Promoting your work as a new scholar

I got tagged on a Twitter thread, and since I hadn’t thought about it for awhile, I didn’t have anything intelligent to say about it.

Anyway, how to promote your work as a new scholar. There are several ways to go forward, and some of these strategies will suit you better than others.

1. Write well in the first place about important problems. This is here the gold standard, and it’s very hard to live up to that every time, so we have some corollaries, including what I call the “George Harrison” strategy.

Some things do not need a lot of explanation. Good writing on important urban topics is a pleasure to read, even for busy people. We remember and appreciate it when we get it.

Now, not every paper is a major contribution paper, and I don’t think it’s a great idea to swing for the fences every time you go up to bat. Until you get some experience, it’s hard to know what is major and minor. Do your best, try to get help from mentors, etc.

The good news is that I can say without reservation that even work that isn’t all-that is better circulated than not. Maybe I am weird, but if I have somebody who sends me a badly written paper on something, I will *at least* register the thought “oh, so-and-so is working on topic X”. This is useful in a couple ways:

a) it means I might return to the paper to cite it, even if it is poorly written, if when I do slog through it, it has good social science work in it; I also might note to somebody else “oh, hey, so-and-so is working on topic X.”

Both of these are solid doubles in self-promotion.

b) it’s enough for me to see somebody’s name cross my desk frequently enough with journal articles. This is a solid single. (Sorry for the sports analogies, but this seems to be what I have this morning.) Even if I don’t know what your specific contributions are, it’s good to have established scholars thinking “Boy, so-and-so is productive.”

Ok, so now for the Freakonomics and Un-named Urban Scholar problem: status-quo reinforcing bon-bons written up in a click-bait style of “oh, there’s a new science of the city and you won’t believe what it finds!” way. And then it’s some puff piece about predicting fuel consumption and emissions. One thing is for sure: it’s not upsetting in any way to anybody in power.

I may be in the minority on this, but I am willing to put up with some of this if there is good, solid scholarship elsewhere in your record. If this is all you produce, you will honestly probably do fine in today’s world where superficial treatments of every topic are very, very popular for everybody: audiences who don’t like to think; journalists who don’t like to do any work understanding difficult analyses (sorry, there are great journalists out there, but all of us know there are lazy ones, too); journals that are hoping for something a little different to boost up the eyeballs on them; deans/provosts who are happy to have press attention but not the type that makes their usually conservative business donors squinky; and students who like to rub elbows with star proffies.

As a matter of research ethics, however, I suggest new scholars, who have to exist in the world I just described, try what I call the “George Harrison” approach. Harrison’s solo albums tended to be cerebral and full of music that wasn’t really radio-friendly. Whether it was good, hell, I dunno. But he usually had one radio-friendly one on there to get people listening and paying attention. “I’ve Got My Mind Set On You” I swear has only six words and 1 chord in it, but it paid the bills for and carried a lot of the rest of the work into the mainstream. Do one for “Them” as they say, then do a bunch of work you think truly matters whether anybody is willing to look at it or not. And then do another one for “Them.”

Just be careful with what you choose to simplify. This is not an easy strategy and you can really hurt people by over-simplifying policy or planning.

2. Engage with established scholars online. You will certainly gain followers if you snark at them, but it’s probably not worth it. But many, many scholars do have Twitter accounts, and while they may ignore you, many of us are simply, captivated by interesting ideas. “Hey, ImportantScholarBob, do you have any book recommendations to read now that I am done with your book? What are you reading these days?” It’s sucking up and we all know it, but it’s still kind of nice and there are lots of genuine interactions you can have with people without necessarily gushing or going overboard.

3. Networks upwards. You all know this already. This is very hard because many established scholars are jerks about it. Nonetheless, I have colleagues who are great at this. If there is a Famous Scholar(TM) anywhere in the world, she will find a way to get to know them, charm them, and leave them worshipping at her feet.

I can’t. I am weird and awkward and in general, nobody wants lumpen me pushing myself into their lives. My homely appearance and awkwardness mean pretty much that only the academics with the biggest hearts wanted to mentor me when I was young. And I am also dreadfully, dreadfully shy. So if you come and hit me up at conference, I can sound super-unfriendly when really I am just overwhelmed and want to cry. This is one reason why chatting with me online is not a bad idea. IRL I am a generous person and I like to help people. I just have real problems with face-to-face interactions unless you happen upon me on a really good day.

If you can do this one, though, good on you. Managing up is a job skill.

4. Ask your advisors and mentors to circulate things for you, or ask them if they would let you guest blog on their platform. Or whether they might be willing to introduce you to somebody at a major online outlet or Op-Ed editor who might be willing to let you write for them. (This will mean your best writing.)

