Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Lesser-Known Subway Rules

As someone who rides the NYC subway nearly every day along with millions of other riders, I fancy myself a sort of connoisseur of the subway. I have identified the factors that should determine where and how I stand on a crowded train. I have perfected the art of pulling my card out of my wallet well in advance of bellying up to the turnstile. I am a master of slipping out of a rush-hour packed car without physically harming other human beings.

And most of the commuters I (literally) rub shoulders with on the subway have done the same. After 2.5 years of riding, I have identified four levels of subway ridership: 1) folks with years of riding experience that have etiquette and strategy down pat, 2) people in the intermediate phase who know the unspoken rules and mostly don't piss people off but who still slip up in more challenging situations (me), 3) people who don't know the rules but make a valiant effort to be considerate, and 4) jackasses.

As I strive to climb the ranks into that first category, I'm developing a mental list of subway rules you won't find on the MTA website. Here are three of them.

1. Do not use your offspring as a battering ram to get past another rider to a seat. Most people will let a kid sit down, and you do a disservice to your alleged mission, the comfort of your wee babe, by deploying him/her as a weapon. It can only be assumed that you are doing this to get not only your child, but yourself, a seat, which is very unsavory behavior.

2. When you are standing, reading the Jack Welch self-help book, using the top of another rider's seat as an elbow rest is ill-advised, as your elbow inevitably slips when the train jerks and rocks that rider in the shoulder - so, so hard.

3. Please, for the love of God turn your tunes down when you get into the train. It's not as loud in here as it is outside, and some of us don't enjoy Vampire Weekend/salsa/Natasha Bedingfield at all, let alone at full blast at 8 AM for 45 minutes straight.

Palin Only Picks Up The Phone For Fake Politicians?

Oops. Palin didn't answer or return Bush 41's call--twice.

"Our source ran into the 41st prez recently at a Texas restaurant. When the subject of Palin came up during their chat, Bush told of twice phoning her office but never receiving a call back. The first message was left at McCain HQ after she was picked to be Sen. John McCain's veep; the second with the governor's office after the election was over. He shrugged it off as staff error, but our source says he was clearly perplexed."

Someone needs a new advance team...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Caroline, All the Guys Would Say She's Mighty Fine

I also get freaked out when I find myself agreeing with Charles Krauthammer just when I least expect it. But his little screed today on Caroline Kennedy made some sense to me. As a New York resident, I love that she doesn't have to raise money and it's kind of cool that Obama drew her out of the woodwork. Furthermore, Kennedys tend to be pretty reliable, which I guess is...good...mostly? However, Krauthammer's point that

"[...] in a country where advantages of education, upbringing and wealth already make the playing field extraordinarily uneven, we should resist encouraging the one form of advantage the American Republic strove to abolish: title"

rings pretty true. Not that the other potential candidates - Carolyn Maloney, Andrew Cuomo - are hardscrabble urchins pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. Still, there's the scent of entitlement all over this potential appointment. And creepy the way that Bloomberg is really twisting Paterson's arm on this one. I could be convinced that Kennedy representing me and my family in the Senate is ultimately a good thing, but I'd like for the argument to include something besides, "but she's a Kennedy!"

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Two Years!

It is difficult to believe that I have been writing on this blog for two years now! My first substantive post was December 7, 2006. It's hard to believe that it has been two years; however, to be fair, saying that I have been "writing" for two years is a little inaccurate. For long stretches of that time (like in the past month and a half) there has pretty much been radio silence.

At times, I have considered giving up this blog. It's good to know that I am in good company asking whether it would be worth it to give up this pursuit. But, sporadic as I am about posting sometimes, I really enjoy doing it. And, when I don't write, it makes me that much more excited to write in the future.

And, besides writing, I am also proud of other things that I have done here. The design of the site is entirely original and helped me rekindle my joy of designing that I have missed since architecture school in undergrad. In the time that I have been writing, I have gotten to love my new home in New York, I have gotten married and been lucky enough to have E. join me blogging here.

With all that is going on right now—working uptown, trying to finish my dissertation in six months, trying to get a job—I'm not sure that posts are going to be any more frequent in the near future. I hope that they do and I hope that two years from now and look back to say that it has been another two years!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Because Attractive Girls Don't Have Enough Power On Our Own

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Generational Feedback

There are some habits of my age cohort (I was born in 1981) that have always annoyed me, so I just want to put this on the record:

1. Princess Bride references
2. Typing on your phone (or phone-like device) during meals.

That's it for now. I'll be back.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Pride & Disbelief

I am still in disbelief that Obama won yesterday and so proud that he did. We still have a long way to go to see King's promised land, but Obama's election last night shows how far this country has come and how much people really can change. In 1972 one in four Americans would not vote for a black person as President. This year, we are celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the Fair Housing Act. Only forty years ago, it was essentially legal to allow discrimination in housing in this country! It is amazing.

As wobs noted, my prediction was way off. I made the decision yesterday morning to drive down to Philly to meet up with E. who was already there and knock on some doors. I wasn't going to get anything done anyway and this election was too important not to do anything. I knew things were going to be good last night when EVERY door in Southwest Philly had an Obama "Vote TODAY" door hanger and there were sound trucks with high school students and campaign volunteers rolling down the streets with stereos and music blaring.

E. and I, with our friends and E.'s co-workers Iris and Catherine, knocked on doors all afternoon (well, actually, they went out all day -- I was driving down in the morning). Every door but one that we knocked on and got somebody said that they voted that morning or were on their way to vote that afternoon. And they did, too. Turnout in our division was over 60%, over 66% in the next district over. Everyone on the block knew if their neighbors had voted - helped us by letting us know which houses were vacant and when people got home. We got several "thank yous" for helping to get out the vote that day (Iris and Catherine were, in fact, saluted for their work, literally). No one was annoyed that we kept knocking on doors or were out (except the one guy who's nap we disturbed...can't say I'd be happy either).

Some of the stories were amazing. I talked to another one of E.'s co-workers who told me that he knocked on an older African American woman's door. He said told her that there might be a line and she might have to wait. "Are you kidding," she replied, "I've been waiting for this moment my entire life, I don't care how long I have to wait. I'll bring a chair and a book and I will wait until I get to vote." Iris and Catherine had an amazing exchange with a woman in our district. It was inspirational.

Then, as we were driving back to headquarters just as the polls closed, we heard that Pennsylvania was already called for Obama. We didn't believe it until we got confirmation from three separate sources. The only thing left for us was to try to get back to the City before the elections were called. We raced up the turnpike and got to the NY Hotel and Motel Worker's Trade Council three blocks away from Times Square twenty minutes before the election was called. The room erupted when the polls closed and NBC called the election for Obama. We ran to Times Square to see what was going on there and people were yelling in the street, cabbies honking, bellmen and doormen high-fiving passers-by. We could hear roars from the crowd two avenue-blocks away.

It was a truly amazing day and I am tired today and have had difficult concentrating. My knuckles are still soar(thanks, E.!), but I am so happy.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Obama wins with 311 Electoral Votes - I think he'll pick up Ohio and Virgina and come up just short in North Carolina and Florida and well short in Indiana. But, in the surprise, I think that he will pick up Nevada in a close race.

Dems have 59 Senate seats at the end of the night including a Franken win in Minnesota.

In the end, I predict very gracious speeches by both McCain and Obama.

Update: I hope that I am wrong and that Obama wins by more, but this is my pragmatic prediction.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Lesson is in Here Somewhere

I use Firefox. I am not sure that I am going to keep using Firefox. I am having so many problems with my browser crashing, hanging, and disappearing from my taskbar. They seem to be mostly related to Firefox because, when it's not open, my computer runs much more efficiently.

