Further Musings

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

Archive for May 2011

It’s Not about You

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Today’s column by David Brooks captures a lot of what I’ve been thinking about lately.  I think he’s right that devotion to an institution (a church, a workplace, a community, or a marriage) brings meaning, changes you, and enables you to create changes in life.  It’s a nice tonic to the individualism that is so ingrained in American character, especially during a graduation season that extolls a new graduate’s ability to make change singlehandedly in the world.

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May 31, 2011 at 8:27 am

Posted in Politics, Reflections

How many ways could they type it wrong?

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This week I’m editing data that undergraduates input last semester.  It’s tedious but necessary as each value has to be exactly right.  I had no idea how many different ways this one value could be mistyped.

replace industry = "Marble-work, tombstones" if industry == "Marble-work, tomnstones"
replace industry = "Marble-work, tombstones" if industry == "Marble work and tombstones"
replace industry = "Marble-work, tombstones" if industry == "Marble work, tombstones"
replace industry = "Marble-work, tombstones" if industry == "Marble work,tombstones"
replace industry = "Marble-work, tombstones" if industry == "Marble-work,tombstones"
replace industry = "Marble-work, tombstones" if industry == "Marble-work tombstones"
replace industry = "Marble-work, tombstones" if industry == "Marblework, tombstones"
replace industry = "Marble-work, tombstones" if industry == "Marble-work,tpmbstones"


Four thousand entries to check and standardize in this section. I’m in the M. With two more full sections to go. Sigh.

Written by furthermusings

May 23, 2011 at 4:13 pm

Posted in Political Science

In Praise of the Nasal Rinse!

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The Times an article reviewing some of the new science on sinus problems.  It ends with this:

The most effective first-line intervention, said Dr. Palmer, is nasal irrigation using a neti pot or saline irrigation bottle, which helps flush out mucus and any inflammatory bacteria or allergens in it. “If you took all the people who say they have chronic sinusitis in the world, and you put them all on nasal saline irrigations, a big proportion would not have any symptoms anymore,” he said.

I used to suffer several sinus infections a year.  Since I’ve started my daily saline rinse I’ve had narry a one.  Wonderful!

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May 16, 2011 at 9:36 am

The Right Stuff

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Last week, after my department declined to offer me a job, Charity and I debated hanging up my academic spurs and resuming my career as a policy analyst.  As we discussed the pros and cons, one of the biggest draws of working as a policy analyst was a chance to work in Washington DC with the best and the brightest of the policy world on policies that really make a difference in people’s lives.

As such, it was fortuitous that at night I was reading The Right Stuff, an insightful account of the Mercury Space program by Tom Wolfe.  Ostensibly, the book is about the Mercury Seven, as the astronauts were known, who were selected from amongst the military’s hottest test pilots and their journey into space.

But in reality Wolfe’s keen descriptions of the pilots’ inner worlds are the real topic of the book.  They saw themselves as people at the top of the ziggurat of their profession, one of the most dangerous, demanding, and (because of the Cold War) necessary jobs in the world.  Being at the top of their professional pyramid was evidence that they had the right stuff.  When they started flying as new recruits their colleagues were sent off to fly prop planes and they were off to fly jets.  At each separation point they moved on and up the career ladder and accrued more evidence of their own inevitable climb to the top.

What has been striking to me is that these men are one version of an archetype: fundamentally they are the same as Wall Street bankers, White House bureaucrats, successful politicians, musicians, or even R-1 academics.  To reach the top of these professions one has to have a rock solid belief in your own worthiness.  This belief in your own success enables you to put the effort in where others might not.  Each victory further confirms your belief that you are sharp enough, good looking enough, talented enough, and have enough moxie.  You know your hard work will be rewarded.  You belong at the top, in the inner circle.

Over the last eight years I’ve found that I have this desire to work at the highest levels (though not in academia).  I can have a virtually unshakable belief in my own abilities and my own ability to produce good outcomes in certain arenas.  When I look away from academia towards working in policy, one reason is that I truly believe that I have what it takes to be a top-flight policy analyst, to sort the wheat from the chaff, to enter the ring, take the bruises, and play the game with success.  At it’s most generous I have the desire to be truly excellent, to make a difference, and to serve in the job.  And in truth, I’m not tempted to be Machiavellian, to shove down another to get to the top.

It isn’t the work, the responsibility, or influence that is terrifying.  It is the tremendous personal output necessary when you are that important, to be able to succeed at the top of anyone of these careers.  Stories of the powerful often laced with the tremendous personal destruction that the powerful and ambitious are willing to incur to climb.  Divorces, alienated children and spouses, despised coworkers, the cultivation of an amazing arrogance abound.

