Further Musings

Beauty smote his heart, he looked up from the forsaken land & hope returned to him

Archive for October 2009

Oct 30 at a Research University

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I actually prefer to do all my journal readings while dressed as a gourd of some sort.


Written by furthermusings

October 30, 2009 at 10:17 am

Posted in Laughter, On the Job

Gang Leader for A Day

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gangleadercoverThis weekend I read Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh.  I originally heard about the book when I listened to one of the Freakonomics authors talk about why gang members live with their moms.

The book is the story of Sudhir’s dissertation research which took place the Robert Taylor Homes, one of the worst housing projects in the country, during the late 1980s at the height of the crack epidemic.

Sudhir, an Indian American graduate student, begins his journey into the slums in a rather strange way.  A professor at the University of Chicago (where he is a grad student) asks him to survey young black men.  Sudhir, being a good graduate student, looks at the US Census for zipcodes with high numbers of 18-25 year old black men.  What-ya-know?  There’s one just a few miles away.

Sudhir shows up, skirts past some very scary looking people in the lobby, and soon finds himself in a stairway, held at knife point, while gang members debate whether he’s Hispanic or an “Ay-rab.”   After meekly protesting that he’s a student doing research for the university the leader shoves Sudhir’s clipboard in his face and demands, “read us a question.”  Sudhir complies and reads the first question off the questionnaire:

“How does it feel to be black and poor? Very bad, somewhat bad, neither bad nor good somewhat good, or very good.”


Thankfully one of the gang leaders, J.T., comes by and lets Sudhir off the hook.  Sudhir goes home, thinks about his experience, and comes back the next day asking if he can continue to hang out with the gang.

Sudhir acknowledges his own motivations: in addition to his natural curiosity, the chance to befriend a gang leader and observe the gang from the inside is a professional opportunity that made him the star sociology professor he is today.

Overall I thought the book was good.  It was an insiders look at one of the harshest places one can live in America.   The level of corruption, violence and drug use was stunning.  Sudhir does a nice job of profiling social patterns of the powerful and the powerless within the gang’s three building kingdom.  The Robert Taylor Homes in the late 1980s were as close to living in a failed state as you can get in America, complete with warlords collecting taxes from their prostitutes.   With his experiences in hand he lands an Ivy League job and his academic work is by all accounts a fantastic explanation and description of what the economy of the urban poor is like.

In the end though, I came away from the book feeling dissatisfied.  I came looking to learn and looking to be moved and engaged.  I did learn a lot and I was engaged by the plot and the politics, but Venkatesh, for his skill as documentarian of ghetto life, lacked the turn of phrase and the emotional engagement to make me care what becomes of him or of the people he meets.  And so I came away from the book still hungry instead of full.

Written by furthermusings

October 28, 2009 at 9:08 pm

Posted in Reviews

What Dentists are Like in North Carolina

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On this day I am very thankful for my dentist who is kind, conservative, and reassuring. I’d recommend him to anyone.

I also really like it that he has all Sports Illustrated covers featuring UNC basketball framed and prominently displayed in the entry hallway and that all the Duke SI covers are prominently framed and displayed in the bathroom.

Let’s hope Coach K has a different dentist.

Gotta love it.

Written by furthermusings

October 27, 2009 at 1:05 pm

Posted in Laughter, UNC

Guerrilla Art

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Each day I leave the building where my office is (which is too ugly to show pictures of) and walk across the sidewalk to this building where my computer lab awaits me.  Its a place where the hum of the florescent lights and dual screen monitors is covered over by the roar of the air changer and click click click of graduate students typing into their statistical packages.


Each day as the chipmunks scurry away at the sight of me approaching I see this little bit of graffiti on the corner of the building and I’m grateful that it’s there.   I like that it’s unassuming.  I like that the boy looks thoughtful and out of place in his military garb.  I like that it’s stuck behind an ugly, loud piece of AC equipment.  I think it reminds me that there are interesting things happening in unremarkable places.


Written by furthermusings

October 26, 2009 at 7:43 pm

Posted in UNC

The Unlikely Disciple

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Over the weekend I read The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose.  It’s the story of a Brown University student who decides to take his study abroad semester at Liberty University, a very observant, conservative Christian college in Virginia founded by the late Jerry Falwell.

I really liked the book.  I think that Roose does a great job of giving Liberty a fair shake.  He brings a lot of nuance and depth to the Liberty experience.  I came out of the book with a higher opinion of Liberty than I did before reading it.

The author isn’t a Christian and knows very little about Christian culture so the book is a lot about him learning about how conservative Christians live at Liberty.  There are some funny moments, especially when he shows up the first day in penny loafers and khakis; he gets a lot of strange looks.

As an author Roose is very self conscious about what he’s experiencing and how he feels about it.  What does he think of praying?  of dating without kissing?  of talking to strangers about Jesus?  Roose does a nice job of articulating what he believes, how Liberty students live, and how he experiences the dissonance.  I admire his intellectual and emotional honesty in the book.

With his honest reflections and self criticism the book is a long way from being a holier-than-though rant about the terrible Christian conservatives.  Instead it’s a funny, thoughtful, interesting and easy read which juxtaposes the culture of the politically liberal, Ivy league, nominal Quaker author with his mostly conservative, very orthodox, Liberty friends.   As someone who has known folks at Brown and folks at conservative Christian schools, it was a good read.

Written by furthermusings

October 23, 2009 at 11:06 am

Posted in Reviews

Just How Relevant Is Political Science?

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From the NYTimes.

Even some of the most vehement critics of Senator Tom Coburn’s proposal to prohibit federal funding of political science projects acknowledge that scholars themselves are vigorously debating the field’s direction.

It’s not often we make the news.  It’s nice to know that other people wonder about the value of political science research and not just graduate students.

Written by furthermusings

October 21, 2009 at 10:04 am

Posted in Political Science

You and Me and A Bag of Wendys.

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Two friends had an unusual one year wedding celebration.  Some of the best pictures I’ve ever seen. It’s a shame what happened to the dress but what a way to go!

For their wedding Drew wrote a song about sharing Wendys together.  Continuation of a theme eh?!

Written by furthermusings

October 15, 2009 at 4:05 pm

Posted in Church, Pictures