Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sports Thoughts Potpourri

1. The...NFL Network's panel of Football Discussing Types just demonstrated, in about three lines, why I don't watch a lot of sports commentary on TV.
Football Dude #1: What is it gonna take for a team to beat [some team I forgot already because I don't care]?
Football Dude #2: Well, it's gonna have to be a team that scores a lot of points.

I understand that this roughly means "'cause there's no stopping that offense" and all but man, that is some dumb-sounding shit.  These guys are getting paid more than I'll probably see in a lifetime to issue inane comments like that.  I don't even know.

2. The only way American hockey broadcasts are going to get more viewership is if they kidnap all the video and production guys from Hockey Night in Canada.  Hockey is a hard game to put on TV and every US network who has tried has failed dramatically.  Unfortunately, it's going to have to be kidnapping, because no way is Canada allowing those people to leave the Great White North.  In turn, this means we're going to have to have a war.  "No problem!" you may say, "America's overblown military-industrial complex will handle the Canadian invasion in a thrice!"  If you say this, you are underestimating the passion of our neighbors to the north as far as their hockey goes.  It would be like Thermopylae in that piece.

3. I'm pretty sure everyone should just elect Tim Tebow to something and have done with it.  I don't know much about him, but it does seem that every sports outlet on the planet is going to great lengths to avoid saying he's really just not that good, yet everyone seems to agree that he's just a really nice dude and people like him.  He was on The Daily Show and he charmed my face off, I understand this.  However, maybe we should stop trying to make Tim Tebow happen and just let him get on with his career as a Congressperson or life coach or official hug therapist or whatever because now I'm starting to hate him and I don't even fully understand who he is or why anyone cares.

Those are my thoughts on sports for the day.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Math, We Meet Again.

I very clearly remember a commercial from when I was a kid that featured a college type student running into a classroom late, seeing an abundance of incomprehensible math on the chalkboard and a droning teacher, and realizing he was in the wrong class. Who knows what was being sold in this commercial (alarm clocks?), but it stuck with me. I’m actually reasonably sure that I remember it for its college feel, having been a big honking nerd from a young age, but it turns out that the MATH part also stuck with me, because when I had nervous dreams about college before starting undergrad, they often featured those same walls of horrifying math.

I have never been good at math. This applies to all math, starting from a very basic level. I have many friends who, because they are kind and wonderful, cannot comprehend the depth and breadth of my math problems, the logic being something like “but you are smart, math should not be hard for you.” This may be true, but does not change the reality of my math situation. I would like to be good at math. I actually quite enjoy the application of math – I’m very good at Physics, of all things – and I really enjoy the satisfying “this is THE answer because MATH” conclusions that are possible. Even setting up algebra problems is reasonably satisfying to me. I like the order of it all. The problem is that I am the queen of basic math errors and I have a hard time connecting the math I’m doing to an actual result. I think this is why I like geometry but hate more or less everything else. If you do yourself some geometry, you can get your protractor out (oh man, I love protractors!) and you can test that shit on paper. The basic math issues are compounded by the basic limits of my math education; I only took Algebra I and II, Geometry and Trigonometry. No Calculus, not even pre-Calc.

Needless to say, this is making my Quantitative Research Methods class a little horrible.

If anyone is one of those political scientists who is like “I-I-I-I-I-I-I don’t wanna debate, I just wanna run me some stats all day,” I have a professor you need to meet. Two, actually, because I know that one of our other professors is like this too. The poor soul tasked with teaching me statistics is all over the math stuff, and he’s actually quite good at connecting it all with real world scenarios, which is endlessly helpful, but he also does a LOT of mathing and he appears to think that it explains something to me, which of course it does not because I do not speak math. The main problem is that I need some kind of remedial course and the professor has been lead to believe that he has been given people who are at least marginally competent. This brings me back to the classroom ad, because Quant has brought my nightmares to life. I have adopted a coping mechanism I like to call Write Everything Down Meticulously and then Hope that Later It Will Make Sense, Perhaps After I Skype My Friend Dan, Dan the Mathy Man. I try to note wherever the professor indicates some kind of revelation, to wit:

Oh, by the way, that’s the third page of that proof. The rest of it looked like this:
It's fuzzy because math is the natural enemy of cameras.
Okay actually I was on a train.  Whatever.
Some of you might notice that this is actually fairly difficult stats stuff. That’s because it’s toward the end of the semester, and we’re getting into regression and all that good stuff. You may be thinking, “now Josie, it’s not so bad, many people could get confused by this stuff!” Yeah, here’s some stuff from week…two or so.
Now, to be fair, I finally got a handle on the above section of chaos, but I am still largely adrift.  The good thing is that the professor hands us solution sheets back with our homework, so I am able to go back and take apart the problems and usually connect them to my notes.  I think the problem with my notes is the same one I have had for years, that being that I'm notating something that makes sense to me in class, but then when I get home to do the homework, for whatever reason, the information has slid off my brain and the notes now correspond to nothing.

Class will be over soon and I won't have to do any more graded math, but I really wish that it would click so I could do this stuff more easily.  I guess I should just pray for technology to advance until I can have math uploaded to my brain Matrix-style.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

This Is About More than Occupy Wall Street

You can agree with Occupy Wall Street or not.  You can agree that the banking system is fucked and still think that Occupy is doing it wrong.  You can completely disagree with both message and execution.  All of those things are fine.  But as of last night, you are no longer allowed to disregard what the behavior of the NYPD says about this country and who is running it.

Last night - in the middle of the night - Occupy Wall Street was forcibly removed from Zuccotti Park by heavy machinery, police in riot gear, and LRAD sound cannons.  A public police force, at the behest of the Mayor of New York City, removed people exercising their First Amendment rights from a private park, and the President of the United States didn't say a goddamn thing.

There are a lot of things going on here.  There is a larger question of whether a public park is appropriate to the exercise of First Amendment rights.  One might argue no, and have a legitimate argument; private property is private for a reason and vice versa.  However, we have begun ceding our public spaces to private control, and while this is a nice way to keep the maintenance of public spaces off the ledgers of local governments, it also means that we are ceding physical space in which we can exercise our rights as citizens.   Public spaces are accepted as a public good, but we rarely explain why they are a public good.  The Boston Public Gardens are lovely, but their virtue is not in the beautiful plantings or the swan boats.  Their virtue is in the freedom of the space, the communal ownership of the land, and the chance to simply be a citizen in that space.  If this is the good provided by public spaces, then we must either demand that private interests taking over the provision of public spaces maintain these freedoms or else refuse their generosity for our own collective good.

If we do accept these private/public spaces as private in ownership and control, then it is inappropriate to have public police forces managing them.  Allowing private citizens into an office building does not give the building owner the right to use the police as security personnel, and neither should allowing public citizens into a private space.  If the management group that owns Zuccotti Park wanted to hire private security forces to evict the Occupiers, it should have done that, and while the violence would probably have been worse, it would not have been a damaging blow to this country's civil liberties.  Instead, a police force went in at the direction of a Mayor.  Let us be clear: a government agency went in to shut down a peaceful assembly.

Had it not been the NYPD, maybe I wouldn't be so fucking angry.  Had it not been at Mayor Bloomberg's request, maybe I wouldn't be so fucking scared.  Maybe if there had been any nod towards the First Amendment's protections, I wouldn't be so fucking sad.

Some will say that the Occupiers did not have First Amendment protections in a private park.  This would be a legitimate argument had the NYPD not gone in.  It was not a private interest suppressing the Occupiers' protest, it was the government.  With the involvement of a police force, it becomes a matter of First Amendment rights' suppression.  This is, of course, all before we mention that the press were kicked out of the park and kept separate.  It's all before we mention that this went down in the middle of the night.  That tells me that the NYPD knew exactly how much a transgression of rights this shit was, because if they thought otherwise they'd do it in the light of day, in the light of righteousness.

Can we take a moment, too, to note that the NYPD sent in counter terrorism officers, closed down airspace over Zuccotti Park, and generally demonstrated that they have a fucking military policing New York?

And the President of the United States, a man who raised his hand on January 20th, 2009 and swore to faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of his ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, has said nothing.  He has had five hours in a 24/7 world.

