My four Donald Trumps #myfourDonaldTrumps

There is an ocean of writing on what a sexist jerk Donald Trump is. I consume much of it, and it’s all depressing. But this very funny, extremely apt post from Wendy Molyneux in The Atlantic made me squirm with recognition, and it inspired me to write up every character in my own life that her post inspired.

1. The Drunk Uncle who is “an older male relative who smells like cigarettes and asks when you are going to lose that weight. You’re 9 years old.”

Sexism was so thick on the ground in my family that it’s hard to pick, but congratulations have to go out the gifted creeps all over my family who let me grow up watching while they treated their wives like indentured servants who worked side-by-side on farms with them and then came in to cook and clean and *serve them at table* while they sat there like kings and refused to lift a god-damn finger in the house because that was “women’s work”, always said with deep revulsion, like they would get girl cooties if they took their own plate from the table to the sink. THEN of course making sure that these same women were worthy of harsh criticism when they gained a pound or so after having a Catholic’s fair number of children, all the while those launching these criticisms, themselves, possessed Brobdingnagian beer guts, no visible commitments to either full sentences or personal hygiene, and teeth that would have made the average Neanderthal faint.

And there should be a lifetime achievement award for a) thinking rape jokes are funny and b) acting like if they ever caught me wearing something suggestive, rape would be the outcome, and boy, oh, boy, I’d learn something then.

These gentlemen were fond of noting that I “thought I was too good for them.”

Because I was.

2. The teacher who’s volunteered to cover the Lit portion of the Decathlon is also the tennis coach, and he’s going over Ezra Pound’s poem, “Portrait d’une Femme,” with you and your teammates. He’s the first person who looks at you a certain way that will happen again and again for the rest of your life, as if he simultaneously can’t see you and would like to kill you.

Ohhhhh this goes out to a literature teacher of mine, who, watching me enthuse with my effervescent youth about literature, a topic I loved, said to my 12 year-old self, and I quote: “Women have never contributed anything to literature except, you know, as mothers. Giving birth to real writers.”

It will surprise nobody to learn that he sent me to the principal’s office for insubordination many times.

“She thinks she’s so important.”

You goddamn right I do, shithead, and Jane Austen, George Eliot, and Zora Neale Hurston are three reasons why I do despite having had to grow up with dipshits like you in front of my classroom.

3. Now he’s your boss.

Ah, my boss. Enter in a boss that just about everybody likes because he is genial. He doesn’t want to be a sexist, but he is, and he lives in chronic fear, and thus, loathing of any woman he suspects is smarter than he is, and I was, by several miles. I was carrying around a book that I had been reading, and he ostentatiously said to me, in front of a bunch of his buddies; “you can just do this one thing for me, and then you can get back to your Dreamboat.”

I squinted, “What? What are you talking about? Dreamboat?”

Him, eyeing his buds with the self-confidence that points were going to be scored at my expense, and that the Girl Was Going to Be Taken Down a Peg Intellectually: “That book you are reading, that romance book, “Dreamboat.”

I got out my rucksack and produced this volume: “You mean this? It’s a military history of the arms race between Germany and Britain leading up the First World War. It’s about dreadnoughts, you know, the battleship. ”


He looks at it. “Oh, uh.”

Me, utterly clueless because that’s how I roll: “It’s got two men on the front! Look here, there’s Kaiser Wilhelm and King Edward on the cover. How did you mistake that for a romance novel? What the hell kind of romance novels do you read?”

Lots of very, very limp weenies sitting in a circle at that point. I needed a new job pretty soon after that one.

4. And then this one.
He’s there, bragging, waving his arms, talking over everybody, reminding me of my blowhard colleague who pretends to like me but really doesn’t, who leers at the young women on our campus and makes comments if my shirt shows too much cleavage. Both these Donalds make my head throb with disgust, one, because he has a little adoring fanbase of people a-clapping away as he degrades the people surrounding him, and the other my own little Donald Trump who plants himself in my office and brags about all his job offers, his this, his that, blah blah…while he makes hours and hours of extra work for me because he offends students left and right and I am their shoulder to lean on.


