Tuesday, February 27, 2007

why are graduate program rankings always based on surveying the faculty?

(I actually wrote this back in May and then for some reason never posted it. A conversation I had last week when I was at Northwestern reminded me of it, and I'm putting it up now, especially as I'm presently too preoccupied with certain other matters to exhibit any original blog-oomph.)

So, consider the question: What would be the single not-that-costly thing that could be done that would do the most to improve the lot of the average sociology graduate student nationwide?

My answer: Conduct a Survey of Sociology Graduate Student Satisfaction every year. This would be a very short online survey with a link sent to all sociology graduate students, and then the results would be posted publicly.* As things are now, sociology faculty have very little knowledge about the extent to which their students are relatively happy or unhappy compared to other departments, which leads to the easy conclusion that whatever malcontented students are in a department are just the regular allotment that is inevitable for any graduate program. To be sure, I've heard people offer first- or second or n-hand characterizations of the relative happiness of graduate students in various programs, but these always seem to me like they very strongly reflect the dispositions of those making the characterizations.

Departments that ranked highly in this survey would be able to tout this fact when competing for graduate students with departments which did less well. And those departments that did not rank highly might reflect upon what they could do to change this.

(That said, one thing a department could do would be to select students who seemed less likely to provide gloomy satisfaction ratings later. Indeed, an interesting question would be whether some areas of sociology attract disproportionately more dispositionally dissatisfied people than others. Then again, if one asked a question about area on the survey, one could adjust for this.)

My second answer would involve there being a resource online that contained information about how well departments placed their students and rates of early/late attrition, median-years-to-completion, or whatever else.** Again, my guess is that if systematic information on these things was out in the open--and especially, on the web--departments would do more to attend to them.

* I like the acronym SSGSS because it is a palindrome. Online posting of results would also need to include response rates, which themselves probably would say something of the engagement of students with a department.

** Graduate students will often talk about attrition rates like they are, themselves, indicative of the quality of student life in a program. Making too much of attrition rates per se just provides an incentive for late attritions versus early attritions, which is exactly the opposite incentive for what is in the prospective students' interest. As far as I can tell, early graduate student attrition isn't an especially negative outcome at all from the student's perspective, and departmental structures that hasten students' concluding they would be happier doing something else are, I think, desirable if the student would in fact be happier doing something else.

Monday, February 26, 2007

let's be clear: your discarded do-si-dos are not doing the underclass any favors

In response to my last post, one commenter wrote:
Many (all?) Girl Scout councils have a cookie share program that allows you to buy boxes from girls, but have the cookies sent to a charity. The troop chooses the food pantry, shelter, or wherever they want to send the cookies. The girls can still go to horse camp.
First, I don't want to seem anti-Girl Scout. I have friends with various kinds of close connections to Girl Scouts, I think they are a great organization, especially since they do not promote homophobia like their othergender counterpart, etc..

However, and no offense to the commenter: It's unclear even if cookies were entirely free that one is doing the world a favor by stocking any food pantry or shelter with additional cookies. Americans below the poverty line, as a group, evince some of the poorest dietary decision-making anywhere on the planet, due to a complex variety of reasons but certainly not helped by boxes of free cookies. Regardless, there is no such thing as a free cookie, and the same money used to buy cookies could be used to: (1) donate the profit from the cookies to the Girl Scouts, (2) donate the wholesale cost of the cookie to the organization that would get the cookies as a donation and (3) give the savings from deducting the donation from one's taxes to whatever organization one prefers.

Can you really not make a charitable donation to the Girl Scouts and just have that count toward whatever cookie quota a given scout has toward sending her troop to horse camp? Does everything have to be translated into the currency of cookies for it to be part of the sales drive?

It says something about my social networks that I have no recollection of ever personally having been directly asked by a Girl Scout to buy cookies. I don't even think I've ever been directly asked by a parent of a Girl Scout either, although I've been in places where people have put up a signup sheet on a bulletin board (sometimes with an explicit note like, "I'll participate in your kid's fundraising drive if you participate in mine.") When I do, however, my response will not be to fork over cash to fight the War On Poverty with Thin Mints.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

cast out your mints!

This is not going to turn into a diet blog, but, in addition to those announced in the comments of my original post, I've convinced someone else to sign onto the caloric-restriction cause, with a dialogue that included:
"I've gained [#] pounds and Girl Scout Cookies just arrived. My pants don't fit comfortably anymore."
"Throw out the cookies."
"But... Thin Mint!"
"You know what I say is right. Thin Mints are ephemeral joys, comfortable fitting pants a lasting pleasure."
She later sent me an e-mail titled "Fat Mints" that included:
I am on my way now to give all of the girl scout cookies away. I am embarrassed to admit how many boxes there are, but it will suffice to say that I have more than I can reasonably give to one person.

The spouse and I discussed my weakness for these particular types of cookies this morning on the way to the gym, and I think that perhaps there is a reason beyond my sweet tooth. When I was 9, I sold 750 boxes of them and I got to go to horse camp for free that summer. It was awesome - not just horse camp, but the little girl scout cookie business that my dad and I had going on. Happy memories.

Thus, when I see one of those order forms, I see my dad sitting in his blue mini-truck at the curb waiting for me to come back from knocking on the door and peddling the cookies. I see the living room packed from floor to ceiling with cookies. What I forget about that is that we were selling the cookies to others, not eating all 750 boxes ourselves.
It's interesting to think about how the Girl Scouts profit so much from the unhealthy eating habits of our nation. I wonder if they had started out selling Girl Scout Cigarettes and that had become the organization's dominant revenue source, how long the program would have kept going and what kind of rationalizations would have been used to defend it.