Shame on you, President Obama.  Shame on you for allowing this to happen without condemnation.  Shame on you for allowing our security state to expand and to turn on our own brothers and sisters, our fellow Americans.  Shame on every public official who didn't run to New York to stand with these people and shame on every public official who didn't make a statement decrying these actions.  I've spent so much time defending so many of you and reassuring people that you do mean well.  I've fucking had it.  Voting for everyone who isn't an incumbent isn't going to work; you're all fucking complicit in this.  You mark my words, you will force this nation into a civil war, against the work of people like me, people like your staffs, people who have advised and fought and rebelled against the slow slide you thought either wouldn't matter or wouldn't be noticed.  Fuck all of you, fuck your cowardice.  Fuck your goddamned tunnel vision, fuck your willingness to get so deep into politicking that you can't even do the right thing.  I'm exhausted and I'm fucking 28.  And you know what the sad thing is? I'm not exhausted by physical fighting or anything like that...I'm exhausted by trying to defend a country I love from the people running it.  Your time is coming; the world is waking up and by the time this is over, you'll be the ones exhausted.

Religion Is What Holds Us Over

I read a sweet story today about a Jewish bakery in New York being saved from closure (and kept kosher!) by a pair of Muslim cab drivers.  It's a neat story for many reasons - long time cabbie buddies embarking on a new adventure, preserving a 91 year old business, great only-in-New-York intersections, etc.:
Peerzada Shah and Zafaryab Ali recently took ownership of the Coney Island Bialys and Bagels, a landmark fixture anchored at 2350 Coney Island Avenue for 91 years. 
The bakery was about to shutter in September when Ali, a former staffer, learned of its demise and decided to save it — keeping it in the same spirit of its original owner, Morris Rosenzweig, a Jewish immigrant from Bialystok, Poland, who founded the shop in 1920.
Oh and the story also features a really great quote from Shah that assures me that everything's going to be juuuuuuust fine: “It’s the same bialys, but I don't have time to talk right now, we're busy.  I have to make sure customers are taken care of, because they come first.”  Right on.  This story is, of course, being presented as a "oh MIRACLE OF MIRACLES look, people of different religions can get along!" story, and I always find that mode of presentation very strange.

Not everyone is religious or even spiritual, which I understand, but everyone who is religious has to face up to the reality that they will not receive any kind of universal authority by dint of their beliefs until after their death. Faith is at its heart a belief in something that cannot be definitively proven.  Though we can understand anything in the world around us as evidence of God, God's existence not on Earth requires that we believe it in spite of His coming down to point at the flowers or our friends or skyscrapers and claim them as His work. This is in fact why we can base such far reaching moral structures on working towards the idea of Him.  If God was of this world, we would inevitably understand Him as a limited entity - limited by geography and power and volume.  Our experience of "things that exist on Earth" does not allow for us to understand things we encounter as greater than we are to the extent that would be required to construct the same constructs we have build around God as we understand Him.  This is also why Jesus works so compellingly as a human figure and why he needed to die in the Christian mythos; his time on Earth (as laid out in the Bible) allows us to think about what a religious life might look like, but were he immortal, his significance would ultimately decline, eroded by continuing interaction with the world.

I also like Aristotle's concept of the Unmoved Mover, laid out in the Physics and Metaphysics, where he goes through an argument that everything is material and moves, and this movement is the basis of time.  He then explains that everything moves because it's continually bumping into other things, either materially or in time (stay with me here, guys), but concludes that there must be something that starts all of this movement, and settles on an Unmoved Mover, ultimately a thought thinking itself, that all of these other movers are so inspired by that they move in turn.  I like this kind of aspirational love, and it's how I think of God; as something so elemental, so universal and so beautiful that we all move towards it in each movement we make. Notice that there is no moral component here.  Good, bad and neutral movements are all inspired by this divine love.  I think this is where our language of impulse comes from...we call ideal employments our callings and say we felt drawn to have children.  We fall in love, we are drawn together.  When you think about it, it is strange that when we talk about the biggest, most life changing and most definitive aspects of our lives, we so often adopt incredibly passive speech.

Now, you might think that Aristotle and I are full of hooey.  Aristotle also believed that there were crystal spheres floating around moving things, and science has checked space pretty thoroughly for those to no avail. But I think that one of the beautiful things about religion is that we are able to conceive of God so differently, and that these concepts conflict.  If you do think of God as an inspirational force in the vein of Aristotle's Unmoved Mover, it makes sense for so many of us to conceive of a divine entity differently (and not at all).  It all movement is movement towards and away from this mover, it seems logical that when we try to understand it, we will have to grapple with what, precisely, it is, even though we can't ever understand it, earth-bound as we are.  And too, if all things come from this one source, then all the world's religions stem from it as well.   What purpose does this serve?  If there is one true God and one true answer, then why allow these other religions to contradict that answer?

I think the answer must be, "to understand that one true God more completely."

It is easy to point to the Bible, or the Quran, or any other text, and say "here is the answer, in black and white."  But we have all seen that this kind of manicheanism leads to the worst kind of bigotry, and the least virtuous behavior.  This is, of course, because we have accepted some fellow earth-bound person's interpretation of the Divine without consideration, without interpretation, without a struggle to understand.  Without intensive consideration and without argument and challenge, our religious faith is worth nothing at all.  Without a struggle to do right and live by a religion's tenets in a modern and changeable world, religion shrinks down to yet another checklist, something earthly and mundane.  Religions differing from ours are a way to develop our faith; all religions are a part of the same project.

Considering all this, is it really so surprising that religious people manage to get along?

Monday, November 14, 2011


We had some startling and problematic snow up here right before Halloween.  Huge power outages, chaos everywhere, the whole nine yards...the heavy snow on the still be-leaved trees wreaked absolute havoc and pulled branches down all over the place.  The power was out at my house when I came home from the hockey, and stayed off for much of the next day.  I went over to my parents' house, which is apparently some kind of impenetrable fortress and/or has Doc Ock's fusion reactor in the basement.  When I pulled up, I saw this:
That is the damaged remains of the dogwood tree my parents planted when we first moved to Worcester when I was just six months old.  I had to sit in my car for a while just to compose myself, and I was struck by how powerful my response to this scene was.  I thought of all the times Mom and Dad had sent us out to shake the tree in the fall and how many neighborhood bikes had been dumped under it and how many swerve moves I'd run around it on my way to's funny how things you don't always think would be so important really are.

Goodbye, tree.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Truer Words Not Spoken

I usually turn over all rights to the person I am writing for, but in this case I asked if I could retain them so I could print it here, because I think the points in it are important and I think someone should say these things.  I'm proud of what I wrote, and I'm upset that the courage to deliver it was lacking.   I should note here that the dearth of courage is not my client's, and in fact, they were ready to go it alone, but this was built as a cooperative presentation with several colleagues so it would not just be one person falling on their sword, and those others were too nervous to go through with it.  I understand that, but I'm disappointed nonetheless.

I have removed delivery notations and specific references for client confidentiality, however, the speech remains mostly unchanged.
I want to apologize to the people in my district, and in my colleagues' districts.  I want to apologize to those protesting in the streets and to those too poor to join them.  I want to apologize to those living comfortably and those living lavishly.

I brought these pages with me today because these stories are the ones we are charged to and have failed to prevent. All of us have taken an oath to will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same.  We all swore that we made this promise obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.  In its turn, the Constitution we are bound to defend calls upon us to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.

We have not well and faithfully discharged the duties of the offices we entered.

Rather than promoting the general welfare, we have taken our proud citizens, upon whose backs America rose to greatness, and turned them into the wretched refuse of a teeming shore.  The lamp beside our golden door has gone out; we have turned our backs on those who need our help the most.  We have abandoned our own.

Some people might point out that members of this delegation have fought the good fight.  Those people may be right.  But if those people say we have done all we can, they are wrong.  They are wrong because we didn't call the Republican party on its lies, they are wrong because we refused to fight their fire with fire of our own, they are wrong because we didn't bring the full force of our will on our colleagues to bend them to it even if it meant we would break along with them.  There are reasons for this - it's poor form to call your colleagues liars, we wanted to maintain a high moral standard instead of stepping down into the murk of the trenches, we wanted to avoid the lockstep marching orders the GOP has made their trademark - but we didn't die on the battlefield for our American brothers and sisters, and now, they are paying the price...they, not we.  We here in Congress are lucky enough to live privileged lives here in our ivory tower, but now those we neglected are screaming from outside our windows for the same safety and security we enjoy.  It is true that the moral high ground matters, but the nonviolent occupations of New York and countless other cities prove that it is possible to speak loudly and powerfully without ceding it, and we should have adopted this approach sooner, stronger, and for as long as we remained in office.