I know that others, whose opinions on these matters I trust, have already given up on Firefox. In all likelihood, however, I probably will not. If for no other reason, I have shifted to using zotero reference management software. It is an incredible program and, with the new beta sync version, I can (and do) use it on multiple computers. It is excellent software that allows you to automatically download citations from Firefox's location bar, allows iTunes-like menu control, notes, annotations, drag-and-drop citations (great for putting citations in e-mails) and excellent integration with Word that avoids many of the annoying characteristics of both Refworks and EndNote. In other words, I'll be sticking with Firefox for a while, unless Zotero is released on Google Chrome anytime soon.

Speaking of EndNote, Thompson Reuters—EndNote's parent company—is suing Zotero and George Mason University over copyright infringement disguised as a contract violation[1]. The obvious complaint with large corporations controlling products is that they capture such a large portion of market share that they require everyone to use their products with inflated prices and deflated quality (see, Microsoft). I hope Zotero wins the suit, not only because they offer a far superior product at a far better price (free!), but also because it would set an awful precedent if they lose for all kinds of other products.

On the other hand, open-source products like Firefox seem to me to have a different problem. They seem to try to do too much. The value of Firefox was that it was a very simple platform on which one could add, as one wished, extensions that improved the user experience rather than proprietary formats, like Word or Explorer, that put everything in the program and then dumb it down to the least common denominator. But, with Firefox 3, it seems like they tried to put too much in and it bloats both computer memory and CPU usage, making my computer run too slowly.

Anyway, as I say, I am sure that there is a lesson in here about software lock-in, open-source versus proprietary software, or business models in here somewhere. I'm just too tired to figure them out.

[1] For more on the suit, see here, here, and here. The basic consensus, it seems, is that first EndNote is using contract law to dispute that their proprietary style formats were reverse-engineered by the Zotero team and second Thompson Reuters should hire new lawyers given the incompetence displayed in the suit filed. h/t dr for the heads-up on the suit.

Friday, October 10, 2008

A Fire He Can't Put Out

I watched this video clip today with pure amazement. As a growing chorus of observers highlighting how low McCain rallies have sunk in terms of whipping up fear and angst about Obama. I would say critics, but even conservatives are decrying how awful this turn of events is. I mean, seriously, when George Will calls you out, you know you're in trouble.

The vitriol with which McCain/Palin supporters are expressing themselves at rallies is astounding. In a Georgia senate debate last night, one woman shouted "Bomb Obama". Not only is this not befitting of candidates who wish to hold high office, it flies in the face of democratic government and the peaceful transition of government. That McCain and Palin indicates to me how desperate and disorganized their campaign is—more than an intention on their part to incite violence—is evidenced by the fact that McCain was booed by his own supporters today when he tried to quash these sentiments.

I think that McCain is a halfway decent human being, a lousy politician, and absolutely unable to make a strategic decision on this campaign. He can't figure out which way is up and trying gambits from suspending his campaign to going on the attack. If nothing else, it shows that he is incapable of being an effective leader and it scares me to think that it is not inconceivable that he could be our president. Unlikely at this point, but not inconceivable.

But, believing that McCain is a halfway decent human being is also scary in another light. It's not difficult watching these videos to understand how political fervor can sweep over people and could lead to catastrophic results. Watching the fervor with which supporters are imbued to the point of hatred of their political opponent is downright scary. If McCain were another person and let these words turn to violent acts of aggression, combined with the insecurity and lack of control felt by people because of the economy, it's not difficult to see where this fervor could end up. Now, it must be said, that it was Senator McCain and Governor Palin who for five straight days whipped up this fervor and created the situation; but, imagining someone who is so power-hungry to incite and use it for an extended time makes me realize how someone like Hitler was able to gain power.

Now, having invoked Godwin's Law, it is off to bed for me.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


It's funny how things have a way of repeating themselves. One year ago this week, E. and I were celebrating our marriage in Italy. And just about a year ago, Time-Warner imposed an internet quota on me, as in didn't provide me any internet service.

A year later what is happening? Well, almost to the day, E. returned to Italy and today Time-Warner has given me the run-around about how sorry they are, but they can't make my internet work. This time around, though, I am not with E. (she went for work) and my post-doc applications are all online (kind of hard to fill out an application without an internet connection). It's funny how much this feels like a really, really bad rerun.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Shoot 'Em 'Fore He Run Now

(apologies to Jr. Walker)
I'm not usually in the forecasting game, on account of I lose bets, card games, and trivial pursuits, but Wobblie informs us of the buzz about Bristolevi Johnstin Governor Palin's daughter tying the knot pre-election. Doubt me if you wish.

Here's the program:

Palin-Johnston Wedding
Monday, November 3, 2008
8 pm Eastern/4 pm Aleutian
Fox News

4 pm: Pledge of Allegiance by Henry Kissinger
4:30 pm: Abraham Lincoln's great- great- great- grandniece welcomes the crowd
5 pm: Ronald Reagan's frozen corpse gives a reading
5:15 pm: Sarah Palin arrives, hair in an updo, glasses glamorously absent
5:30 pm: Levi Johnston, who wrote his own vows, tells Bristol he "f***ing loves kids" and wants to "have like a million" so he can "f***ing teach them how to slap the s*** out of a puck! Aw hell yeah!"
6:00 pm: Shot of Todd Palin crying tears, presumably of joy
7 pm: Wasilla Assembly of God congregation puts aside their doubts about the politicization of marriage and engages in blessing of couple
7:30 pm: Punditry! I just hope I don't sleep in past votin' time.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


I, too, am feeling like I'm really down to nothing lately. I have spent the better part of the last two weeks writing personal statements for a post-doc that is due at the end of the month. This has left me little time and energy to write anything except said personal statements. Not to mention the internal guilt that shows up every time I try to do or write something besides these personal statements. Today, however, I am making an exception because I am running into a wall and I just need to do something besides continue to bang my head into it.

I don't know what my problem is. Perhaps it's the fact that my dissertation remains in a constant state of flux[1] and I have very few empirical results to describe in the personal statements. Or, it might be because I really want this post-doc and I am psyching myself out over the application because I am nervous about it. Either way, it is preventing me from doing much else right now and has made me feel very one-dimensional and lonely. I'm sure that it will get better and I've started to put together the sound-bite/cocktail party version of my research which will help for the remaining applications. But, damn, if it is this bad this year, I am really not looking forward to the full-on job search process!

[1]Part of this flux was caused by the fact that, upon meeting with my advisor three weeks ago, he suggested that a chapter and a half of my dissertation might not be viable with the data that we have and I should wait until we have more data. The good news is that I have research ideas for two to three years down the line. Of course, the bad news is this left me without a substantial part of my dissertation and required simultaneously re-formulating my dissertation concept and trying to re-work this application. But, my dissertation is certainly better for it and is actually becoming more coherent as a result, so I am grateful for that.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Obama and Palin/McCain by the Numbers

The last two weeks of Palinomania have been depressing. Or irritating. Or frustrating. Or maddening. I don't know the word, but it seems like there is a sort of listlessness on the left side of the political spectrum. The polls have swung hard for Palin...er, I mean, McCain after the convention, the mainstream media seems to have fallen for all of the red meat put in front of it (or white meat as the case may be), and Obama's campaign has running to the middle irritating it's base. It's no wonder Jeremy felt desolate this afternoon about PalinMcCain overtaking Obama in the Intrade markets.

While the polls are all over the place (see here for a great graph from political scientist Charles Franklin showing the poll spread), I think that much of this concern is displaced nervousness about the way Palin's introduction into the race has made her the story rather than the campaign itself. Why do I think this? Because (unfortunately) in the U.S. we don't elect our president by national vote. As dr mentioned, the important vote is capturing enough electoral votes and in this, I think (as dr does), that Obama is doing pretty damn well.

