Wednesday, June 30, 2004

more on astrosociology
(post sponsored by Tang)

Everybody in sociology has one word on their minds: astrosociology. (See a couple posts from the Arizona Blogging Circle* making reference to my own earlier remarks about it here and here.)

A sense from a couple conversations I've had is that astrosociology has provoked such a reaction because it seems to finally mark the point at which the prospective continued substantive dissipation of sociology--which, according to statistical projections, will result in one specialty area (and two blogs) per sociologist by the year 2030--has gone too far. Animals and society, fine, people who want to study their pets and call it sociology need something, but astrosociology, that's ridiculous. It reminds me a little bit of a recurrent thing that has been said about the "underclass" (a.k.a. various other things, including the oh-so-fashionable "urban subproletariat") over the last however many years, which is that if X, Y, and Z are not done right away, the existence of the underclass will be a permanent condition in our society. That may well be true--although, you know, permanently is a really long time--but the point is that since the X, Y, and Z of earlier formulations have most certainly and abjectly not been done, if we have been facing the imminent prospect of a permanent underclass all this time we probably actually do have a permanent underclass right now. If that analogy doesn't make sense--I did, admittedly, NOT SLEEP LAST NIGHT, which may also explain my last post's Nina-angering-double-agreement with our president--what I'm saying is that a many people in sociology seem to have a sense that various regarded-as-ridiculous aspects of our discipline will at some point finally Go Too Far, as though sociology will seize up and die in a singular fit of incoherence-and-irrelevance-induced apoplexy, but if there is really anything that would constitute "Too Far" in any of these respects, sociology has almost certainly crossed these Rubiconica already.

So: astrosociology, rhinosociology, fructosociology, neuronecronanosociology, whatever. I wish all of it was more infused with rococosociology, instead of taking itself so seriously and yet being so poorly and unimaginatively written.

Besides, nothing the astrosociology guy is proposing is as nutty as the Ph.D. certified sociological exoneration of astrology that Kieran Healy refers to in his now-pioneering skepto-astrosociology post.

An absolutely crucial thing, though: If anyone wants to start working on creating an elaborate subfield hoax for the 2005 meetings (doing it right requires at least a year, yes), let me know. I did get this message from a couple sociologists working out of an underground complex in Red Russet, ID, which does shows promise:
Have you ever wondered why there is a dance named for the potato, but not for lesser tubers? If so, an open forum for tuberosociology will take place this August at Red's Irish Bar, a satellite meeting site for the ASA. Named in honor of Solanum tuberosum, the common potato, tuberosociology is the study of human-potato interactions. Although such interactions are currently neglected in our discipline, they represent an important subset of all social interactions.

Sociology is indeed the right discipline to study human-potato interactions since said interactions are characterized by status inequalities. Consider one of the most common human-potato interactions: humans eating french fries. Or consider human attempts to blur the distinctions between human and potato (i.e. Mr. Potato Head). [Note, incidentally, that the first step in anthromorphizing the potato is to give it gender.]

You can help this fledgling subfield get off the (out of the?) ground by sending a monetary donation to help the efforts to organize this section. All donations can be sent directly to [address deleted]
But I mean something more aspiring and more elaborate. A website with a manifesto, say. Temporary tattoos and ribbons to put on your nametag at the ASA meetings. Maybe also something that allows one to strike a faux-sanctimonious pose at anyone who would resist the subfield. Being able to pronounce it revolutionary also a plus.

* Speaking of ABC, I'm having the second dinner/blogsummit with the Wisconsin Law representatives of those letters tonight. We're going to GT, which I've been told are initials referring to some restaurant in Middleton, and not Group Therapy.

in which, like a broken clock, our president is right twice in one day

U.S. President George W. Bush has repeated a call for the European Union to admit Turkey, despite criticism by France's President Jacques Chirac that he was meddling in EU affairs.


"Including Turkey in the EU would prove that Europe is not the exclusive club of a single religion, and it would expose the 'clash of civilizations' as a passing myth of history," Bush said.

Chirac took Bush to task Monday over his call for Turkey's admission to the European Union.

"If President Bush really said that in the way that I read, then not only did he go too far, but he went into territory that isn't his," Chirac said of a remark Bush made over the weekend.

"It is is not his purpose and his goal to give any advice to the EU, and in this area it was a bit as if I were to tell Americans how they should handle their relationship with Mexico."
JFW sides with GWB both on the support for Turkey in the EU and, more importantly and more adamantly, the appropriateness of the US offering a stance on the matter. Indeed, JFW considers Chirac's statement to be so provincial as to be a little scary. If French politicians believe that something needs to be changed about the US-Mexico relationship, by all means they should speak up. Dear God. Geographically proximate sovereign nations are not like family members, where some matters might be considered private and not for anyone outside to judge. (Indeed, I'm leery of taking too far the idea of a moral right to tell others to keep opinions to themselves even when one is actually talking about familial affairs instead of international affairs.)

Update, 7:30 AM: Nina disagrees, strongly! She hasn't yet threatened to take away my banner of blogger stardom. She has, however, placed a call to Robert Novak about how my mom is actually a covert CIA operative.

in which the day of celebrity pharmaceutical wagering turns out not to be at hand

As longtime readers know, I'm a fan of and sometimes participant in prediction "markets", where you speculate on the probability of future events like you were buy and selling actual commodities in a futures market. I think it's the best-known method of producing probability estimates for future events such as the probability the Bush will be re-elected, which is one of the main things I monitor my preferred prediction market site for. The screenshot above was taken just now of the front page of this site. If you look three rows from the bottom, you can see that the market is giving Bush a 58% chance of being re-elected.

Anyway, what caught my eye just now was not that but that there is a futures contract titled CIALIS.WOODS (with an estimated probability of 17.5%). "My God," I thought, "have we really reached the point where you can not only bet on whether Tiger Woods is using some kind of erectile dysfunction drug, but which one? How will they know? Will we soon be able to bet on what antidepressants/antipsychotics various stars are taking? Or is it a bet on whether Tiger Woods will become the Cialis spokesperson?" Turns out, alas, that Cialis is just the sponsor of this week's pro golf tournament (the Cialis Western Open), and the contract is just whether or not Woods will win it.

come into my parlor, said the spider to the vast right-wing spiderslaying conspiracy

A friend and reader from Spamshirt, NY, e-mailed today the poll result: "Nationwide, Mr. Kerry has the support of 45 percent of registered voters, with Mr. Bush supported by 44 percent. When Ralph Nader, who is running as an independent, is included, he draws 5 percent, leaving 42 percent for Mr. Kerry and 43 percent for Mr. Bush." Meaning, of course, that, in this poll, Kerry is up 1% without Nader and down 1% with him.* I've been more interested in the story that has been coming out of Oregon, as discussed recently in
In recent weeks, [two] Oregon conservative groups deployed their phone banks to contact Republican voters, urging them to attend a Nader rally in Portland on Saturday, where the candidate's organizers sought to gather enough signatures to place him on the ballot...

As Russ Walker of Citizens for a Sound Economy explained, "We disagree with Ralph Nader's politics, but we'd love to see him make the ballot." Walker even posted a "phone script" on his group's Web site that offered activists talking points to convince their fellow conservatives to sign Nader petitions.

Mike White, director of the Oregon Family Council, which focuses on social issues such as abortion and gay rights, was equally candid: "We aren't bashful about [aiding Nader]. We are a conservative, pro-family organization, and Bush is our guy on virtually every issue."
Not that this is at all surprising. In the same way that every cockroach you see in daylight gives one reason to suspect there are a thousand others teeming somewhere nearby out of view, this does make me wonder what kind of support Nader's getting-on-the-ballot efforts are receiving from conservatives smart enough to keep their mouths shut about it.***

But, anyway, what actually interests me is that I'm waiting for Nader or some-flack-thereof to provide some quote that reconciles this help with his repeated assertion that his candidacy will hurt the Bush campaign more than he hurts the Kerry campaign (previous JFW posts here and here). Will he actually be so disingenuous as to claim that the various Bush supporters who are helping him are all suckers who are actually contributing to their own doom?

"Bwah-hah-hah," he could perhaps cackle sinisterly at a rally, rubbing his hands together, "Those conservatives are walking right into my trap." Maybe even thunder and lightning could start up in the background, just like it does for The Count on Sesame Street after he finishes counting to five.

* Not that I care about any indications based on national poll numbers for this campaign. National poll numbers mean nothing in this election. If it stays close, whether the popular and electoral vote winner will coincide is virtually a coin-flip.

