succumbing to peer pressure

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Why are people always saying that Meg Ryan needs to take roles to break out of her "nice girl" typecasting? Two of her earliest (and best, imho) roles were as Jim Morrison's wife, who liked drugs and alcohol nearly as much as he did, and who over-dosed/committed suicide just three years after he did, in The Doors. And as an alcoholic in When Man Loves a Woman. Also, Andy Garcia = the embodiment of hotness in that movie.

Also, Sid (and whomever else is interested) - I need someone to play devil's advocate about immigrants in general and international students specifically. More specifically, why we might not want students from certain countries to have access to "our" schools in the first place and why we might not want "them" to be able to continue their education here once they get in. i.e. why it might be reasonable/a good thing that it's incredibly difficult to get/keep visas from certain countries. I'm thinking about writing a letter to the editor and I want to try to cover some of the most predictable criticisms right off the bat. Thanks in advance...

ps - please skip the "it's a good way to get into the country and then never show up to school and thus be a terrorist" thing, I'm thinking more about students who have already shown their intention to earn a legitimate degree.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a boring white guy with a 3.92 who is terrified about not finding a way to pay the rent for the rest of my dissertation once my single, half-assed fellowship runs out (seriously, WTF is 3 years good for?), let me just posit this one ethnocentric argument:

It's already hard enough for boring white guys like me to get research funding. Meanwhile, I've got a dumbass in my lab who failed the qualifiers TWICE but he somehow managed to squeeze through the cracks and stay on as a research assistant. I could really use that fucker's money, I tell ya, and I don't even need his H-1 visa.


10:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, one argument is that graduate degrees are generally subsidized because society generally believes that the research generated is a public good - it benefits everybody, not just the student. However, if immigrant students are coming here to get education but then returning to their home countries, then their country gets the benefit, while we still foot the cost.

I'm not saying I believe that argument, but its an argument.


11:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I'll start off by ignoring boring, anonymous white guy. Grad school is generally merit-centric-- if you deserve the funding, you'll get it. In fact, I'd argue its *easier* if you're an American to get into grad school and get funding than if you're a non-citizen. 'course, its even easier if you're an American of a minority group, but that's a seperate issue.

Steve's already hit the idea that we're subsidizing a commodity for our country, and by funding foriegn students, we're essentially subsiding their country's tech. True and not true, in practice. Most people who go to America for a higher-level degree, e.g. a PhD, tend to stay here.

However, there are exceptions to that rule. The Chinese, for example, are notorious for using graduate students to commit acts of technological espionage. They will arrange for certain students to come here, study under particular professors, and steal/copy/bring back research data and files AND the knowledge of what those files mean. I know UAF has cut back on the number of chinese grad students they've brought in 'cause of the rampent cheating on tests like the GRE....

And let's not forget good ol' WMD. A lot of the research being done now can be very versatile in its use. For example, my dad is working on a research project to improve the conversion of natural gas to a gasoline-substitute. He needed a ceramics post-doc to help him out, 'cause he's not a material scientist. He tried to bring one in from India, but the post-doc got held up in the visa process 'cause the ceramics research he'd be doing here could POTENTIALLY help India's nuclear weapons progam. Not a big deal for India, which already has the bomb, but what about countries that want to develop it? If a N. Korean or Iranian grad student wanted to study nuclear engineering, would it be a good idea? Or how about biological research that could be used to create new chemical/biological weapons?

So, an argument could be made not to allow funding for graduate students from hostile countries. The counterargument to that is, if we cut off all ties to our culture, how will our oft-ignorant enemies know how wonderful life in the western world is?

In the end, most Americans dont want to go to graduate school. Plus, most universities dont want to pay the sorts of stipends that would attract american citizens. Essentially, the graduate student market has become a sort of indentured servitude, where we get some truly bright engineers from around the world to inject research into our economy for a mere pittance. Without them, famed American innovation would be crippled.... so while it makes sense to limit "hostile" students, in general graduate research is something we want to subsidize, I think. We get more engineers, innovative research, disperse first-hand experience with American culture, and do it all more cheaply than we could do with what we have at hand.