On awards when you just tried to do your job

I received a very nice award called the Margarita McCoy award. It’s an honor. I am honored, truly, largely because I truly admired Margarita McCoy’s approach to planning. We lost her this year, which makes it all the more poignant.

But now I have to do interviews and I have awards lunches to go to. And I don’t really feel like I deserve any awards particularly. I feel like I did my job.

One reason I was nominated for the award had to do with the research I have done, much of partnered with Virginia Tech’s fantastic Pamela Murray-Tuite, on women and family mobility.

And I am proud of that research.

But you aren’t doing your job in travel behavior research if you aren’t paying attention to differences in how different groups travel. It’s not that I’m so great for knowing this. It’s that a person is a sucky, sucky planner and urbanist if they don’t understand that urban systems work differently for different people. (eg Smartest Boy Urbanists, and why they need to sit down now and then.)

As to promoting the work of young female scholars…well, that is my job, too. It isn’t exemplary that I do that. It’s a problem that other people don’t. I feel like the father who has everybody saying to him “Oh, what a great dad you are!” just because he is out with his kids, something mom does all the damn time with nobody handing her any cookies like ‘What a great mom you are.” I promote and echo the work of young male and female scholars because I am one of the lucky ones who got through the tenure gauntlet and the right thing to do when you get that good fortune is to turn around and shine light all the people coming up that hill. The fact that my many of my male colleagues fail to do that for young women is a problem…it isn’t that I am doing something remarkable.

No, I don’t have to do it. But that’s the result of a screwed-up culture, not a sign of my fabulous character.

My feelings about lunches, keynotes, and all that sort of ghastly business are well-known:

It’s a good thing to go, to promote my program, to say thank you to kind people giving the award, and to be a decent member of society.

It’s just that I am not a decent member of society. I’M NOT.

The whole time I am at any social gathering at conferences, I am wishing, wishing, wishing desperately for alcohol, and there isn’t any, just iced tea. Who can make small talk on iced tea? And when you are an awardee, you have to look like you are a worthy person, and it’s hard to look like a worthy person when all you want out of life is to go back to your room and order 11 cheeseburgers and six bottles of wine from room service. (That can get dodgy, too, because it’s hard to explain all that when you go to the door and the room service person sees it’s just you in your Powerpuff Girls jammies. STOP JUDGING ME.)

I am supposed to say a few words. I can’t say words. Not in front of people. I can present research and I can teach. That’s it. That’s all I got.

All I have ever really done–and I do not feel all that good at it–is to try help people get where they are want to go. That’s my job. And I feel like I screw it up plenty.

On not being able to protect your students from rejection

I suppose there are young academics who do not go through a million rejections to get established, but I wasn’t one of them. I think I had it comparatively easy: I was a good and a prolific writer from my training in consulting, and I alway had something going, but I still went through so many rejections that my stomach hurts just thinking about it. But I always had a lot going, so when one thing came back in flames, I had another thing to do.

Those cvs of failure or rejection have gotten criticized for being the luxury of the privileged, of people who cannot be hurt or economically vulnerable by the admissions of failure and rejection. That’s undoubtedly true. But I think that economic security makes it all the more of a duty to show people the ugly side of getting where you are. As soon as I got tenure, I shared my file and statement with others, with the caveat that their mileage may vary. I had one (idiot) point out that my “record wouldn’t have gotten tenure at HER exalted university.” That hurt. But I knew it was a possibility, and I kept sharing. After all, maybe it was important for that posturing ninny to say what she said, a good reminder that what I was showing here wasn’t a foregone tenure case, but a tenure case. And I still don’t regret sharing it.