** Not that I'm a big fan of Joe Conason, despite his being on My Political Side.

*** Not that I am against Nader being on ballots. I think ballot access should be easier, generally. We do make claim to be a democracy, after all, even if we don't live up to the term already in all kinds of ways. The point is that people shouldn't vote for Nader, not that they shouldn't have the opportunity to do so if they are intellectually-muddled-enough or whatever to want to.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

in which the author gets alternately snooty and sassy about small towns

(lame-disposable-camera-photo taken in my hometown [Manson, Iowa], where you hardly need a sign to ensure that things are slow.)

At an earlier time in my life, I would be annoyed with those who would hear someone refer to Indianapolis--or Milwaukee, or Cleveland, or Pittsburgh, or Minneapolis--as a "city" and sniff "that's not a city," insisting instead that the term be reserved for only those places as large or larger as wherever it is they came from. If such behavior was snobbery, which is how I regarded it, then I realize now that I am every bit as much of a snob, just in the opposite direction. Whenever I hear someone say they are from a small town, I immediately want information so I can assess their true (Main) street credibility.

Tell you what: if you come from a place with 30,000 people, that may be pass muster with most people as being from a small-town, but you need to chop a zero off of your Census estimate if you want to be in my club. Another thing: if your "small town" was within an hour of any place with a quarter million or more people, that's a satellite small town, the classic small town poseur, not the real thing. If your town had a bookstore, or a record store, or a movie theater, or decent health care, or hope, or more than three teachers from seventh grade on who would not be judged as unacceptably subpar if they taught in their accustomed style at even those public schools in Madison regarded by the professorial set as least suitable for properly educating children, then I'm probably not impressed.

Awhile back, I was talking to a guy who got a job in a town in Nebraska where, because he didn't own a washer and dryer, he ended up having to drive more than 50 miles just to do his laundry. That guy got the secret JF wink-and-nod of now-that's-a-real-small-town props.

In any event, this weekend's trip back to my own small town allowed me to check once again its general prognosis: yep, still dying. I don't want to get overly morose about this, but there is literally no reason for this town to exist other than that there are already people here, many of whom, like my parents, cannot afford to leave. I spent forty minutes on Sunday driving down every single street, and my estimate would be that somewhere between one-in-ten and one-in-fifteen houses has a For Sale sign out front.

A grad student here complained recently that her massive student loan debt was going to make it impossible for her to ever own anything. Not to make light of anybody's financial burdens, but let me tell you, you know those commercials that say regardless of your credit/debt situation, so long as you've got $100 and a job, they'll help you finance and buy a good used car? My guess is that if you are interested in moving to my hometown, and you've got $100 and a job*, someone will be willing to work with you on a mortgage. Especially since the asking prices of many houses have probably fallen below the value of a good used car. He may have been exaggerating, to be sure, but a guy I know said he bought this house a few years ago--small and needing fixing-up, but by no means decrepit--for $1500 and an agreement to help the seller put a new roof on this other house.**

On the drive in from Madison, I also made a stop through the even smaller small town of Knierim, Iowa (the K is not silent, like "knish"). Knierim has always been part of the Manson school district. Thirty or forty years ago, as my dad tells it, a whole stubnose bus would need to be sent just to Knierim and would come back to school full. Over the last ten years, there has not always been even one child in Knierim for the bus to pick up. Knierim has this park at the edge of town, and on trips home I've been watching it fall into increasing disrepair. This time, suddenly, the park had made a rebound, and there were some newly painted houses in town, and there was even a new granite sign telling people they were entering Knierim.

I asked a guy at my class reunion about this. He said the word was that some multimillionaire from California had moved to Knierim. If true, there are only three possible explanations: (1) he's sufficiently crazy as to be beyond acting with intelligible motive; (2) he's working on something for which he has resolved that he can have absolutely no distractions of any sort--to be sure, so long as one is not possessed of a torrid passion for livestock--Knierim offers no temptations to dissipate one's productive focus; or, and most plausibly, (3) he's running from someone and desperate and has taken this most drastic step of hiding out. Really, Knierim provides the perfect hiding place--not only could it's town slogan be "The Last Place You'd Look," but even if some bounty hunter did decide to start investigating Knierim sized-towns, he'd likely die of boredom before getting very far in the search.

* Of course, one may be wondering: what exactly would a sociology Ph.D. do for employment in the middle-of-nowhere in Iowa? This is where we need to be working on getting a toehold in the whole online "distance learning" thing, before it all ends up being run through Bangalore.

** Also, given the sex ratio of singles in small towns, a move to a small town would seem to do at least as much for mating prospects as many heaping tablespoons of boring.

speaking of cautionary tales

From the Harvard Crimson (thanks to reader in Boston for link):
A social studies office worker said she was fired this week after administrators discovered provocative posts in her online journal, including threats to fellow workers and superiors.

For the past two years, Amy Norah Burch, an undergraduate coordinator for the Committee on Degrees in Social Studies, included a link to her personal website,, in her e-mail signature. The site, in turn, included a link to her online blog, which contained hundreds of posts about music, politics and her social life...
And people wonder why I post disclaimers (see sidebar). And people wonder why I don't link to this weblog from my (now-under-renovation) university webpage. And people wonder why I don't use this weblog as a vehicle for issuing all kinds of scary-angry-maniacal threats to my detractors and all who crosses me.

(metapost) dorkestral maneuvers

BTW, as befitting someone whose blog now has a sidebar, I have recently added some links to other blogs. It's not intended as some JFW seal-of-approval list: If you have a non-sicko blog that is not on my list and want me to list it, let me know. Alternatively, if your blog is presently listed and you are suffused with shame or annoyance as a result, let me know and I will remove the link.

Dorotha's template overhaul-in-progress also included the addition of links in which I see that she has me currently listed as "Doctor Dork."

Monday, June 28, 2004

a cautionary tale, followed by some familial rambling

Presented as a warning to all: an example of the moment-preservation-opportunities one messes up when one stupidly forgets one's digital camera at home and has to instead buy a cheapo subKodak disposable that is the only thing available at the only store in one's hometown that even sells that.

(My mother and father with my three-month-old great niece, as seen from the vantage you get by standing on a kitchen chair)

(Me with my great niece)

I just talked to my mother on the phone. She said that immediately after I left, my father, who had looked over the booklet from my reunion that had xeroxed everyone's personal information sheets, asked her if I knew what I was doing moving in with a woman who had eight kids, one of which was adopted. Seriously.

My mother called because she needed my help with the computer. As some readers know, more than three years ago I embarked on a mission to hitch my mother onto the back of my metaphorical tow truck and hoist her onto the great information superhighway. For Xmas back in 2000, I gave my mother the computer I had written my dissertation on and an ISP account that I pay for. This was not just someone who hadn't used the Internet before; this was not just someone who hadn't used a computer before; this was someone who had not really ever typed before. I had to explain how you type a capital letter by holding down the key that says Shift and then pressing the letter.

One Q-and-A from this weekend:
"When they talk about those computer viruses, are those viruses in the monitor or are they in the tower?"
"The tower, Mom."

My parents use the computer for three things: Hotmail (mom), Spider Solitaire (dad), and FreeCell (mom). They love all three of these things. It has been a big and wonderful success. So, this weekend, I had tried to replace the circa-1997 computer I had given my parents with a circa-2001 one I had acquired. I had the old computer configured so they could launch these three applications just by clicking one of three icons on the desktop: the MSN butterfly, a spider, or the face-card FreeCell logo. After considerable energy was expended yesterday, I had to resign the upgrade endeavor as a failure and hook the old one back up (and shlep the newer one back here) because I was not able to figure out how to get the butterfly icon working right with the new machine. No butterfly icon --> Extra steps to Hotmail; Extra steps to Hotmail --> Problems that I'll Have to Try to Talk my Mom through over the Phone, which is of course especially hard when you have to do it over the same phone that is used for the dial-up connection.

Anyway, I just now talked my mom through another dial-up connection problem. My mom's theories of the provenance of her computer problems are always interesting. Whenever possible, she will attempt to trace adverse computer events back to something screwy Dad did. (As a general heuristic for figuring out the origin of problems at the Freese Family Farm, this is actually a quite good rule-of-thumb.) In any event, over the course of two phone calls, the ISP connection problem was solved, although she attributes it not to doing what I told her to do but instead to her adjusting the height of the taskbar so it was back to taking up just one line of the screen instead of the two that my Dad had apparently accidentally switched it to.

in other weblogs

While post-family-trip insomnia rages:

1. I get caught up on my Wisconsin-sociology-graduate-student-weblogs and discover (a) that some information I have imparted to the Boring-Wishing-Women has turned a career-pessimistic-frown upside-down; (b) that Dorotha has a footnote that caused me to laugh out loud; and (c) that I am enamored with a recent discovery, Punch and Jude, which is surely the feistiest of all weblogs I've seen with to which sociology can make a claim to provenance.