I’m always amazed that my students blow me off when I ask them if they want to guest blog here. I know not everybody reads everything I put up here, but I have quite a few subscribers. Every bit counts.

5. Use your university PR people for what they are there for. These folks are hungry for well-written content, and if you publish something interesting and can talk about it in human terms, most PR people at universities will be happy to help you put together and circulate press releases.

6. You can use the money in your faculty account to purchase services from a publicist. I won’t tell. I have colleagues who use publicists, and the strategy has worked very well for them. I’ve not done so (yet), so I don’t really know how it all works, but publicists stay in business for a reason, and that reason is they do what they say they can. They are very likely to help you get agents, and trust me, I’m pretty sure NOTHING is more satisfying to your ego that being able to say in response to an invitation “You’ll need to check with my agent.”

(yech. but again, you didn’t make this rotten world, you are just tryna live in it.)

7. Ask your dean or chair for resources to do some of these things. I’m not into bullshitting. Like everything in the academy, privilege favors people in self-promotion: Men over women, pretty people over homely people, white people over everybody else, etc etc.

And absolutely. It’s way easier to get media attention if you study and work in a place with large media outlets. Geographic privilege works in that manner, too.

It’s a lot easier to have a publicist if you have money, and it’s a lot easier to use whatever research allowance you get from the university if a) you get one and b) you don’t have to use to fund travel, students, etc.

But if you have a book coming out, it’s not like this happens every other month. Asking your dean or chair for a little money to promote the book is a reasonable thing to ask. They will probably say no but you won’t know that unless you ask. If they do say no, they likely will feel a little bad and maybe offer to do something else or get you something else, and that’s often better than nothing.

Good luck, friends.

USC has a new online executive master’s degree in urban planning

My colleague, and the chair of my department, Marlon Boarnet, killed himself getting this done, so the least I can do is get the word out.

Check it out here.

Marlon writes:

The EMUP is aimed at persons with five to seven years of work experience at the intersection of urban planning and real estate development, and for persons who see their future career at that intersection. It is an executive degree, designed for mid-career professionals. We are offering the degree in an online environment, available to working professionals anywhere in the world.

We will maintain a clear distinction between the executive degree and our on-campus Master of Planning. The MPL remains our flagship degree, and is the only degree that provides a full introduction to urban planning and that is open to students with a broad range of work experience. With the executive degree, we are expanding our education to an audience that we did not previously reach.

I will teaching urban informatics in the program along with, I really hope, Hunter Owens, one of LA’s young stars in the field. We haven’t figured out if Hunter is going to have time, but I really really hope it works out because he’s got a great handle on the challenges, he’s funny and will be engaging, and has the right values we’d like to convey about informatics to people in the program (i.e., this is a great tool, and it’s very cool, but it’s only a tool and human beings are still responsible for their analyses and how they use data, big or small.)

Elegy for a false prophet

Attention conservation notice: I am grieving for everybody, including people whom I don’t know and who did terrible things.

As some of you may know, we’ve had a number of hard losses this summer, including my mother-in-law. I’ve also been rottenly sick with bronchitis. I felt bad for about a week, but I am having trouble shaking this dratted cough. I am not a particularly social person anyway, and when I do go out to see people I prefer not to sound like Mimi during the last act of La Boheme. The coughing is so bad that I’ve strained back and stomach muscles, which might be because I normally tend to use those only in emergencies, like trying to save a donut I’ve dropped before it hits the ground.

This is by way of saying I’m not doing any damn work, and I’m emotionally in a weird spot, and these things may explain why I found myself sad on Friday when I encountered the following headline:

Aum Shinrikyo cult leaders executed.

The cult’s deadliest attack occurred in March 25, when members of the cult left bags of sarin on the Tokyo subway. They killed 13 people and injured hundreds of others, including blindness and paralysis. In subsequent months, other members tried to release hydrogen cyanide multiple times on trains, but they were caught before they could do so.

It’s hard to overstate the viciousness of the act: sarin or cyanide are terrible, painful toxins, which is one reason why the evidence that Assad has used sarin is so troubling. The human misery the cultists caused with these toxins is incalculable.

Which, for many, means they easily the meet the bar for the death penalty. I can’t go there, and the news of the execution on Friday has put me into a inexplicable funk that I still have. Why the hell would you grieve people who did such terrible things? It doesn’t help that proponents of the death penalty often treat any grief you feel for the executed as indifference felt for the victim. I can, however, feel grief for both at the same time. It’s too easy a rhetorical device, however, for people to lay off it, so that those of us who do not support the death penalty have to deal with people framing us as, somehow, pro-John Wayne Gary, instead of what we are: unwilling to have the state going around killing people.