It is past time for us to tend to our fellow Americans.  I believe in a nation that cares for its peoples' lives and health.  I believe that together we are stronger, and I believe that because our entire history has been the story of strength through unity.  When we stand together, we achieve greatness beyond the world's wildest dreams; when we separate, we sink into cowardice and wretchedness.  The Republican party doesn't even pretend to want to provide for the common welfare; their entire corpus amounts to little more than "make it on your own, or die trying."  This is no doctrine for the United States of America.  We are not that callous and we are not that foolish.  Ours is not a story founded in selfishness.  Many people will respond that they found success on their own, that they didn't need a hand from their neighbors or community.  That kind of empowerment is precisely what our government should produce; people should understand the communal infrastructure and resources provided by generations of Americans as their own, as pathways to success that are as natural as the air we breathe.  All Americans should wake up every morning and know that they will be met by opportunity and the chance to work hard and succeed.  This is not the case now.  These stories are those of people who did all "the right things," who work hard and follow the rules, but have been crushed under the immoral behavior of others who we have simply allowed to become more powerful than they deserve.

The unique strength of government is its ability to do things for all citizens.  Government opens the doors for all its people, admitting them to a society where all can succeed.  A good government helps all citizens gain an education that allows them to participate in the public sphere, a business world in which all can succeed regardless of size or power, and a society that understands all people as equally worthy of respect and honor.  Throughout our history, we have crawled, then walked, towards these goals, and it is time, [Mr. Speaker], to run.  This is the path to economic and social recovery - we have to create an America that lets us bear each other up.  I expect many questions about the cost of such a path, and I will not lie to you and say that rebuilding America will be free of charge.  Instead, I will point out that we have dramatically increased our debt through tax cuts for those who need them least and who promptly failed to reinvest them in the nation that granted them the incentive in the first place.  We have increased our debts through two ten-year wars. These ideas have failed.  They are not good for America and they are not good for Americans.  It is time to invest in all Americans, not a select few.

I am introducing a bill, cosponsored by my colleagues.  This bill calls for dramatic reform in the financial sector, and would outlaw most of the practices that allowed this sector to cause catastrophic damage to the US economy.  I will also introduce another bill, which will take the first steps towards reformation of our campaign finance laws and electoral processes.  These two bills are only the beginning of a massive project that stands before us, but I hope that my colleagues will join me in urgent and civil discourse in an effort to restore America to stability and prosperity.  Because this project is so massive, I am also submitting a rule change, temporarily converting control of extraneous Congressional functions like the naming of federal buildings and operational details to either the states or to the Executive branch department under whose purview the concerns fall, leaving us more time for the business of creating jobs and repairing our economy.

I also encourage my constituents and all Americans to voice their opinion of the bill.  The compassionate community on Wall Street and in other cities has inspired me to do what I can to invite you all to occupy my offices, both here in Washington and in the district.  Coffee, tea, water and snacks will be freely available for all takers, and my staff will be prepared to discuss the mechanics of legislation with you and to record your opinions.  My website will also be available for this purpose, and you will find full texts of both [suggested bills] there now, along with synopses and a form to submit comments and questions.  We have also provided easy ways to contact your own representative, and I encourage you to do so.

Together, we can repair the great system under which we live.  We can make a better America and a better world, and we can rescue all of our fellow Americans - our brothers and sisters -  from that teeming shore.

We can rescue each other, and lift high the great American torch once again.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

So Here's Some Stupid Shit (Shockingly, Congress is Involved)

[extreme bad language warning throughout]

There's a lot of conflict in American politics right now, but I think there is one thing that Americans of every political stripe can agree upon, and that one thing is: "shit is fucked."  Regardless of what shit you think is fucked, odds are overwhelmingly good that you have a list of fucked shit, and you are probably angry about this.  I am angry too, which is why I had to put a bad language warning up front.  

So okay, shit is fucked, and since Congress has the primary power to unfuck some shit - any shit - I think we can further agree that Congress should stop dicking around and address some of the stuff that has the most overlap on various constituencies' Shit is Fucked lists.  

Here is the Congressional calendar for the last two months of this year.
Blue = House recess; Yellow = Senate recess
By my count, there are seventeen legislative days left in the Congressional session.  [NB: "A Congress" lasts for a period of two years, starts on January 3rd of the odd-numbered year following an election year, and is broken up into two sessions.  This is the 112th Congress and we're just finishing up the first session.]  Rep. Eric Cantor just released the Legislative Calendar for the second session, and would you like to know how many days are on the calendar?


I'd just like to take a moment to say, "Eric Cantor, you are a gigantic fucking asshole.  Beyond being a shitty enough person to stand up and say 'oh no, I'm not taking any disaster relief funds unless they're offset with budget cuts' with a hurricane bearing down on your district, you are also too much of a pathetic, yellow-bellied dickbag to take your medicine from your own fucking constituents at your Town Halls.  Do you know what the point of keeping disaster funding fluid is, Mr. Cantor?  IT IS BECAUSE DISASTERS ARE DISASTERS.  Amazingly enough, they do not give you multiple months' notice.  THAT'S WHAT MAKES THEM DISASTERS.  And frankly given the fact that your negotiating style is of the fucking sandbox variety, i.e. sitting down crosslegged and pouting while saying "NO!" to everything everyone suggests, I'd appreciate it if you don't try to blow smoke up my ass about how in the face of disaster all y'all are going to be able to quickly and efficiently settle on some spending cuts, because motherfucker, I know your ass is attaching policy riders to that shit and that ain't gonna fly.  While most of this is more irritating than setting 109 workdays for people who make $174k annually in the midst of some of the biggest shit that we have faced as a nation, I'm certainly willing to take this opportunity to point out that you are a spineless sack of shit who shouldn't be dogcatcher in East Jesus Nowhere, VA, and to commend your district on what is clearly a thriving underground drug market since that's the only way I can imagine a majority of anyone who isn't in a persistent vegetative state voting to send your snivelling ass to Congress."

In any case, it's not just about Eric Cantor being a shiftless douchebag, it's about the fact that we have real shit to deal with and Congress will only be working 126 days between now and the end of 2012.  Before I get to why this is extra obnoxious, let me state for the record that the next time some Congressional asshole has the absolute gall to stand up and suggest that teachers don't really work hard because they have summers off, I am literally going to shit in a box and mail it to their office.  No.  I will find their home address and send it there, because poop-bombing the interns isn't really acceptable. Anyway.  I'm sure you're thinking to yourself, "but Josie, I'm sure that Congress is doing a lot of really important and significant stuff to fix the fucked shit during those 126 days!"  You are correct!  Let's take a look at what they are doing today.

Oh, they're voting on a non-binding resolution that "reaffirms 'In God We Trust' as the official motto of the United States and supports and encourages the public display of the national motto in all public buildings, public schools, and other government institutions."

Now see, this is interesting to me, because when Republicans took the House in 2010, one of the first things - the first things! - they did was to put some new rules in place basically saying that symbolic resolutions were a waste of everyone's time.  This was a good call!  In fact, Virginia's own Eric Cantor referred to these rules when he insisted that Congress could not pass a symbolic resolution noting the assassination of Osama bin Laden, in whose pursuit we have waged a ten year war.  That's a pretty big deal, no?  I mean, if you're going to skip a resolution like that, you must be extremely fucking serious about this rule.  

Oh wait, we can vote on this to push our Bible-thumping bullshit, claw at the separation of church and state AND shame President Obama about biffing a reference to the motto by saying it was "e pluribus unum," which was the motto up until America threw its little Commie fit and made "In God We Trust" the motto in 1956 and in fact still appears on the Great Seal of the United States?  

Well then by all means, let's piss away a day voting on this useless, pathetic rule while Americans starve and sleep in the cold.   

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Considering Grad School? Do Whatever the Hell You Want

"*sigh* Poop." - Me, in a text to Erin

Sometimes I feel like my being considered an adult is an elaborate prank being played on the world, and I feel it with increasing frequency since starting grad school. People ask me what I'm doing for school, and I say "political theory" and it sounds very important and fancy, which is nice, except I know the reality of my grad school experience and feel like I am pulling off some kind of Ocean's Eleven grade heist of dignity. In truth, I spend much of my time complaining bitterly about math and procrastinating, and making jokes about Heidegger that are deeply inappropriate.

It's not that grad school doesn't take work, because it does, but in my case, being allowed to focus on what I love makes things much easier than when I had to muscle through, for instance, undergrad core curricula, about which I did not care. Instead, the work for me comes in the form of the DOING - the reading and writing and general getting things to the right people at the right time. There is plenty of hard thinking to be done as well, but because I enjoy that, it doesn't faze me.