2. I get caught up on my teensy list of friends-from-back-before-blogging-blogs and discover that my friend from Beauxbaton is claiming me as her only known reader. (It's not that she's driven all other readers away; her weblog is new.)

3. I get caught up on my fellow-sociologist blogs and see that Kieran Healy has addressed the new Astrosociology Craze. A couple of omissions from Kieran's post: He neglects to mention the Rastrosociology* movement, which is a joint effort of the fledgling Astrosociology section along with the recently-established (and for-real) Animals and Society section. He also does not mention my own effort to start a sososociology section, dedicated to providing a forum for projects about which sociological researchers are kind of enthusiastic, and kind of not (for projects that just feel like a lot of time wasted, there's always catastrosociology). It follows from the influential dinner party where I was told by a senior sociologist (not at UW) that there are really only two subspecialties in the discipline--CAN and CAN'T--and wanted to follow this up by organizing a CAN'T-sociology brownbag here at UW.** I was even willing to spring for CAN'T-area t-shirts and temporary tattoos, and to chair a CAN'T-sociology prelim, for which the reading list would consist entirely of unfinished work and itself be unfinished.

Incidentally, what I found strangest about the Astrosociology site, besides the issue of trying to present serious academic text on a starry background, is that the diagram and proferred questions presented on this page seems to describe a project that would seem otherwise epistemocartographically located squarely within fairly-old-school-sociology-of-science-and-technology. No disrespect to the effort or energies of its proposer, but the whole thing seems to me to be not so much reinventing the wheel as (re?)inventing a type of wheel and then seeming not really to recognize its wheel-hood.

4. Heading over the the Wisconsin Law Blogs, I find Ann taking a leisurely stroll, in which she links to some collegial posts while noting the absence of posts from the UW's only soc faculty blog. Meanwhile, on NinaNet, I can't help but feel some lineal pride as a happy exchange of links between the law-blogging and sociology-graduate-student-blogging world is made. Note that Nina and Ann continue to prolifically post great images, photographic and otherwise.

5. And, all the while, The Enthusiast lurks ardorfully in the shadows, but with JFW making a cameo appearance onstage in one recent episode. Is it just me, or does our heroine seem a little less enthusiastic in question #4 of this post, esp. when compared to the joys of Walgreens expressed just two questions later.

* Because I have been fretting lately that various TV-heritage sitcom references might be missed, this is a reference to The Jetsons.

** Presumably, organizing the brownbag would be easy work, as you'd expect it to be cancelled most weeks, if not all.

in which the author is once more left to feel that his mother, however much-much beloved, doesn't really know him so well

Sunday afternoon on the family farm, I walk into the kitchen where my mother and sister are sitting. "Hey Jeremy," my mother says, brightly, "Do you have a gun?"

Turns out that the sheriff's department in the county back home had this gun safety promotion where they planned to give away free gun locks to people in the county. They ordered a certain number of gun locks presumably based on some expectation based on the population of the county (~11,000), the % of people who own a gun, and the % of gun-owners who would be interested in a free gun lock. Saying something perhaps about both the gun-safety attitudes and the statistical competence of the county cizenry, few were interested in the promotion and the sheriff's department was left with hundreds of gun locks left over. A cousin of mine who works for the sheriff* asked my mom if she wanted a case of 25, and, given their stocking-stuffer potential, my mom said yes.

* I have three cousins who are police officers in the county where I grew up. Only once has this directly assisted in maintaining my unblemished record of no moving violations.

a portrait of the bloggist as a young man

(me, senior portrait, albeit neither the one that is in the yearbook nor the truly hideous--even if perhaps the most accurate--one that my mother chose to have as the framed 8x10 hanging up at home, where it taunts me each and every time I go back there. At some point, I suppose, one must resign that one is not actually 'unphotogenic'--somehow systematically misrepresented while everybody else, more or less, seems to look basically like their photos--but instead that one's photographed image is, however claimably defective, pretty much what one looks like, all the time, with any aesthetic value added in actual face-to-face interaction being the result of motion keeping one's interlocutors from getting a clear and steady view.)

I have just returned from my weekend on the family farm, which included my class reunion Saturday night. More on all that tomorrow, perhaps. I did not get a chance to post a dispatch from the farm because of my family's hopelessly dawdly extra-slow-dial-up connection. BTW, I spent five hours and fifteen minutes out of the five-hour drive back to Madison driving in the pouring rain, as it caused me to make one fifteen-minute wrong turn.

The first conversation I had with my mother this morning:

"You've lost weight."
"No, I haven't. Although you aren't the first one to tell me this."
"You look like you've lost twenty pounds."
"I can assure you I haven't lost twenty pounds."
"You look like you've lost twenty pounds FROM LAST NIGHT."
"What, does it look like I've lost a limb?"
"No, when you came yesterday I thought 'he's gained weight', but then now you look like you've lost weight. Shows you what a difference clothes can make."
"I wish we had made this discovery before I wore that especially-fat-seeming-ensemble to the reunion, then. Maybe I wouldn't have gotten that award for 'Classmate Who Has Most Let Things Get Out of Hand.'"

Friday, June 25, 2004

in which a beer bounty has been placed on my head

A reader from Balcobonds, NY has announced a contest for all those sociologists attending the Giants-Expos baseball game during our annual convention: a beer will be bought for the first person who has never before met me who successfully identifies me on the basis of the drawing of me provided in the sidebar of this webpage. This task will be made more difficult, I suspect, by the burgeoning West Coast popularity of JFW, which has led to a minor craze of persons changing their appearance to look more like me, including even the electrolysitic receding of hairlines and the surgical clefting of chins.

right hand red, left foot blue, left hand green, right foot yellow

Apparently the controversial meteorological event that hit Madison on Wednesday night has been officially judged to be a "small tornado" rather than the pseudotornado or fauxtornado or wannabe-tornado that was the initial reported. Whatever it was, it missed the RV by no more than two blocks. I was sitting here on my futon, reading a book and being annoyed at how my concentration was being interrupted by my electricity flickering on and off and by that blaring emergency siren. Then I get a call from a neighbor: "Jeremy! A tornado hit just north of here! Let's go look!"

I didn't share quite so much zeal for taking a stroll through devastation, but I did go walk around. Various downed trees and power lines. My hometown was hit by a "very large tornado" when I was eight. That caused an astonishing amount of damage, especially astonished to someone from the town, you walked around and there were all these houses and businesses whose presence you has been accustomed to and that now were just gone. Madison's small tornado was nothing anywhere close to that, but, of course, this provides small consolation to someone standing bewildered on the sidewalk, wondering how they are going to get that tree off their house.

I started to write longer and more scintillating post about all this yesterday morning, but I didn't finish it by the time I had to leave for campus, and when I got back my electricity was out, meaning that post-in-progress was lost forever.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

for those looking for something to do for the rest of this and all subsequent lives

A reader from Nantucket, MA has alerted me to this site where one can join an intrepid band of rhymers trying to come up with limericks for every word in the OED. They are currently on ad- with many ab- and ac- words having thus far been skipped over, and with some wiseacre jumping the queue to be the one who gets to take care of "anal." At present, the generation of limerick-definiens is proceeding more slowly than the addition of new words to the OED, meaning that, without your help (as well as yours and yours and yours and yours), they will never ever get done.

by reader request, jeremy provides a karaoke recap

"What'd you get?"
"Vodka and pepsi."
"That's gross."
"Vodka and pepsi is not gross. Vodka and chocolate syrup is gross. Vodka and ketchup is gross. Vodka and pepsi is just weird."
"Actually, vodka and chocolate syrup would be kinda like a chocolate martini. Yum."

And so begins another departmental karaoke night on Monday, with a small but determined turnout of sociologists.* Jerry Marwell, who had provided the main talent component of the faculty karaoke contribution prior to his leaving for a post-retirement stint at NYU, was back in town and in a mood only to do songs by Ray Charles. After three such numbers, I convinced him to expand the circle to other recently departed artists, so that he would do one of his signature songs, Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire."**

What has already been established at these karaoke nights, but which I merrily re-affirmed yet again, is that I plainly and by far possess the least singing ability of anyone willing to take their turn on the karaoke stage. As with my driving ability, which is also horrendous, I would still assert that I am above the absolute lowest echelon of the incompetent, as I think that echelon should be reserved for those who are not just incompetent but also unaware of it. Anyway, everyone else in sociology who does karaoke regularly is obviously and considerably better than me.