Anyway, now I need to get some people to enter into a writing pact with me as well. The last month of traveling and other distractions has been bad for all kinds of habits.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

wwol, day 2

I will admit that I am not exactly feeling like a swollen reservoir of dietary willpower here, so I am hoping that the public accountability of the blog and concomitant prospect of broadly-known humiliation if I fail will help keep me on the straight and abstinarrow.

impossible! my fatal would never hurt anyone!

From AP:
Authorities say a pit bull named Fatal attacked an Orlando boy after jumping through a car window.

The 11-year-old boy was taken to the hospital yesterday with bites and cuts on his legs. Fatal, the dog, was taken to the pound. Animal control officers will decide what happens next with him.
I recognize that I am on the wrong side of both contemporary thought and, even more assuredly, history with this--where, projecting ahead from trends in the peoplefication of pets, mature pit bulls will be granted the right to vote in the year 2048--but, if I were King Of The World, ordinary citizens would not be allowed to own pit bulls except perhaps through an elaborate screening and licensing procedure that would exclude anyone intending to name their dog "Fatal."

Friday, February 23, 2007

declaration of apogee

weight watchers online - 2/2007
(my personal wwol screen)

So, longtime readers of this blog know that, between May and October 2005, I lost around 45 pounds with Weight Watchers Online. This reversed the Great Weight Gain of 2003, in which I put on weight at a rate equivalent to scotch-taping a Twix bar to my body every day for nine months. Anyway, prone to bad habits as I can be, especially when I am doing a lot of travelling and feeling generally harried, I have lately been creeping back up again. Not at the 2003 pace, fortunately, but in all, I have gained 15 of the pounds I lost back. So things are happily not where they were before, when I would be regularly mistaken for the unfortunate detritus of a human-narwhal breeding experiment, but still the elevator is moving in a direction I don't want to go.

Today, harnessing the might of my credit card and this blog as devices of committment, I have rejoined with the goal of losing 15 pounds. I will be providing updates here. You should root for me.

where did this word come from?


Did the word "enabler" exist before the late 1990s and I just somehow managed to avoid hearing it? If not, how did the world get by so long without it? It's weird how now identifying someone as an "enabler" ends up having an almost diagnostic character to it, although it's like identifying a sickness in two individuals at once. I know that some kinds of now-prototypic "enabler" (e.g., the spouse of an alcoholic) have long existed, but has something changed in our society to enable "enabler" to come into being as a category unto itself.

Addendum for baseball fans: I have a book called The Baseball Dictionary that I bought on a remainder table sometime around 1990. The phrase "walk-off home run" is not in it. I don't know exactly when that phrase was invented, either, but it's interesting how it's now commonly used and there are even statistics on who has the most career walk-off home runs, which of course includes players who hit their walk-off home runs at a time when nobody knew that's what they were, much less counted them as a special quantifiable class of home run.

Addendum for celebrity news followers: I haven't been really following the story at Anna Nicole Smith, but am I correct in surmising that this judge is using the bench to try to launch a successful TV career, where maybe he can have the hour following The Late Late Late Show With Lance Ito?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

sal told sarah vowell about my blog

Sal with Sarah Vowell
(Sal, with Sarah Vowell)

I am not sure what to do. I am panicked, like a deer in headlights, or a deer in floodlights, or a deer that has been astropulted straight toward the sun. I feel like I should be rushing around sprucing up my template, or putting up links to my better posts, or completely transforming myself into a far more compelling human being.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

it should not take an hour for me to be able to use my research account to buy some stupid pens

(Pardon the expression of anguish.)

At least I was able to buy red and blue pens individually (my preferred colors for writing), without having to buy a bunch of creativity-stifling black pens along with them.

When I was an undergraduate and did more creative writing, I went through this period where I would only write on blue legal pads. Being the days before online shopping, it was not always easy to find blue legal pads, but they seemed as much a necessary condition of textual production as, say, knowledge of the word 'the.' I can't imagine writing on a blue legal pad now; I'm not sure I could even in some sort of prose emergency. (Besides, I don't really write on paper anymore anyway, I just have to have paper with me to work out sentences while I write on my computer.)

back in cambridge

I'm in bed, just like the blank slip of paper inside my fortune cookie predicted I would be. Aspirations of making a quick trip up to Madison faded after Carly downgraded her claims about being able to set up dinner with Sarah Vowell from "probably" to "maybe" and other people started offering comments about my prospects with Sarah's dizygotic twin Amy. You would be amazed at the number of times in my life I have made a remark that somebody has chosen to interpret as indicative of a crush and then that person has immediately followed up with something like, "She's out of your league. However, did you know she has a less appealing dizygotic twin who has a history of unaccountable taste in men? What about her?"

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

dispatch from evanston

I was in a hurry and so had fast food in the airport for breakfast. Then I got fish and chips for lunch here. I had a family-style dinner at a Chinese/Japanese restaurant. I also had a chocolate malt late this afternoon. I shared a dessert at dinner. And, as I was leaving the restaurant, I grabbed a couple of Hershey's kisses from a platter they had sitting out.

I remember meeting a friend's father who had to travel all the time for his job. He weighed like 400 pounds. I thought, "I bet if I had a job where I had to travel all the time, I would weigh like 400 pounds." Now I think if I had a job where I had to travel all the time, I would be lucky to keep myself at merely 400 pounds.

I'm enjoying my trip here, btw. They've put me up in a nice hotel. I wonder if there's room service...

Update: Meanwhile, I just got a text message from my alleged pal Sal up in Madison: Guess who I'm spending Wed evening with? Sarah Vowell! That's right baby, I'm spending some quality time with her (plus 100+ guests) at the Memorial Union Theater.

