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.


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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?!

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October 15, 2009 at 4:05 pm

Posted in Church, Pictures

Why You have a Practice Interview

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Question:  So have you been to our part of Kentucky?

Answer: I’ve driven through Kentucky on my way to Chicago but have never gotten off the interstate.  However it looks very beautiful from the I-75.

* * * *

I think I’ll strike that line from the actual interview.

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October 9, 2009 at 11:34 am

Posted in Laughter

A Page from My Journal or Thinking about Leaving

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It’s nearly 11:30 on this Wednesday night.  Charity is asleep and the tick-tock of the clock is mixing with the crickets and the light traffic noise coming in through the windows.  Tonight I’m posting a bit of my journal.  I don’t usually do so, but it says some stuff I’ve wanted to blog about.  Just FYI this one takes a while to read.

Much love to all,


* * * *

October 2nd, 2009

It’s a Friday night and while Charity is over at the C’s and Dad is rolling down I-40 towards Chapel Hill I’m home with a headache . . . one that’s been with me all day.

This week has been quite the week.  Charity and I have both been sick and that has left us with little sleep, possibly the least for me in years, though much of that sleeplessness is really a function of school stress or rather . . . placement stress.  I wanted to write a bit about this because, God willing, this will be the last time that work will generate this much insecurity.  I doubt I’ll forget; the job market is an emotional roller unlike any other I’ve been on.

Whew . . . how to capture the emotions of the job market?  . . . Name the schools perhaps?  A prestigious liberal arts school in the southeast.  A lovely New England state school.  Small Maine private schools nestled in the mountains and on the coast.  Small private colleges in the Pacific Northwest.  Big publics.  An Ivy.  All of these places with their geographies, missions, and students.  Each has churches, parks, and housing markets.  Each of these places has swept us up in a rush of emotion, and of hope, and of fear.  Each peek down a possible future fills me with excitement, and with sorrow . . . sorrow to leave Chapel Hill.  The process is especially sobering given that two of our friends, S & J, just accepted a three year post-doc in South Africa, and that feels like a little more of our community is leaving . . . because it is.

Today, and yesterday, after a request for a phone interview, I’ve peaked down what life might look like at the liberal arts school in the southeast.   Particularly I’ve wondered what it would be like not to worry about publishing, about loving my job, about being free to learn as I’d like to, about living a small life on a bit of property in a slightly southern spot.  It’s quite the vision.  It’s also fairly disorienting to think about missing much of the rat-race that six years of graduate school has taught me is important.  Amazingly, I think I’d be wistful at least about not writing articles w/ T, T, and E . . . bagging the big game of the profession.  This process of job hunting is amazing in its ability to reveal what it is you care about.  Would I take this liberal arts job, if offered, without knowing anything else about the market?  I think I might.

The process of looking for academic jobs has also been an amazing revelation about my ability not to worry.  Today I’ve been jacked up about the liberal arts job, but more often I’m on edge about the New England state school job.  My jaw clenches.  My adrenaline rushes.  I sit bolt upright and a driving baseline pounds through my head all hours of the day and into the night.

And I can’t stop.

The commandment: do not worry, is one that I cannot keep.  And I am humbled by my absolute inability to obey these three words.  Today I have born the burden of my worry as my sleeplessness has left me exhausted, nauseous, and with a splitting headache.

Some things help.  I find that reading helps order my thoughts some.  As does listening to HEM & this writing & this lovely cup of peppermint tea.  And once I’m settled enough to pray, that helps as well.

I think, somewhat often, that these are unique times in my life . . . all the possibility, so little of the actuality . . . such a breadth places we could end up.  We currently have no kids.  And for the time remaining we live in Chapel Hill, a hub of my life, in a place where I love being connected to state and to the cities: H’ville, Asheville, Chapel Hill, Raleigh, state politics, local politics and the students I see from towns that I know.  It all makes me feel so connected and I wonder when or if I’ll ever feel this way again.  Thirty years ago I stood (or crawled probably) in this very room that I’m writing in now.  To leave will mean thirty more years before I can have this same feeling of connectedness.  And at the end of that thirty years, instead of being in one state for sixty, it will be thirty per, Lord granting I live that long.

I’m sad to face the prospect of leaving the Old North State.  As a child I molded a relief map of it with my hands.  I’ve learned in her schools.  I’ve served in her legislature.  I’m nostalgic . . . and yet there is a small school outside of Charlotte that I’m unwilling to apply to.  I love NC as a whole, and some parts particularly, but it’s jarring to me to see so plainly that I’m unwilling to sacrifice my job to stay.

And more soberingly, I’m willing to leave this particular place with B, R, and M; Tim, A, and I; Steve, J, A, and K: these three permanent families.  I see the rest of Chapel Hill as non-permanent and so the thought of leaving them is less wrenching because I know they will leave as well.  With my dear friends the C’s gone to MA, Chapel Hill is full of ghosts to me anyway: empty seats at church and familiar houses filled with strangers.  Many more people are leaving this year.  Everyone blurs together: the people coming feel as ephemeral as those that are leaving; people coming and people getting ready to leave.

So that’s me on this Friday evening in October: a mix of melancholy, excitement, anxiousness, thankfulness and sorrow.  Amazed by my plantedness here even as I feel my roots snapping as I am pulled from this ground.

In all of this I wonder what God has in store for us.  Where will He put us?  I keep thinking about Philippians 2:3-4.  What does it mean to look after the interests of others in an academic job hunt, especially as I think about snapping all of these roots.  Can I frame this as going to be a light and a servant and an ambassador?

Alright.  Those are my thoughts.

With much affection.


Written by furthermusings

October 7, 2009 at 10:33 pm

Posted in Reflections

U2 was Wonderful

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The tour has a massive set with an elevated walkway encompassing a large section of the crowd that the band can tour around on.  We were inside the circle and on the outer rail, just where you see the plume of smoke on the left.  It was great to not feel crushed in.  Never shook hands with Bono but it was a great show.


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October 3, 2009 at 11:42 pm