I am at peace with my song-styling-suckiness. Besides my own enjoyment, I see myself offering three contributions to the greater karaoke collective. First, I cheer raucously for everyone else--sociologists in general are smart enough about community to know to do this--which encourages those on stage to even more stellar performances. Applauding at the end is NOT adequate--here's a karaoke-cheering-rule-of-thumb: the audience should clap/whoop at least twice in the first 90-120 seconds of a song. Second, my appearances onstage help lower the inhibitory threshold keeping other people from participating: "If that guy is fine with going up there with that embarrassingly little to offer the musical world, what am I worried about?" Third, and this I've only recently discovered, I can put my name in for songs that I have no business claiming I'm going to be able to do, and, then, when my name is called, I can exhort person(s) with genuine karaoke talent to bail me out by joining me on stage to do the actual singing/entertainment work.

Anyway, I went onstage six different times last night--which may be a record--for: "Outbound Plane" (a rare Jeremy solo! awful! hideous!)***; "No Scrubs" (Dorotha and I fight over who gets to be the late Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes); "Birdhouse in Your Soul"; "Survivor" (a cameo appearance just for the line about how Beyonce's not going to diss you on the Internet); "You Oughta Know" (see third point in preceding paragraph); "Sweet Child O' Mine" (ditto).

I ended up staying there until close to midnight. On the way home I was so hungry that I stopped at the only non-Taco-Bell drive-thru available: Big Mike's Super Subs on Regent Street. Once again, as ever, they lived up to their store slogan: "So what if most of our late-night employees are high? You think you can't be high and make a good sandwich?"

I just looked in my iTunes "Purchased Music" and realized there are at least ten (!)songs that I have bought on iTunes after hearing them done at karaoke or at least having them raised as karaoke possibility. I'm not proud of having bought all of them, but, for posterity, here's the list: "Downtown", "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues", "I've Been To Paradise, But I've Never Been to Me"****, "Mandy", "No Scrubs", "Proud Mary", "Survivor", "Train in Vain", "Total Eclipse of the Heart" (best karaoke song ever), "Werewolves of London."

* Alas, I did not bring my digital camera, so no photos.

** Speaking of Johnny Cash, about a week ago I watched for the first time the widely acclaimed video for his song "Hurt" that was released a year or two before he died. The song itself, despite an awkward first verse, is an inspired cover of a Nine Inch Nails song. But, if anybody clicks on the link and watches the video (or has seen it before), can you let me know if you agree that the parts of it with Johnny at the banquet table are really, despite whatever acclaim, lame and even kinda creepy? Like the gestures they have Johnny do, and the wine spilling thing, and that inexplicable shot of that fish head.

*** Submitted to the karaoke stewards only at Jerry's behest that I put something in early on. I dithered between doing "Outbound Plane" and doing Jay-Z's "Hard Knock Life", which, after a next-day review of the latter's lyrics, I think I made the wise choice.

**** The 99-cent purchase of which confirmed my suspicion that the sociology graduate student who does this song does it way-way better than the original.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

reunion update

I just got the list of RSVP's for my fifteenth class reunion (or, eek, 1989 class photo here). Something like 19 out of the 39 of us are in, with a couple of other possible additions. I am one of the two people on the list who are not married. The other guy, I've heard, is crazy and may well kill us all at the reunion, depending on the levels of his medication and the phase of the moon.

Monday, June 21, 2004

girls just want to have; all you need is

Last week, as a quasi-quiz feature, I asked what were the most common words named by WLS respondents on four tasks where respondents were given one minute to say as many words as they could think of that:

task #1: started with the letter F
task #2: started with the letter L
task #3: were kinds of animals
task #4: were kinds of foods

The number #1 words were: fun; love; dog & cat; and bread.

As an additional matter, women turn out to be more likely to have said either "fun" or "love" than men, even taking into account that women said more words overall (in both cases, the adjusted difference was between 8-10 percentage points). The prominence of "fun" and "love" in respondent's mind would seem consistent with a general storyline from various WLS mental health measures, which is that the WLS respondents are a relatively happy lot. This made me wonder if people who said "fun" or "love" were more likely to be happy and/or healthy than people who did not say either. Alas, by various measures of happiness and healthiness, there were no differences between those for whom fun or love sprang to mind and those to whom it did not.


One of today's Supreme Court decisions, as reported by
"The Supreme Court has again given police greater power to stop and question suspects, ruling Monday that a Nevada cowboy could not refuse to give his name to officers who tried to question him along a roadside.

Larry 'Dudley' Hiibel, the Nevada rancher at the center of the case, had become a minor celebrity for those who believed he was standing up for his constitutional rights.

He was arrested after he told a deputy that he didn't have to reveal his name or show an ID during an encounter on a rural road in 2000.
Okay, so the court ruled that Hiibel was legally obligated to tell police his name so they can run it through their computers and see if he is wanted for a string of serial murders or being an opposing soldier in the War on Terror or whatever. My question: with a name like Hiibel, is he obligated to spell it for them? Or can he let them try to figure out how to spell it, which, given the probable pronunciation HY-bull, isn't likely to be a spelling they come up with on their own.

What if they he and the police officer had this exchange:

"What's your name?"
"Larry Hiibel."
"HY-bull. How's that spelled?"
"Like it sounds."
"You have the L and the E switched around."

Is he in violation of the law then? Or, what about:

"What's your name?"
"Larry Hiibel."
"HY-bull. How's that spelled?"
"H-I--are you writing this down?"
"You got that it starts with H, right?"
"Well, then: I-B-E-L."

Sunday, June 20, 2004

answer: fourteen

question: Hey, I heard that Jeremy, with the best intentions, was planning on reading Loic Wacquant's Body and Soul this weekend. What page was he on when he finally decided that it wasn't anything for which he felt any reason/enthusiasm/patience/will to continue?

answer: "The gym, as we shall see, is the forge where the pugilist molds himself into shape; the workshop wherein is manufactured the body-weapon and shield that he intends to launch into confrontation in the ring; the crucible wherein the technical skills and strategic knowledge whose delicate assemblage makes the accomplished fighter more honed; and finally, the furnace wherein is stoked the flame of pugilistic desire and the collective belief in the validity of indigenous values without which no one would dare risk himself for very long between the ropes. But the boxing gym is not just that, and its ostensible technical mission--to transmit a particular sporting competence--must not conceal the extrapugilistic functions it fulfills for those who come there to commune in the plebian cult of virility that is the Manly art."

question: What were the last two sentences Jeremy read before he quit?

answer: "Life is too short."

question: What was the phrase the Jeremy murmured to himself, out loud, as he closed the book and tossed it onto his bedroom floor?

Saturday, June 19, 2004

ha! jeremy, you are HILARIOUS!

(picture of posters just re-hung in one corner of the RVSRC)

I just finished re-hanging up my Klee and Kandinsky posters in a corner of my home office (the RVSRC). The Kandinsky frame had somehow gotten a nasty scratch on it that irritated me every time I looked at it, so I took them down until and I eventually got around to getting a new frame.

Why did I have to take down the Klee poster if I took down the Kandinsky poster? Because they go together; they are, you see, an academic in-joke. There is a famous social psychological experiment where groups of eight subjects were shown pictures of paintings by Kandinsky and Klee and asked to indicate on a form which one they prefer. Then they are put in a situation where they get to privately select an allocation of monetary rewards across the seven other group members. Some of these group members have been identified to subjects who preferred the same painting that they did, while other subjects are said to have preferred the other painting (in actuality, experimenters randomly determined which group members would be said to have preferred which painting). The finding that makes this a famous experiment is that subjects gave greater rewards to those group members that they thought preferred the same painting as they did than to those that they thought had disagreed with their preference. Moreover, they would choose to discriminate rather than to offer equal rewards even when doing so meant less money overall for everyone. The experiment is an early study of large literature showing how easy it is to induce people to show ingroup favoritism, even when the ingroup is seemly based on trivial characteristics.

So I have Klee and Kandinsky posters facing off in a corner of the RVSRC, as a nod to the antagonism provoked in this experiment. It amuses me. It amuses no one else, including, I know, you.

peanuts and crackerjack

The American Sociological Association annual meetings are in San Francisco this August. I just got my ticket for what will likely be the highlight of the entire conference, an en masse excursion of sociologists and their partners to a Giants baseball game. Word is that, as part of a special public sociology promotion, it will be Michael Burawoy Bobblehead Doll night at the park!

Warning to others who will be sitting in the sociology section: if a ball comes our way, I will not hesitate to get all Youth Minister on anyone who tries to keep me from being the one to catch it (see video).

Friday, June 18, 2004

containing praise, a proclamation, and pronouncements

Splendid post today by Ann Althouse on why she has her weblog. I'm so pleased with it, in fact, that I wish to make the following JFW proclamation: for the next week, I will be referring to the Control key on my keyboard as the "Ann" key and the Delete key as the "House" key, just so I can commemorate Ann each time I log in or reboot. Sadly, Ann is a Mac user, and so is likely unable to appreciate the magnitude of this honor. I suppose I can also honor her by having an alliterative post title, as she champions those.

