Saturday, September 30, 2006

(overheard) public sociopathy

Just now, in the Harvard Coop coffeeshop, a stranger starts talking to the two people at the next table--sociologists who have been discussing the very "heated" Duneier-Klinenberg (he-said/he-said-and-blamed-the-victim) debate in the most recent American Sociological Review:

"So, what's the difference between a sociologist and a sociopath?"
"I don't know. Is this a riddle?"
"No, I'm asking. Are all sociologists sociopaths?"
"I'm a sociologist, and I'm not a sociopath."
"Me too."
"The only sociologist I know is a sociopath."
"Or a psychopath."
"Here's a riddle: what's the difference between a sociopath and a psychopath?"
"A sociopath is a psychopath having a good day, and a psychopath is a sociopath having a bad day."
"Not that funny, I guess."


So, I got an e-mail from a friend with "sorry" in the subject line, and these were the sponsored links that came up. I wondered whether "Sorry Poems" would contain poems about being sorry or contains poems that sucked. If the latter, I wondered if they somehow got hold of any of the poems I wrote during the brief period as an undergraduate when I took a couple of poetry writing courses, because, let me tell you, that was some sorry stuff. In general, one shouldn't engage in activity X if one doesn't generally care much for the vast majority of venerated X and regards X culture as substantially overrun by self-congratulatory fraudulent types.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

millionaires in the midst!

Kum & Go is a convenience store chain with most of its locations in Iowa. As you can imagine, the blatent/latent coarseness of the name has inspired a slew of cacophemisms* among Midwestern youth, my favorites being to refer to the local "Sperm and Split" or the "Ejaculate and Evacuate." The big news back where I'm from is that someone walked into a Kum & Go about twenty miles from my hometown and bought a Powerball ticket that is now worth over $200 million. At last report, the winner(s) had still not stepped forward. I just called home and verified that my parents are not the winners (my mother says she didn't buy the ticket and reports no suspicious behavior or purchases by my father). According to her, the leading rumor is apparently that the winners are a group of teachers at the local community college, based on a report that a bunch of them stopped showing up for work.

College teachers who do not see their work as enough of a calling that they would still fulfill all their obligations if they were suddenly multimillionaires? Can you imagine?

Of course, there are those findings that people who win lottery jackpots are happier immediately afterward but not any happier a year later. This is generally taken as indicating some profound truth about humanity, and much more rarely taken as possibly suggesting that behavioral science still really doesn't have great conceptualization or measurement of happiness.

I know someone who told his children he would disown them if they ever played the lottery. I know another person who is fond of referring to it as an "idiot tax." It's supposedly irrational, a pastime for suckers. My father spends something like $100-$200 year on lottery tickets. He gets at least that amount of benefit out of imagining what he would do if he won. While it is true that one has approximately the same chances of winning the lottery whether one plays or not, that miniscule difference does make all the difference for the imagination.

* "Cacophemism" is the opposite of "euphemism", so it's a turn of phrase that is less circumspect than what it is used as a substitute for.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

only your hairdresser and whoever happens to stumble across your blog know for sure

So, I got my hair cut yesterday and, while I was at it, had it dyed as well. This is not my first time messing with God's intended palette for my pate. I did this hideous half-bleached-half-brown thing to my head when I was a freshman in college, and I dyed it various at least not intendedly unnatural looking shades of brownish-red a few times in graduate school. But this is the first time I dyed my hair specifically because I was tired of seeing the increasing number of gray hairs in the mirror and feeling the generalized geriatric-je-ne-sais-quoi these provoked. I know that there is a hundredstrong chorus out there who think that I have reached the point in My Recession where I should start shaving my head, but instead I've resolved to hang onto but re-hue what I have left.

According to the stylist, what I did strictly speaking was called "color camouflage," which is some technique that is supposed to blend in and appear completely natural. The color she chose seemed darker than my nongray hair actually is, and I left the salon suspecting I looked a wee too much Professor Goth for my tastes. This was confirmed this morning when I came into the office and the program assistant from twenty feet away said, "Hi, Jeremy. Hey, you got a haircut. And, wait, did you dye it black?"