Monday, February 19, 2007

carnal sociology coda

"I did some googlestalking of Erich Goode after you wrote that post about him."
"Do tell."
"His father was a sociologist. Si Goode."
"Former American Sociological Association President. There's a rumor that if you are a legacy in sociology you get a special EZPass through human subjects committees."
"His stepmother was also a sociologist. Lenore Weitzman."
"Really? She was the source of arguably the most spectacular error in the history of quantitative sociology." [full ASR debate here]
"About the consequences of divorce for the standard of living of men and women?"
"Yes. If her study had also looked at the financial consequences of out-of-wedlock births, Erich and 'Peggy' probably could have been a great case study."
"He also wrote this critical review of Carolyn Ellis's book on autoethnography."
"Autoethnography is where people do participant observation research that primarily focuses on themselves."
"You don't need to tell me that. You may need to clarify it for people who read your blog, which is why you've inserted this despite it not really being part of our conversation."
"In autoethnography, what is important is not literal truth but narrative truth."
"Anyway, Goode doesn't like how Ellis calls the people in her studies 'participants.' He prefers 'subjects.'"
"I can see where that would help for maintaining objectivity and distance, as well as keeping roles straight so that one doesn't cross any lines."
"He also writes: 'Like Leo Buscaglia, the guy from the seventies who always wanted to hug everybody to make them feel better, Carolyn Ellis hugs her students a lot.'"
"I read part of a Leo Buscaglia book when I was in high school. It made me want to die."
"Goode ends his essay by saying: 'Me, I'm not a hugger.'"
"It's true that in that in his essay, he doesn't anywhere talk about hugging any of the women from NAAFA. He wouldn't even offer to refill that one subject's glass of wine when he refilled his. I guarantee you Leo Buscaglia would've asked if she wanted more wine."

Sunday, February 18, 2007

A+ guest post! American Idol: Hollywood Week!

Hey, all. The cattle calls are through, so like it or not, I’m back.

This past week on AI, the group of 172 was whittled down to the top 24, which will eventually be the top 12, which is the part when people actually start watching this trash. You may remember this week as The Time When They All Sing In Groups. There are a ton of women this season, so the cuts will be steep. On the bus, a couple are talking about how they’re most definitely not all winners: “Look at the person to your left, and the person to your right. One of you three is going home.”

Or, as it turns out, perhaps all of you will be going home. The first group of 6 women goes up, including a woman named Jory Steinberg, who has a record deal in Canada around the time that Alanis blew up. As we are all aware, one Alanis is more than enough for us all, and so she got pushed to the wayside. She sings perfectly fine, and sounds a lot like those songs you hear in the background of your car, those pop songs by Natasha Bedingfield or whoever, and it’s fine but not exciting. More pretty girls sing – like Bedingfield, like Carrie Underwood, like the chick who always gets the female lead in the community theater productions of Pippin, like the chick who doesn’t. Some are better than others, but here’s the awesomest thing ever: All six of them get the boot. When Simon says they’re all going home, of course someone mishears him and gets excited, which pisses him off even more, and he tells them that they pretty much all sucked: “No originality.” Remember that, y’all, when we get to the top 12. Originality: the key to winning American Idol. You heard it here first, kids.

You know, this portion of the show always reminds me of high school musical auditions. I don’t know if anyone else out there can relate to this, but it always looked just like this – a mass of people in the audience, watching every move made on stage, the ebb and flow of mumbling when someone really good went out, the overcompensation and emotions at the surface, the nerves, the nerves, the nerves. By booting all six from the get, I bet a bunch of girls in that audience stopped breathing for a few seconds.

Next: the return of Perla, back to sing “Hips Don’t Lie” for the thousandth time. Though she seems awfully nice, she’s not a good singer, and bringing her here was just a stupid idea. In her group is also Rachel Jenkins, the Army reservist with the husband overseas. She’s wearing a dress tonight. She’s singing sharp and they have a flashback voiceover during the part where the high note is supposed to be, so that’s helpful, Fox. Thanks. She doesn’t make it through to the next round, but Perla does, inexplicably, though Simon basically tells her it’s because of her personality. Personality is the new talent; good to know.

That blond 16 year-old from the ranch in Texas sings, and for a 16 year-old, it’s nice. She kind of sounds like a child tried to make Celine Dion sound like she was singing a crossover country song. Which might actually happen in the future, I guess. I certainly would hesitate to characterize her as original in any way, shape or form, though. Suddenly, that doesn’t matter, as the judges loved her. She’s the only one to get through in her round. This girl is positive she’s a ringer. Speaking of high school auditions, she has the countenance of The Girl Who Always Gets The Lead. Going through the motions, acting gracious, trying desperately not to look like she’s positive she’ll take the whole thing. Gah, hate.

After seeing a bunch of people we came to “love” at the cattle calls get the big boot, Seacrest asks if they cut to many. I’m gonna go on record here and say, ‘no.’

Some girl I’ve never seen before is struggling over what song to sing. Her mom and aunt are arguing with her over whether to sing “Tracks of My Tears” or “Ain’t No Way.” She goes with her mom and sings Aretha. She actually has some Aretha-esque vocal qualities to her voice, and I thought she was a really good singer, but dull. She doesn’t make it, and then it gets irritating, because she sobs to her mother that basically, it was all mom’s fault for making her sing that song. She’s twenty five years old. That’s just sad. The producers (sigh) send her mom up, slowly hobbling to center stage with her cane, explaining that Nicole sang that song for her. It’s insanely irritating, the judges say it wasn’t the song, and eventually Simon gets so pissed that he gets up from the table and walks away. Good idea. Laters.

Next day: Boys. Some kid named Brian from California sings “A Change is Gonna Come,” and sounds just like he got the lead in the new revue musical about Sam Cooke’s life, also titled, “A Change is Gonna Come,” with choreography by Twyla Tharp. Oh, if only it actually existed. It’s pretty, but oh so very blizzard-like in its whiteness, which isn’t an enormous problem if you like whitewashed soul classics, which I don’t.