Before I went to grad school, I got a lot of advice. A number of people told me various things I would need to do because That's How Grad School IS. None of them were right, and none of them were wrong. The thing about graduate study is that you are more fully in control of your academic destiny than you have been and will be, so How Grad School IS is contingent on your own initiative and relationship with your field and your department. This is why everyone was right AND wrong.

My Dad got his Masters at Shippensburg State University in Pennsylvania. He got admitted in an interesting way. He was out riding his bike and thought, "you know, I've been planning on popping in to pick up some information," so he walked into the math department, sans shirt, and wound up having a coffee with the department chair and one of his colleagues, which turned into an admissions interview. Did I mention that Dad went to Antioch College for undergrad, which did not give out grades? It didn't matter, because Shippensburg apparently liked what they saw and heard from Dad, and that was what mattered. Dad told me this story and finished it up with "the same thing could happen to you, you know," which sounds ridiculous because...that doesn't happen to ANYONE, Dad, but he's also kind of right. I COULD fall into a program or conference or academic drinking night by chance and have it turn out grandly, because that's how advanced study IS.

One of my mentors told me about his time in grad school, talking about how he buckled down incredibly hard for the duration of his program, eating Ramen because he didn't work because he was focusing on the Life of the Mind and what have you. He's also right. Both my Dad and my mentor are where they are now because of the way they chose to engage and capitalized on their graduate schools.

Now, there's probably an argument to be made that someone who sends texts that read "*sigh* Poop." to their cohorts should not be allowed near the Aristotle. But I also know that grad school is what I make it, and one of the things I choose - for myself and only myself - is to get through it with humor and a relatively low stress level, insofar as that is in my control. That's what I want of my experience, and other people will choose differently. The beautiful thing about academe is that you have that choice. When I talk about my undergraduate program, I often talk about two professors and the tension between the two of them. One is very much of the old school, "I will give you the wisdom of the ages - memorize it first, and then we can discuss a little," approach, whereas the other is less concerned with the material than teaching you to question everything that comes before you. It's the pairing that makes an Assumption College political science education so exceptional...not just the one or the other, but the combination of the two. There is always need for teachers of both kinds, and many more, and even more variety of people in non-academic fields.

Grad school is what you make it, in accordance with what you want of it. This is why, when people ask me for advice about applying and fields of study, all I suggest is that they know what they want to do with their degree after they obtain it. You need to know that to direct your study, and everything else comes after.

Posted on the move from my iPad; edits for grammar and spelling may be made at a later date and will be noted accordingly.

Location:Commonwealth Ave,Boston,United States

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

UPDATE: Still Not Watching the Debates, and Vindicated

A while back, I wrote a bit about why I'm not watching the Republican debates right now (though I may once we get closer to primary season) and since there's one going on right now, the detritus of which I am currently wading through on my tumblr dashboard, I do find myself with one more comment on the debates.

I was totally right to ignore them and neener neener.

Even though it's late and I'm tired, I DO actually have a more coherent comment (though I am a fan of elementary school level insults).  The main thing I want to note is that the coverage of the debates and the candidates has swung around so much that I feel I was correct in my assessment of the debates as largely unrevealing of the candidates' respective strengths.  The first debate was in May, and at that time everyone was peeing their pants over Michele Bachmann, who was unceremoniously dumped from frontrunner status for Rick Perry, who is of course now taking a back seat, buzz-wise, to Herman Cain.  This is all in a swing of just about five months, and of course leaves out the spectres of Romney and Paul, both of whom sit in a weird kind of popularity netherworld in this field.  It seems to me that the media is too busy jumping all the guns they can find to tell anyone anything about the candidates, and that is the whole point of a debate, particularly in this kind of pre-primary setting.  We should be hearing from the candidates about what sets them apart, and I do not get the sense any of that is coalescing, with the exception of Herman Cain's (utterly ridiculous and illogical) 9-9-9 tax plan, which I suspect is WHY he's currently so popular...he's the only one throwing out something concrete.

If you'd like some interesting thoughts on the Romney Issue as an alternative to my told-you-so-ing, Christopher Bird has a great little piece on the GOP's weird relationship with Romney that I think lays things out well.  It's worth a read and is certainly thought provoking, and Bird's site in general is top notch.  Give it a read!

Monday, October 17, 2011

I Will Make the Streets Run With the Smelt of My Enemies

Dear Big Y,

You are apparently the official grocery store of the elderly. I congratulate you on carving out a niche for yourself and recognize that the elderly, living an unrushed retired life, enjoy a nice long interaction with any and all clerks they happen upon.  That said, some of us want to buy some milk and get the hell out of the grocery store without celebrating a birthday in your aisles, and you are really not making that shit easy.  My problem, you see, is your discount system.

Like all groceries - except Hannaford, which is awesome and magical and 45 minutes away - you have a little swipey card.  Fine.  I can live with that.  What I want to talk about is the coins.
Do you see that pile?  That's not even the whole pile.  My husband hoards them in strange places throughout the house, so there's probably double this amount squirreled away in various pockets and jars.  You will notice a preponderance of silver coins, which I literally get two of every time I manage to spend one.  Not only do I have to take my fucking card to the store, I also have to take these useless pieces of shit with me and then wander your store aimlessly looking for deals, or else spend time looking through your circular.  I HATE THIS.  Of course, they offer just enough savings in theory that I feel bad about throwing them out, so I keep them in a container over by the sink.

Listen to me.  I like you because you're an American owned business and I like when people take care of the elderly.  Also, you're the only grocery store nearby.  But if you do not cut it out with this shit, I swear on all that is good in this world that I will melt these things down and come to your store and start flinging melted metal at every smiling employee you have.  They're clearly made out of junk metal that cannot possibly have a melting point over like, 85 degrees.  DO NOT TEMPT ME.  THIS IS SERIOUS FUCKING BUSINESS.



Friday, October 14, 2011

Occupy Everywhere

"I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country."
Thomas Jefferson, 1816 letter to George Logan

I wholeheartedly support the Occupy Wall Street movement.  

My grad school safety buddy and all around fantastic human, Erin Bohanan, recently had an Op-Ed published in the New York Times, entitled "Invitation to a Dialogue: A Protest To-Do List," in which she explained that without clarification of desired actions and the identification of leaders, the movement runs the risk of stagnation and irrelevance.  She'll be responding to some reader responses on Sunday, so be sure to check her out there, too!  Erin and I disagree on the need for the protest to establish policy objectives, but I do agree that if the Occupiers want to lead the policy development instead of leaving it to politicians, they will eventually need to develop policy.  We mostly disagree on time frame, but I also argue that the protest itself does not need policy to be valid.  I think a lot of people have struggled with this because large protests have been on the decline over the past 50 or so years (wow, the 60s were 50 years ago...yikes), and we've gotten out of the habit of thinking of them in their appropriate context.  A protest is just that - a statement against something, a mass showing of disapproval.  Its object is not progressive, but static.  Occupy Wall Street does exactly that, and phenomenally well.  It's where we want to go that is in question, and Erin is right to point to that hurdle ahead.  [Tangent: I also love this poster more than maybe anything.  Absolutely fantastic.]

There has been a lot of hysterical whinging about people not knowing what the protest is about...I think this is disingenuous.  There may have been a period at the beginning of the protest where some confusion was understandable, but at this point, if you're pretending you don't know why the Occupiers are mad, you're being deliberately obtuse.  That said, there is always room for refinement, and I think it's worth addressing some of the criticisms that people raise and misconceptions being thrown around.  One that's particularly pervasive is the idea that the protesters just want things handed to them, and most of all that these folks don't want to work.  It is not a matter of people not wanting to work; in fact, it's the exact opposite. People are upset because they DO want to work and are not able to. There is currently one job for every five unemployed people, so even when all of those jobs are filled, there are still going to be ENORMOUS numbers of people still looking for work. Also, stats like that only account for jobs, period, not fitness of jobs for various candidates. If someone with a Masters in Economics takes a job as a barista at a local coffee shop, not only is that person underemployed, but they're also taking a job that would be better suited to someone working through high school or college. This leaves you with someone without a degree/specialization unable to work a job that would be appropriate to their skills, and another person unable to use their skills in a job that is likely underpaying them.  This helps no one.