Meanwhile, other weblogs have offered kudos to this post in a blog I don't normally read about writing and Shop-Vacs. One of my most pleased-with-myself-moments-ever happened when a friend who was short on cash had their basement flood and was trying to attack it with a combination of mops and sponges and paper towels. I did help them with this quixotic chore for awhile, but then, and far-FAR more effectively, I went out and bought them a Shop-Vac. This specific occasion inspired a personal maxim which has since been applicable to other instances: it is always great to help out friends with burdensome tasks, but it's even better--and usually well worth the expense--if you can just give them some Right Tool For The Job that will just eliminate the burdensomeness of the task for everyone, entirely, always. It's the consumer-technology equivalent of that old saying about how if you give a person a fish you feed them for a day but if you teach them how to fish they'll be able to swiftly purge their basements of any marine life forever.

Actually, it also inspired a second maxim: life is too short for anybody to own a floodable basement and not have a Shop-Vac. Especially since they're handy in so many other circumstances as well.

five-and-a-footnote variations on a theme

1. The current issue of the American Sociological Association newsletter has a brief article on the place of weblogs in public sociology. Quoth the authors as they celebrate the "quasi-anarchic structure" of blogs: "the meaning of public sociology can emerge out of a dialogue between sociologists and the weblogs' readership." Of course, this could happen more plausibly if one turned on the comments feature of one's weblog, but the Madison Academic Blogspotters are still reeling from the outcome of one such foray in this direction. Nothing quasi about that anarchy. Anyway:

2. Someone noted to me that as far as the public disciplinary presence weblogs goes, whether one is talking about more straightforwardly public/professional sorts or more eccentric variants, sociology does seem to be lagging behind--in terms of sheer numbers of bloggers, various valiant efforts notwithstanding--the fields of economics, political science, and law. My thought was that each of these three fields, in quite different ways, centers more on cultures of argumentation. In turn, this could influence relative rates of blogging either by selection into the fields or as a consequence of prolonged exposure to the cultures of the fields. My own haphazard survey of sociological colloquia would suggest that large parts of discussions are sometimes given over to agreeing with one another while lamenting that others outside the room do not see things as self-evident as we do. The apotheosis of which are swift-collaborative-sometimes-so-short-as-to-seem-secondnature-and-shorthand dismissals of the supposed stances of foils who are not actually present to articulate their positions themselves (economists! Republicans! radically-reflexive-post-post-post-modernists! evolutionary psychologists!, often just invoking the name alone is enough of a counterargument.) We chortle; we sneer; we even sometimes name-call. However, I do not have much exposure to the causal professional discourse of the other fields, so it may well be sociologists are not in any way unusual in this respect. I have wondered about this, actually.*

3. Regarding my previous posts on public-and-professional sociology, one member of our local sociological community did assert in an e-mail that my posts made plain that I am an "unabashed asswipe," without further elaboration.

4. I will leave it to you, the dot-connecting-capable reader, to determine if there is any connection between the second and third paragraphs of this post.

5. Meanwhile, my good pal from Beauxbaton is all antsy that I have not yet posted her own take on the world of public social science. She has a past in the academy (not sociology, but not distant from sociology), a present out in the wonky world working with both state politicians and citizens, and a future where she will be soon returning to the academy (not sociology, but not too distant from sociology). Her view from the front lines:
Any sociologists who think they should be out there speaking truth to power should come with me to talk to the Wisconsin state legislature. It only takes five minutes to realize that power is very hard-of-hearing if not completely deaf. And if they think they should be speaking truth to the people or with the people or listening to the people, they are welcome to try talking to a [citizens' group] chapter. The people are grumpy, completely self-interested, and totally immovable in their inconsistent opinions. In one breath they complain about the Medicare bill and then talk about what a great job Bush is doing. Maybe I'm just jaded, but there's a reason I'm fleeing back to the ivory tower.
*As an entirely different matter, the law school here does have a faculty listserv that reportedly is actually used by the law faculty to discuss various things. I don't know what would happen if something like it (socfacchat, say) was instituted for the sociology faculty here. I've discussed this with at least one person. One theory was that it would not get used. Another theory was that a discussion of some seemingly teensy matter would somehow transmogrify into this acceleratedly acrimonious Lord-of-the-Cyberflies-like dispute that would eventuate in the wonderfully-wonderfully collegial environment of Wisconsin Sociology collapsing suddenly into fiery ruin, never to recover.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

the protestant breakfast and the spirit of champions

(Emile Durkheim, exalted figure of early sociology, as presented by Wheaties)

The reader from Haints, MS who sent me this photo suggested it as an example of the possible endorsement deals that could follow from the mounting professionalization of sociology.

jeremy: get smart

I know someone who uses the same seven-letter password--an ordinary word in the dictionary, no less--for everything. To me, this is as dangerous as dancing around in the bathtub while juggling several small electrical appliances. However, while I most certainly do NOT use a dictionary word as my password, I do have a password that I use in far too many places. I have never told anyone this password; it is my most closely guarded secret (well, that and my forked tail). Obviously, I should not be using the same password that I use for things like my university e-mail account for practically all of the various piddly online services that require me to establish a password even to use just once.

What is especially disconcerting is when you sign up for some service and it e-mails your password to you automatically, in plaintext. I have a slight pang of panic every time I see my password on a computer screen, in any context, rather than just the safe series of asterisks by which it is normally represented.

So, anyway, I know I need to come up with a new password, or whole passwordly scheme, and I need to change the passwords in all the Places Where Identity Theft Would Matter accordingly. I know this, I know this. And yet I haven't done it. Procrastination? No. Changing my passwords would actually be just the kind of thing I would do to procrastinate about something else. Instead, the issue seems to be that I am waiting for a good idea for a password, perhaps something so personally well suited for its secret mission that it will provide a morsel of delight whenever I type it.

Obviously, one way of solving the problem is to lower my aesthetic password standards. Still, if anyone has any password-generating strategies that they are fond of, let me know.

(As a completely tangential matter, in a recent episode of The Enthusiast, the heroine was confused by a mysterious stranger who knocked on her door and asked, "Did you put in a request about your chimneys?" The Enthusiast apparently lives in an apartment building where there seem not to be any chimneys, much less more than one chimney, much less more than one chimney in her own apartment. While she was baffled by this encounter, I am sure what was going on is that the mysterious stranger was a spy and the question was really a password. I strongly suspect that if instead of saying "No," she had replied "The pearl is in the river"--note: this phrase is always your best guess at a counterpassword--she would have been handed a dossier containing the plans for some diabolical scheme to conquer the world. Instead, we remain at peril. Thanks, Enthusiast.)

further confessions

I have received a bunch of e-mails about last night's posts on public sociology. I'm way behind on some work, and so I haven't answered several of them yet. Apologies.

A couple of the e-mails came from friends who think that the demands of bloggerly forthrightness require me to make a confession. See, my last post included a mock protest button saying "Unashamed Professional Sociologist." I said then that it was somewhat strange for me to be showing such enthusiasm for the word "professional." What I did not then acknowledge, and what said friends have taken delight in noting, is that it was at least as strange for me also to be showing such enthusiasm for the word "sociologist" (especially, as one took glee in pointing out, when it follows the adjective "unashamed").

So, fine, full disclosure: Yes, it is true that I have before referred to myself as an "accidental sociologist." Yes, it is true that when asked why I became a sociologist, I have sometimes cited as the main reason the unavailability of seats in English classes for underclassmen where I went to college, compared to the bountiful availability of seats in sociology classes (and at such convenient times, too!). Yes, in response to the same question, I have other times made reference to my rural origins and low familial educational attainment and said that "There was no one who knew enough to stop me." Yes, yes, I admit that I have also answered that question by saying, "You'd be surprised how far I was into it before I realized how much of it I disliked."

Mostly, most of the times I have said such things, I have been mostly for the most part just joking. Mostly. More than mostly, maybe. Maybe.

But, yes, full disclosure would require me to observe that I do seem to have become a little more reticient to directly introduce or identify myself as "a sociologist." I seem more often to say that I am "a social psychologist" or that I'm "a faculty member in sociology" or a "sociology professor" (see sidebar) or vaguely that I "do a lot of research with surveys." And, for that matter, when I do say that I am a sociologist, I do sometimes stick various adjectives-of-distance in front of it, including not just the aforementioned "accidental," but also "licensed," "nominal," "ambivalent," "wayward," "unorthodox," "odd-sort-of," "quirky," "somewhat-lapsed," "not-unreasonable", and "dogma-averse," among others.