Another previously uniformed guy – the bald one – sings Josh Groban. He sounds really nervous. There’s no breath support, and it’s so boring I think I actually fell asleep halfway through.

Remember the young kid with the zit on his nose? He’s back, and he’s singing “Home” by Michael Bublè. It’s pretty, in the same way Brian From California was pretty. This kids got a little more smoke in his tone, and he’s out of tune at the end, but his actual voice is nice - he doesn’t dress it up like Tammy Faye like a lot of people here. He makes it, though bald guy doesn’t.

With everyone having sung individually again, it’s time for the group numbers. I always find this odd. I mean, why not check how good they are at singing back-up? It’s exactly the kind of skills you need to… to… yeah. Needless to say, most of them, throughout the seasons, have sucked it big time in the groups. There’s always this huge drama: Go To Bed, or Keep Practicing?

I also find this portion infuriating, every year, because the groups are given a list of a few songs from which to pick, and these knuckleheaded kids never know the freaking songs. Every year, people forget the lyrics, which is irritating enough, but the fact remains that you fucked up the lyrics to “Be My Baby” because you don’t even know that song, which makes you an exceedingly crappy choice for a Pop Star. You wanna be a pop singer? Learn pop music, you idiot. Don’t even get me started on that, it kills me. Add this to the fact that they have to take turn singing back-up in harmony and utterly fail because they can’t hear parts, and my head wants to fall off.

I mean, am I wrong here? This is a competition to be a pop star. If you only know pop music from the last 6 minutes of history, and can’t sing, what good are you? Who can’t learn a song in an entire day? Go home, Pop Tarts. You blow.

We see a montage of people forgetting the words, and I have a few strokes. In addition, the out of tune-ness is nearly deafening. These are the people who made it through? Perla and the kid formerly know as the kid with the zit are gone.

Four guys, including the guy who wants to make Hasselhoff cry, and Blake the beatbox dude, sing “How Deep Is Your Love,” and they’re actually… good. In a highlight, Blake does a beat while they all sing behind him. To end it, they create an echo effect, which is hilariously awesome.

You know, it was good, but… shouldn’t this be the case with all of these groups? Even when I was 15 years old, we used to do stuff like this, and with the exception of the beatbox, we were good, too. We whipped up a 5-part arrangement of “ABCs of Love,” a classic doo-wop song, in three hours for an audition to a vocal show group. I’m not including this to imply that we were geniuses – not by the longest shot. What I mean to say is, if we could do this, why can’t they all? Why are so many of them so egregiously untalented?

I’m also hacked off by the fact that it’s always guys on this show who do this cool shit, because with a few exceptions, they take the most talented guys and the prettiest girls. A few talented women get through, but many, many really outstanding singers, with tons of budding talent, never make it this far because of their hair or fashion. Their Ugg boots, or their ug face, or their titanic ass, or whatever. Alright, I’m getting off my soapbox. But I can’t promise I won’t bring it up a few thousand more times.

Sundance Head sings, extremely poorly. He’s in and out of tune, his voice cracks. He knows it, too – I don’t know if he’s tired, or nervous, or it’s like impotence where once it happens you get all freaked out and can never get hard again, or whatever. Interestingly, in his group is the chick who sang alongside Justin Timberlake at the Grammy’s. He makes it through; she doesn’t.

Little Blond Country Celine sings “This Old Heart of Mine” with two other young women, and the three proclaim that they are friends forever, no matter what happens. Hilariously and awesomely, Little Blond Country Celine cannot remember the words. Either can her BFFs. They send Little Celine home, and she’s all crying and shocked, explaining that she worked harder than the other two. The other two BFFs explain to the camera, “You know what? Because God likes good people…” And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what you get when you order up a plate of young hot morons. As far as I’m concerned, if American Idol wants a trophy wife, then they deserve the hours and hours of mind-numbing conversations that accompany it. But it still irritates me. It’s like, these are the people that represent young women? Foul.

To end the Tuesday show, they do that thing where they separate people into rooms and tell them, “I’m very sorry… sorry… so sorry… to makeyouwaitthislongtofindoutyou’rein!” And screaming ensues.

Wednesday’s show is basically what happens after the judges have looked at the tapes again. No one has sung anything since the previous cut, and it’s just another cut for drama’s sake, so I won’t belabor it. Basically, they bring in people to sit in a chair, alone, and have a period of protracted silence before they basically say yes or no. Sometimes, they match up pairs of people they have decided are “similar types,” and cut one of them. In front of the other. It’s actually dull, so, thanks to Reality Blurred, here are the final 24:

• Alaina Alexander, 24, West Hollywood, Calif.
• Amy Krebs, 22, Federal Way, Wash.
• Antonella Barba, 20, Point Pleasant, N.J.
• Gina Glocksen, 22, Naperville, Ill.
• Haley Scarnato, 24, San Antonio, Texas
• Jordin Sparks, 17, Glendale, Ariz.
• Lakisha Jones, 27, Fort Meade, Md.
• Leslie Hunt, 24, Chicago, Ill.
• Melinda Doolittle, 29, Brentwood, Tenn.
• Nicole Tranquillo, 20, Philadelphia, Pa.
• Sabrina Sloan, 27, Studio City, Calif.
• Stephanie Edwards, 19, Savannah, Ga.
• AJ Tabaldo, 22, Santa Maria, Calif.
• Blake Lewis, 25, Bothell, Wash.
• Brandon Rogers, 28, North Hollywood, Calif.
• Chris Richardson, 22, Chesapeake, Va.
• Chris Sligh, 28, Greenville, S.C.
• Jared Cotter, 25, Kew Gardens, N.Y.
• Nicholas Pedro, 25, Taunton, Mass.
• Paul Kim, 25, Saratoga, Calif.
• Phil Stacey, 29, Jacksonville, Fla.
• Rudy Cardenas, 28, North Hollywood, Calif.
• Sanjaya Malakar, 17, Federal Way, Wash.
• Sundance Head, 28, Porter, Texas.