[After trying for twenty minutes to get the table to format properly, I'm giving up on it. So, if you are so inclined, please continue reading after the big blank space]

DelegatesObama MarginPolls after GOP Convention
New Mexico57.20
New Hampshire40.71

This table is long, but this is why I'm encouraged. There are 538 electoral votes (two for each state senators, one for each Congressperson, and 3 for D.C.) and Obama needs 270 to win. Assuming that Obama wins all five states leaning his direction (a reasonable assumption looking at the map), Obama would have 243 electoral votes. This means he needs 27 of the remaining electoral votes to win, which, looking at the list above looks entirely doable for Obama to pull off. Although this list is virtually unchanged from the map Kerry was facing four years ago (the exception being that Wisconsin was much more of a toss-up, even up to election-eve polls), I don't think that any of us would disagree that Obama's campaign is much more talented than Kerry's.

A look at the "toss-up" states at the bottom of this list suggests that Obama has several different outcomes that could win this election. Let's assume that a combination of racists, hardcore conservatives, and Israel supporters wary of Obama makes Florida unobtainable. It makes sense to run a few ads, make sure McCain spends money there, and keep a minimal ground operation in a few strongholds in case there is a break. Although I don't want to count on it, I also think that Michigan will go for Obama. Michigan certainly has its fair share of racists and it is the state that made the term "Reagan Democrats" a political truism; but in the last several elections it has had a tradition of swinging Democratic late in races. While not counting on it, let's just play out the scenario where Michigan goes to Obama.

That leaves six more states. Winning either Ohio or Virginia wins the election for Obama outright. Winning only Colorado means that the electoral college will tie[1]. However, winning Colorado plus any other state also wins without requiring a win in Ohio. This means that, conditional on winning Michigan, Obama has three plausible ways to pull off a victory: win Ohio, win Virginia, or win Colorado with any other state. Thus, with the combination of Obama's fundraising advantage, superior ground campaigns built from the grueling primary campaign with Clinton, and the obvious skill of Obama's campaign to develop a winning strategy, I am feeling cautiously optimistic that our country might be headed in a new direction come January.

All of the data is based on figures from Pollster.com
[1] This would be the worst of all possible situations. The tie would then go to Congress with one vote going to each state delegation. Despite Democratic gains in Congress, this would certainly go to the Republicans and have the added "benefit" of creating a second Constitutional crisis in eight years.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Port Authority Salaries

I usually avoid ribbing civil servants about their salaries, because a) they are usually low, and b) if they're high, many (perhaps most?) of our public servants are talented, unsung heroes who could have made bank with their skills but chose to serve the public instead, so bravo if they can make a decent living.
Today, however, I freely mock the reported salaries of employees at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, generally speaking. Here's a public agency that just raised its tolls (so the fat salaries look bad), has failed to rebuild the WTC site projects in a respectable time frame (so the fat salaries look bad), and seemingly towards giving at least one airport tenant a free pass on a recently passed labor harmony/employee retention policy (which just makes me angry) and turns out fully one sixth of Port Authority employees make upwards of $100 K a year.
The one caveat is that I think the outrage over police officers making over $100 K a year is distasteful. Why shouldn't someone who risks his or her life to save your ass make just as much as the bureaucrat who processes his paperwork?


Hey everyone, my sister has a blog! I wouldn't have pegged her for the type, because she is normally far too cool for that kind of shit. But apparently she's a huge frigging nerd, just like the rest of us. It's moderated by The Man, but I'm sure she's injecting as much hilarious subversiveness as semi-fascist private universities allow.

Monets vs. Seurats: I'm A Jerk

My father is a fattist. I.e., he can't stand overweight people the way some people can't abide smokers. They say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, so here goes:
I'm obsessed with weight. America is a fat, fat place, but living and working in New York City is somewhat of an anomaly, at least when it comes to women, because that's the gender whose trim, healthy members I'm enviously glaring at every morning. Everywhere I turn are model-actresses with youthful calves and slender hips. But when you look closer, these willowy femmes seem--I don't know, craggier. More lines on their faces. Worse teeth.
By comparison, in the odd event that I do see a larger person, it's more often that I observe fine grooming and much attention to detail in appearance.
Very unscientific, because I am in no way qualified to comment on this, but the psychology (mine and theirs) is interesting. Are the skinny, craggy people native NYCers, who have suffered more air pollution and are more hardened in general? Are the larger, better-coiffed women compensating by adorning themselves with manicures, highlights and carefully-applied lipliner?
As a tweener-hovering between normal and overweight, I'm just curious. And a bad person.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Living Your Values? How About Governing With Them?

I find it hard to believe that Gov. Palin really "used her line-item veto to slash funding for a state program benefiting teen mothers in need of a place to live." But there it is, in black-and-white. What was wrong with this program? Was it not functioning? A sham? Such a veto seems like a terrible conflict of Palin's platform.

Jamie Lynn Spears aside, most pregnant teens are not well-positioned financially and may have, shall we say, recalcitrant parents. This is the kind of governing that makes you realize that what drives so many pols on "right to life" is purely Machiavellian.

Hear me now: if you take a pro-life stance, it shouldn't end at a child's birth. Adopt an unwanted baby, fund pre-kindergarten education, and please, for the love of God, support basic funding for teen moms! Does Palin do any of these things???

Monday, September 1, 2008

Shameful Addiction

Confession time: I enjoy, among other non-educational, non-news shows, Jon and Kate Plus 8. It's about two sets of IUI multiples--twins and sextuplets--growing up somewhere in Eastern Pennsylvania. (And those of you who know me, please spare me the argument that this is the time in my life when I am thinking about kids because a) it's not and b) I've been obsessing about shows like this for a long, long time.) So, it's time to break down my reasons for hunkering down with my watermelon slices and staring at this clan for hours at a time.

1. The energy level required to keep up with these cats is amazing. There are 8 children, and they are so young and loud, loud, loud. I get exhausted watching them.

2. Those fantastic Pennsylvania accents! I get really nostalgic thinking about my family in PA and my classmates at college in Philly.

3. I have so many questions! How will you pay for college? Braces? Really, how much neighbor help do you get? Free family babysitting? Do your neighbors resent you, because I cannot imagine that you are in a position to reciprocate? Do you feel guilty as the world population is exploding? I could ask them directly (they have email addresses) but my questions are too obnoxious.

4. The husband-and-wife spats remind me of the sniping between the older generation of Mr. and Mrs. E. I really like to watch it with Mike, because his most exuberant guffaws are reserved for Jon's most blatant public-humiliation at the hands of Kate--so close to home? It's sad to watch Jon look defeated in the face of the yelling, but heartening when he bites back. Mostly, it makes me miss living with my parents. Sick, huh.

5. Like living in Park Slope with cranky yuppie mommies wealthy enough for the Ford Excursion of Strollers, but without enough love to treat their neighbors and coworkers like human beings, watching this show is great birth-control. A parent's life is so different from my sleep-in, late-night, bar-going, traveling, carefree life that I love so much, and it makes me realize that having even one child, let alone eight, changes Everything. Perhaps if I got to spend more time with parents who manage to maintain some of that fun--traveling, date-night more than once a year--I'd be more tempted.

6. All the cord-blood, life-alert (C. Everett Koop!) and fertility treatment commercials.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Must See Movie - Trouble the Water

Tonight, E. and I saw the film Trouble the Water. I can honestly say that it was one of the most moving movie experiences that I have ever had - with only Hotel Rwanda coming even close.