Don't get me wrong here. Some of my best friends are sociologists! (Actually, most of my best friends are sociologists, former sociologists, or significant others of sociologists, etc., including those who delight in reminding me of my own longstanding like-hate relationships with various swaths of the discipline.) Ultimately, to be clear, there is all kinds of sociology that I do much find interesting and engaging, including all sorts of things afield from any kind of work I personally do. And I do enjoy my own research (although opinions about its sociological-ness admittedly could vary).

Even so, however, the truth of the matter is that a whole lot of the time I do indeed feel a whole lot alienated from a whole lot of sociology. I have even thought about using the sidebar of JFW to keep an Alienation From Sociology index on the sidebar to allow the world to track and monitor my internal sense of intellectual disaffection from the enterprise that was generous enough to grant me a Ph.D. and give me a job. I could, perhaps, use the same color scheme as our Homeland Security alert system--blue to indicate times of nearly complete epistemic bliss, yellow to suggest an elevated estrangement, all the way up to red for the severest he's-setting-his-journals-ablaze type of alienation.

Don't worry. I am not going to here launch into to a full manifesto-style recounting of the various sources and dimensions of my malcontent. It is looming on my mind this evening because I think no small part of what bothers me so much about certain aspects of these recent proclamations about public sociology is that it very much adds to this sense that my own ideas regarding what is good sociology and good for sociology is somewhere close to orthogonal to the winds prevailing and ever-so-hard-a-blowing in the field. The alienation so provoked, I should say, is not at all about political orientation. If one were to collapse all the nuances of political opinions on all issues into a single unidimensional construct, my own politics would by all indications be to the left of 95% or so of the American population, and so scarcely more than a smidge to the right of the average sociologist.

Anyway, I may write more about all this later, with respect to public-and-professional sociology. If I do, this post is a preface to that one.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

I might make this button to wear in protest at the ASA meetings in August. Yes, I recognize that it might be strange for someone with an office full of science toys and a rather eccentric web presence to be suddenly rallying around the word "professional", but this is a protest against any-any-ANY idea that the promotion of "public sociologies" is a battle against sociology as a "professionalized" enterprise. As is commonly perpetrated within certain quarters of sociology that often rail loudly against supposedly false dichotomies, the very idea is--yes!--a wildly false dichotomy.

regarding so-called public sociology

(Paragraph from the current issue of Footnotes casting "public sociology" as a critical counter to the sinister forces of "professionalization")

The theme of the upcoming meetings of the American Sociological Association is "Public Sociologies." There has been much recent effort to spread the "Public Sociology" meme around the discipline, and it's certainly an easy phrase to rouse the troops. Sociologists should be Out There in public view. Sociologists should be working to Make A Difference. Who can possibly be opposed to that?

Especially since part of the story of "public sociology" is a drama where a discipline is given the charge of regaining a part of its past that has been lost. The "wrong turn" trope in academic life--and especially in academic exhortations to action--is a common one. In the one talk I've seen so far about "public sociologies" by its "inventer," the close roots of American sociology to the social reform movements of the early 20th century was of course invoked. The call to public sociology notes that there had once been a golden age (ah, the 50's) of the Widely Publically Discused Sociology Book (epitomized in, e.g., The Lonely Crowd (1950), The Power Elite (1956)). The call also laments that various proferred lists of the 100 Most Influential American public intellectuals might include, at most, a single sociologist (likely Alan Wolfe).

Why aren't sociologists today--Paul Starr's recent volume notwithstanding--putting out books that get the kind of public attention that some books from the golden age did? Why aren't there more sociologists providing influential intellectual voices?

And, here is where the problem arises. Being a drama presented by sociologists, there can't be an adverse set of circumstances without an amorphous and shadowy quasi-entity of confused ontology for us to blame. The current issue of Footnotes, the newsletter of the American Sociological Association, gives much space to the upcoming meetings and so to "public sociologies," including a sentence that provides the unmasking of the villain that those valiant public sociologists are fighting against: "The term public sociology was invented in the United States to criticize and counter mounting professionalization."

This sentence annoys me on so many different levels that it is hard for me to proceed with any kind of coherence after typing it, so forgive me. I could write separate paragraphs about my annoyance with "invented" and "United States" and "criticize" and "counter" and "mounting" and "professionalization."

But let me not get sucked into all that. Instead--and I recognize that I tend to be more hung up than most sociologists with the idea that assertions, even when rhetorically appealing and having a certain sanctimonious force to them, should be supported by evidence--let me first ask: what exactly is the evidence for the mounting professionalization of sociology? Is sociology really a more professionalized enterprise--where "professionalized" presumably refers to a series of qualities that a "public sociology" would be countering--than it was ten years ago, or twenty years ago?

Really, "mounting professionalization," I don't see it. I would like to know what someone who does think they see it is seeing. E-mail me, please. As it is, I suspect this spectre of "mounting professionalization" is more just yet another way for some sociologists to sustain that ever-beloved sociological identity of the brave-subversive-outsider-trend-bucker-speaking-truth-to-the-oppressive-powerful-illegitimate-forces-of-intradisciplinary-epistemological-conservatism.

In any event, what irks me most can be put pretty simply: about the last thing that sociologists need to be doing, in my mind, is using their annual meetings to discourage professional sociology. There needs to be more professional sociology, not less. Or, at least, there needs to be more-professional professional sociology, or, rather, more-better professional sociology. In the talk I heard by public-sociology's-inventer, on a couple of different occasions he made reference to how professional sociology had done a whole host of studies--making it sound like veritable reams of accumulated literature developed by sociologists--on a specific topic, and the discipline needed to do a better job of making those findings available to the broader public.* In both cases, I remember having a chain of three thoughts: (1) to my knowledge, there really haven't been that many studies on that topic; (2) to my knowledge, at least as many studies on the topic have been done in a discipline other than sociology; (3) to my knowledge, a lot of the studies that exist in that literature (sociological or otherwise) are not very sound. And yet, even as issues were being cited where I regarded the professional sociology as being quite wanting, it was being portrayed as some hyperproductive hegemon that is crowding out its public face.

If we had more and better (or more-better) professional sociology, then maybe more efforts at public sociology would seem like they were offering the public something that was based on a stronger foundation than their own on-the-fly argumentation. A large part of what bothers me, in a nutshell, is that I think one of the reasons that there is not more of a market for public sociology out there is that efforts at public sociology often do not have very interesting things to say. Or, more specifically, they have things to say that really are fairly predictable, that do not offer much that is actually drawing on "sociology" other than this "sociological imagination" we like to believe we have somehow magically come to possess, and that when they do draw on sociological work oftentimes are drawing on work that is not very good or that has been laden with a politically convenient interpretation that is itself not all that well grounded in the actual data on which the work is based.

So, rather than seeing public sociology as being Kept Down by the supposed dominance of professional sociology, I see it as being more fettered by the weaknesses of professional sociology. And instead of the discipline thinking of ways that the professional contributions of the discipline might be strengthened, we are instead supposed to focus on criticizing and countering it.

I mean, if you listen to public sociology's inventer talk, you would think of professional sociology as this giant strapping boxer who bounces deftly around the ring and swiftly knocks out any challengers to its vision of what the discipline ought to be. Me, I think of professional sociology as this boxer that already has a black eye and a bloodied lip, stumbling a little out of the corner as it tries to steady itself for the next round.

* One of the two examples here was studies of media effects on children, which I would submit professional psychologists have studied more and better than have professional sociologists. The other example I'm blanking on, but I think it was somewhere where I thought both professional economics and professional political science had done more and better work.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

the propophonic spree

Dorotha has e-mailed me again saying that she wants me to give her the apropos props when I speak favorably on this weblog about music to which she introduced me. Let it be known that she was the one who first loaned me Mirah and first loaned me The 6ths, both of which I've posted about. So, props, Dorotha. Props! Props galore! Props-a-million! Props Across America!

(Hopefully this will settle the matter and there will not be any more posts by Dorotha detailing instances in which she has harmed Jeremys. Also, teensy-tiny anti-props to Dorotha for spelling Stephin Merritt's name wrong in this post. She knows the correct spelling and so was probably just too consumed by rage at feeling uncredited when she wrote it to worry about spelling.)

nominee, 2004 JFW award for the least compelling science news headline

The headline reads: "New Study Shows that Sleep Can Improve Next Day Performance." For everyone who has thought it desirable to get to bed at a decent hour when you have important work to do the next day: science says you're right! (Note that the study might actually be interesting, but only to the extent that it shows something beyond what the headline suggests.)


The freshman roommate who I mentioned last week liked to be in bed, asleep, by 9pm. Sometimes, wild dormitory hijinks or arduous homework demands might cause him to stay up until 10, or even maybe 11. But our second semester, during finals week, he had some project due that had him up and working at the new-frontier-time of 1:30 am. He turned to me--I was always up that late but that night got to work in my room since he was still up--and he asked, "How late do you have to stay up for it to be considered an all-nighter?" He was hopeful that if he kept at until 2am he'd be able to tell his family that he had "pulled an all-nighter" working on his project.