It is sobering for me to think that, even knowing that, I’m still drawn to work in these places.  I’m tempted to make the trade-off.  Our pastor often says, no one says on their deathbed “I wish I had worked more.”  Working among with the best and brightest is so appealing that I don’t believe him.  I wonder, will I regret that I didn’t work hard enough to be a policy analyst?

Wolfe’s test pilots are an extreme case in that their work regularly destroyed them, literally.  Wolfe doesn’t dwell on it much, except for the first chapter, but the mortality rate of non-combat Navy pilots was 23% over a twenty year career.  For the test pilots this must have been worse.  Their wives and children at home lived within earshot of the base fire trucks that attended every emergency.  They lived in waking terror of the sight of two grave, black-clad men coming knocking on their front door in the hour after the sirens.  It is quite the vision of what an unbounded commitment to work can get you.  And its a reality that the men willingly chose.

It’s even more tragic in those who choose to try but don’t make it.  Maybe it’s lack of talent, maybe it’s lack of effort, maybe it’s just bad luck.  Whatever it is, it has been pretty horrific to watch over the last couple of years amongst my friends and coworkers.  They let their personal and spiritual lives burn away to pursue the dream . . . and reap none of the rewards.  Some pull away in time, but for many who I’m watching, they don’t.  It’s horrifying, as horrifying as the descriptions of the corpses littered across the first chapter of The Right Stuff.

As you can tell, I really liked this book and am profoundly grateful for the wisdom it has given me about my own desires and those of others.  Many of my friends harbor no such desires.  Some of them have suffered enough from those that have the Right Stuff enough to be nauseated by this kind of kind of culture.  For me, it articulated a vision of this archetype.  And that was it was certainly worth the read.

Written by furthermusings

May 14, 2011 at 7:28 am

Posted in Reflections, Reviews

Job Update: I’m a Paladin Now

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Over the last two years I’ve applied to 64 schools, had eight phone interviews, and came in second in three different searches.  Today that searching and wondering has ended (at least for next year and God willing for a long time).

I’ve accepted a one-year position at a small liberal arts school in South Carolina.  I’m very excited about the location, the classes I’m teaching, the coworkers, and the students.  There’s a decent chance it will turn into something longer term which would be very welcome.

It’s been a bittersweet week as Charity and I have come the decision to take this position.  On the one hand it’s a great school and literally a God-send, but on the other, we very much wanted to live more of life in Chapel Hill.  It’s been tremendously sad to face leaving our dear church and our friends here.

It’s been all the harder because even weeks ago we really believed that we would stay.  Three weeks ago we were out with a realtor looking at condos in the area.  But then the tenured faculty in my department voted in another candidate.  Through them God said no to staying here.

There has been a lot of grieving as we reconcile ourselves to not staying in our home of six years.  It’s hard to break the news to each new person.  There’s a teary silence for a minute as we both take in the new reality of how our lives are changed forever.

Yesterday and today I’ve been trying hard to say out loud the good things about where we are going.  This new reality involves both leaving and going.  I’m trying to talk more on the going: being in a great job near the mountains.  I think that helps.

See you all in Greenville?

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May 12, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Rejection Letter

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After receiving as many rejection letters from schools as I have over the last few years, writing a rejection letter to a school feels as good as advertised.

When a school contacted me today to let me know that I had the privilege of being considered for their position I really wanted to write the following

Dear School X,

Thank you for your interest in my application.  Your letter of interest was one of many inquiries I received from a talented pool of highly regarded schools.  While I was extremely impressed with your schools credentials (faculty, pay, and excellent student body) I regret to inform you that I have selected another school to work for next year.

Best of luck in your search.

Wasn’t quite that cheeky but it was still very fun!

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May 12, 2011 at 1:35 pm


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Graduation was yesterday.  Tis good to be hooded at last.

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May 8, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Posted in Political Science, UNC

NC House budget means at least 18,000 jobs eliminated

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I know you’re all reading this blog because you love to read about NC state politics.  Hope to post about more personal things soon.

That said, I can’t help noticing the news that the state budget put forward by the NC House of Representatives will eliminate at least 18,000 jobs (by the Republican estimates).  The Democratic Governor says 30,000 is closer.  That’s a lot of people without jobs July 1st.

Three questions to consider when evaluating if this was a good idea:

1) Were the people in these positions creating more value for society by teaching students, enforcing laws, or helping the mentally disabled than their salaries cost?

2) Were those jobs/services protecting the vulnerable in important ways that we value even if they aren’t productive?

3) Who gets more money in their pockets by having the lower taxes that these cuts allow?

Written by furthermusings

May 5, 2011 at 10:38 am

Posted in Politics

Keynes vs. Hayek: The Rematch

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Fabulous.  If you want some nicely done macroeconomics thrown at you this is the way to go.

Written by furthermusings

May 4, 2011 at 8:01 am