Why? Because I had to write my statement of research, teaching, and service on my own, and it was a lonely process and by sharing, I gave people a place to start. If they did like the structure, it gave them a foundation. If they didn’t, it gave them something to react to in forming their own strategy. Anything that makes the process of going up for tenure less lonely and confusing strikes me as the least the rest of us can do for others.

The same is true of sharing your early rejections.

I know all this about rejection and the pain it causes. Anybody who tells you they don’t sweat rejection either has a (big) trust fund or a good strong case of narcissism because rejections hurt. Some hurt more than others. Some you learn to realize, eh, just as well. Some hurt so much you can barely breathe after you read the kiss-off letter.

And there is a whole goddamn lot of it in your early career. Some of it is deserved. You are young, you are a new scholar, you aren’t sending things to the right journal yet, and you haven’t quite mastered how to write for those audiences yet, or developed the built-in sensor that knows what lazyass cheezball reviewers are going to snipe at so you haven’t learned to take that out yet. Some of it is, simply, that journal editors give more breaks to older scholars. I’m a better scholar now than when I was young. And I get more breaks now than I did then. I don’t know which is the dominant effect.

And the only way to avoid the early career rejectionfest is by being one of the elect–the people who are born under a lucky star. Everybody else who stays in the game learns to put up with it, sending out stuff again and again, writing more stuff, doing work more work, generating content, sending it out.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

I hadn’t thought about this problem for years. When I get a rejection now, I have a lot of papers behind me that say I can do it. When you are young and this is your first set of papers, it’s very easy to fall into believing the work is no good. If you have gotten the work past a committee, it’s probably good enough. Getting past editors who would rather publish bigger names than yours is the gauntlet.

But I am now watching a beloved student and friend and go through the early career rejectionfest, and it sucks all over again. When I went through it, Randy (Randy Crane, beloved advisor) had a gentle way of mocking me out of my tantrums and slumps. I am not like that; I’m too grave. When my student gets a rejection, I feel it, too, and while there is a part of me that knows this is all part of it, there is another part of me that feels like doing this, to everybody involved:



A friend yesterday pointed out to me that I can’t. My student is going to experience this, and there is nothing I can do about it, other than support her through it. It’s bigger than me.

I do not like things that are bigger than me.

Eichmann and the Brain-Enabling Functions of Art

A bunch of ideas and connections swirling around today.

Yesterday in my human rights class, we talked about the rights of refugees (versus the deplorable state of the practice) and we also talked about the exceptions to the 1951 Convention, and I brought up the case of Eichmann in Argentina. War criminals are not recognized as needing asylum, although many do manage to flee and find sanctuary. Argentina had no willingness to extradite Eichmann, and thus the Moussad kidnapped and hauled him back to Israel for trial and execution. We got into a discussion about extradition rules in international law and policy, and what these protocols suggest for refugees.

I’ve also been on my transit class’s case about laptops in class. I am sure that some people are taking notes, etc, but some people are screwing around and it’s just tiring to try to have a debate or conversation with nothing but a bunch of the tops of heads to look at. I want people to be present when we are together.

I remember asking about banning laptops via the USC Price faculty listserv–what do other professors do?–and one of my junior colleagues scoffed at me. “Join the 21st century,” He laughed. “Put away your ego. Realize that students are going to multi-task and deal with it.”

I took the criticism seriously, but I still had problems. I felt like, with laptops open, students weren’t paying attention to me, or each other. Then one day my colleague came back to me and said…”OK, I just watched my students on their laptops and phones when their colleagues were giving a class presentation. When the guys spoke, people paid attention. When the women spoke, their faces went down to check their computers. It made me sick.”

Yeah. Listening, not listening.

We are having conversations about the difference between writing with your hands versus typing. I am not sure what to believe about all that research, but I do know that I am a much better thinker with a pencil in my hand. That is just me, personally. I’m sure there are those who write better at a computer. But I do know that people who take notes with notebooks are much more engaged in class than the people who take notes with computers. Why? I think it’s because it’s just you and the page. A notebook is just you and it. It just collects what you write. A computer lets you do that, but it’s got a full universe behind it. I like it when students use that universe to check ideas, find out more about things, etc. But very, very few students do that. And it’s also something they could do outside of class and bring with them the next time to introduce the discussion if they are interested in it.