Included in this group (since we don’t know a lot of people by name), are, Shy Backup Singer With Dynamite Pipes; Beatbox Genius, Rocker Chick from Naperville (har?); Guy Who Ditched His Pregnant Wife to Audition; Boy Who Looks Like Jack Osborne and Wants to Make Hasselhoff Cry; and a bunch of people we’ve never seen before.

Awesomely, the powers that be finally decided that it’s okay to have more than one soul singer, people of East and South Asian heritage, a bunch of seriously unattractive people (though not women), and multiple fat people. Get ready to start voting!

if cleanliness is next to godliness...

...my apartment is several sub-basements below the ninth circle of hell at the moment. This, and several other matters related to a general sense of lost order and scattered purpose, will have to wait until after a trip this Monday and Tuesday before it can be directly engaged. But then: attack.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

start spreading the news

Big score for Madison blogging: Ann has started her stint as a guest columnist for the New York Times. She may have her detractors among persons of similar political views to my own, but she gets nothing but wholehearted kudos from JFW. And not just because I am one of the few people who can say they read her first post on the first day she wrote it. And not just because, the more famous she gets, the more valuable the blurb that I am "the best sociologist in the world." And not just because I am going to try to cash in on her NYT fame by getting her to engineer a meeting between me and Sarah Vowell. Rather: I like Ann, am amazed at what she's developed online over the past three years, and am confident that she will do Madison proud with her turn on the Gray Lady stage.

Friday, February 16, 2007


"I think she's worried that if she does that then later she's going to wake up in the middle of the night screaming, 'Dear God, what have I done?'"
"She's right. In fact, I can predict when it will happen: the very first night, and every night thereafter."

carnal sociology

“Can’t you see Carmen just once more before you leave?” she asked. I said the plane left early in the morning. “Couldn’t you get a job in California, move here, and maybe settle down with Peggy and the baby?” she implored, almost whining.

For a moment, I had the wind knocked out of me. “Listen, Pearl, the fact is, the academic job market doesn’t allow that kind of move. I mean, it’s not that easy just to pick up and get a job wherever you want, especially in California. Those jobs are scarce and hard to get,” I told her. “Anyway, uh, I’m actually involved with someone. I hate to say this, but your daughter and I barely know each other. We’re practically strangers. We just had that one date, that was it. I’m sorry, Pearl, you’re being very nice, I’m sure you’re a wonderful mother, and Peggy’s a wonderful woman. I’m sure she’ll meet a man who wants to settle down with her.” Man, this is painful, I thought, agonizing over every sentence. Finally, Peggy’s mother allowed me to hang up. At seven the next morning, Pearl called again and asked me to meet her and her husband at their produce market, accept some fruit, and talk about the situation. I declined. I have a plane to catch, I insisted. These phone calls are causing me considerable guilt, I told myself when I hung up.

Peggy and I corresponded for almost two years. She even sent several pictures of our daughter. She’s cute, I thought, little more. How could I possibly feel the complete father? I asked myself. For a brief period of time, I paid her monthly medical insurance, then she got a job that offered coverage. And then the letters stopped. I figured she’s met someone. It’s for the best, I thought.
Deadbeat dad? No, deadbeat sociologist dad! Scene from a novel? No, scene from an article on ethnographic fieldwork methods!

Despite my having a zillion pressing things to do, a friend set me off on the digression of reading Erich Goode's article "Sexual Involvement and Social Research in a Fat Civil Rights Organization." (Qualitative Sociology, 2002, pp. 501-534). Other selections from the same article, with a brief italicized response:
1. "To be accepted in NAAFA, I had to prove my lust for fat women, and I had to prove it by having affairs with them. At the same time, I realized only much later, by having affairs with NAAFA women, I became entangled in the emotional complexities such affairs entailed, making my job of gathering information problematic." [A professional observer of social behavior, and he only realizes 'much later' that having affairs with multiple women might add emotional complications to a social research project.]

2. “She said you poured glass after glass of wine for yourself and never offered her one.”
“I did?” I asked. “Maybe I did, I don’t remember. If I did, it was a mistake. I don’t know, I guess I figured if she wanted some, she’d ask. Why didn’t she ask?” My head swam with the triviality of it all. How could I have been so damn stupid and insensitive? How could I have made such moronic mistakes? I was screwing up in the fundamentals of social research! [I suppose he can't be blamed if his social research methods instructor never told him to be sure to offer to refill his research subject's wine glass whenever he refilled his own.]

3. "I suppressed the idea that sleeping with my subjects was an inherently tricky proposition. It was only much later that I became fully aware of the almost self-contradictory nature of what I was doing. Sure, all researchers who participate in what they are studying run into these problems."[Actually, I have no response here other than to repeat the last sentence in a slow, incredulous voice]
Recently, I was so indignant about some problems in a quantitative research article that was published in a high-profile venue that I sent off a comment on the article to the journal. The comment was pretty unremittingly negative. In retrospect, I suppose I should have at least credited the author with not impregnating any respondents in the course of doing the analysis.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

jeremy's believe it or not!: thumbs of steel edition

From an ESPN.com story about the heroic recruitment efforts of University of Illinois football coach Ron Zook:
At the very least, he out-BlackBerry'd them. ESPN's Mark Schlabach reported recently that Zook typed 95 million kilobytes' worth of text messages to recruits since Nov. 26. I'm surprised he has any thumbs left.
Yes: especially since, at one character per byte, typing 95 million kilobytes (a.k.a., 95 gigabytes) would work out to having typed more than 20,000 characters every second of every day since November 26th. If he was recruiting 100 prospects overall using this method, it would imply that each one received an average of around 4 million words per day. I hope all the recruits had unlimited data plans! Given the 160 character limit of many cel phones and a dime per message charge, all this txting would cost each athlete $81,000 a month.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

jfw valentine's day special!