The movie is a documentary that follows a husband and wife couple during and after Hurricane Katrina. The couple had a video camera that they used to film their neighborhood (the 9th Ward) before, during, and after the hurricane. The directors meet up with the couple two weeks after the hurricane and follow them for the next several weeks. The directors weave the raw footage from the couple with their professional footage along with news clips and press conferences to tell the story of Katrina as it was experienced by this couple. The movie does an incredible job linking the experience of this couple with the larger social structures that serve to exacerbate the problems experienced by the victims.

I cannot believe the strength of Kimberly Rivers Rodgers, a.k.a. Black Kold Madina, and husband Scott is truly amazing. I would like to think that in a similar situation, I would show the compassion and concern for fellow human beings that the two of them did. But, looking deep down in my heart, I know that just plain isn't true. In the worst of times, they rose to the challenge and quite literally saved lives in the process. Only then to watch them suffer the injustices wrought by a failed government and structural constraints that made it virtually impossible for them to build a new life outside of New Orleans. Again, I would say more,

I don't want to say too much about the specifics of the film, but instead encourage everyone to see it, but I worry that it will ruin the power of the movie. It made me sad to watch the suffering and it made me angry watching our government's complete disregard for that suffering; more than anything, however, it made me feel an incredible sense of compassion for others. Unfortunately, it is only playing in a couple of venues for short runs, so it is not exactly accessible. But, I think that the success of the film and, thus, the opportunity for more viewings in more cities is going to be based on the success where it is currently running. I would strongly recommend everyone to go see it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"Back" to School!

This week marked the return of undergraduates to the university at which I work. Not all of the undergraduates—this week is just reserved for the newbies. The mixture of excitement and fear was etched into their faces. The orientation mentors, on the other hand, seemed relieved to be back at school away from their summer jobs, parents, and back with their friends. It was also interesting to watch all of the parents drop their kids off...now that is where you see panic. Honey, are you sure that she is going to be alright. I mean, this is New York City... That, combined with their attempts (mostly failed) at a) driving around campus and b) finding parking was hilarious.

It's funny, back at the university at which I am a student the end of summer was always marked by the dread of finding parking spaces anywhere within the vicinity of campus. Here in New York, the end of summer is marked by the l-o-o-o-o-o-n-g wait for the elevator because so many people are getting on and off. It's funny how the same event, with many of the same feelings is marked differently existing in different surroundings. At least it struck me that way. Perhaps it was just the physical manifestation of the various transitions that have occurred and brought me to New York and my "second-home" university.

Although school being "back" in session has very little effect on me since I am neither taking nor teaching any classes, it does mark a countdown that is fraught with excitement and nerves. I guess it's not unlike those freshman starting their first class next week. After a year of transitions, this year is going to be pretty intense given the goals that I have laid out for myself. At this time next year—if all goes well—I will hopefully be Dr. Mike and be marking another pretty big transition to the the next phase of my career, hopefully with a job/post-doc in hand. I guess it's t-minus two days and counting...[1]

[1] That reminds me that I need: a) an advisor voodoo doll, b) committee member voodoo dolls, c) application reviewer voodoo dolls, and d) graduate college voodoo dolls. I'll put them on my birthday wishlist.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Dissertation Advice from the Best

This PowerPoint presentation was forwarded onto our graduate student e-mail list. I thought that others who are in the process of thinking or writing about their dissertations might find it useful.

It looks like these slides were adapted from a presentation that Charles Tilly gave. There are five slides with content, and I pulled the one that I found the most helpful. It shows the relationship between the risks and rewards of choosing dissertation topics. Basically, he recommends picking a topic that is somewhere in the middle, though closer to the bottom-left than the top-right (he suggests saving that for your post-doc).

Also, for those who might have missed other really helpful dissertation advice check out Fabio's Grad Skool Rulz number 10 that also describes picking a topic and numbers 12 & 13 on actually writing your $^#@@ dissertation (his words, not mine). And, for what it's worth, I really wish that I had listened to perchesk's sage advice a while back to "try to write a lot of the dissertation this summer before ASA, since it is hard to make research and writing progress once the job market is in full swing."

Now, back to my prospectus...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Obama = Rocky

This was too good not to pass along...Obama's Rocky-esque quest to the White House (h/t Fabio). I particularly like the reversal of the racial symbolism.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

World-Class Sexism

As long as I’ve been watching the Olympic Games, I’ve presumed based on the coverage that when it comes to women’s sports, Americans seem to want to watch only swimming, gymnastics, and beach volleyball. Okay, we are a country that wants to watch only the bathing-suit-clad female athletes; fine. (Yes, women’s track and field also gets some action from time to time, depending on star quality.)

But having spent a good many evenings this week watching this, it has been excruciating to listen to the way men and women are covered.

What are we to learn from Bob Costas and company?

1. The most important thing you need to know about a French swimmer is that she had controversial photos taken of her, and she lost her man to an Italian swimmer. (Both are accomplished athletes, and, oh-by-the-way, the Italian swimmer broke her own world record yesterday.)

2. What’s really amazing about the U.S. women’s volleyball team is that they actually get along. Oh yes, and they have both been married since 2004! And one of them almost lost her wedding ring in the sand!

3. This American gymnast is so upset. Let us close up on her face as it nearly tears up.

So, if I’m a 12 year old athlete watching, what I am learning is, no matter what you accomplish in your sport, even if you get to the absolute top of your game by competing in the freaking Olympics, you will only be recognized for tabloid controversy, nuptials, tiny dramas, or crying. And bonus if you are totally BFF with your volleyball teammate. Otherwise there is no way you’ll be able to set for her.

It’s a shame. I’ve always thought that Costas was so classy, and I am really proud of our female American athletes because truly, most of them do set an incredible example for girls. Dave at Organizing Grievances has a post about the ludicrousness of the hype around China’s anthem-singing boo-boo, and MaryAnne Johanson has a good find about the more overt cases of sexism. But sometimes subtle sexism is the most treacherous kind, because of the way it seeps in.

Five Years

Seeing the front page on one of the New York free dailies handed out at subway stations today reminded me that it was five years to the day that I showed up to grad school. How do I know? I showed up to grad school the day that the lights went out from the Great Lakes all the way to the East Coast. I tried to make sure that I didn't take it as a sign from somewhere that I shouldn't start grad school. Instead, I unpacked my car, slept in the dark for a night woke up the next morning to drive to Maryland and visited E. Who knew four and a half years later we would be married and I would be within a year of finishing grad school (hopefully)? I guess life has a way of working out really well.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

I Want a Vacation -

- so I'll take one!

I returned from ASA in one piece. I wish that I had more time to find people and meet them. But, I was so nervous about my first experience as a discussant, that I missed the opportunity[1]. Next year in SF, I'm meeting everyone at the Scatterplot party though! And, hopefully, I'll meet some of you before then.

However, before the real intensity of applying for post-docs and buckling down on dissertation research starts, E. and I are off for vacation to be tanned, rested, and ready for the craziness that is going to be the upcoming year!

[1] Talk about impostor syndrome; I can't believe people actually wanted to hear what I had to say! I benefited from a lot of really good advice from people regarding being a discussant, so maybe I will post some of it when I return.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Brooklyn: Full of Wonders

Being married to someone who studies neighborhoods, living in a specimen of the gentrification debate, and inhabiting one of the most diverse areas in the country sometimes make you over-question your surroundings. My sister and I, who give ribaldry a new meaning, hit up Midwood, Brooklyn today. Certainly, I thought, Midwood would look like the other parts of Brooklyn I had seen: three- to five- floor apartment buildings, a nice diverse population (maybe some segments would be denser than others in some areas), small, sparse parks.

But imagine our surprise cruising down Ocean Parkway, and seeing enormous Georgian mansions interspersed with fancy synagogues. Mansions! I get that we're near the beach, and maybe back when New York beaches were unspoiled sparkling wilderness, rich folks had beach houses there. But now? I mean, you're an ad executive and you maintain a condo in the UES, a chateau in Provence, and a beach house a mile away from lovely...Coney Island??