What does this have to do with art and Eichmann, you ask? In reflecting on Eichmann, I remember seeing a German documentary on the capture of Eichmann, and I vividly remember that one of the Moussad agents, Zvi Aharoni, extensively sketched Eichmmann and the streetscape surrounding the house–really accurately–before attempting a secret photo because Eichmann was so clever and paranoid about photographs he would, if he caught somebody doing it, simply vanish to another part of Argentina. They used his sketches of the streetscape to plan the photo capture (the camera was hidden in a bag) and to set up a plan for the agents to use during Eichmann’s eventual capture.

The idea that arts education is silly or a luxury tends to forget that you never really know what skills are going to be useful; here, art helped capture one of the world’s most wanted men who committed terrible crimes against humanity.

Art, writing, using your hands and body to create…these are way of thinking and observing, and those skills are useful in so many contexts, and sometimes useful in ways you just can’t predict ahead of time.

Buzzfeed has a collection of beautiful notes you can look at, and I highly recommend it. I’m sure these are recopied, or created from reading notes; the anatomy ones are amazing. What is going on cognitively when these learners are making art and notes at the same time? I don’t know. But although my doodles are lame, messy and sad by comparison to these, I really think that the combination of drawing and writing works for me cognitively, where drawing eases and enhances the crabbed, linear, disciplined, argumentative task of writing. It opens space in my brain, as vague as that sounds, that expands the creativity of the entire task of writing.

I’m sure people who have taken to computers and screens more than I have do have different, more effective strategies for using the computer as a tool than I do.

But one thing I am pretty much sure about: the Internet is really fun. And distracting. And informative. And while it’s useful, keeping it in its place is difficult. I struggle every time I open it. (I’ve checked my email eleventy billion times this morning writing this blog post on the computer, and I’ve checked Fboo 900 million times, and…I hate myself for it.)

So how’s that scholarly focussing going? Oh, not so well.

I’m trying to get myself together for the push to full professor, and it means there are a couple of projects that I should finish off or at least show real progress with.

I am not good at working to deadlines, and there is a definite time component to this. IOW:

That’s the ticket! “Go back to your desk, settle down, focus, and catch up!”
(Keith Warren is undeservedly obscure. He’s brilliant here. )

And thus, I had a stern talk with myself about what I am not going to be interested in anymore. I have to limit my interests, I say. Narrow my reading. Sooooooooooo in the interests of doing just that, I said to myself: “Self: Pick two areas you aren’t going to read in anymore. Things you are not interested in. Eliminate them! Strike them off your list!”

It thus dawned on me: For years I told myself that I am not very interested in the Middle Ages (life being nasty, brutish, and short, you know, and most movies or books set in the middle ages use it as an excuse to have some horrifying torture scene in it that would keep me awake sick to my stomach for days) and I’ve never really gotten myself to read Dostoyevsky. But…in recent years, I relaxed my ban on all things Middle Ages as I (rightly) became irritated with myself for not knowing a proper timeline of history, and instead having one that looked a bit like this:

Lots of in-depth, nerdy dates about Greece and Biblical dating, and the Romans….to about 500 CE…then….1776.

So not okay for an educated person.

Alas, for a person who has a book to finish and whatnot, good enough idea to let some interests drop. Ha! I said. Back to not reading or learning anything about the Middle Ages, and back to not reading Dostoyevsky. Easy!

With newfound sense of purpose, I went forward, having unburdened my intellectual life in the same vein as one of those decluttering books tell you to unburden the surfaces of your house so that you might live a truly fulfilled life just like the spreads that House Beautiful promise you, if only you have no books or pets, and exemplary taste in curtains.