On top of all this, companies are making record profits while not hiring. This is in large part because of a line I'm sure everyone recognizes: "well, at least you HAVE a job." When the economy tanked and companies laid people off, the work didn't evaporate. If you're a company that was doing a collective 4000 hours of work a week by having 100 people working 40 hours a week, and on Friday you have to lay off 25 people, when Monday comes around, you're still going to have to do that 4000 hours worth of work to maintain your business.  This means your remaining 75 folks now need to figure out how to squish 1000 more hours worth of personpower into their workweek. Since the company laid people off for financial reasons, they probably don't want to start paying each person 13 extra hours of overtime, so you now have pressure on you to do 53 hours worth of work in your 40 hour workweek, because if you can't hack it...well shit, man, you're not doing your job, how can you expect to keep it? Everyone's scared, because they have bills to pay and they don't want to lose their jobs, so they pick up the slack. This is a GREAT deal for businesses - now you only have to pay one person for one-and-a-half, two, three, four people's jobs. Why would you create more jobs and "waste" more money on people? When all that matters is profit margins, then people aren't people, they're just assets.

The thing is this: businesses qua businesses are morally neutral. Business is conceptual, its only function is to make money through some kind of enterprise. However, to take business from concept to production, you need people to run it, and that's when you need to start thinking about the ethical ramifications of employment. We haven't been doing that. We've allowed the most basic function of business, making money, to block out our concerns for people's wellbeing. This is a mistake not only because it's callous and douchey, but also because business can only rise to glory through people. Without innovators and grinders and copy monkeys and interns and CFOs and receptionists and people working to use the construct of business to make something exceptional, business is just something in a book. To reach the best of business' potential, you need people to be enthusiastic about their work, to be healthy so they can work, to make money that allows them to live their lives, and to have time to enjoy their lives so they remember what's so worthwhile. If all you worry about is the bottom line, then you don't make time for that, and everyone suffers, including, eventually, business. The people on Wall Street, and in Boston, and in Denver, and in Seattle, and everywhere else, don't want to see what we've all built fail.

There is a second issue in play, that being the "Fuck You, Got Mine" thinking in the finance industry. Loans and banking have reached a point of ridiculousness that everyone just has to take because there have become fewer and fewer banks. It sounds counterintuitive, but a free market's virtues need to be preserved by regulation. We've had less and less regulation, and as a result, our options for functioning within a free market have diminished. I like this chart in particular: 
Click through for larger version

In 1990-95, you had 37 banks holding about 20% of our collective financial assets. Now, you have 54% of our assets in the hands of four banks. FOUR! Now tell me this...if you hold 13.5% of a nation's fiscal assets (assuming equal distribution), which by the way are NOTHING compared to your own corporate holdings, and those people want to change their terms with you...why the hell would you even take their call? You wouldn't, you'd just do whatever the hell you wanted. And they have.

I started my first business at 20 and my second at 22, so I have had to make hiring and firing decisions, and I have also had to pull those late nights and unending weeks doing the work of three people (or more) to make my business work. That is not what I object to. If it's my business, then the choice is mine to put my shoulder to the wheel and shove, because it's my business and I want to make it work. What I object to - and what many of these protesters object to - is when an employer hires an employee with one understanding (say our 40 hour workweek above, doing whatever job they applied for), and later demands that the contract be drastically changed after the fact, for the sole benefit of the employer and without a corresponding change in remuneration or benefits, and further demands that the employee abides by the changed contract essentially by threatening them with the "at least you have a job" line, since that line has a silent "because you know no one else is hiring, good luck making rent" at the end. Now, we might argue that the employee should saddle up and do the jobs of three people because the job provides his livelihood, and that's fine, except that's really only justifiable if the employee has the OPTION of doing so, and that is not the case. That is wrong, and it is very different from a business owner deciding to work a superhuman number of hours to save their own enterprise.

Many people argue that we don't need to hire people to count paper clips or sit around to restore the economy, we need to get people back to buying stuff, to create demand.   How, then, can we do that? The way I see it, there are two options. You can have the government put more stimulus funding into creating jobs that can develop infrastructure of all kinds, which puts more money into more pockets, with which people can buy stuff and increase demand and eventually create job openings which these infrastructure developers can transition to. Many people don't like this option because they're concerned about the National Debt, which is valid (though a total, irreparable collapse of the economy would screw us worse than any giant debt), or because they don't like the idea of government expansion.  If that option doesn't appeal to you, then you have the second option: require employers to take some of those profits they're hoarding to pay an actual living wage so employees CAN buy things instead of being perpetually struggling to barely keep their head above water. The minimum wage hasn't kept up with cost of living increases, and that's part of why people are having so many problems. Companies aren't going to do that on their own because as I mentioned above, we've allowed "it's just business" to permit us to look at employees as assets. This happens less in TRULY small businesses, but the mid-size businesses that like to pretend they're "mom and pop" shops and the gigantic businesses that employ thousands don't care. They are simply not going to start paying a living wage unless forced, and they have spent the past three decades proving it. Someone I was arguing with recently said "yes, corporations are saving their cash, but they would be happy to spend the cash if they could build their business." They can build their business by paying their employees enough that they can buy products and giving them enough time in the day to buy things or spend money on going out, etc.

The people who oppose the protests frustrate me, I don't mind admitting.  It's a strange frustration, though, because it resolves into hope, and a desperate desire to wish them well. I hope they never wind up in a situation where buying a simple cup of coffee is a luxury that requires saving. I hope their hard work always pays off for them and they're able to afford the life they want by its virtue. I hope their children and relatives and friends are all able to pay for college outright and that their work, too, will always pay off. I hope they never find themselves unable to pay for desperately needed healthcare for themselves and their families. I hope they are never rejected for a loan that they need to make it for a few months because something entirely beyond their control happened and their life changed dramatically. But most of all? I hope that someday they are able to realize how lucky they are that so far, they have not suffered any of these catastrophes. THEY ARE LUCKY, and their experience is NOT universal.  Occupy Wall Street is calling out to transform our great society into a place where that existence is the standard, and we no longer need to rely on luck.
Vive la revolucion.
"Manifesto" by Matheus Lopes

Monday, October 10, 2011

Beers for All Your Slow Friends

A lot of my beer drinking is done in the closed environment of the DCU Center, where we watch the Sharks, and as is the case in many arenas, the selection is mostly limited to the major breweries.  My options are usually Bud, Bud Light, Coors Light, Miller Light, Heineken, and occasionally Michelob Ultra.  To their unending credit, the DCU Center has started serving beers from the local (and excellent!) Wormtown Brewery as well as Sam Adams* in their Charter Zone.  This is not entirely the fault of the DCU Center.  They have advertising and stock agreements with the various companies, and those agreements dictate how and where the beers are sold in the building.  That's a whole other problem.  What I'd like to talk about is how maybe, just maybe, we might be able to see the ascendance of the Wormtown Breweries of the world, because the big breweries are clearly wigged out by the fact that people are starting to realize that beer doesn't have to taste like a foot.

The clearest indicator of this concern that non-boring beer might be on the rise is shit like this: 
From top left: beer for your slow friend, beer for your concussed friend, beer for your clumsy friend, and beer for...your friend who doesn't know to hold onto their beer?
Whenever I see a commercial for one of these bottles, I feel like chugging a case of Brawndo and checking to see if President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho has been elected yet.  Coors Light is my particular favorite.  Would you like to know the most efficient way to figure out if your beer is cold?  Pick up the damned can.  It's literally been working since the beginning of time.  Babies can do this.  However, Coors Light not only thought people could use a hand figuring this out, but thought they needed more detailed help and rolled out a can that has a "cold" bar and a "super cold" bar.  Here's a question.  If you went to a bar, and every time you ordered a drink, you had to listen to the bartender call you a moron, in great detail and at top volume so the whole bar heard them, would you go back to that bar?  Of course you wouldn't, because that bar would be a shitty place with a douchebag behind it, and no one wants to deal with that shit when all you want in life is a beer.  Coors Light is that bar.  STOP GOING TO THAT BAR.  

The other bottles have their own weird stuff; the Miller Lite vortex bottle is apparently for people that never learned to tilt the glass as you pour a beer (or, you know, just drink out of the bottle), and the Bud Light bottle...?????? If you need to rely on your beer bottle for entertainment, you probably have more problems than a little square of personalizable space on a sub-par beer can solve.  But what is consistent across all of these is that the beer itself is not being marketed, but rather the container it's in.  That's a sad statement on consumerism and the way we approach beer, isn't it?  "Buy this thing, it's shiny."  It seems to me that these beer companies acknowledge that their product cannot compete on a taste level, which to me only says good things about the smaller breweries who have begun to be more visible in recent years.  I hope so, not only because I would like some non-gross beer to be available, but also because I think business is most productive when many smaller businesses are able to compete amongst each other and strive to create the best products possible.  