I have a Very Important Talk to give in November. If I decide to continue down this path, I might retain the services of a more expensive colorist before it, just to avoid the appearance that I've taken a break from my Cure cover band to come speak.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

the david blaine story

So, last night at dinner I told the David Blaine story. Before he was doing stunts like hanging himself in a plexiglass box over the Thames and submerging himself in water for more than a week, David Blaine came first to fame by a couple television specials David Blaine: Street Magic and David Blaine: Magic Man. In these, he would walk around cities with a single cameraman and do a magic trick in front of some unprepared person-on-the-street, who would be telauthentically awestruck and amazed. This was just before the rise of "reality television" and after the decline of "Big Magic" on television (e.g., making the Statue of Liberty disappear, levitating across the Grand Canyon, pulling Luxembourg out of a member of the audience's posterior).

Anyway, one holiday I was home having dinner with a few family members, whose specific identities I will not disclose, who had earlier seen the first of these specials and were talking about it. This devolved into an argument that featured them, who had actually seen the show, versus me, who had not. (Note this means that there would have been no argument had I not persisted in my defense of my lonely stance.) The argument was over whether David Blaine was really magic, or was just some sort of "magician." Me--again without having seen the program or ever even having heard of David Blaine before this conversation--insisted repeatedly and confidently that David Blaine was not actually endowed with any sort of genuine magical powers. It was pointed out that it was pretty close-minded and haughty of me to be so insistent about this when I hadn't seen the show and they had. By the end, I felt like about as much of a jackass as I ever have in my life, because of my complete unwillingness to cede even the possibility that I might be incorrect. The most heartbreaking line in the argument was when a certain dearly loved relative of mine said: "I thought maybe he was an angel."

I do think that something about my personality was permanently forged that day in first grade when a substitute teacher showed us the wall map of the United States and asked what the largest state was. The map showed Alaska with one of those not-to-scale inset maps, and so Alaska was smaller than Texas. Everyone else in the class said, "Texas." I said, "Alaska." The substitute teacher traced the boundaries of the states on the map with her finger and said the exercise demonstrated that largest state was, in fact, Texas.

Friday, September 22, 2006

tales from outside the ivory tower!

From a phone conversation last night with a certain recent emigrant from academia: "Everyone where I work now is so weird. No one is much of a feminist. No one knows any social theory."

Thursday, September 21, 2006

tales of academia!, kids-and-economists-can-be-so-cruel edition

regression to the mean
(regression to the mean, as depicted in a slide from one of the lectures from the methods course I taught at Wisconsin)

Recently someone told me a story about the child of a very highly regarded economist who also went into economics and got a job at a prestigious department. Members of the department came to regard the son as an intellectual apple that had managed to fall far from his father's tree. His colleagues eventually came to start referring him behind his back as "Mr. Regression Beyond The Mean."

Actually, I guess I'm imputing the behind his back part; it wasn't explicitly said by the person telling the story. So it could have been to his face, for all I know. These are economists, after all.

while everyone was fretting about bovine growth hormone, apparently standardized pork slipped in under the radar

For followers of last week's puzzle feature:
In one word, what do the following things have in common from a sociology

pigs----->railroad------>wall outlet
Rachel has posted a follow-up in my comments:
Hello everyone, this is Rachel aka the desparate undergrad. I actually found
out that the answer to the puzzle is standardization. At first I wrote my
teacher a paper linking the three words to commodification. She said I was
close and gave me a push in the right direction. Anyways rest easy now,
standardization is the answer! My teacher actually gave me a printed copy of
these postings with a note at the bottom saying very resourceful! Thanks for
all your help!
Okay, so I have actually taught a undergraduate sociology course in which I used "standardization" on the first day as a way of orienting students the sociology at hand. When I saw railroad and wall outlet in Rachel's first e-mail, I thought immediately of standardization. But I didn't offer this as an answer--and, instead, first offered up "commodification" (you're welcome, Rachel)--because I thought to myself, "How are pigs standardized?" Now that Rachel reports that standardization is the answer, I think to myself, "How are pigs standardized?"* Well, as they say, 2 of 3 isn't bad. And it does have me imagining a Muppet Show skit Pigs in Space, Episode II: Attack of the Clones.

* I mean, they have "standards" for the pork industry, but I wouldn't normally use the word "standardization" for the adoption of regulatory standards.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

the wisdom of crowds says the democrats still have a 43% chance with hillary. the wisdom of jeremy says there is money to be made off this.

Longtime readers know that a certain very close "friend" of the proprietor is a fan of political prediction markets, and in fact used such markets to win a nontrivial amount of money in the 2004 election. Awhile back, this same "friend" sent an e-mail asking them to add a set of contracts to their available wagers on the 2008 Presidential Election and, kindly, they did.

