a seat at the (conference) table

Part of being a good institutional citizen of your school/university is attending paper talks. No, not just those free food ones sponsored by this and that student org or law firm. Go to those too, although you will get sick of pizza. If you are the type that goes just to get food but not from interest, well, that’s a little mercenary of you, but who am I to parse and judge motives?

No, I am talking about the true test of intellectual interest and commitment: the brown bag paper talk. Like, you bring your own lunch and listen to people talk about their work, and ask questions.

Continue reading “a seat at the (conference) table”


I went to the dentist today. My tendencies toward the melodramatic can catch people who don’t know me off guard, and so perhaps I should not have answered the question on the intake form “How do you feel about your smile?” by writing “Ick. It makes me unlovable.” Regarding my sociology-infamous bottom front teeth, the dentist asked me if I had ever contemplated braces. I told him that my parents had not been eager to spend their money on that when I was growing up (and I didn’t especially push them), and then I went through college and graduate school without any money to spring for it myself, and then by the time I was in a position where I had money, I felt too old. “You’re under 60. Anything under 60 is not too old,” he said.

Still, getting braces would seem just to further my suspicion that I am in the throes of the lamest midlife crisis ever. Worse than buying a large TV and starting to have opinions about American Idol. Worse even than if I had followed through with the urgings of a certain unsavory friend and gotten a mobius strip tattoo. Maybe I should just shell out now and buy a hot new Camry.

BTW, my dentist’s name is Doctor Dong, but I will pass on making any of the several million jokes that practically blog themselves about that. He’s in practice by himself, and his office, in its entirety, is smaller than my living room.

culture, style, race, pain

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my UCC church asked me to lead “conversations about race” I described the first week in my earlier post.  The second week I did a short version of my presentation on race and criminal justice.  Today I began by showing clips of Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s sermons, first a clip from  ABC news “exposing” Wright (the clip starts with a commercial you cannot avoid) and then a six minute clip from the 2003 sermon which places the “God Damn America” line in its context in the sermon, which is about how nations come and go and don’t always follow God’s law, but God’s law endures.*   We are a pretty liberal congregation and folks mostly laughed and enjoyed Wright’s political references, as well as saying they appreciated the way the sermon had clearly been planned and was making a point about history.  I mentioned why some people objected to the sermon in web comments, even in its longer context, stressing both its political content (as many Whites are unaware of the long tradition of political commentary from Black pulpits) and its “angry” tone, and mentioned that this difference in cultural style is a really big problem.  I also commented that there is a similar problem on the other end, with typical Asian interactional styles being considered by many Whites to be too polite and reserved and not assertive enough.

In response, one White woman said that Wright’s angry tone bothered her and she worried about its lack of “solutions” would that just incite racial animosity.  Then the one Black participant (the same one from last week; everyone else was White) said that Wright was not angry, that he was just expressing himself passionately and forcefully.  She elaborated on this point, talking about her own style and about Black mothers who come in to talk about their children and the White teachers code them as angry when they are just being assertive.  She said, “If I’m angry, you’ll know it.”  (Not saying I’m some kind of cosmopolitan, but based on my experience, the Black woman’s style was on the very mild and soft-spoken end of the range of Black expression I’m familiar with –  well within the range of how I would express myself – and I coded her as warmly and compassionately making the effort to explain a standpoint.)   Then the White woman said that the Black woman sounded angry and aggressive to her, and that she was bothered because the Black woman had interrupted her to make the point, and that the expression “If I’m angry, you’ll know it” sounded like a threat to her.   Continue reading “culture, style, race, pain”

dispatch from st louis

In the airport, on a layover on my flight back from New Orleans.  This counts for Missouri for my record of states from which I’ve blogged.  Missouri has heretofore been a monkey on the back of my intermittent quest, as it was the only state I had been in since starting blogging that I had not posted from (although this photo of me and my mom in this post is from that trip).

Next year’s PAA is in Detroit.  Not quite on par with NOLA as a place to visit, except for those interested in disaster tourism.

Demography’s PAA wasn’t the only PAA meeting this weekend, as there was also some kind of Pirate Association of America convention at a nearby hotel.  (Riddle: What’s a pirate’s favorite statistical software package?) All these people were walking around in extremely elaborate pirate outfits.  Quoth someone I was walking with, “These pirate people really go all the way out.”  As if someone is going to fly in for a pirate convention and only dress with a paper Long John Silver’s hat and a puffy shirt.  I don’t know if the pirate convention and population research convention will be the same weekend next year, but I suspect the pirates won’t be going to Detroit anyway.

downed by the dishes

I’m out in sunny California, checking in on my folks and giving my sister a break from caregiving. Things here are much less chaotic than my last visit, when my mom was in a car accident. She’s much better now, and Mom & Dad have caregivers who drop by every day for cooking, laundry and errand running. It’s all working out very nicely, although my sister is on constant call, and my folks keep everyone on their toes with the sort of shenanigans that only those with dementia can think up.