I think what sticks here is the evangelical impulse behind the actions. The cult itself focussed on the apocalyptic material from Christianity. They convinced themselves the end of the world was coming and that anybody alive, who wasn’t in the cult, when armageddon came would go to hell. They thought, by killing, they would save people from eternal damnation. The cult has, according to online reports, an international following with tens of thousands of followers. It’s like mini-Inquisition, modernized.

They didn’t kill for profit or self-interest. They killed for fucked up reasons of their own. I know “they meant well” is hardly exculpatory, but still. How did they get to that point?

In 1995, I was in my master’s program. There was Waco. For some reason, this particular event has lodged in my mind, stayed with me, and tempered how I thought about transit security. My fellow planners assured me that cities were safe ‘because of eyes on the street.’ Sarin destroys eyes, and for people thinking along these lines, the more eyes the better.

Back then, I truly wanted to understand what motivated other people to the do the things they do, how they can get to a point where they genuinely believe that they must kill. I still do wish I knew.

But age has taught me that there is very little chance I’m going to understand others to my satisfaction. Every one of us is, to some degree, a mystery. Perhaps psychologists understand it and I just haven’t read the right things.

Japan apparently does not give any prior notice on executions, but they let the media know when it is done. Those on death row usually only know a few hours ahead of time when the time has been set.

Is that better or worse than knowing months ahead of time? I can’t imagine.

This last Friday, they executed seven members of the cult, including the leader, Shoko Asahara, by hanging. Is that better or worse than any of the methods we use in the US? Again, I don’t know. It’s such a terrible specter, the image of human beings hanging.

As an animal rescuer, I hate the 4th of July

I am finally back in LA, still sick from bronchitis, but ready to head into the worst time of the year for rescuing. Most people know that animals are afraid of fireworks, and I don’t get why we continue to use the loud ones knowing that. I’ve hated noisy fireworks since I was a little kid, and I’m pretty sure plenty of other kids are overwhelmed, too.

What most people don’t see are the additional things. In addition many animals getting lost because they run in fear from our stupid fireworks, June/July

1) are terrible months for adoptions. We get very few inquiries for the animals we already have waiting to be adopted. Families are moving, people are going on vacay, and if they plan to adopt an animal, they likely plan to do so after their summer plans are over.

2) By the same logic, people who are thinking about dumping their old dogs in the shelter do so right before the fourth because of vacations, fourth of July celebrations, etc. Older dogs pose extreme problems for rescues. Some really great rescues specialize old dogs, and that’s great, but they can’t take them all. For the rest of us, adopters willing to take old dogs are few and far between, and we usually wind up keeping them for the rest of their lives.

Rescuing animals is to no small degree an inventorying and logistics problem. Rescues provide foster space to supplement that found in animal shelters. When the animals do not get adopted, they take up foster room. With old animals, rescues face an agonizing choice: if they use their room for older animals, they might not be able to accommodate the younger dogs that have a better chance at adoption. But if rescues do not take older dogs, these old dogs, often very dear, are very likely to die in shelters. We know if we leave them, we are issuing a death sentence, and that’s agony to most rescuers.

Those of you who adopt older dogs are gems, plain and simple.

So in addition to overloading our fosters and ourselves, rescues have this last, lovely bit:

3) inevitably, some drunk fuckwit decides it would HI-LAR-IOUS to attach fireworks to their dog. FUN FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY. Except, of course, for the dog, who is both terrified of the noise anyway and, once the deed is done, has either died miserably and painfully from the explosion, or is left with third degree burns and large portions flesh blow away.

Fun for the whole family, except a dog that only wanted to be loved and included. And rescuers’ Fboo feeds gets to be filled with story after story like this, designed to haunt us for days afterward.

So yeah, if you should encounter any genius who decides they want to do this to the family pet, please encourage them to do the following (test instructions for men, granted that, sorry, it’s usually them):

  • pull down own trousers;
  • attach firework of choice to one’s own scrotum; and
  • enjoy fun for the whole family!

Seriously. Doesn’t all this sound fun, fun, fun?

Here’s a picture of little Betty White to make you smile after an unhappy post. We just picked up her from a Good Samaritan, who found her wandering alone in Echo Park. She’s a dear little senior, in a bad way after being a stray, but still lots of love to give.

IMG 1348

Ok, I am clearly not getting to the right places for why people are upset/worried/excited about scooters

Andy and I headed up the coast this week, going from Venice to Pismo Beach, Pismo Beach to Monterrey/Marina, and landing finally in San Francisco.