Before, you could bet on who you think will be the Democratic or Republican nominee and you could bet on which party will win the Presidency, but not on who will win the Presidency. The reason my "friend" wanted them to add the last kind of wager is that with it, you can calculate the market's assessment of the relative strength of Hillary Clinton versus Someone Else as the Democratic Candidate. The relevant current market probabilities from

Probability that HC is the Democratic nominee: 42.0%
Probability that a Democrat wins the Presidency: 48.5%
Probability that HC wins the Presidency: 18.1%

So, what these numbers mean is that the market thinks the Democrats have a 43.1% chance of winning the Presidency if Clinton is nominated (18.1/42.0), compared to a 52.4% chance of winning if Clinton is not nominated ([.485-.181]/.58). If you think these numbers do not reflect the reality of the impact of Clinton on the Democrats' chances, you are of course entitled to your opinion. The great thing about prediction markets, though, is if your opinion is correct, you can make money off it.

(Given that I say things like "Hillary can't win," my own opinion is that the Clinton penalty to the Democrats is larger than what these numbers would indicate. My "friend" has not yet bet on my belief, however. I invite you to profit from my acumen, however.)


According to familial lore, I have an uncle who dropped out of high school because he was angry with the principal about something and wanted to show him. It's one of those Salient Anecdotes that sits at-the-ready in my brain for application to analogous situations: "This is like when Uncle [Name] dropped out of high school to teach the principal a lesson, thereby possibly affecting the whole rest of Uncle [Name]'s life and, in the most wildly consequential scenario, bothering the principal for the better part of an hour."

I continue to be surprised at how often I'm reminded of it, especially in hearing people contemplate quitting something. Fantasies about the remorseful reactions of others are never good grounds for any personal life decision, from suicide all the way down to canceling magazine subscriptions.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Importing album artwork into iTunes -- and getting album titles correct so one can import this artwork automagically -- has proven a massively addictive timesuck. Argh!

regarding certain disappearances

Some people have noticed that various links have disappeared from my sidebar. I have removed links to pseudonymous blogs of current Wisconsin sociology students. Although my past policy has been to link to student blogs if they linked to me or if we had a conversation about my linking to them, I'm concerned that a link from my blog makes a student's blog less pseudonymous than it would otherwise be. There has apparently been antsiness around Madison about the possible career consequences of pseudonymous blogging--including the abrupt abandonment of a certain longstanding student blog that is already much missed--and I've decided I don't want responsibility for any collateral antsiness about identities placed on my virtual doorstep. If anyone from Wisconsin or elsewhere who remains in my sidebar does not want to be there, e-mail me and I will remove you.

As a different matter, some people have noticed that the links to my archives have also disappeared from my sidebar. The posts themselves still exist and anyone with a modicum of saavy and inclination can figure out how to view my archives, although I do not know why someone would be so inclined. Anyway, my rationale for this (temporary?) manuever will be left as an exercise to the reader.

Update: Oops, I forgot, I was supposed to say the above like a pirate.

Monday, September 18, 2006

correlation, or causality?

I had forgotten all about this graph from Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone:

graph from bowling alone

For the autoethnographic record, TV is definitely not my primary form of entertainment, and I have never given anyone the finger while driving. Indeed, with some certainty, I will assert that it has never even occurred to me to give someone else the finger while driving. I have shouted unkind things at motorists who do not seem to understand the rules of crosswalks, a common malady here in Cambridge.

Meanwhile, my participation record is community projects leaves much to be desired.

argh! i should have saved me pirate pictures for ye international talk like a pirate day

Which apparently is tomorrow (9/19). Or, at least, that's what the parrot on my shoulder just told me.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

argh! they took away me neptune and replaced it with kiddie rides!

pirate museum

Saturday was a trip to Salem. Salem is not just witch-kitsch--it's also the home of the New England Pirate Museum. And, on the way out of the museum, we ran into a strange older woman with pink eye makeup and puns we could not keep up with ("To someone waiting for the gallows, no noose is good noose," "I'd love to have the chance to unbuckle his swash, if you know what I mean") who told us this happened to be the weekend of Salem's annual Pirate Faire.

pirate faire singalong

On the way back from Salem, I was able to finagle a stop at the Square One Mall in Saugus, which is the former home of Neptune in Boston's model solar system. Neptune used to be in the Food Court, and the circumstances of its removal have been left somewhat mysterious.

at square one mall

I thought any reasonably bookstore would have some book for children that featured all the planets, but instead the only rendition of Neptune we could find was a coffee table book. (I also thought maybe we'd be able to find a fake foam trident somewhere, but no luck on that.) We asked a guy who ran a kiddie train if he knew where Neptune had been and he assured us that nothing of the sort had been in the food court--at least in the six months he had worked there, six months being when the mall added the kiddie train. We decided to go with the theory that Neptune was booted to make room for the toddler-railroad to come through, and so here is my photo in front of it:


Four planets down, four and the Sun and Pluto to go.