So, there's this online service some bloggers are using where you can make a blogwidget and people can send you valentines, which you don't receive until Valentine's Day. What intrigued me about this is a separate feature they have, called the "Mutual Love Note." How it works:
A Mutual Love Note is a special type of valentine that gets revealed only when two people have sent each other a Mutual Love Note. If only one person sent a Mutual Love Note, the other will not find out about it. Your Mutual Love Note will be revealed to the recipient only if the feeling is mutual, in other words only if the recipient has also sent you a Mutual Love Note.
The unveiling of this also doesn't happen until Valentine's Day, so there are presumably there will be people hitting refresh all the way until midnight tonight hoping that the crush for whom they have a Mutual Love Note sitting in cyber-reserve will leave one for them.

When I first saw this, I thought that had the Internet existed Back in the Day, a certain weird and mournful conversation several years after high school ("You mean--you mean you'd always had a crush on me too???") might have been avoided. But then I imagined that if the service became popular, it would lead to the fear that some people out there who wanted confirmation of someone's crush on them would leave Mutual Love Notes like:
I *knew* it!  I knew you were in love with me!  How about we play
a special Valentine's Day game of Wheel of Fortune:

U N R - Q U I T - D

Do you want to buy a vowel? I am flattered, though, sort of.
So, as with so much else, within the Internet lies great potential to create opportunities formerly blocked by asymmetries of information, but this potential comes along with whole new possibilities for mischief.

Update: Sal has signed up to get Valentines. See Sal and I in our matching robot pajamas here. Leave him a valentine or Mutual Love Note here.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

and here i was hoping it would be titled 'get your freak on'

freaky panel

I just looked at the preliminary program for the Eastern Sociological Society meetings in Philadelphia next month. I'm participating in a panel on the book Freakonomics--sort of like an "Author Meets Critics" session, only without the author. I'm not sure if the name of the panel is what I would have chosen, or, at least, I hope it doesn't mean I have to strive to be any more freaky than I already am.

other sociology news

Score one for the upper Midwest: Chris is taking over Contexts, the plainspoken magazine of the American Sociological Association. All the more reason for me to remain a proud subscriber. I'm hoping he enacts my longrunning suggestion of replacing the humor column on the back page with Xtreme Sociology Stunts.

Monday, February 12, 2007

resolution redux

I received a prompt reply--certainly far more prompt than this follow-up--to my cordial query about the references for an assertion in the American Sociological Association resolution about Native American mascots (original post). As promised, these references are:
"Sports Mascots and the Media" with co-authors (i.e., C. Richard King, L. R. Davis-Delano, E. J. Staurowsky,& L. Baca), in Handbook of Sports and Media, A. A. Raney & J. Bryant, editors, 2006, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

"Of Polls and Race Prejudice: Sports Illustrated's Errant 'Indian Wars,'" with co-authors (i.e., C. Richard King, E. J. Staurowsky, L. Baca, L. R. Davis, & C. Pewewardy), in Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 2002, 26(4): 381-402.
I haven't looked at these references or at the specific evidence regarding the harm of Native American nicknames on Native Americans. Regardless, I hasten to point out again that I personally think Native American sports nicknames and mascots are objectionable--especially the Washington Redskins (which just now felt wrong even to type out loud) and Chief Illiniwek--even if they do not cause specifiable and demonstrable harm to particular Native Americans. The issue arises more from my experience doing quantitative social research with it being much easier to assert that something is harmful than to demonstrate persuasively that it is so, as well as my belief that professional resolutions that make claims about empirical matters should have some explicit connection to empirical evidence. I recognize how quaint and protocurmudgeonly such sentiments might seem.

With acknowledgment that it was dated, I was also referred to the bibliography for the resolution by the American Psychological Association. Even if one is not interested in the bibliography per se, the previous link is worth clicking on by academics just for the apparent contrast between an APA resolution and an ASA resolution, especially in terms of how the former make concrete points and tie them to specific citations of evidence.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


"It's a weird decision problem. It's not like choosing between Coke and Pepsi. It's like choosing between Coke and Cheeseburgers. Which isn't as bad as choosing between Coke and Playing Frisbee or between Coke and Paisley, but still--"
"Why don't you just say it's like apples and oranges?"
"Because apples and oranges aren't really 'like apples and oranges.' They're both fruit. They have a big bowl of fruit for sale at the cafeteria that has both apples and oranges. That's a regular choice that people make all the time."

Saturday, February 10, 2007

(ongoing series) brief sketches of saturday sarcasm


Troubles at University Of Phoenix
(from the NYT. click on image for story.)

Wow, one could not have seen this coming.

Irresistible informational addendum: From the story --
The government measures graduation rates as the percentage of first-time undergraduates who obtain a degree within six years. On average across all American universities, the rate is 55 percent... The official rates at some University of Phoenix campuses are extremely low — 6 percent at the Southern California campus, 4 percent among online students — and he acknowledged extraordinary attrition among younger students.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

the continued oratorical misadventures of jeremy freese

At LAX, about to catch the red-eye back to Boston. Three days of talking to people here, and, unlike my last few trips elsewhere, no displays of awareness of the existence of JFW except for already known blognoscenti. Still, that doesn't mean I am comfortable enough to admit in this forum that, due to certain misgivings regarding color coordination, the necktie I wore today for my talk was actually an alternative I borrowed from the hotel lost-and-found. I like it, actually. The clerk welcomed me to make it lost-and-stolen instead of lost-and-found.