I was so proud of myself flying out, letting my sister get a little vacation in, and taking over from the caregivers for a week. Knowing that I should let my folks keep as much independence as possible, I was happy to let my dad pitch in with the chores. But, it seems that last night, there were just too many dishes in the sink. Continue reading “downed by the dishes”

i never know what to do here

Part of why I don’t blog here enough is that I never know what to say. Jeremy encourages me to do whatever I want, which is great. But I don’t know what I want to do on other peopl’s blogs. On my blog, I have a devil-may-care flippant attitude, posting up poetry, Youtube videos, book/article critiques, and discussions of legal pedagogy.  I toy dangerously with my veil of pseudonymity.  I am the Rogue (Aspiring) Law Professor.

Continue reading “i never know what to do here”

the social psychology of elevators


Check out this great article by Nick Paumgarten in the New Yorker on the history, future, and social psychology of elevators:

Passengers seem to know instinctively how to arrange themselves in an elevator. Two strangers will gravitate to the back corners, a third will stand by the door, at an isosceles remove, until a fourth comes in, at which point passengers three and four will spread toward the front corners, making room, in the center, for a fifth, and so on, like the dots on a die. With each additional passenger, the bodies shift, slotting into the open spaces. The goal, of course, is to maintain (but not too conspicuously) maximum distance and to counteract unwanted intimacies—a code familiar (to half the population) from the urinal bank and (to them and all the rest) from the subway. One should face front. Look up, down, or, if you must, straight ahead.

Continue reading “the social psychology of elevators”

from the library

I’m doing a bit of work in the public library of my youth, where I haven’t been for about 20 years. Two improvements to note: free wifi and a set of computers where the card catalog used to be. Other than that, absolutely everything is the same, from the pink carpet to the pink walls to the furniture. To its credit, the California Modern design holds up well over time. And for whatever reason, wooden chairs really are more comfortable if there is a little bum-shaped space scooped out of the seat.

unanticipated nocturnal sequelae of departmental service obligations

Nothing in the world is as boring as hearing about other people’s dreams, I know, but: I’ve heard many academics report having a dream where they are in front of their class with nothing to talk about, or the subject of the class turns out to be something other than what they’ve prepared, or the audience is ferocious in ways they had not anticipated, etc..  I’ve never had a dream in this genre that I remember.  However, I woke up at 4am having had this terrifying nightmare about… being on the graduate admissions committee.  The dream took place several years in the future, and a colleague who was on the committee and I were being stalked by a student who we had admitted and who had decided graduate school had been a complete waste of several years of their life and was now out for revenge.

(Not any of the actual students we admitted, mind you, but a mysterious woman named “Martha.”  I don’t know any Marthas in sociology, but now I will be keeping a wary eye out for one.)

dispatch from new orleans

Two things I’ve been thinking lately are that I need to be more disciplined about my diet and my finances.  So here I am with a sundae that, with delivery charges and gratuity, cost me upwards of $20.  Never is my will so weak than in the face of room service.

Word already at PAA is that there at least one university out there where Sal is a sociology celebrity with graduate students who follow him as a recurring character on this blog.  You will be pleased to know that he is fine, and also that he has taken to veganism and wearing a distinctive hat.

I went to New Orleans in high school, for our National Honor Society class trip.  We walked on Bourbon Street.  I don’t know if it was as sex-oriented back then and I was just to provincial to notice, or if this has been a post-Katrina or otherwise more recent development.  The restaurant where we had dinner was next to the Hustler Magazine Hollywood Club.  Then, two blocks down the street, was another Hustler Magazine Club.  And a large advertisement for something called the Barely Legal Club.  I suspect it’s not the sort of club you walk into to find people bragging about how they’ve been out driving 54.9 miles per hour on the highway.

(BTW, this post counts for adding Louisiana to the list of states from which I’ve blogged.)

‘the day i quit’

So Shamus’s last post had me thinking about what would be a statement “The day [X happens] is the day I quit” that would actually be, in my case, true. I was surprised at what a complete blank this was for me, especially when I confronted the idea, “Really? Quit over that? Like, quit that day?” Contra Shamus, merely having students with concealed weaponry would not do it. Or, for instance, if I had to teach wearing some kind of degrading hat, like the giant foam crabs I remember servers wearing once when I was at Red Lobster, I would complain to no end and yet still suck it up and find a way to keep the paychecks a-comin’.

It was easier to answer questions like “The day [X happens] is the day I start making inquiries about other jobs” or “The day [X happens] is the day I decide I’m just focusing on my teaching from now on” or “The day [X happens] is the day I stop attending faculty meetings.”

BTW, off to New Orleans tomorrow for PAA, the annual meetings for demographers. I had a male graduate student at another university tell me awhile back that women he met at parties were more impressed when he identified himself as a “demographer” than as a “sociologist.” Even so, and despite still having an affiliation with a Center for Demography of Health and Aging, I do not identify myself as a demographer.  Then again, I don’t really identify myself as “a sociologist,” either, or at least not without any of various qualifications.