Friday, September 15, 2006

and you thought astrosociology was dead

Gerber Malhotra Histogram
(graph from the Gerber and Malhotra paper. the expected shape of the graph in the absence of publication bias is like the right hand side of a bell curve)

Finally someone has written this paper. The graph is a histogram of the strength of results for a sample of articles on specific topics published in the two major journals of political science. See the dashed line? The dashed line corresponds to the p < .05 significance level that you need to be able to refer to your result as "statistically significant" and to be able to put a star by it. To the left of the line, no star; to the right of the line, star; this is the astrological base on which quantitative social science presently rests. The difference in height between the two bars is the difference between results that are just short of the significance-testing goal line and those that are just beyond it. The reason for the sharp difference in height is presumably the result of the tendency of journals toward favor positive results and the tendency for authors to favor analytic decisions that result-in-positive-results. The title of the paper is "Can Political Science Literatures Be Believed?", the drama of which I presume is intended to suggest to readers this is a very serious problem. In this assessment, I think the authors are correct.

Anyway, if anyone out there is (a) in sociology, (b) has time on their hands, and (c) thinks their career would benefit from a publication in a major sociological journal, one could assemble key coefficients from sociology studies (especially when the key coefficient is an interaction effect, which is a special class of perversities unto itself) and do exactly this analysis--perhaps along with its close cousin, known as a funnel plot--and probably score an AJS or ASR (and, at worst, something like Sociological Methodology). No original idea needed, although copping an attitude in the conclusion would probably be good. I can promise you that you will get results that lead to the same conclusion as this paper, and my suspicion is--especially regarding interaction effects--results will be stronger for sociology than for the political science literatures on which this paper focuses.

Postscript: The astrosociology site remains up and is here.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


"She's like the kid in grade school who would tear her homework just so she could go up to the teacher and ask for a piece of tape."
"I hated that kid!"

puzzle feature!

A JFW premium subscriber from Saturnine, NY forwards the following e-mail, sent to a list of 6 fellow sociologists with no obvious relation to another other, or to the school from which the e-mail was sent:
My name is Rachel [surname].  My Sociology Professor recently posed a
question for the class and I was wondering if you could help me answer
this question.

In one word, what do the following things have in common from a sociology

pigs----->railroad------>wall outlet
(If the answer isn't obvious, you can get an InvisoText hint by highlighting the space that follows:What the hell? I have no idea what these three things have in common from any view, using any number of words. If you know, for Rachel's sake, speak up!)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


So, this will be my last post on this topic, but: it turns out that ASA members voted with their feet and wallets that they didn't like the arrangements offered in Atlanta in 2003, such that the association owed a fee to the hotel. Rather than pay the fee, the association (Michael Burawoy, president) opted to contract to hold the meetings again at the same hotel in Atlanta in 2010. The amount ASA would have had to pay: $43,600, or about $3/member, or something like $11-12/meeting-attending-member. Additional reason:
It was also agreed that it was extremely unlikely, as Council had indicated in August, that the Association could avoid having a meeting in the South within the next decade and that, of all the southern venues, Atlanta provides the best facilities for the needs of our meeting.
Here is the pertinent extract from the official ASA Council minutes.

I cannot believe this was how I was robbed of my chance to host a blogging-and-beignets party. The bar tab for that alone might have been $43,600. Nonetheless: ASA-NOLA 2010! The dream lives on!

BTW, ASA Council minutes also indicate that the cumulative losses of Contexts magazine through 2005 were $630,000.


(Screenshot from my left-side office monitor. It was once said about Dorotha that if you built a machine where you could insert a person and out would come a song distilled from their spirit, and then you put Dorotha in that machine, the Moldy Peaches' "Nothing Came Out" would come out. Or else nothing would come out. Or maybe real moldy peaches. It's hard to tell with Dorotha.)

I must work on finishing this paper. And yet, I couldn't resist posting a screenshot of the new album art flip feature in iTunes 7. Serves no useful purpose as far as I can tell, but it looks really cool. I might finally take the plunge and purchase a real iPod, as opposed somehow scraping by with just my Nano. (If I do, any suggestions as to black or white?)