Despite reminding myself several times before the talk that, whatever else, I shouldn't do the talking-way-too-fast thing yet again, I did the talking-way-too-fast thing yet again. (Not as bad as some other talks I've given, and on the whole I think the talk went okay. I endeavored to be even a little provocative, although I don't know if I succeeded.)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

dispatch from los angeles

Extremely intermittent wireless connection here at my hotel. Spotty wireless is so much worse than no wireless, because when there is no wireless you don't wander around your hotel room and fiddle with the settings endlessly trying to pull in a better connection.

A celebrity-sighting on the flight would have been appropriate for a trip to Los Angeles, and, lo, there in first class was Danny DeVito. The plane was one of those 757s with a forward first class cabin, and I saw DeVito (or, to adopt the tabloid style, Danny) there as I was getting off the flight--the dark glasses cannot conceal his indiscreet shortness. Anyway, the flight attendant could see me looking at him as I was walking off the plane, and said "Thank you" in this tense and suspicious manner, like he was all primed to jump to intervene if I tried to rush into the first-class cabin: "Danny, Danny! You were so cute on The View!"

I saw Rhea Perlman at baggage claim. I didn't realize Rhea and Danny were still together. I didn't realize celebrity baggage didn't have its own carousel.

It was below zero with wind chill in Cambridge when I left Tuesday morning. It took about five minutes out in the sun outside the airport to see the appeal of Southern California.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


off to los angeles!
(temperatures right now)

Off to Los Angeles Tuesday morning for a few days. I'm looking forward to the trip. Very busy getting ready, and unsure if I will blog while I am there. (Actually, it's not that I'm unsure, but more that I'm confident it will depend on my ever fickle sleep patterns. As ever, my insomnia is your gain.)


(iPod registration screen)

With this transcontinental trip on tap, I decided to replace the iPod that I lost. Readers may recall I lost it less than a week after buying it. I thought about running a "Jeremy's iPod Dead Pool" here on JFW, with a virtual kewpie doll prize for the person who comes closest to predicting when I would lose the new one, but decided that was too intrapsychically cynical. Besides, I didn't want to be deluged with entrants wanting to call dibs on which day of my trip I would lose it, or betting I would lose it between my apartment and the airport here ("Are you taking a cab there? I bet you will leave it in the cab. I still think that's what happened with the cel phone you lost last year.").

Monday, February 05, 2007

(A+ Guest Post!) American Idol: Week... Eh, Who Gives A Crap

Y’all, I’m exhausted. There’s just one more week before we finally get to the Hollywood rounds, but this past week we were in Birmingham and Los Angeles. And it was dull as hell. Some people sucked, other people were okay, and still others were supposed to be fabulous, yet I still hated them. And one 50 year-old woman dressed completely in yellow and feathers inexplicably put her number tag on her fupa, underneath her shirt, which she kept lifting so as to give us a shot of her number. And her fupa. And at this point in time, I can only pray that she was in on it, or this show is crueler than even I could imagine.

I promise to give full recaps when they get to Hollywood. But now, what’s the point? Gah, I hate this show.

am i the only one who has noticed that returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown in a big game is poison?

(Yes, I am well aware that I say 'totally' and 'awesome' far too often for someone of my age and educational attainment)

I also announced this in the John Harvard Brew House immediately after the Bears scored on the opening kickoff. Ask him -- he was there.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

(superbowl special!) footloose and fancy freese

As already posted, I agreed to write an original dance as part of the grand prize for my friend Rob's NFL pool and post it during the Super Bowl. Rob was sporting enough to sweeten the deal by agreeing that if I posted the dance, he would perform it and upload the video to YouTube in time for the NFL Pro Bowl next week.

I've never written an original dance, but then again I'd never written an original recipe and that was what Rob had me do for the prize two years ago. As it turned out, I won the pool this year, so the task was to write a dance in honor of myself, which made the job all the greater challenge.

But, using the Holmes method of choreographic notation, I came up with the following sequence of steps. I call the dance "The Boy Detective":

superbowl dance
(my official, original superbowl dance; click to enlarge)

The dance is meant to be performed to the Chicago Bears' 1985 "Super Bowl Shuffle", but experimentation here in the Freese Funky Kinesthetics Lab has shown that the dance can be done equally well to the B-52's "Rock Lobster," Outkast's "Hey Ya!", the Watson Twins' "Elementary Dear," or practically any of the peppier parts of Freaktoast J's Stickfigure Semiotica album. So Rob will have several songs to choose from.

Special note to Rob's life partner: Be sure to roll out the yoga mat or something the first few times he practices this, especially the parts where he has to backflip into a one-armed handstand. Remember the friend of his from college who started breakdancing to some Van Halen song at your wedding? How he hit his head on the floor during a backspin and knocked himself unconscious? [Everyone else: yes, true story.] Make sure this doesn't happen to Rob, and make sure he e-mails me once he's uploaded his video so I can link to it here.

one of the two b's in bible is for me

You know the Bible 86%!

Wow! You are awesome! You are a true Biblical scholar, not just a hearer but a personal reader! The books, the characters, the events, the verses - you know it all! You are fantastic! You find this blurb insipid and over the top! Fortunately, you can add a couple snarky sentences to the end of it!

Ultimate Bible Quiz
Create MySpace Quizzes

Kieran got a 97% on this quiz. I decided to take it also because, in the course of my Lutheran upbringing, I actually read the entire Bible when I was in high school.* Cover-to-cover, alpha-to-omega, Genesis-to-Revelation, In-the-beginning-to-Amen.