I had so many questions.

1) If you can afford to live in a mansion, why Midwood? What is fun here?

2) Where do you work where you can afford this mansion, if you're not a local doctor or suffering a 2 hour commute into job-dense Manhattan?

3) Who are you?

Perhaps I will call chacha to figure this out, and see what kind of subjective, loaded answer they give me.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

One Down, How Many More to Go?

I've been absent the last couple of weeks because I was finishing the albatross that has been around my neck for over six months. I finally sent out my first sole-authored paper for review. Now, I just need to get me a reviewer voodoo doll!

I am getting ready to head to ASA. I'm sad that I missed the Scatterplot party and will get in too late for the Anomie's grad student brunch, but hopefully I will find others through the new ASA tweet network.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

His name is Matt. He likes to dance.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Seven Seals and Weapons Bans

Tornado footage from Iowa was on T.V. late last night, and yes, we brought up the Apocalypse, and yes, we cracked open a Bible. That's what two pitchers of margaritas and dozens of years of education will do to a party.

Comparisons of the past few years to the end of days--New-Testament-style--are fairly common. I'm sure 2008 is not the first year this has been brought up. After all, the Bible describes the end of the world as a panoply of persecution, climate change, and violence, all of which have been going on, sadly enough, for quite some time. In Revelations, unspeakable violence destroys a quarter of the earth (for starters), the moon becomes red like blood, the sun is blacked out, wind stops blowing, and stars fall to the earth.

And as long as we were trying to feel out how much we could say about this without sounding too ridiculous, I thought of the recent SCOTUS decision on the D.C. gun ban.

Second Amendment
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

If writers could see 200, or 2000 years into the future, which many would say God can, and our founders attempted to, what was predictable or perpetual? Could our founders have predicted the kind of weapons technology that exists today? The moon is often red these days (thanks pollution), and we've had several devastating earthquakes. Is the end upon us, is another interpretation correct--or am I looking in the wrong book?

All the natural disasters lately have been distressing, and it's impossible to read the minds of writers of recent years, let alone writers of centuries and millennia ago--but for better or for worse, this is the job of the powerful. And I'm having trouble evaluating the quality of their work.

Monday, June 30, 2008


Hello. Mike asked me to introduce myself. I got so excited about the ideas for the labor movement discussion that I started posting. So, I'm E. Mike asked me to start posting on his blog, because technically it's called "pragmatic idealists," plural, so I figured, I'm kind of a pragmatic idealist, and if I start posting, the blog can live up to the plural assignment. I don't know who reads Mike's blog, but I haven't seen too many swear words or threats in the comments section, so I'm in! Look forward to participating more.

More Idealists!

As some of you have noticed, there are two more names in the "Contributors" section to the right. Therefore, I want to welcome both E. and mdmd as fellow Pragmatic Idealists (thus finally justifying the plural form of the title). I will let them both introduce themselves more fully when they have the chance.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

¡Enhorabuena España!

Wow! Congratulations to the Spanish side - that was a masterfully played game. And Torres' goal was nothing short of gorgeous. Although I had great plans for my afternoon, I am glad that I watched this game instead. It seemed like the Spanish just ran the Germans ragged—the Germans looked exhausted and were not able to mount anything close to a sustained attack at the end of the game.

I can't wait for el Mundial.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

More ideas to revitalize the labor movement

Snaps to Wobblie, who started this conversation. I could go on and on with suggestions, but I'll stick to what I think is the most important topic for these five suggestions: "Talking To People Under 50."

  1. Celebrities. In my dream, Kanye West sings "Spaceship" or "Heard 'Em Say" to a crowd, talks a little about the references in his songs to low-wage work, and while we're at it, sells or gives away some Kanye Says Raise Minimum Wage t-shirts.
  2. Unions are pathetic on the internet. Use Facebook and MySpace strategically in organizing campaigns. Nothing like 4,000 shoppers joining a "Boycott [Insert Monster Teen Retailer Here]" group to freak out [Insert Monster Teen Retailer Here]. And come on, update your own websites once in a while. Have a blog. Go nuts.
  3. This has been suggested endlessly, but the more members are seen as part of the process for electing leadership, giving political endorsements and campaign contributions, and targeting companies, the better; c.f. Obama's inclusive, grassroots, "you matter" message that galvanized young voters.
  4. Use your high school and college interns wisely. Don't plunk them into scary salting situations, or stick them behind a desk doing data entry. Get them invested in and excited about what they're doing.
  5. For that matter, don't burn and churn your young regular staffers, who are also often just out of high school or college. We know union leaders should be tough and encourage toughness, but pushing people to the point of no return is no good.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

My Turn, Five Strategies for the Labor Movement

In the ongoing online seminar discussing what can improve public confidence in the labor movement, I wanted to add my two cents. As a punishment for extreme tardiness, I will restrict myself to three:[1]

  1. Highlight grievance procedures one of the main strengths gained through organizing. Too many times I have seen discussions about negotiations or unions in general revolve around wages and benefits. I think that these are important - don't get me wrong. I like to be paid and I like my healthcare provided (although, I would prefer that be provided as a fundamental right -- but that is a discussion for another time and place). But, some of the most important benefits belonging to a union is the fact that you have the right to a fair process before disciplinary action or firing can happen. This is a fundamental notion for most people and gets at the basic sense of freedom in most Americans - you should have the right to defend yourself. Dave mentions this as one of many items, but I think that highlighting this single point can go a long way.

  2. Think of new ways to organize that speak to the realities of workers. This is where I believe that organizing must overlap with PR. Our notion of "organizing the workplace" is antiquated. Too many workers now have two or three jobs - organizing one workplace does nothing without organizing the other one or two in which workers are employed. I think that there is some movement towards this - UNITE HERE's organizing of entire hotel markets under a single contract -- or all jobs in the case of the Las Vegas Culinary Local. Also, the idea of a "Freelancer's Union is the type of thing that the AFL should be taking seriously. Similarly, we need to stop thinking about "workplace" issues versus other issues. For example, the biggest obstacle facing workers in New York is not necessarily their wages or benefits, but the exorbitant cost of housing in the city. Organizing for the realities of new types of lifestyles is a necessity.

  3. Go for citizen-initiated ballot proposals to overturn "right-to-work" laws. Yup, that's right. I've gone off the deep end. Lex is right, EFCA needs to be passed - major victories set a "winning" agenda. But, I think that going after right-to-work laws does two things. First, it allows labor to set the agenda on labor issues rather than being defined as the opposition. We all know the advantage to proactive campaign messages rather than reactive ones. Second, spending money to win something means that our opponents have to spend money to defeat us - rather than us spending money to defeat them (and really gaining nothing that we don't already have in the process). Let's go for broke. We'll win some, we'll lose some - but, hey, at least we're setting the agenda.

I'd be interested to hear what others think.

[1] Of course, this is also because many of the good ideas have been taken.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Long Summer Nights

Before I moved to New York, I was kind of dreading the thought of living in the city. I was excited to be living with E. again and I was excited about something new, but it just seemed daunting living in a city that big and impersonal. Now, it's hard to imagine that, if everything works according to plan with my dissertation, there is a chance that we will be moving in a year and it's hard to imagine living anywhere but New York. It is going to be a hard adjustment living anywhere else now.