BTW, elsewhere on the tech front, my new Treo is working out great, and I continue to wonder how I managed to survive to my age without text messaging.

stop asa atlanta 2010

According to materials online, the American Sociological Association is contracted to meet in Atlanta in 2010. We have several years warning. We can stop this. Nothing against Atlanta, it's just that ASA met there in 2003 and I don't see why it would be a place we would plan to visit more than once a decade given that we are a country of more than seven great cities. So, somebody start a petition. Somebody start planning a boycott and/or an alternative meeting. Somebody threaten to set the Animals and Society people loose at ASA headquarters.

Update: Even the economists are meeting in New Orleans in 2008.

Update 2: Read Kim's comment! Apparently we are sentenced to Atlanta again because we didn't like it enough in 2003 (to attend in greater numbers and to spend more while we were there). The economists would've known how to get out of this, I bet!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

we will fight to the end! (or ten years, as you can't very well expect us to stay away from chicago forever)

I was talking with a friend about New Orleans the other night, and said something I've said to other people: the American Sociological Association should hold its annual meetings in New Orleans at the first opportunity. It's arguably the most sociologically interesting city now, and "arguably" only because there is always Las Vegas (but it isn't like ASA is ever going show its official face there).

But then I thought of something I hadn't before: is it even possible for ASA to meet in New Orleans?

The reason I wondered is that I know the anthropologists have a rule about not holding their annual meetings in states that have sodomy laws. The rule is still in force and excludes Louisiana even though Lawrence v. Texas effectively rendered sodomy laws inert nationwide. I know, this is not the same as the law being repealed, but some states on anthropology's list as sufficiently sodomy friendly to host meetings are places in which the law remains on the books but was nullified by state court decisions (i.e., Massachusetts). (The previous two sentences are all my understanding of the situation, for which I welcome correction in whatever ways it's wrong.)

Interestingly, anthropology also won't meet in Illinois, in protest of the almost-absurdly offensive mascot Chief Illiniwek. In that regard, their resolution shows less resolution, saying:
AAA will cease scheduling Annual Meetings of the American Anthropological Association in the State of Illinois until such time as the administration and trustees of the University of Illinois... replace their "Chief Illiniwek" mascot with one that does not promote inaccurate, anachronistic and damaging stereotypes of Native American people... If this has not happened in ten years AAA will revisit our position.
I presume this is in recognition of the fact that the sodomy rule mostly keeps the organization from meeting in places where academics wouldn't be inclined to hold national meetings anyway (like Boise and Oklahoma City and Birmingham and Kansas City). But it would be harder to stay away from Chicago forever, especially if there is the idea that the national meetings should be in the Midwest now and then.

Anyway, so far as I can tell from online sources, sociology has historically had all kinds of political considerations influence its choice of meeting sites, but it doesn't have specific hard rules like anthropology does. So: New Orleans! I will personally sponsor some kind of blogging-and-beignets event.

Postscript: I used to have a crazy friend who kept up this inexplicable friendship with someone even crazier than either of us, in part because I think it made her feel more sane/together/normal to be close witness to this walking psychological disaster. If you are a sociologist who sometimes feels despairing about certain trends in the discipline, start trolling around anthropology professional organization websites and look at some of the debates and such that go on there. I mean, I don't want to equate various online manifestations with whatever the larger intellectual and institutional reality might be, but the online disciplinary-presentation-of-self gives the impression of an enterprise both moribund and hellbent on self-evisceration. Of course, there's a certain prominent sociologist who regularly holds up anthropology as his dream for sociology's future, which seems to me like a lemming watching the lemming in front of him plunge off a cliff and saying, "Dude, wait up!"*

* Yes, I know lemmings don't really do mass suicide. I also know they don't really talk.

Monday, September 11, 2006

flashbulb memory

I was sitting in my office, preparing the lecture for my 9:30 class. My TA called and asked if we were still going to have class because planes had crashed into each of the World Trade Center buildings. First I'd heard of it. I'm not sure I even fully believed her at first.

(And, in retrospect ridiculously, I ended up teaching both my classes that day. Let's just say I have regrets about that.)

Sunday, September 10, 2006

earth calling jeremy

(me and earth, as well as earth's more shadowy side)

So, my misplaced cel phone being sufficiently "misplaced" as to be indistinguishable from "gone," I went to the mall today to buy a Treo, and I decided I might as well walk across the street and take care of visiting Earth while I was at it. I was especially motivated by an e-mail from a friend this morning who sent a photo of herself by a monument to Saturn in her home city, while my own schemes for seeing Saturn in Cambridge have been temporarily thwarted. Anyway, three planets down, six and the Sun to go.