Each day, in each location, I’ve seen one, maybe two scooters. What’s the deal? Am I not sampling the right locations? In SF I’m staying on Embarcadaro. I’d assume that would be a likely local. I’ve been sketching at the park across from my hotel for a couple hours every day, and I’ve hardly seen any.

Am I reading the media reports of this wrong? Do I just have too many haterz/loverz in my feed? Looking for them in the wrong spots? Or am I just not getting lucky?

White supremacy playbook: the law is for you, not for me

The law, the law, the law is the law.

Anybody who thinks the law is the law has never, ever studied law.

We dispense with this simple-minded approach to governance in my justice class the first day, in which we discuss the differences between law and justice. The readings we use include some of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s writing, Plato’s Crito, and Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, perhaps the last word on the subject we need. This distinction between law and justice is an important one not just for those who would study law, but for public administrators as well. As Donald Trump’s Zero Tolerance (blergh) policy demonstrates, bureaucratic discretion can be a big deal in the hands of a people who don’t feel constrained by norms or prior practices. Or decency.

We’ve had a little army of Donald Trump’s worshippers explaining to us liberals, with our faux outrage about separating parents and children, I mean child actors, that none of this atrocity would have happened had Their Parents Not Broken THE LAW.

My brother, who has grown into a kind gentleman despite what I am about to relate to you, used to take my own hand and hit me with it and say “Stop hitting yourself! Stop hitting yourself!”

Power sets up the rules, controls the situation, and then blames the powerless for the wrongs power enacts.

These people set a toe over the border. For that, they can have their children taken away to be watched by whomever wherever. It’s an atrocity, plain and simple, and no, it was not Obama’s policy. (Obama’s administration, again using discretion, used family detention, and while it stunk, too, it’s not the same.) First-time border crossing is a misdemeanor.

So we are taking children away from families for the legal equivalent of public intoxication, trespassing, or first-time possession of a dime-bag.

These followers, however, will apparently make any excuse for Donald Trump’s unlawful behavior. Generously read, his legal record is dodgy. He’s a thief who screws over the small businesses he has contracted with. He patronizes prostitutes and hands out hush money like it’s Halloween candy. Less generously, he’s allegedly engaged in election fraud and money laundering–and I think the goods are there. He’s an admitted serial sexual abuser. Like Barack Obama, his policy in Yemen puts him in shady territory with international law and into war crime territory. At worst, evidence of treason looms.

Unlike Donald Trump, the border families are just breaking the Law. Sure, they can’t be struggling with some of the most vicious cartels and gangs operating in the world today. Nope. They are mere law-breakers. They have no back story, no context. There is no excuse for them, no grace, no mercy.

But white people? Oh, they have complicated back stories for why they do what they do, the mistakes they make, the problems they have. Sure, Donald Trump has taken a long time to come to Jesus, he’s a redeemed sinner, just like King David, and he’s beloved of God. So he’s made some mistakes. We’re saved by grace, not works.

(I am trying, really hard, to keep the sarcasm out of my tone here, but it’s hard for me granted the self-indulgent, self-important way some American Christians have come to practice their faith using cheap grace as a rationale.)

A white guy opens fire and kills women while after issuing misogynist rants online? Poor, mentally ill man. What a shame, what an unfortunate thing. He is an exception. We should try to understaaaaand him.

A Muslim religious extremist kills people on a plane? All Muslims everywhere are violent and out to get us they hate us for our freedom and it’s in their religion. That’s all you need to know.

A white woman gets addicted to painkillers? That’s so sad, she’s struggling. We should try to understaaaaaand her.

A black woman addicted to crack? Jail. She’s a threat to her children. She is weak.

White people unemployed or underemployed? They are victims, victims I tell you of an unjust system, immigrants who came and stole the jobs, and coastal elite with their confusing, fancy hams. We should try to understaaaaand them, and take them to lunch in places with less confusing menu items.

Unemployed black people? Lazy. Shiftless. Gold-bricking. Absent fathers who don’t instill discipline. Were better off under the yoke.

So no, asylum seekers aren’t people running from terrible conditions at home. Amid political violence and desperate poverty, a responsible asylum seeker would have gotten on a computer and Googled US border law before fleeing the soldiers destroying their villages. Or they would have well-developed social networks of people who can arrange asylum for them because it’s not like violence and forced immigration would have an effect on social networks or anything.

This is the logic of dehumanization. Strip people of their real lives, refuse to see their real lived conditions, and construct them as you need them to be to justify your treatment of them.