The quiz provided some intriguing foggy mental nostalgia: several things I recognized as questions I would have once been able to answer but now the memory was past dim and into just plain dark. And then there was this one question about a donkey that I didn't even recognize as something I would have once recognized, although I'm sure it was something I once knew full well. Anyway, as you can see, my scriptural retention was much worse than Kieran's, and I will not be winning any games of Go To The Head Of The Sunday School Class.

BTW, the two parables of Jesus that still come to mind for me from time to time are that of Workers In the Vineyard and that of the Two Sons. Although, in neither case, do I take away the intended lesson: the former comes to mind as I think about how I should focus on my own rewards and not worry about things relative to the effort/reward of others, and the latter to mind when I think about how it is worse to tell someone you are going to do something and then not follow through than it is just to tell them you aren't going to do it in the first place.

* Granted, it was "The Living Bible," which is an attempted easier-reading translation. It says something about the readability of the Bible that while the most common word in written English is easily "the", and the most common word in spoken English is even more easily "I", the most common word in the Bible is "and."

Saturday, February 03, 2007

cause of dumbo's cognitive deficit revealed!


So, a few days ago I noted a Rock-Paper-Scissors alternative allegedly called Earwig-Human-Elephant and played in "non-English speaking countries." Turns out it's Earwig-Man-Elephant and unclear if it's played anywhere other than Indonesia. But: while Man squishes Earwig and Elephant squishes Man, Earwig defeats Elephant by crawling through his brain. How much more awesome is that than "paper covers rock"! Still no word, however, on how the handsign for "earwig" is made.

Kieran made reference to a little known variant called Economist-Sociologist-Philosopher, believed to have been invented by members of the Merton family. I'm presuming the order of play is Economist beats Sociologist beats Philosopher beats Economist, although if you play the game at a public university one can also play "Hostile Legislator" and automatically win, while the same goes for private university and "Barking Mad Prospective Donor." I'm curious about all of the corresponding handsigns for this game.

Friday, February 02, 2007

with or without you

Okay, so keep in mind that the NRC ranking survey I posted about a few days ago not only doesn't allow you to include faculty size as a criterion for department quality, but also presumably the measures of faculty quality used will be based on averages. Averages are only fair, right? Otherwise, small departments would be at a disadvantage, and that's unfair because, well, it's, well, um, unfair.

The trouble with averages in a measure of department quality is simple: to use averages is to imply that half the members of a department do not merely contribute less to the quality of a department than their more productive/cited/grants-getting colleagues, but that they actively harm it. Take any department, fire the lesser half according to whatever the quality measure is, and you've instantly created a better department. You can even repeat the step and create an still better department, until you have a one-faculty member graduate program.*

I'm not sure how many faculty members are actively bad for the programs that employ them, in the sense that the program would better if they immediately disappeared and took their hiring line with them.** I feel confident, though, in my sense that this number is quite a bit less than half at most places. If you are in academia, think about your own department, and don't just single out the worst person, but think of somebody you think would probably be a little below the dividing line. Do you really think your department would be better if that person just vanished? They really hurt more than they help? Maybe so: but, if that's really true for half your department, I hope you aren't surprised by my response that your department must suck.

Average measures also imply that if you take a department and add to it by hiring everyone's structural equivalent, you haven't improved the department at all. Think graduate students are better off having four people in their specialty area rather than two? Average-based measures of quality imply no. In sociology, faculty size has always seemed to me especially an issue to attend to insofar as the discipline is sparsely populated even at the largest departments and many graduate students change their mind about the area they want to work in after they begin (or come in not knowing what they want to study). The smaller the department, the more likely a graduate student is to suffer from a change of interest, a falling out with their advisor, or their advisor leaving.

Not that I think faculty size should be the be-all-end-all, especially as one would expect it to be correlated with what Fabio calls programs of "benign neglect". I would rather program ratings try to measure benign neglect more directly, however. Anyway, if faculty size ends up having no weight or very little weight in the way NRC ultimately does the "objective" part of its rankings, that's just not credible.

* Half per se assumes either we are talking average in terms of the median or a measure that is symmetrically distributed. You know what I mean. My guess is there are ~40 sociologists who would be have the highest "faculty quality" of any department in the country if only they could get themselves into a department with no colleagues.

** Not that they left and someone else was rehired; there is a difference between someone being not the best use of a faculty line and being actively bad, and averages treat half the department as actively bad.

Addendum: I actually wrote this post a couple days ago, and in the interim Dan has written his own reaction to my earlier post. Incidentally, I suppose one could think it convenient that I have this strong opinion about faculty size while being a member of one of the largest sociology departments in the US. Maybe so. But it just seems intellectually galling to me that you'd have a rating system based on the idea that if there were two great small departments out there and you could somehow merge them, the result would be no better. It's one thing to say a whole isn't greater than the sum of its parts, and another to say the sum is no better than the average of its parts.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

(ongoing series) correlation, or causality?

January 30, 2007:
Eszter gives a talk in the renowned TechTalk series at Google.
January 31, 2007:
google headline
(via NYT)

to serve and take notice

Around Boston, business folk are very fond of backing up statements that you shouldn't do something with the threat that police will take notice. Three examples:

police take notice: fence
(private parking near Inman Square--which, incidentally, is the home of Magnolia, my new favorite Cambridge restaurant)

police take(s) notice: laundromat
(laundromat near where I live)

police take notice: wall
(no parking sign spray painted on wall in theatre district, Boston; includes me with horrible red-eye)

Is it just me, or is the idea that police will take notice not exactly the scariest threat in the world? Even, maybe, does it not seem like much of a threat at all? Every time I see one of these signs I think, "And then what?"

I've never seen one of these signs in the Midwest. (Or if I have, I haven't taken notice.) Is this a Boston area thing? An East Coast thing? A cities larger than Madison thing?