I've been playing around with the Treo and think I've finally gotten the hang of text messaging, something I never mastered on my last phone. Turns out it's like e-mail, only with your phone. Except I can also do e-mail from my phone, but then it goes to e-mail, and text messages go to other people's phones, even if they don't have e-mail on their phone. Brilliant! Now I need to master that strange, vowelless pidgin people use to make their msgs shrtr.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

jello operator

I was talking to a certain former sociology graduate student who recently started working for a non-profit organization. She said she wished that some of the people she worked with would be able to apply sociological insights to the populations they worked with. And they she said, "They're also the kind of people who believe there are really twins out there named Orangejello and Lemonjello." To which I had to point out that the story of twins named Orangejello and Lemonjello is featured in Freakonomics, where it is attributed to a first-hand sighting by prominent sociologist Doug McAdam, who confirmed to me that he had met a woman in a California grocery store with children she introduced as Orangejello and Lemonjello. (You might wonder if he had been duped by the woman, but I'm not going to be the one to raise that possibility out loud.)

By the way, big news in sociology recently is that Fabio Rojas has been guest blogging over at orgtheory. I'm a Fabio Rojas fan, although the exact magnitude of this fanship--the posters, the bobbleheads--I keep secret. But Fabio's stint raises two important points. First, considering that Fabio is now blogging alongside Omar Lizardo, it's interesting that a blog co-inaugurated by an economist named "Teppo" has managed to score two of the more interestingly named younger sociologists.* Second, it's further evidence for my theory that if all the known and suspected blog authors and readers in sociology got together, they could basically take over the future of the discipline.

* Confession: I keep a list of interesting names I run across in academia so I have character names at hand should I ever drop all this to write a mystery novel--it started one afternoon when I was reading in the survey methodology literature and kept running across references to this guy who surname was "Oldendick"--and "Teppo," "Lizardo," and "Fabio Rojas" are all coincidentally on this list.

Update: I just looked at, and an "Orangejello Castleberry" is listed as having a Mississippi provenance, while a "Lemonjello Snarfblat" is listed as having an Arizona provenance. How common it is to have twins with different last names from different states, I have no idea, but perhaps the hits are not complete records but just the tip of the jelloburg as far as these names are concerned.

Friday, September 08, 2006

how can one man lose his cel phone so many times?

I'm talking about me, here, and my cel phone, not-here. Why do I keep misplacing it? Seriously, I'm looking for answers. And even more seriously, I'm looking for my cel phone.

(Incidentally, I am totally going to buy a Treo soon, and possibly would have even bought one on Monday's trip to the mall had there not been a queue for the Verizon sales reps. I was thinking buying one along with one of those services with a locator so I could use my phone to help me get directions when I got lost. Unfortunately, they don't make a model that will give you directions to your phone when it gets lost.)

(Incidentally incidentally, I remain resolute in my heterodox spelling as cel instead of cell phone, if for no reason other than to irk you, my dear reader. Consider me like the boy on the playground who pulls your lexical pigtails as his way of confessing that he loves you madly.)

Thursday, September 07, 2006

why does the world continually conspire to thwart me?

-----Original Message-----
From: Jeremy Freese
Sent: Thursday, September 07, 2006 11:54 AM
To: ''
Subject: lost planet
I am living in the Boston area for the next year.  Like many folks 
with a limited period of time to spend in a lovely, famous place, I have
developed a list of all the things I wanted to make sure I do and see in
the area while I'm here. The virtues of the Freedom Trail and Walden
Pond notwithstanding, prominent on my list was that I wanted to get
photographs of myself standing by all of the planets in the MoS's model
solar system. Of the ten locations, I had the least worries about seeing
Saturn because it was listed as being at the Cambridge Public Library,
near where I live. However, the library is undergoing renovations and has
temporarily relocated, and apparently Saturn did not move along with it.
Indeed, a librarian said she was not sure where Saturn was right now. Any
information you can provide about the location of Saturn would be greatly
(Note: original post about this project here. Note also: conspirators of the world, I refuse to be so easily thwarted.)