But then there was a really cool documentary on the other night about Empress Matilda (1100), and I checked out The Devils from the Library, and I’ve been reading away on it.

I am the worst scholar in the world, except for Don Sutherland’s character in Animal House. He’s worse.

#YIMBY and communitarians

Just by way of a follow up from the post the other day about zoning and communitarianism, I had a bit of a Twitter chinwag (finger wag) with an urbanist who saw the original post and retweeted it under the banner as a critique of YIMBY. As I responded that I don’t really see YIMBY advocates in the group of people who are focussing only on the home voter resistance to zoning. As I noted in the original post, home voter resistance is a big deal, and it may even be the most common motivation for opposition. We just had a very fine presentation on local neighborhood opposition from Greg Morrow on LA’s activity, and it’s not even close: the west side of LA is the worst, by far, and it’s mostly protest aimed at excluding new residents.

Yet, I still think it’s important to understand that zoning does a bunch of things all at once.

YIMBY or “Yes in My Backyard” or YIMBY urbanist folks are a somewhat different group than planners and supplyside advocates caught up the growth machine. I am not as well versed as I should be about these folks, but from what I gather, they are advocates for inclusion (like [planners and supply siders) but do so on the grounds that urban community can be reconstituted with inclusion and density and that that is their preferred milieu and lifestyle. It’s not a claim about who is at fault for housing affordability problems, per se, but instead a set of claims about urban community and its possibilities without restricted density zoning and a willingness to be part of the solution to housing undersupply. This part of the original post applies to this point:

Apologists for exclusion have the burden of trying to show that these things they see as essential to human life and community hinge on being able to keep people out. Opponents of exclusion have a similar evidence burden to show that the things that communitarians prize about exclusion do not, in fact, require the ability to pick and choose what group membership changes occur and which do not.

YIMBY folks strike me as being in that latter group: people who believe that community is important, but that community itself does not require exclusion, at least not of the spatial sort, but rather, inclusion. I’m betting lots of planners fit in here. This position I associate with things such as Iris Marion Young’s “City as a Normative Ideal” as an answer to her critique of both liberal and communitarian frameworks for thinking about “the right thing to do.”

That said, my first critique was aimed generally at planners, some of whom have knee-jerk reaction to people who oppose up-zoning rather than a listening reaction, which is a problem. I am not trying to train people who react first and then think or listen later. I had much the same reaction, for example, with LA’s Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. I don’t like initiatives, period (representatives, do your job!) and I am still not on board, but community advocates I genuinely respect support it, and that has caused me to take a step back and try to see what they see in the way they are seeing it. When somebody who has been fighting for affordable housing for 20 years in LA says they support something, I shut my cake hole and try to suss what they see even if I don’t agree.

I’m very bothered by the way some (not all, some) urbanists in LA and some of my students have referred to the initiative’s supporters in dismissive or derogatory terms. Politics is a rough business, and you do have to fight to win. But I raised some of y’all better’n that. ;^).

More than that, though, I don’t like people getting into one-note explanations for what are likely to be relatively complex political coalitions that form in cities. The research on regime theory is very very clear: pro-growth coalitions are nearly unbeatable in general even if you can stop specific projects, particularly by neighborhoods, and one of the criticisms leveled at community opposition is that it’s almost always parochial: that is, individual neighborhoods get mad that the Thing is going in near them, and they fight, but they won’t organize more broadly with other community organizations or support the advocacy of labor or racial justice coalitions. They lose, and many deserve to. Some probably don’t. But…the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative folks strike me as a rather interesting coalition of multiple urban interests, including westside and Hollywood land owners readily explained by home voter behavior, but with justice folks mixed in because they see the growth regime here as delivering very few of the benefits from Smart Growth/Infill etc to low-income people.

The growth machine in LA is as powerful as it is elsewhere. For all the kvetching about CEQA and the approvals process, projects do get done here, some of which are appalling. Planners have been particularly willing to side with developers over communities in these dustups, and I want to shake their confidence in doing that. Why? I am nasty person, that’s why.