All that said, I'd like to commend one beer for their searing honesty.  That beer has chosen to market their product with this spokesperson: 
Smooth like Keith Stone.
Exactly, Keystone Light, exactly.  Your skunky-ass beer tastes EXACTLY like this sheisty hipster-failure looks.  Well done.  Not sure if it's actually good to point this out, know.  Bravo?

* NB: This is not to say Sam Adams is not a major brewery, but rather that it produces beer that tastes less like piss-water than the others noted.  This is less an assessment of quality and more an identification of the fact that Sam Adams at least has a flavor, rather than going for "generic beer." 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Pumped Up Kicks

I'm super busy with class stuff this week, and while I'll be back on track posting tomorrow, I know I'm not going to get to something substantive today, so I'm giving you this amazing clip that Christopher Bird over at Mighty God King posted.  I've watched it like 18 times since last night and I can't stop.  Sorry about the start-of grad-school bobble, y'all...back to the grind tomorrow!

For comparison's sake, I often have trouble walking in a straight line.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

FLASH: The Founding Fathers Didn't Have the Internet and THAT'S OKAY.

I have been waiting to use this for actual years.
I've noticed an increase in an eternally irritating phenomenon in the past couple of years, and I'd like to try to inject some sanity into the situation.  I speak, of course, of the frequency of the phrase "the Constitution says X is bad/good" applied to issues that the Constitution has absolutely zero commentary on, or else don't have a clear stance.  This has got to stop, people.

That it needs to stop does not mean that I don't understand it, and I think understanding why people are so quick on the The Bible Says trigger is an important piece of the problem.  We're in a wholly new era in terms of information.  Not only are we awash in viewpoints, news and "news," but the Internet allows us to filter out the information in which we are uninterested.

This might not seem like a big deal, but it does allow us to disappear down the wormhole of theory.  There are endless refinements within political thought, and anyone could easily spend a lifetime arguing minutiae within a particular side or alignment.  For instance, my friend Aaron is an enthusiastic and active libertarian who is supporting Gary Johnson for President.  On a regular basis, he winds up in arguments with folks who are supporting Ron Paul; in fact, much of my knowledge about both of these libertarians is spun off of these exchanges.  Within these arguments, there's plenty of simple camp-to-camp bickering, but there are also discussions of how libertarians should stand on various issues and legislation.  All of this is within the confines of libertarianism, so this debate - which is in no way close to running out of steam - is moving on without even touching other political ideologies.  The same arguments go on among my liberal friends and I, and I'm sure among my more active Republican friends as well. This is, to say the least, disconcerting.  Once you figure out what kind of liberal you are, how do you acknowledge valid points in conservatism or actualize the ideology you've worked out?  When will this freaking project end?

I think once you realize this, it's pretty easy to feel like you're drowning in options.  Obama's campaign and election - regardless of how you feel about the outcome - galvanized this country.  People who had never even thought twice about politics started paying attention and started forming opinions.  This is awesome!  Except that it did exacerbate the embarrassment of opinions situation.  So now you have lots of people, all of whom have spent various amounts of time thinking about politics, all engaging in public debate.  In the midst of all this, people want to find a way that elevates their stance or gives them some kind of solid edge.  Recently, the go-to tactic has been to say that the Founding Fathers espoused your position.

Look, it's really easy to cherry-pick pretty much everything written by the Founding Fathers, and to find other people supporting your interpretation.  I've been studying politics for a long time and I can tell you that at this point I can make the Founding Fathers say whatever the hell I want them to, because the great thing about the American government is that it came out of a public discussion.  This is not, of course, to say that everyone was invited to said discussion, but it does mean that we have a great body of work that includes patriots on either side of the debate, Federalist, Anti-Federalist, and even some ideas that don't fit entirely into either camp.  I see your James Madison and raise you Patrick Henry, and so on and so forth.  The problem is that these arguments were not made for sound-byting, they were made for debate, and this means that context matters.  You don't get to be all "so and so said this once so I win" when they said something a lot more nuanced and grey than the point you're making.  That's not fair to you nor to the Father in question.

Moreover, I think we'll all be better off if we accept that there were some things the Founders simply didn't know and did not have test cases for.  We live in an amazingly fast, connected, plentiful time, and many of the checks and considerations that the Founders put in place were simply not built for this era.  Now, that doesn't make their framework irrelevant or useless, it just means that we need to think seriously about what the larger ethic they were trying to codify was and translate it to what we are working with now.  The staggering population growth we've experienced between 1787 and the present matters too.  The Constitution was built in part by examining what had and hadn't worked in other nations and societies up to that time, all of which were on a smaller scale than their modern day manifestations or the current American population.  This is the same reason that socialism brings huge benefits to Scandanavian countries even though their sociopolitical models would be extremely difficult - if it was possible at all - to apply to America.  Politics of the 1700s and before were considered in the context of the time, and there were many fewer people to rule, no matter how you were doing it.

I think it's fantastic that there's such a fight to get the Founding Fathers on our various teams, because it means we still care about what they said and the country they built.  We should still care about that.  But the thing is, the Founding Fathers were on all of our teams...they were working to build a more perfect union (more perfect, not infallible) for all of us, not one side of the aisle or the other.  If we understand them in this way, it will allow us to have a much more robust and productive conversation about how to move their work forward, to the benefit of us all.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Perspective and Conversation

I am prone to flying off the handle and producing some towering rants on the matter of political sheistiness, usually that coming from the right because frankly I think they are wrong about the way we should be governed, but the left doesn't get all the way off the hook either.  However, I always make a conscious effort to calm down in reasonably short order, and it's because of statements like this little nugget from Rep. John Fleming (LA):

‎"By the time I feed my family, I have maybe $400,000 left over."

On its face, this looks like a supercrappy "let them eat cake" type statement, as Dr. Bill pointed out on Facebook.  However, Dr. Bill offered this observation in reaction to my commentary, that being that this may not be said so much out of cold-heartedness as of ignorance, much as Marie Antoinette's famous line likely was (if she said it at all, over which there is some debate).    For the sake of discussion, let's look at the whole exchange, which is available in video here.

Chris Jansing: With all due respect, Congressman, the Wall Street Journal estimated that your businesses,  which I believe are Subway sandwich shops and UPS stores - very successful - brought you last year over 6 million dollars.

Congressman Fleming: Yeah, that's before you pay 500 employees, you pay rent, you pay equipment, buy food...the actual net income of that was actually only a mere fraction of that amount."

Jansing: So you're saying that if you have to pay more in taxes you would get rid of some of those employees?  These are not as successful business as one would want to indicate?

Fleming: I would say that since my net income - and again that's the individual rate that I told you about - the amount that I have to reinvest in my business and feed my family is more like $600k of that 6.3 million, so by the time I feed my family I have maybe $400,000 left over to invest in new locations, upgrade my locations, buy more equipment and all of that.

Jansing: You do understand, Congressman, that the average person out there making 40, 50, 60 thousand a year, when they hear that you only have $400,000 left's not exactly a sympathetic position.

Fleming: Well again, class warfare has never created a job, and that's people that will not get jobs.  This is all about creating jobs Chris, this is not about attacking people who make certain incomes. You know, in this country most people feel that being successful in their businesses is a virtue, not a vice.

Boy, lots to unpack here.  

So first of all, the reason that comments like this prompt me to calm down when I'm angry is that I'm pretty sure Fleming is speaking here out of ignorance rather than any kind of mean-spiritedness.  I'm guessing that he thinks $400,000 is obviously a meagre amount, and does not question his decision to bring this up.  Here are the principal problems with his statements.

  • By his own math, Fleming is taking about $200,000 to feed and support his family.  About 30% of Americans live below the lowest tax bracket, which kicks in around $20,000.  Fleming is opting to take about ten times what a significant proportion of the US population must live on to support his family.  I don't begrudge him that, but I do think he should avoid acting like he's scraping by.  $200,000 is certainly making good money; his family does not need to worry about where their next meal is coming from or about keeping the lights and heat on.  He is a successful businessman.
  • Having $400,000 to reinvest in your business may not be the same as being awash in millions that will allow you to buy your own private army to solidify your market dominance, but it's not doing terribly, either.  What he's actually saying in this exchange is not that he only makes $400,000 a year but that he has that amount to reinvest in his businesses.  If he's routinely getting that amount out of his businesses, he is doing fairly well and is able to sustain his existing franchises and consider expansion.  
  • Lest we forget, his businesses did bring in $6 million.  We can deduce that these businesses would net him a fair amount - maybe not $6 million, but a good solid chunk of change - if he was to sell them.  Not all wealth is completely liquid or completely cash.  These businesses, particularly in their current state as stable enterprises in the black, are assets for Congressman Fleming, even if he cannot go out tomorrow and buy a Lambo with Subway sandwiches.  He is doing fine.
The thing that's most galling to me about this, though, is his closing statements.  In them, he suggests that tax reform is about penalizing certain incomes, and that it views success as a vice.  This is not the case.  What he seems to fail to grasp is that having a business does not entitle you to some exemption from tax liability.  Not every business does - or should - succeed, and not every business should - or does - make massive profits.  You do not gain a higher moral, social or political status by being daring enough to start a business, nor by creating a successful one.  What people calling for tax reform - particularly for taxing the rich - want is for everyone to pay their fair share, whether they own the business or are employed by it.  It is that simple, and I hope that Fleming and his ilk can understand it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

No. YOU Move.