But, I say all this because I am back in Ann Arbor this week - and I am lucky that it is the week with the longest days in the year. I mention to everyone how great the summers are in Ann Arbor and that it stays light out until 10:00 at night. But, being back here, it really reminded me why Ann Arbor is so great during the summer. If this was all I knew of Ann Arbor, I could imagine never wanting to live anywhere else. Then, of course, November comes around and I always remembered why!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Racial Residential Segregation Readings

A friend of mine who started a few years after me in my program is taking her prelim this summer and asked if I would write up a list of readings that I think represent the literature investigating racial residential segregation. Of course, I did not want to recommend an extremely long list to her - she does have a significant chunk of other readings to get through. I think I failed on the brevity for which I was striving, but I thought that it was a great exercise to really think through the "canons" in an area in which I study. I know that there are at least a few other sociologists who read this blog, so I thought that I'd pass along my list for others. I am sure that there are readings that I overlooked and others which might not be considered "canons" that I did include. If you want to comment, please feel free to let me know what your list would be.

Bruch, Elizabeth E., and Robert D. Mare. 2006. “Neighborhood Choice and Neighborhood Change.” American Journal of Sociology 112:667-709. link. I think that this study is the best to try and engage thoughtfully with Schelling's original study of neighborhood dynamics and looks at the effect that both data collection methods and our understanding of the nature of racialized preferences has on understanding the dynamic nature of housing patterns. But, more than that, it really tries to seriously engage with the implications of racial residential preferences in a way that is unparalleled in the current literature.

Charles, Camille Zubrinsky. 2003. “The Dynamics of Racial Residential Segregation.” Annual Review of Sociology 29:167-207. This is the best review piece on racial segregation out there. It is very clear, lays out dominant theories and implications.

Emerson, Michael O., Karen J. Chai, and George Yancey. 2001. “Does Race Matter in Residential Segregation? Exploring the Preferences of White Americans.” American Sociological Review 66:922-935. link. This is one of the only studies that looks at the role that specifically racial preferences play, net of other characteristics of neighborhoods. It relies on hypothetical neighborhoods, but finds that race is one of the over-riding factors in neighborhood preferences.

Crowder, Kyle. 2000. “The Racial Context of White Mobility: An Individual-Level Assessment of the White Flight Hypothesis.” Social Science Research 29:223-257. link. This paper looks at the individual-level moves of whites and what types of neighborhood factors influence the moves of whites out of and into neighborhoods. It is one of the first papers that looked at the theoretical importance of separating moves out of neighborhoods from the moves into a neighborhoods with an empirical study.

Farley, Reynolds, Charlotte Steeh, Tara Jackson, Maria Krysan, and Keith Reeves. 1993. “Continued Racial Residential Segregation in Detroit: "Chocolate City, Vanilla Suburbs" Revisited.” Journal of Housing Research 4:1-38. link. This paper is a follow-up to the original “Chocolate City, Vanilla Suburbs” paper that Farley wrote with colleagues based on the 1976 DAS. They find some evidence of changing attitudes, but preferences that are still very averse to integration. This is a staple of any segregation reading list.

Frey, William H., and Reynolds Farley. 1996. “Latino, Asian, and Black Segregation in U.S. Metropolitan Areas: Are Multi-ethnic Metros Different?.” Demography 33:35-50. link. This paper looks at the trends in segregation for Latinos, Asian-Americans and blacks in a comparative light and finds that multiethnic metropolitan areas have different dynamics of racial segregation than two-race (i.e. black/white) metropolitan areas. This is a key reading for understanding comparative relationships across racial groups and the importance of other racial groups on the dynamics of black/white segregation.

Harris, David R. 2001. “Why Are Whites and Blacks Averse to Black Neighbors?,.” Social Science Research 30:100-116. link.Harris counters the idea that racially biased preferences expressed by both whites and blacks are biased against living in communities with a significant proportion of black residents. Instead, Harris argues that this is due to the fact that residents are really reacting to the fact that black neighborhoods have higher levels of crime and poverty. Therefore, resistance to living with black neighbors is really the result of race being a “proxy” for these other issues.

Lee, Barrett A., R. S. Oropesa, and James W. Kanan. 1994. “Neighborhood Context and Residential Mobility.” Demography 31:249-270. link.

Massey, Douglas S., and Nancy A. Denton. 1993. American apartheid : segregation and the making of the underclass. Cambridge, Mass. ; London, Eng. :: Harvard University Press. Need I explain?

Quillian, Lincoln. 2002. “Why is black-white residential segregation so persistent?: Evidence on three theories from migration data.” Social science research 31:197-229. link.This is a fascinating paper that uses the probabilities that individuals make particular types of transitions from one neighborhood type to another (i.e. different levels of segregation). This paper examines the possibility that a person’s neighborhood context can change both because of a move by that family, but also of a neighborhood changing around them. It concludes that preferences among whites drive a good portion of the racial residential segregation in the country.

Sampson, Robert J., and Patrick Sharkey. 2008. “Neighborhood Selection and the Social Reproduction of Concentrated Racial Inequality.” Demography 45:1-29. link. In many ways, this paper builds off of Quillian’s 2002 paper, but it examines a much wider set of neighborhood characteristics and uses different methodological techniques and focuses more explicitly on the ways in which African Americans are trapped in high-poverty neighborhoods. Their ultimate conclusion is that race, above and beyond other SES and neighborhood factors, tends to dominate why blacks end up in poorer neighborhoods than whites.

Schelling, Thomas C. 1971. “Dynamic models of segregation.” Journal of Mathematical Sociology 1:143-186. link. This is a famous paper that establishes the importance of understanding the dynamic nature of residential patterns and that rational moves based on integrative (or at least minimally segregationist) preferences can lead to segregated cities. It has fueled a great deal of research into complex systems and dynamic modeling outside of segregation research (cf. Granovetter), but has made a profound contribution on the field of segregation research.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

It has been too long...

It has been a long while since I have written anything on these here pages. I thought about writing, and how I had to write something extremely profound to make up for the two months of nothingness. Then, I realized that a) so few people read this and b) no one cares, whether they did read, would read, or have read in the past. Therefore, no proclamations of trying harder or grand hopes of writing more.

What pulled me out of my blogging slumber, you ask? Well, this story (h/t: Creative Class) from CNN about the failure of suburban housing and the return to "walkable" urban neighborhoods. This hit especially close to home, considering I study the effect of the built environment on health (and walking in particular) and residential choice. Naturally, I was intrigued. In particular this tid-bit caught my attention:

This change can be witnessed in places like Atlanta, Georgia, Detroit, Michigan, and Dallas, Texas, said Leinberger, where once rundown downtowns are being revitalized by well-educated, young professionals who have no desire to live in a detached single family home typical of a suburbia where life is often centered around long commutes and cars.

Instead, they are looking for what [Christopher] Leinberger calls "walkable urbanism" -- both small communities and big cities characterized by efficient mass transit systems and high density developments enabling residents to walk virtually everywhere for everything -- from home to work to restaurants to movie theaters.

Leinberger reports that 40% of people from selected metro areas want to live in walkable urban neighborhoods. On the one hand, I think that is about right and maybe even a little low. But, on the other, of course people want to live in walkable neighborhoods; but if I asked if they wanted good schools, good city services, and convenient transportation they would also say yes. The real question is, how high of a priority are walkable neighborhoods compared to the other desires of homeowners -- and given that it is very difficult and costly to build, from scratch, a "walkable" neighborhood (at least compared to suburban expansion) it is necessarily a limited market of people who would be able to afford such locations.

And, finally, let's not forget that there is one thing that is not mentioned at all in this article - race. I think that people want to profess strong egalitarian motives and racial composition does not matter as much to younger people as it does to older, but it matters. Places like the Kentlands in Maryland so that suburbanites can have it all - a suburban house, excellent schools, lots of space and the ability to walk to the grocery store without having to deal with the problems of the poor, largely minority populations of not only D.C., but also older suburbs like Silver Spring and Rockville. Of course, then the city or state government will just pay a ton of money to completely tear down and rebuild the place -- and in the process remove any "undesirable" elements.