But when you are siding with power, you better hope that power is delivering the social benefits you think it is, otherwise you are just replicating the same deaf-ear behavior of planners within communities during the Interstate Era. Yeah, you are convinced your contemporary solutions are far, far superior to those losers of the Interstate era, but you best not get too confident of that because I’m betting puh-lenty of those folks thought they were working for the public good, too.

One of the most unsettling things about politics and planning is that in order to win you must sound certain and definitive when in fact you should probably be going forward with fear and trembling and much, much more humility than politics lets you demonstrate.

Not a single person has managed to explain to me why the imperatives of the environment, inclusion, and no more sprawl require wedging new developments in Hollywood and other existing neighborhoods when there are pallet storage and other warehousing sitting there right by the Blue Line and downtown east of Grand and south of 9th has so many underutilized buildings you could infill without much ruffling the grumpy single-family home owner feathers. I don’t mind ruffling their feathers, but it’s not as though Hollywood is the only neighborhood wth transit supply or that might provide good, pro-social or pro-environmental infill.

Nah. Hollywood is the place because that’s where the spoils to the growth machine are the best developers can get right now, not because it’s the only place where you might provide transit accessible housing. You also see huge new developments in Silverlake and Angelino Heights and those are’t really all that accessible. They are not Riverside, yeah, but they do not have particularly good transit access. It’s fine, but it’s not DT by a long shot. But there’s good money to be made there. Developers know they aren’t going to get westside approval on anything, and you can sell just about anything you get built in Hollywood. For a lot. But not much is keeping those developers from going to south and east DTLA or the Blue Line. Not the NII. It’s not a “nobody will let us build anywhere” situation. Not really. It’s a “We can’t build as much as we want where it’s most profitable for us to build” situation. There is a difference.

So yeah, supply is lagging, and affordability problems result, and people who won’t let you build near them are an issue, but so are developers who won’t invest anywhere other than the easiest-places-to-pencil submarkets. And why should one when you have City Hall behind you, and a chorus of planners creating environmental, social, and affordability narratives for you, and the Times thumping their op-ed page for you…why wouldn’t you go for all you can get? I’m not blaming developers, either; seeking larger returns is what happens in markets–the grease that spins the wheels. So is using the state to try to leverage those returns.

But that does mean there are some more dirty hands to go around for the affordability crisis.

Thus I am having trouble seeing white hats and black hats in the NII or with the Hollywood development controversies because a) if the homeowners win that one, there is a chance that developers will go to places with lower land values and thus, lower rent and sale prices (like the pallet factory or the many holes between DTLA and south and east LA.) But if developers win, then they will put up another glass and steel thing where the cheapest unit is $750,000. It’s a squabble over returns to land among rich people, and neither side gives a crap about people who can’t afford to live there. I got no time to care about it.

This is how you tell specious justice claims in these cases: the NII coalition has not made, among their demands, the idea that they support regional policies such as fiscal equalization for amenity development in other neighborhoods where development might occur. Remember, in the last post, I noted that it might be possible for people who want to exclude to be able to discharge their duties to distributional justice by supporting the development of great schools and parks elsewhere if they were not going to share theirs.

But there’s not a word of that on their agenda. Property tax policy reform? Crickets.

On the pro side, with people yelling and screaming for the supply side of more housing in LA, you often don’t hear a word about wage stagnation or income support or the systematic dismantling of social welfare programs and the chronic undersupply of housing assistance. So what if people are losing purchasing power? I have a hammer in my hand and that hammer is the New Urbanism/Smart Growth/Real Estate Development and thus the problem is undersupply, which btw fits the needs of capital nicely (while that other stuff must be commie pinko stuff because it does not) and thus that is the policy solution that gets the air time.

Meh at you all. No, I don’t support the NII but y’all who want me to believe it’s the worstest, most self-interested thing going on in this wicked, wicked city got a ways to go before you convince me.