Update: I've received a response. It turns out that Neptune, which was purportedly in the food court of a mall in Saugus, is also unavailable!
Dear Jeremy,
The Saturn model was brought back to the Museum of Science when the 
Cambridge library closed, and is currently in storage. Since the Saturn
and Neptune models are not available, we revised the Community Solar
System passport to give credit for those planets. The most recent
version of the solar system passport is available for download at:
Please note that there is a second set of planet models located in the 
Museum of Science - in the planetarium lobby. The bronze models are
surrounded by the sun so you could take a photo of all the planets at
once! No admission is required to visit the planetarium lobby.
I hope you'll have a chance to stop by the Museum of Science.
Noreen Grice
Chaerles Hayden Planetarium, Boston
I have not yet figured out my next move. I am not yet conceding defeat.

in case you think there are no thrifty students at harvard

space 012
(window of the Coop)

The Harvard Coop apparently now allows students to purchase used textbooks. I haven't investigated to see whether they have a system ensuring that the used textbooks for sale are only books that have been previously owned by Harvard (or, maybe, other Ivy League) students. Otherwise, students could be taking home books filled with who knows what kind of skanky underlining from some dirty-fingered-and-possibly-syphilitic dunce at Kent State. Or, worse: highlighters!

BTW, when Sister A visited a few months ago, she bought all kinds of family members identical Harvard T-shirts from the Coop. Which led to an odd juxtaposition at the family reunion I was at a couple weeks ago:

harvard t-shirts
(cousin V, me, Sister C at family reunion)

Update: As a commenter just reminded me, I did have a relative come up to me at the reunion, look at my shirt, and say, "So, you're a Native American?"

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


"Aren't you sad about Steve Irwin? I thought you'd blog about that."
"I had no idea who he was."
"He was like a major figure in popular culture for the last ten years."
"First time I heard of him was that he was dead."
"Jeremy, that is so wrong." [pause] "Do you know who Halle Berry is?"
"Sure. She's Catwoman!" [pause] "Is Catwoman dead now too?"

(Special Note: Catwoman is not dead. I have no idea why my Navy Blue friend brought her up, either.)

* Apparently this phrase is fraught with mournful meaning now for folks worldwide. Not me. No offense to the dead (and the dead being what they are, none taken).

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

pr(child 2=boy|child 1 = boy) - pr(child 2 = boy|child 1=girl) = ?

Okay, so shout-outs to this blog have previously proven extremely useful for when I've needed, say, obscure mp3s or emergency HTML advice. Let's try something more difficult and even work related: I am trying to figure out (preferably for a contemporary population in a developed country like the United States) whether/how much the probability of one's second child being a boy/girl is affected by whether one's first child is a boy/girl. Basically, is the second child more likely to be of the same sex as the first child, and, if so, how large is the effect? I've been surprisingly flummoxed in my efforts, leading to this post. Does anyone have any ideas for tracking this down?

(I know, I am an affiliate in a demography center, so you'd think I could just send an e-mail to one of them. Which I might. But, given the interests of the ones I know well, they're usually more helpful for questions about death statistics than birth statistics.)

start with the m's

(photos from mercury and mars)

In addition to my longterm program of blogging from different states, I have decided today to launch a separate initiative to get of photograph of myself by each of the planets in the Boston Area mock solar system by the time I leave the area. The photos above are from me by Mercury (at the Museum of Science) and Mars (at the CambridgeSide Galleria Mall). I didn't want to delay the group I was with, plus I didn't want to get the easy ones all out of the way so easily, so I didn't make them go with me to the top of the museum parking garage to get Venus or into a nearby hotel lobby to get Earth. The Sun, it turns out, is in the Museum Planetarium, which I think means I'll have to pay to get to see it. And here I had thought solar power was free for all.

Pluto is at a T stop out on the Green Line. I will go to it sometime, although I do agree with its demotion. I wonder if there will be some protester chained to it.

BTW, I was invited along to the Museum of Science today by a few friends to see the BodyWorlds2 exhibit, the sequel to the popular BodyWorlds that involves artistically and informatively intended presentations of dead bodies that have been plastinated and sliced up or manipulated in various ways. Given how ridiculously squeamish I am, I was concerned that the exhibit would be so gross I'd need to worry about having a seizure (no, neither am I jumping on the Dorothaleptic bandwagon nor was this a complete impossibility, for reasons I'm not going to share on the blog just now). As it turned out, I didn't find the exhibit that gross, but I also didn't find it that interesting, either. So many people raved about the original that I'm not sure if it's just an inferior sequel or if plastinated bodies aren't my thing.