America has made a lot of promises in its time on this earth.  A lot of them are good.  We drew a line and said "we are all due life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."  I've talked before about how much I love that we are promised the pursuit of happiness, not happiness itself.  It's better that way, because that way you never stop imagining happiness and chasing after it.  That way, happiness changes, and you can find it anywhere - ahead of you, behind you, in your loving arms - and know you can continue seeking new happiness out every day.

One of the challenges, though, of being American and of being given these rights, is that you need to worry about those three things in equal measure.  I love this Captain America frame because it highlights something important to the preservation of our republic: taking public, vocal stands.  There is literally no way for us to all agree, and we certainly can't do it by assuming everyone understands our reasoning and our positions.  We have to continually discuss and consider the problems we face as a nation, not only to resolve them, but to interact with each other as citizens and to hold our government accountable.
"Doesn't matter what the press says, doesn't matter what the politicians or the mobs say, doesn't matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right.  This nation was founded on one principle above all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences.  When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world -- "no, YOU move."

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ten Years Later, and Ahead By A Century

With illusions of someday casting a golden light,
No dress rehearsal, this is our life.
That's when the hornet stung me and I had a feverish dream;
With revenge and doubt tonight we smoke them out...
The Tragically Hip, "Ahead By A Century"

I've written about September 11th so many times.  Nothing I've produced, no matter how graceful in its simplicity or florid of language, can top Sarah Bunting's piece For Thou Art With Us.  

I'm 28 now.  I'm a graduate student, far from politics.  I'm far away from DC, where my friends comment on my energy when I return.  When I was 18 I didn't know anything, but I thought I knew it all.  I still don't know it all, but now I'm aware of it.  I regret that it wasn't simply the brilliance of Aristotle that made me understand how little I knew.  It's a little bit like learning that the stove is hot; someone can tell you it's hot, but you'll remember it forever once the shiny, tight burns have healed and only the scars remain, fading through time as you grow older and wiser.  September 11th was what taught me how little I knew and how little I would be able to know before I shuffled off this mortal coil.  There are people and there are acts that I will never understand. 

In America, we are deeply attached to our sense of fairness.  Even though we know life isn't fair, we appeal to it so frequently.  We're driven to mention it even as we acknowledge that fairness isn't the point.  There is very little that is less fair than what happened on September 11th.  People were simply going to work, on a beautiful day, when our world changed.  Over the course of the past ten years I have had nightmares about being at work - at jobs nowhere near Washington or New York or Pennsylvania, jobs that have nothing to do with what I was doing in 2001 - and being engulfed in flames, struck by what sounds like monsters but I know are aircraft, watching my friends burn by my side.  The worst part is that I don't wake up screaming or crying.  I sleep through these dreams, waking up exhausted and paranoid.  I don't claim to know what every American feels, but I think some variation of this is what has been happening to everyone over the past ten years.  This immense, sudden, violent unfairness has haunted us, because it removed our ability to ever again appeal to fairness or to pretend we are in some what guaranteed it by virtue of our government and our society.  Nothing is the same, but everything looks like it is.

This all-consuming fear that chases us into our dreams and into the dark corners and bright daylight of our lives is not to be minimized.  However, giving into it is to give it power, and to turn our fear into legitimate concern.  In the past ten years, we have abandoned so many civil rights in the name of safety.  We have abandoned so much of the fabric of America for the sake of protecting against what might happen.  We have continued two wars, one of which was invalid from the start and the other of which will never be won in any meaningful sense beyond what was accomplished a few short months ago with the death of Osama bin Laden.  We must celebrate this dark anniversary with a revival of our courage.  This is no small task.

It takes courage to reject intrusive searches and accept risk back into our lives.

It takes courage to stand up to a police state and risk bodily harm.

It takes courage to fight against those who would take our rights for their own gain.

It takes courage and it takes strength to reverse these ten years of fearful relinquishment of what makes us who we are.  I am afraid.  I know many others are.  I know many of us feel like we cannot possibly fight the forces who have risen to power while we were hiding under the blankets and wishing for a new day - those of immense power and of immense fortune, who seem to control every aspect of our lives.  But my friends - my fellow Americans - we have to try.  We have to try, and we have to be brave.  We have to be involved not just with national politics but with our communities.  We have to reach down to those of us most bereft of power and hope and help them up, so that they too can join us and so that we all can emerge free from this crushing fear.  We have to offer up the best of our communities as candidates - business people and parents and the unemployed and the students - the people who want to fight for us, and to return us to our best selves.

The people who have perpetuated this fearful existence seem bigger than life.  Some of them have weapons, some of them have militaries.  Some of them employ us, hold sway over our mortgages and leases and bank accounts.  But they, too, are people.  Despite their greatest hopes, we still have the power of our Constitution...and we still have the power of numbers.  We, too, sing America - and we must, ever more so on this day, ten years after the world fell in.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Chess and Politics, or Why I'm Not Watching These Stupid Debates

I've been trying to learn chess.  A close friend with whom I share a competitive streak is an enthusiastic chess player, and this made me decide that I would learn chess secretly, then finally challenge him to a game and annihilate him, emerging as Queen of the Chess People and probably going on to international fame and fortune.

You will be shocked to find out that this did not go quite to plan.

Our first game didn't go catastrophically considering my super-beginner starting point, but needless to say I lost more or less immediately and have continued to do so both online and in person, and a week or so ago, he informed me he'd just won his 1500th game on a particular app.  He'd probably want me to also point out that he has lots of losses, too (he is trying to sell me on the Losing is Part of the Process concept, which is true but also infuriating), but the guy's win percentage is 0.648 and 1500 wins is impressive so really, who cares about his losing?  My online loss percentage is 0.777 and even that's ridiculous and actually more like 0.977 because most of the "wins" in my stats are timeouts from opponents - I've won one game fair and square.  Queen of the Chess People indeed.

Anyway, this whole chess business is a challenge because while I learned some basic stuff about movement and object when I was younger, I know next to nothing about tactics and actual strategy and I have been learning slowly.  One of the most helpful things this friend has gotten me into the habit of doing is to look at the opponent's move and figure out what they're up to first, before deciding what to do.  This has not yet brought me to a place where I always make the right move as a result, but at least the thought process is the correct one.  Sometimes when you look at the move, you see that you must deal with the resulting position immediately, and sometimes you look at it and see that you have a little bit of time.  I have developed a bad habit of talking to myself when I'm playing online, and I often respond to moves that allow time with "...but so what?"

That's kind of how I feel about a lot of polling and particularly about the GOP debates going on these days.  "...But so what?"  There is so much ink being spilled over the various debates and who said what and all this stuff, and I think we probably should be talking about the content of what the candidates are saying, but there's a whole other layer of bullshit over the top of this that drives me right up the wall, and that layer is comprised of polls and commentary.  There is so much focus on how these people would fare against Obama, and let's start is still 2011.  The election is in November of 2012.  There is absolutely no telling what could happen in the interim - there could be more natural disasters, there could be another financial meltdown, the Euro could collapse, etc.  - and any major event could dramatically change Obama and any opponent's chances.  Moreover, not a single GOP candidate has any kind of solid platform that the public is clear on at this point.  While they all have positions and such, the debates thus far have basically been extended Two Minute Hates on Obama and his various policies (and I'll leave it to you to decide what other groups have received some of said Hate), and little has been articulated about how they would do otherwise.  It's a beauty contest at this point, so of course people are going to rank GOP candidates higher than Obama - Obama has an actual Presidential track record, and these people are speaking in glittering generalities.  So I don't care about how [Insert Candidate Here] is polling against Obama, because it is September of 2011 and they haven't even articulated positions yet.