And, as a final note, I thought that I should share reader NewWorld's insightful comments:

This is just another of countless examples to show that man cannot govern themselves (Jeremiah 10:23) The Bible teaches that God's government, ruled by Christ, will intervene in earth's affairs and repair the damage done by humans. This government will solve housing problems, economic issues, food shortages, end crime, violence and all abuses and injustices, prevent natural disasters, end sickness and even death.

We have much to look forward to!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Sad Comment on the Profession

This story from Inside Higher Ed describes how a late-career Ph.D. post-doc was one of the escorts in the "D.C. Madame" trial. The story basically describes her career track: a successful professional that wanted to advance in the area of occupational therapy. To do so, she required the credentialization for positions that she was seeking (including being a department chair at a University). She was broke, the process between finding a job and actually being employed in that job and an ailing parent meant that she didn't have enough money to make ends meet.

This is wrong on so many levels I'm not sure my further comment would do any justice. First, the flaws of an academic system that place the risks and burdens of fluctuating employment solely on the individual. Second, the fact that, as an adjunct professor and interim department chair, she was not making enough money to make ends meet shows the utter lack of respect to the people who actually make the university run. While I see multi-million dollar contracts go to football and men's basketball coaches (the latter being especially appalling because of the dismal graduation rates among their players), the people actually responsible for teaching are left with few options for making ends meet. Then, there is the whole idea that someone who is trying to improve her career, did not follow a traditional career track and is well-respected professional is treated in such a way is appalling.

Actually, the whole thing is appalling and, while I could go on, I think that I'll leave it at that.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


It's been well over a month since I last posted and let's just say that the posting volume wasn't substantial before that. Looking at the Sitemeter logs indicate that even my most die-hard readers seemed to have abandoned my little corner of the internet. To my credit, it has been a little bit of a crazy month. I have figured out what I am writing for my dissertation, formed my committee (and got them to approve said dissertation plan), given a presentation, and submitted three papers for a conference that is next week (two with other people and one by myself) and I started a new job. Needless to say, I have not had a whole lot of extra time to write never mind enough writing brain cells left over to write.

I'm hoping to get back on the wagon, but I'm not sure how successful I'll be, given my past record for making such claims. I still need to put together my presentations for the conference and actually attend, but things should slow down a little bit. Hopefully I can put them to good use. For those of you out there who are still subscribers/readers, thank you. Hopefully less disappointment in the future!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Great TV

I am watching MSNBC's coverage of today's returns and watched Rachel Maddow talk down Pat Buchanan.

Unequivocally, it has to be the best moment of television since this campaign began fourtwo years ago.

UPDATE: I just heard the MSNBC analyst (I can't remember what her name was) say that McCain's campaign is going to use President Bush judiciously in the upcoming campaign. Why? Because no attack has happened since 2001. Let's see if I can remember my history. 1814 - British burn down Washington, but are eventually expelled later that year; 1941 - Pearl Harbor. That means that, at best, we had 60 years between attacks and a full 187 years since the mainland was attacked. We are happy that he had a full seven years (not to mention, he gave the terrorists a target in Iraq)?

UPDATE 2:Alright, Tim Russert is officially the dumbest person on television. He even beats Wolf Blitzer. He just said, "Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are going to go mano a man..., or whatever it is when a man fights a woman, mano a womano. Jeebus. I nominate him for a profile in douchebaggery.

Friday, February 29, 2008

The Future of the Urban Revolution

In the most recent issue of City & Community, Neil Smith has a stinging critique of Lance Freeman's book, There Goes the 'Hood. Smith, a devout marxian and among the most prolific scholars on gentrification, takes umbrage to the fact that Freeman supports the idea that gentrification might not be a horrible thing. Smith argues that the book is poorly researched and written and takes a few really low blows at Freeman, which include making the claim that Freeman is shilling for his employer, Columbia University by covering up Columbia's expansion plan (which I have discussed here before):

Freeman, who is employed as an urban planner by Columbia University—one of New York City's top five landlords—laughs off Harlem residents’ long-term suspicion about Columbia's encroachment into the neighborhood as an urban myth. He inexplicably omits any mention of Columbia University's plan, unveiled in 2005, to "develop" a huge swath of West Harlem over the objections of many local residents. Freeman "sees" none of this.

The first thing to mention is that it is unfair to hold Freeman accountable for something that was not present in his fieldwork. Freeman's book was published in May 2006. While early signs were evident of the West Harlem expansion, Smith himself acknowledges that the plan was not unveiled until 2005. Because of the length of time it takes to turn fieldwork into a publishable manuscript and a manuscript to a book, there is a good chance that Freeman was done with his fieldwork well before the plan was unveiled.

Perhaps more troubling, however, is the fact that Smith—who works cross-town at the CUNY Graduate Center—is somehow saying that Freeman is a shill for Columbia's expansion plan. That, somehow, because Freeman works for Columbia, he is trying to sweep these inconvenient details under the rug to protect his employer. While Freeman's account is certainly not a pull-no-punches kind of account, to insinuate that Freeman is a mouthpiece for his employer seems to me to be unfair.

While Smith is certainly a confrontational character (see, for instance, his academic debates with David Ley in the late eighties here and here), it seems like this critique was a little bit over the top. Especially for somewhat who has admitted, half-jokingly, to being a "bourgeois marxist" at a talk he gave in Ann Arbor last academic year. At the same lecture, an audience member asked Smith what he thought should be done about the strategy of spatial expansion of global capital. He wasn't sure - the best thing that he could come up with was to attempt to create co-ops in cities so that people could have a democratic stake in their own housing.

This is a noble aim. But, it is also incredibly short-sighted and fails to recognize the complexity of such issues and, particularly how they are tied to race, in the United States. Smith takes a swipe at Freeman here, too:

For Freeman, gentrification scholarship has been hijacked by an untoward focus on class, whereas in his neighborhoods, the issue is race. Once the focus is changed to race, he avers, we can see gentrification in a new register. "From the ground up," gentrification in Clinton Hill and Harlem are certainly mixed, but overall a good thing. Once we see that gentrification in these neighborhoods actually retains their blackness and that class is a minor issue, we can start to love gentrification.

In a typically orthodox marxian way, race is relegated to the "superstructural" niceties that are really class-based. Having read Freeman's book, nowhere does he say that class is not important; he does make the argument, and perhaps takes the argument too far, that class has been privileged in academic debates of gentrification more than race. Freeman, however, does something that Smith refuses to do: he tried to develop the book to be academically rigorous, publicly interesting and to develop real policy solutions that could be implemented. I will take it for granted that Smith, being the true marxist that he is, sees the capitalist state as inevitably interested solely in the demands of the corporate elite. Even so, to argue that the best thing, on a real political level, to confront gentrification is to develop co-ops so that people can feel a stake of control is neither calling the revolution or engaging with the current policy situation. Especially since the history of people owning and controlling their own property in this country is some of the most blatant and disgusting racism ever demonstrated, Bull Conner's dogs notwithstanding.

Smith does reveal some issues with Freeman's book that are worth pointing out. Freeman does not develop his methodological approach very fully. It is difficult to tell from the book how Freeman selected his interviewees. I also noticed that the book was more heavily tilted towards the "black bourgeoisie" more than the working class residents of Clinton Hill and Harlem. At the same time, however, I commend Freeman for trying to engage with a larger audience of academics and activists. And, while he does take a somewhat sanguine view of gentrification, he does not—either in his book or his widley cited academic article—argue that gentrification is an unqualified good that has no costs. He argues that inflating real estate costs due to gentrification pose a serious threat to long-time residents in neighborhoods and that gentrification can destroy the community bonds among those residents.