While I did not gleefully pounce to burst this aspiration, fealty to logic and semantics did cause me to say something about how I thought it was generally agreed that in order to be an all-nighter one had to, you know, be awake until the end of the night, that is, well, dawn. In actuality, my criterion for someone to claim they have pulled an all-nighter is not a matter of just being up until dawn. Instead, I have claimed that you actually have to do something (go to a class, a meeting, etc.) that is officially part of the next day's agenda out there in the world.

Anyway, certainly by the looser standard if not--yet--Freese's Stricter One, I appear to be getting my days and nights mostly flipped around. The cause is not any great burst of occupational or bloggivational productivity, but rather my usual problems with the bane of my existence, sleeping. Really, I seem to be enjoying it thus far. It's summer, after all. I get large chunks of quiet time at night that it's much harder for me to get working earlier in the day. I know some people--a shout-out to Shelley, if she reads this post--who are able to be at work at 5am or before and get a good quiet chunk of work in while other people are either asleep or squirreled away themselves. I have tried that at various times, but it has seemed fundamentally intractably incompatible with my cognitive-diurnal-rhythms. By and large, my focus tends to improve as the day goes on (until I get exhausted, and then the drop-off is a nearly vertical plunge). Anyway, I suppose I am curious to see if these nocturnal hours will continue to be my summer modus operandi, and what consequences that will have for various valued work and social relationships.

Things haven't been entirely quiet here in the middle of the night. I have had a string of e-mail conversations recently taking place between 1-4 in the morning, with others who have also revealed themselves to be among the awake and online as they skulk about their abodes. It feels a little bit like Lost in Translation in one's own time zone, albeit where the sense of cultural estrangement comes not from being in a foreign land but from conducting the whole interaction by staring at a monitor and typing on a keyboard, which, at least to those of us over thirty--and even though we are completely used to it, as a mechanical matter--can still rouse marvel in its ability to allow people to connect with others anywhere, at any time, instantly, and with a remarkable evocative power considering its all just a bunch of text.

I have another friend who I talked to earlier and who has resolved on embarking on a plan of getting up early and getting a good start of hunkering down on some work they much need to hunker down on this week. If you check this weblog before you start your hunkering, good luck!

paul, now that you have a column in the times, you'll have to stop that academic hemming and hawing

The first eleven words of Krugman's column in today's NYT: "No question: John Ashcroft is the worst attorney general in history."

iTunes insomnia, bitter edition

So, I recognize that I am pretty late to be pouncing upon the Stephin Merritt bandwagon. I had 69 Love Songs in my possession not long after I was moving as much of my music-listening to mp3s as possible, and I declined to convert the CDs to MP3's* because it didn't seem like I wanted 69 titles scrolling up the screen in the RealJukebox program I was using, esp. if they were all going to be about love anyway. In any case, the songs that I have since won me over tend to be his more embittered work anyway. Since I purchased it on iTunes last week, I keep going back and listening to "I Don't Believe You" (JFW audioclip here). It makes me want to go out and find a special someone to have a horrendous-horrendous-soulcrushing breakup with just so I can sit in the dark with a pack of TorMentos** and listen to "I Don't Believe You" over and over and over again for days/weeks/the remainder of my thirties.

Another project of Merritt's is The 6ths, where he has other singers perform his songs. My favorite 6ths song is "Falling Out of Love with You" (JFW audioclip here), this one a paean to the death throes of a relationship rather than its bitter end.

* I refuse to anymore use the word "rip" for this process, as it has made me feel like I was weirdly brandishing a youthful affectation when I've used it in the past.

** An idea for a mint-candy specifically marketed to the inconsolably depressed that I have been trying to sell to a major candy manufacturer for nearly a decade.

as google's gmail gains enthusiasts by offering 1 gb of e-mail storage, yahoo counters by offering negative-2 gb!

From an e-mail I just received from sbcglobal/Yahoo regarding my non-university e-mail account:
-----Original Message-----
From: Yahoo! []
Sent: Monday, June 14, 2004 11:08 PM
To: jeremyfreese[at]sbcglobal[dot]net*

Hello jeremyfreese[at]sbcglobal[dot]net,

You are currently exceeding your Yahoo! Mail storage quota by a very large amount. You are only allowed -2048.0MB of storage but you are currently using 0.0MB of storage. Your account has been temporarily disabled from receiving new messages.
* [at] and [dot] inserted for @ and . to keep the spambot-blogsurfing-e-mail-address-suckers at bay.

Monday, June 14, 2004

quiz feature!

So, the main thing I have been doing for the past week here in the RVSRC* is to try to figure out how to write the programs needed to score (and check) the cognition tasks included in the WLS**. Thrills galore, lemme tellya.

Two of the tasks test one's "letter fluency" and "category fluency". The instructions for WLS "letter fluency" go as follows:
I am going to say a letter of the alphabet, and I want you to say as quickly as you can all of the words you can think of that begin with that letter. You may say any word at all except proper names of people or places, like "Michael" or "Madison" if the letter I said was M. Also, do not use the same words again with a different ending, such as "eat" and "eating" if the letter I said was E. ... You will have only one minute to do this.
Respondents are then asked either to name words that begin with "F as in Frank" or words that begin with "L as in Linda".***

A few minutes later, respondents are asked to do the "category fluency" task:
I am going to name a [bold]category[n] and you should name, as fast as you can, all of the things that you can think of that belong in that category. For example, if I said "articles of clothing" you could say shirt, tie, or hat, or if I said "jobs" you could say "teacher, lawyer, or nurse". You will have one minute to do this.
Respondents are then asked to name either as many animals or as many foods as they can.

So, here's the quiz: What are the F- and L- words most commonly named by respondents? And what are the animals and foods? A brief note about the top of the distribution of each:

F: There is a clear #1 here, with that word being named by 31% of respondents compared to for 22% for the two words running neck-and-neck for #2. One of the words vying for #2 is the #1 word plus two letters.

L: There is an even clearer #1 here, named by 45% of people compared to only 27% who said the #2 word. Moreover, the #1 word is the very first word named by almost one-fourth of respondents, which is about six times more often than any other single word is the first L word named.

animals: Two animals are virtually tied for #1 and well ahead of the others. Over 90% of respondents name each of these animals, compared to only 75% for the #3 animal. Moreover, somewhere between 98-99% of respondents who name one of the #1 animals name the other as well.

foods: Not as clear a pattern as the other three tasks. The #1 food was said by 59%, compared to 52% for the #2 food. After these two words, the foods rounding out the top 5 are ounding out the top 5 are "meat", "apple", and, intriguingly, "carrot."

Anyway, I know you must be dying with suspense. But, I'll post the answers in a couple days. Money is a little tight around the RV this month, or else I would offer to send an offical JFW kewpie doll to the first person who e-mails me mostly correct answers.

* [R]ecreational [V]ehicle [S]ocial [R]esearch [C]ompound

** [W]isconsin [L]ongitudinal [S]tudy, an ongoing survey of 1957 Wisconsin high school graduates (surveys done in 1957, '64, '75, '92, and now).

*** It's random whether they get "F" or "L". We chose "F" and "L" because "F" is commonly used in this task and because a search of the dictionary revealed that "L" was the consonant that had about the same number of pages of words starting with that letter as "F". Originally, we just said "F" or "L" and not the "as in Frank/as in Linda" part. However, a nontrivial number of people would hear "F" as "S" and start saying words beginning with "S." This problem has mostly gone away now that we say "F as in Frank", although there are still some people who respond as if we had said "S as in Srank." Asking people to name as many words as they can that begin with "F" has not, as we had worried, resulted in a stream of profanities being hurled at interviewers.

oh gno!

There are 3-4 gnats buzzing around the RVSRC annoying me. I'm worried that this portends a more serious flying infestation as the summer goes on.

among the cruelest and most enduring consequences of a public outpouring of sympathy

An e-mail from a DoublePlusPremiumSubscriber in Tashkent, OH:
Sometime over the next few weeks, my nephew will be born. However, until just a few days ago, my sister and her husband had not settled on a name. Among the names in contention were "Sargent" and "Hercules." My sister was not very excited about these names, though. One way in which our family tried to sway my brother-in-law away from the name "Sargent" was to remind him that this name has connections to the Kennedy family, and therefore, connections to the Democratic party. "That's okay," he responded, "because Arnold Schwarzenegger is now in the Kennedy family, too." various strategies to steer him away from the name Hercules were similarly ineffective. This story has a happy ending, though! In the end, my sister and brother-in-law were able to pick a name that they both wanted. They decided to go with "Reagan"...
If they want a name that commemorates the recently department, they could go with "Ray" or "Charles" or even "Tony" or "Randall."