Beyond that complaint, I feel like we need serious discussion about where this country is and will be, and the coverage of these debates along with the incessant polling and bullshit is making that impossible.  I've been down in the trenches, and I've been That Campaign Worker and That Staffer who knew all the numbers all the time.  I know how easy it is to get sucked into that and to continually fidget with poll data without prejudice - "well, the poll says." "Yeah but it's about how people with pets vote on Wednesdays in June."  "Yeah but it says."- but it really is distracting and foolish. Focusing on polls and pole position and all of this stuff makes the debates and the campaign at large about the election qua the election, not about the Presidency or Congress that will follow nor about need to select the best possible candidate on the basis of policy proposals.  It turns into a story about one freaking day and it's this kind of thinking that has given us the shallow, ignorant politics that currently has most of the country infuriated.

This brings me back to chess.  I've been reading commentary on last night's debate, and at a certain point I just sat back and thought "...but so what?"  None of this matters, really.  Last night was basically Mitt Romney and Rick Perry swapping jabs that were based on comparisons to liberals years out of public office.  I mean seriously...Al Gore Internet jokes?  Michael Dukakis slams?  Is it late night TV in 1988?  Oh and lots of "Obama is a poophead" level stuff, which...we know, okay?  You don't like Obama.  Noted.  Fine.  How about specific reasons for that?  No?  You'd rather stick with "[that policy I don't like] is bad."  Get the hell out of here.  This is a time for serious people willing to engage in serious debate with all Americans (and I direct this at Obama as well, whose communication with the American people has been massively problematic), not for juvenile sniping.  So although I know I'm many people's "Political Friend" representative, I'm not watching this stuff, because I don't have to deal with the move right's just one big "...but so what?"

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

WARNING: School Incoming!

This semester's Murderer's Row:

  • Development of American Constitutional Law  This class was taught in a early-90s high school looking room this morning; it was a little trippy.  However, the professor is a new one named David Glick and all early indications are that he is awesome, starting with his Bachelor's degree in Political Science and Astrophysics.  Yes really.
  • Approaches to the Study of International Relations  I'm currently planning to make IR my sub-field (Political Theory is the major field; American Politics the minor field), so I'm taking this core to prepare.
  • Freedom  How can you go wrong with a name like "Freedom"?  Taught by my favorite professor - Dr. Judith Swanson - and full of Hayek, who I've been meaning to read more of.  Can't wait!  
  • Quantitative Research Methods  This is not going to go well.  I was going to take this last semester put it off because I basically managed to pick the four hardest classes in the program for the same semester.  Thus I have read two syllabi for this course from two different professors coming from two different backgrounds that say, essentially, "this is useless for Political Theory people."  Obviously, more knowledge isn't a bad thing, and I probably SHOULD learn this, but since I'm almost certainly going to struggle, I'm a little resentful.
This is my last year of classes in my Ph.D program.  It seemed to go by so quickly, and in many senses it did; but on the other hand, I can practically feel my brain trying to make space for more smart up there.  My program isn't perfect, but it's been a wonderful environment for me to argue and talk with so many people like and unlike me.  While I am not as close to my classmates as I might wish, thanks to the commuting, I was thrilled to feel genuine joy throughout today as I saw my friends - Erin, of course, without whom I would be entirely lost, and who inspires me with her great attitude and ridiculously fantastic smile, but also seeing Tai Yi and Fatima and Doug and everyone else made me so excited to start a new year.  I'm really lucky.

Monday, August 29, 2011

[CLASSIFIED] The Beautiful Skin Guarantee

I am lucky enough to have emerged from my rounds with puberty-based acne with nice skin.  I like makeup, so people often ask about products I use, and those folks are often surprised when I say I don't wear foundation very often.  But for a little bit of rosacea in my cheeks, my skin tone is very even and tends to stay blemish free, barring a zit or two right before I get my period.  Genetics-based luck is part of it, and it would be silly to not acknowledge that, but I also credit a great deal of it to a mysterious beauty secret I discovered some time ago.  I have decided to reveal this secret to you all.  It may take some work for you to find it, but if you want perfect skin, you're going to need to put in some work.  I'm sorry, but not everything in this life can be simple.

The secret ingredient is....

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Girl Scouts Will Teach Your Girls to Be Awesome, Full Stop.

I am convinced that there is a swath of people on the right who have just decided to act like cartoon villains to see how long they can get away with it.  Today's Maleficent wannabe is Wendy Wright, who is an asshole.
On Parshall’s show, Wright said parents should call for an investigation into whether the money from Girl Scout cookie sales goes to teaching “young girls to be activists and advocates for a radical sexual agenda.” She blamed the Girl Scouts leadership for supporting a “radical, feminist, pro-abortion form of activism and training these girls up to be feminist activists.” Wright urged parents instead to have their daughters join a “wholesome, pro-God, alternative to the Girl Scouts” called the American Heritage Girls. The American Heritage Girls was founded by Patti Garibay, who, according to CNS News was “motivated to leave the Girl Scout organization when the group decided it would take no position on homosexuality” and to encourage instruction in “traditionally feminine skills, such as sewing, cooking and laundry.” American Heritage Girls bills itself as a “Christ-centered” group that denounces “moral relativism.”  (source)
So let's have a talk.

A lot of feminists talk about an "aha moment" or a "click moment," where they realized, in a beam-of-light-style revelation, that they were feminists.  I did not have one of these moments.  I can't remember the first time I said aloud that I am a feminist.  But I can tell you why I am a feminist.  I am a feminist because being a woman is fucking hard.  I am a feminist because it is bullshit that my body is considered constantly available for public discussion, be it from cat-callers or politicos.  I am a feminist because I should never have to justify my decision to work, or to not have children, or to have children, but I do, on a weekly if not daily basis.  I am a feminist because it's ridiculous that people assume that I can't possibly be a "real" sports fan.  I am a feminist because I am sick of explaining that I can be good at cooking and also not like doing it. I was lucky enough to grow up in a family and an environment where by and large the people around me were okay with me doing whatever the hell I wanted, and who saw me as a person first, and a woman later.  However, this is not the norm, and once I left that environment I realized how unusual it was.

I had a weird relationship with the Girl Scouts.  I was in Montachusett troop 101 in Worcester, Massachusetts as a Brownie and a Junior, and I attended both Camp Neyati in Spencer and Camp Green Eyrie in Harvard.  I didn't really love the weekly troop meetings.  I liked hanging out with my friends, obviously, and I had a good time, but for me, "Girl Scouting" meant lots of canoes and fire, and there wasn't a whole lot of that on a weekly basis.  There was a lot of sewing and crafting and stuff like that, which I also liked, know.  No fire.  It was when I started going to Camp Green Eyrie that I really started loving Girl Scouting, and it was in those tents and under those trees that I came to understand the power of women, and the limitless potential for all of us.  I made friends there with whom I am still in touch, and did things I never would have expected to do.  I'll never forget rolling up to the mess hall at the end of our Voyager unit, having hiked and canoed for a week, covered in mud and scrapes and running five minutes late for dinner, feeling so damn awesome because we all did the hell out of that trip.  That was when I knew I could do whatever I wanted to do.

That's what Girl Scouting taught me.  You'll notice there's nothing in there about hating God or about abortion or about radical feminism.  Shocking, I know.  It was about achieving awesomeness as a human first and a woman second, and having a damn good time while we were at it.  Also?  Fire.  And sometimes canoes.

And let me tell you something, Wendy...the Girl Scouts are not the ones pressing an agenda on the young women in their organization.  It is YOUR attempt to politicize their day to day activities that forces the political into what is a simple, healthy environment for young women.  You take an entirely unrealistic view of how organizations work, on top of this.  Would you like to know how much of a fuck I gave about what the Girl Scouts of America's upper echelons were doing when I was a Junior?  LESS than zero.  I cared about the girls in my troop or my camp unit, and I cared about what we were doing that day, and maybe if I still had time to zone out a little bit, I might have cared about some residual shit from school or my friends.  But when shitbags like you force political issues to the fore of organizations whose primary services have nothing to do with political action, you make it political.  And frankly, had someone like you come out shame fingers a-blazin' when I was having a good time being outside and canoeing and getting dirty and learning how to sew AND start fires and talking about how to be a good citizen...well, Wendy, I might just have thought that maybe people like you were the ones pushing a shady agenda worth avoiding.

But I will thank you, before I let this go and return to my radical feminist life.  I'd like to thank you for inspiring me to rejoin the Girl Scouts today.