As for highlights, though, there was a comparison of body slices from an obese and nonobese person of the same height that provides good scared-straight-to-the-salad-bar material, and there was also a selection of embryos in jars that allowed you to insert yourself in the mind of a Supreme Court Justice ("okay, I could see where the same person could see that and think it's a mother's choice, and see that and think it's a little too close to infanticide").

Monday, September 04, 2006

buy a vowell (or, at least, rent some vowellian violence)

From article about a benefit for 826 held in Seattle a few days ago:
[The venue] was packed (if not quite sold-out) and a round of pass-the-hat that touted hugs from [Dave] Eggers for a $20 donation and a "jovial, buddy punch" from [Sarah] Vowell for $5 raised an unfathomable $10,000 — certainly something to talk and sing about.
Argh! If I wasn't stuck here on the wrong coast, I could have been buddy-punched by Sarah Vowell for only $5! Maybe I could have even convinced her to congenially coldcock me for $20.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


(me, outside the site of Thoreau's cabin at Walden)

There was a 50% chance of rain on Saturday. The plan was, if it didn't rain, to go to Walden Pond, and, if it did rain, to go to this "experimental" play where no doubt scenes would feature hipster-actors shouting jabberwocky at one another and hurling feces at the audience. The latter activity being not my idea, and, indeed, I was pleased when the weather-coinflip turned up Dry.

What I've never understood about the famous Thoreau passage above is how, if you've gone your whole life falsely believing you've lived, you're suddenly going to figure that fact out as you die. Deluded alive, deluded in death, is my guess.

I felt somewhat guilty walking around Walden Pond having paid to get in there, as that seemed very against the Thoreauvian spirit. I did, though, flaut their warnings about unguarded waters:

unguarded waters

Later, we went to a nearby sculpture museum. My photo of it didn't turn out, but this was my favorite title of a scuplture:

sculpture park

Most of the scuptures, incidentally, were presented thusly as "Lent by the Artist," including works that had been on the grounds for more than a decade. I presume this means that the museum did not pay for these works and that, in contrast to "donated," the artist retains rights over their continued presence, such that if somebody sees the "Monument to Frustration and Low Achievement" and decides they have to have it in their backyard, the artist can give them the okay to pull up with a U-Haul and take it away. Does anyone know if this is correct?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

must love altruists

walden 065

What I liked about this sign is how honest it is about a prime motive single people have for volunteering. And it's single first, volunteering second, with the actual volunteered-for activities unspecified. For those searching singles who've chosen a volunteer activity based on its content and then showed up and it was all married people or septugenarians.*

Meanwhile, in the American Sociological Association, a common complaint is that there are too many specialty area sections. The number of sections has increased from ~5 in ~1960 to ~25 in ~1990 to ~45 now.** It's a collective action problem, where there can be all kinds of agreement that there are too many sections but everyone thinks the sections they belong to deserve to exist. In this respect, it's interesting one of the most recent proposed new sections is dedication to the sociological study of Altruism. If you think there would be any group willing to subordinate their own interest to solve the proliferation of specialty areas, it would be the altruists.

* (BTW, the sign has an example of someone using "affect" when they presumably really mean "effect," instead of the way more common error of using "effect" for "affect.)

** According to Slide 13 of this presentation, which is James Moody's critique of Public Sociology, which figures centrally in another section currently in formation, "Human Rights"--which has a much broader charter than what would be recognizable outside certain academic cliques as "human rights"--and which I'm presuming will eventually be pressured by co-constituents from the Animals and Society section to change their name to something less anthropocentric. A whole coven of whiches in that last sentence, I know.

Friday, September 01, 2006

if only it was all downhill

Some famous writer--I forget whom--said that he would quit writing when he was on a roll. When he was trying to write and having trouble, he would stick with it, because then when he started again he would be just as stuck. Instead, he would stick with it until he managed to work through whatever and then when finally things got going, he would stop.

A woman I went to graduate school with had a sign on her bulletin board that said "PARK ON A DOWNHILL." This apparently is a key piece of advice from How To Write Your Dissertation In Fifteen Minutes A Day. The idea is that you should make sure to end work with a clearly defined idea of what you are going to do when you start work again. That way, when you start work, you don't sit there and try to figure out what you are supposed to be doing, which can take hours or, for more than one person I went to graduate school with, the better part of your twenties. I have been trying to do more parking on a downhill lately. I feel instead like someone who stumbles hungover and hopelessly-late into his driveway in the morning only to be reminded that he had boozily smashed his car into the garage door the night before.