The real problem for me, however, is the review misses the broader aims of the book. Freeman's proposals are actually in line with a philosophy of fair redevelopment and advocates vigorously for ways to guard against the potential havoc wreaked by gentrification. Besides his policy proposals to regulate rent (and, Freeman is a strong advocate for rent controls), Freeman actually argues that the best way to promote positive urban development is through Alinsky-type organizing. If Smith can't get behind that, or even bother to mention it in his review, I'm not sure how far the marxian notion of the urban revolution is going to get.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

To Ralph Nader

I am sure that this is already making it's way through the tubes, but it was too good not to pass along.

(h/t: Lee Sigelman at The Monkey Cage)

Friday, February 22, 2008

White People Like Gentrification

Or so I'm told:

In general, white people love situations where they can’t lose. While this does account for the majority of their situations, perhaps the safest bet a white person can make is to buy a house in an up-and-coming neighborhood.
They are like a modern day Lewis and Clark, except instead of searching for the ocean, they are searching for old properties to renovate.

In a few years, if more white people start moving in, these initial trailblazers will sell their property for triple what they paid and move into an ultramodern home.

Credibility or money, they can’t lose!

Although written to be funny (and succeeding quite well in this regard), it is scary how close this actually is to the truth for a lot of places. In fact, minus the part about Giuliani booting all the homeless people from public places, this post does a pretty good job summarizing Neil Smith's take on gentrification.

(h/t shakha)

Friday, February 15, 2008

An Item to Take Up at ASA Business Meeting

A little while back, I purchased the ASA Style Guide. Although it is lacking the comprehensiveness of the APA Guide, it is a handy little reference that is written specifically for the journals that I will most likely be sending most of my papers (provided, of course, that I finish them). I thought that some readers might find the following tidbits interesting (ASA 2007)*:

[In Section 5.1:]
(n.) Short for Web log, a blog is a Web page that serves as a publicly accessible personal journal for an individual. Typically updated daily, blogs often reflect the personality of the author.
(v.) To author a Web log. Other forms: Blogger (a person who blogs). Retrieved January 15, 2007 (http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/b/blog.html) (P. 67)

I am quite impressed that, despite the awkwardness of some of their usages, the entire section on "Guidelines for Using Electronic Resources (E-Resources)" is actually quite good an includes a glossary of common terms and citations for all kinds of electronic resources, including blogs.

Of course, as the example, they cite an econ professor! I think that, in addition to ribbons, we should take up the issue of citing a sociologist blogger in the ASA style guide for goodness sake!

American Sociological Association (ASA). 2007. American Sociological Association Style Guide. 3rd ed. Washington, DC: American Sociological Association.

* I figured that I should try and use the appropriate citation method since I am, after all, citing the style guide.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Lincoln Chafee for Superdelegate

Do you think that there is any way to amend Democratic Party rules to make Lincoln Chafee a superdelegate?

Former GOP senator to endorse Obama

Found in Brooklyn

Is comment really necessary?

Gotta love the neighborhood! h/t Sociological Images: Seeing is Believing. Yes, seeing this is definitely believing.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The "Organization" of the Democratic Convention

I belong to no organized political party...I'm a Democrat!
-Will Rogers

Despite my best efforts to spend my time writing for my dissertation, I find my mind wandering to the Super Tuesday results from yesterday and what it might mean from both a political and sociological perspective come time for the Democratic National Convention in August. Part of this stems from a very contentious thread posted by hilzoy at Obsidian Wings. She argues that yesterday bodes well for Democrats as we approach the general election because there are two good candidates and turnout is incredibly high. No contentious arguments, she claims, will be able to overcome that momentum and give the Republicans the advantage in the general election.

This obviously brought out a good deal of discussion about who would do what if Clinton won the nomination and how she won it. This got be thinking, from an organizational point of view, what does the convention mean, then? How could all of the different scenarios play out and, what—if anything—would we expect from the outcomes. For my own mental clarity, here is what I see as the possibilities[1]:

  1. Scenario 1 (Best Case/Least Likely) Obama Wins Outright: Obama wins outright by a margin comfortable enough that he can a) overcome any disadvantage in superdelagates, b) allow the Michigan and Florida delegations to be seated (assuming all undeclared delegates go to Obama) and c) make Edwards' delegates a non factor. This would be a mandate and, while making for a boring convention (which might be supplied via a labor dispute, anyway), would unite the party and create a strong sense of momentum that will be hard to stop.

  2. Scenario 2: (Almost Best Case/Tied for Least Likely) Clinton Wins Outright: Clinton wins outright by a margin comfortable enough that she can a) overcome any difference in superdelagates, b) allow the Michigan and Florida delegations to be seated and c) make Edwards' delegates a non factor. This would be a mandate and, while making for a boring convention (which might be supplied via a labor dispute, anyway), would unite the party and create a strong sense of momentum that will be hard to stop. The difference between 1 & 2? My candidate didn't win. And, I think that there will be A LOT of anti-Clinton backlash that might help unite the Republicans and swing independent voters. This was made all the more obvious when I talked to two people I know very well who are politically are not extremely far removed from me, but will not vote for Clinton.

  3. Scenario 3 - (Decent Case/Highly Likely) Clinton Wins By Superdelegates: In this scenario, Clinton wins by picking up enough superdelegate votes to overcome the possibility that all of Edwards' delegates go to Obama without the need to seat the delegations from Florida and Michigan. As this scenario plays out, they would probably be seated anyway after it was obvious that Clinton was going to squeak by with the nomination without them and it would be a particularly classy move that could go a long way towards healing hard feelings of "insiders" (i.e. superdelegates) deciding the nomination if Obama personally makes the motion requesting that the two delegations be seated.

  4. Scenario 4 - (Very Bad Case/Very Unlikely): Obama, including Edwards' delegates and superdelegates, wins by enough of a margin that he beats Clinton, but not by enough that he can overcome the seating of the Michigan and Florida delegations. All candidates, including Clinton, honor the fact that these state parties broke the rules and the delegations are not seated and Obama takes a fractured nomination. This is likely to make Clinton's supporters very angry and create animosity in two key swing states between Democratic voters and the Democratic Party.

  5. Scenario 5 - (Worst Case/Somewhat Likely) Clinton "Steals" the Nomination with Michigan and Florida: In the worst of all possible scenarios, Clinton ends up getting the nomination by seating the delegates from Michigan and Florida after losing when the pledged delegates, superdelegates and Edwards' delegates have voted. This will leave a very bad taste in LOTS of people, causing many to refuse to vote, others (mainly independents) to vote Republican and giving the wingnut windbags like Limbaugh all kinds of ammunition against Clinton straight out of the gate.

I am not sure if this is all of the scenarios, feel free to add others. I am interested in an organizational point of view, how these scenarios get negotiated among the participants. From a political point of view, I think that it is going to become very obvious who has power in the Democratic Party and whether there is a foreshadowing of changes in the powerful players in the Party. From a sociological point of view, this presents a very interesting case study of what happens when rules are made by an elite membership in an organization where everyone is presumably fully knowledgeable and what happens when a wider audience then sees how those rules are (or, are not) upheld and what that means for legitimacy of both the organization and the actors themselves.

[1] In case it is not obvious from my past comments, I support Obama in this race.

Internet Priorities

I am sure that it was un-noticeable to most (but not all) readers of this blog that my hiatus over the past month has been especially long. Well, there is a good reason for that. As I both want to finish my dissertation and remain active in the world around me, only a certain amount of time can be devoted to my internet pursuits. A fair share of my self-alloted "internet time" over the past month and a half has been devoted to this project. While not completely finished, is largely done now.

For those who don't know why my name is "Mike3550", you'll be to find out why this is my screen name. For those who do know, I think that you might be interested in the site anyway.