about blogging, you never know which of your posts is going to get linked by a stranger.

Friday, December 01, 2006


oozy 8 ball

I've been missing Madison lately. I'm working on making a trip back there later this month. (No, no karaoke. I'm retired.) As if my nostalgia pangs weren't enough, Eszter sent me a great gift: a special squishy Magic 8 ball. Which provokes nostalgia because I have my collection of 20-odd variations on the Magic 8-ball, sitting along the top of my cupboard in my Madison office. I have never actually used them for any kind of grading decision, tempting 'tho it may have sometimes been. In any case, Madison is December is not exactly Madison at its most appealing, but it will be delightful to see people and will hopefully allow Real Progress to be made on a certain project which could definitely use some Real Progress.

If you'll be in Madison, it would be wonderful to see you. It's been too long.