"My throat is a little sore."
"Oh, yeah?"
"Yeah, I went with [person name] to see this band play and had to show off my ability to get performers to play encores using the power of my lungs. She didn't believe that I was personally responsible when the guy went back to do a second encore, so I had to shout him back after he'd already started to step off the stage to do a third one."
"You promised you would only use that power for good."
"They were good, mostly. Anyway, it took a toll on my throat. I was thinking of going out and getting some ice cream to make it feel better."
"Getting ice cream is not going help your throat."
"It's cold--cold is good when your throat feels raw."
"Pee and honey would work much better."
"That is so sick. Do you apprehend how completely twisted and sick that is? I wish you would stop trying to pawn all these gross little folk remedies off on me. You can go and save your [bodily fluid name] and ingest it as part of whatever full-moon Wiccan healing ritual if you want, but I don't want any part of it. There is no way I am going to pour honey-sweetened urine down my throat."
"I said tea and honey."
Oh. Well, I'd still rather have ice cream."

Sunday, June 13, 2004

dinner party conversation

I went to a small dinner party tonight. The hosts live in a unit in a building that has an intercom-and-buzzer security system. I arrive, press the button and say hello. I press the button and say hello again. I can hear people talking through the intercom speaker, but apparently they cannot hear me. Then I quickly realize that not only can I hear people talking over the intercom, but: (1) I recognize the voices as people at the dinner party, (2) they are talking about me, and (3) they are talking about a specific part of my personal life. Eek. Double eek.

I recognize that there are a lot of people who, in a situation like this, would stand there and try to eavesdrop as much as possible on what was being said. After all, you do not often get the chance to hear firsthand how other people talk about you when you are not around. Me, I scurried immediately and frantically to the far corner of the entryway so that I wouldn't hear any more of the conversation. I did not do this out of any particular sense of discretion or aversion to eavesdropping; I did it instead because I generally freak whenever I hear other people talk about me. It's related, I think, to how I can't bear to listen to my voice on an answering machine or can't bear to watch someone else read something I've written.*

So, anyway, I shudder and cower in the far corner of the entryway for maybe twenty seconds or so--the maximum length of time I imagine that I could be sustained as a viable conversational topic--and then gingerly step back to the intercom. When I lean toward the speaker to try pressing the button again, I hear a sentence that seems like it is still very probably part of a conversation about me. So then I start pressing the button for an adjacent unit in the building, which switches over the intercom, and I tell the stranger who answers that I'm going to a dinner party at their neighbors' and their neighbors' intercom is broken. The guy buzzes me in. Thank God.

Turns out the hosts' intercom hadn't been properly turned off after the guest preceding me had arrived. I didn't say anything about having overheard them talking. I have no reason to think they were saying anything bad about me, but, still, obvously, awkward, weird. The dinner party, however, was quite fun, with wonderful-wonderful food.

Someone there did compliment me on having lost weight, making the fourth person in less than two weeks to compliment me on a weight loss that has not actually happened. Really, truly, the scale is regularly consulted and its report remains the same. I was trying to think of whether I should admit (?) that I had not lost any weight, but then another person who overheard the compliment jumped in to say something apologetic about how they hadn't noticed, so then I didn't say anything. I feel like I am living a corpulent lie.

* A neurosis, to be sure, but, of course, as far as neuroses go, I have 32 flavors and then some.

further evidence that the squandering of my potential began before i was even born

I ran across an online quiz that would allow me to determine what kind of girlfriend I would be, and I decided to give it a try. And, lo, my results suggest a previously unrecognized aptitude:

You're Perfect ^^

-Perfect- You're the perfect girlfriend. Which
means you're rare or that you cheated :P You're
the kind of chick that can hang out with your
boyfriend's friends and be silly. You don't
care about presents or about going to fancy
placed. Hell, just hang out. You're just happy
being around your boyfriend.
(Click here if you want to see what kind of girlfriend you would be.)

Didn't I just say something a couple days ago about how mercurial I am? This quiz apparently needed only five questions to recognize this signal feature of my personality. I had never realized that mercurial-ness was an essential part of the perfect girlfriend*, but I'll presume this quiz is based on some real behavioral science and so is far more credible than my own casual observations on romance.

* I can imagine the book now: Men are from Mars, Most Women are from Venus, but Perfect Girlfriends Are Even One Planet Closer To The Sun

Update, noon: Two other people who took the perfect girlfriend quiz after me were also judged to be perfect girlfriends (here and here). Does this mean that everyone who fills out the quiz is a perfect girlfriend or that the three of us are special? Dorotha presumes the former, but this is disproved by a quick investigation of what happens had I chosen different answers:

as well as a third diagnosis that I decided I'd rather not post on my weblog.

in which jeremy feels compelled to be more obvious than he would like because of practical considerations

I just put my RSVP for my class reunion in the mailbox. One sheet was a form to indicate whether you were coming to the reunion and, if so, what events you planned on attending (oddly, the demolition derby that weekend was not listed). The other was one of those where-are-you-now forms you are supposed to send in whether you are going to the reunion or not, so that it can be put with the others and then a reunion booklet can be mailed out to everyone. The form basically boils your post-high school life down to your marriage, your children, and your contact information, which can be a little alienating when you are single, childless, and living in an RV.

I had thought of more obscure wives and children I could claim to have, but the problem with that is that I can't be altogether sure that various classmates would actually get that I was joking. Then, even with the Brady theme, I originally just put "Carol" as my wife's name, but then, somewhat painfully, figured I had to add "Brady-Freese" or else somebody wouldn't get it and then my mom would be fielding questions at the convenience store about how so-and-so had heard that I have 6-8 kids.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

in which jeremy reveals a surprisingly intense animus toward a particular fictional cat

The new Garfield film is getting scathing reviews. Here is a sentence from's:
The filmmakers seemed content to toss out any old stray cat of a movie with the "Garfield" brand name, figuring fans would show up.
Is anyone surprised by this? For somewhere between 15 and 20 years, Jim Davis* has seemed content to toss out any boring four-panels-with-a-weak-joke-at-the-end with the "Garfield" brand name, figuring newspapers will still feel obliged to carry it. Not to be testy, but "Garfield" has come to provide a serious challenge to the once seemingly unbreachable dominance of "Family Circus" as providing the Most Insipidness per Square Inch on the contemporary comics page.

* More accurately, the hacks who Jim Davis pays to write and draw the comic strip. He's on a beach somewhere, drinking daquiris. I bet he is planning on being cryogenically frozen when he dies and has already had said hacks put together a couple centuries' worth of lame-Odie-slobber-and-lasagna-jokes strips to keep the franchise going until medical science finally figures out how to resurrect him.

Update, 5:15pm: When I wrote this post, I didn't realize that Slate had published a like-minded, and, actually-researched, piece on the Jim Davis empire. One quote from the article: "(It's telling that he's been inducted into the Licensing Merchandiser's Hall of Fame but not the hall of fame hosted by the International Museum of Cartoon Art.)"

evidence of how, at 99 cents a song, iTunes allows one to indulge whatever strange and ephemeral music-buying whims strike

(e-mailed receipt of purchases made in the last 24 hours)

(abovelisted songs in my Purchased Music folder)

My theory about "Always on my Mind" (selected lyrics at bottom) has forever been that she hasn't actually always on his mind at all. Instead, he has spent the vast majority of his time with other things and other women on his mind, but then, after taking her for granted and tromping upon her kindnesses for months on end, only then, having finally squandered all the enormous enthusiasm and affection she once felt for him, he tries to make everything all-at-once better by claiming that--even though absolutely nothing in his preceding observable behavior would indicate this--she was in fact constantly prominent in his thoughts. And she falls for it. You wonder if when she was a kid she had one of those noncustodial parents who disappears for long periods of time and then comes back and tries to make up for it with all kinds of presents, promises, trips to Chuck E. Cheese.

But anyway, after repeatedly and closely listening to various different renditions of "Always on my Mind," I have concluded that this theory is incorrect and that she has indeed been right there front-and-center on his mind all along. Especially Elvis's, and even while he was on the soundstage doing all those awful films.


Maybe I didn’t treat you
Quite as good as I should have
Maybe I didn’t love you
Quite as often as I could have
Little things I should have said and done
I just never took the time

[But, hey, um:] You were always on my mind

Maybe I didn’t hold you
All those lonely, lonely times
And I guess I never told you
I’m so happy that you’re mine
If I make you feel second best
Girl, I’m sorry I was blind

[No, really, I'm serious:] You were always on my mind