10:11 AM  
Blogger Flash!topian said...

And, on the Meg Ryan topic, also note her performance in "Hurly Burly," in which she played a coke-addled prostitute.

I think the thing about her is that "when she is good, she is very very good, but when she is bad, she is horrid." That is to say, she's either a coked-out bimbo or a head-tossing neurotic with a romantic heart. You never forget when you're watching her that you're watching Meg Ryan and not someone else. For example, it's easy to remember that the lead female character in "Eternal Sunshine" was Clementine, and I can remember all sorts of things about her character, like that she is insecure and irritatingly bossy and provocative, but ultimately likable . . . things I don't associate with Kate Winslet, or with any other role she's played. I felt like I was watching an individual character.

With Meg Ryan, you're always watching either "Good Meg" or "Bad Meg" and people cast her because it's the way American movie-makers cut through character-building to get to the story. Mainstream American movies are awesome at plot, and they do so by using star iconography rather than slowly building individual selfhoods of character. If you're into plot, you watch movies with Tom Hanks or Tom Cruise or Meg Ryan or Julia Roberts because you know what you're getting into and you can settle right into the drama, no questions asked. It's not bad; it's just a different way of movie-making.

12:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

re: the cultural indoctrination thing Sid brings up - there's no reason we couldn't just ban grad students from hostile countries in technical fields. Its unlikely that a doctoral student in econ or psych or history could help their home country do something dangerous, yet those same students would still see how nice and wonderful the US is. Though clearly there is much less of an influx of foreign students in non-technical fields.


3:10 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Thanks guys. Something I've always wondered about the whole subsidizing another country's technology thing - if that's really one of our concerns, how come one of the restrictions of these visas is always that the student is not allowed to settle in the US? I realize this may/probably be a restriction on the part of the home country as opposed to the US, but we're pretty strict about enforcing that. If we were really concerned about keeping the research we "earned" by funding this student in our country, wouldn't we make it easier for them to stay and work here?

Anyway, to answer Sid's IM question (since I keep missing you online today) - something is up with a friend of mine, who has asked me to keep the issue private, so although I seriously doubt anyone to whom this story would really matter reads this blog, I should still be careful about posting private information to a totally insecure website. So if/when something happens one way or the other, I'm sure I'll blog about it, but until then, thanks for the help, sorry to keep you all in the dark. I'm not sure if I'm going to get around to the letter to the editor or not, but I hate feeling helpless and I feel like more people should know about this totally crappy/unfair situation.

8:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I think American attitudes are fractally schizophrenic... the incoherency and inconsistency about foreign grad students (and the subsidizing other countries vs. not staying here thing) is a small scale version of the great dissonance Americans have towards immigration in general:

Give us your huddled masses, unless they want our jobs.
Foreigners are dirty and shiftless and just want welfare, but we'll hire them because they've been the backbone of almost every major economic expansion.
Immigrants are bad because they refuse to assimilate, but they can join the military and fight wars for us!

8:25 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

So true.

Also, given that I know others have some pretty first-hand experience with funding problems and international students, just thought I'd add that my friend's troubles are not financial - they're purely political. Not that that's better or worse, just different.

8:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I wouldnt say there's really all that big of a barrier to settlement post-degree. Universities get a nearly unlimited number of student F-1 visas for graduate students, so the floodgates are open for students.

The question is, for the government, which students do we want to stay? The answer is, those immigrants who provide a technical expertise that we can't get here. This is the main barrier to settlement in the U.S. After one's done with school, its really up to a corporation in the U.S. to say, "yeah, this person is a benefit to society and our company. we'll use up one of our limited slots and sponser him/her for a H-1, H-1B visa".

Here's where the problem with settlement occurs, as there are far fewer H-1 visas available than there are engineers and scientists to use them. So, America businesses get to claim the cream of the crop and the rest disseminate to Canada, Europe, or their home country.

The hardest part is really getting that H-1 visa and holding onto it long enough to qualify for a greencard. Once you have resident alien status, things are pretty easy to manage (for the most part).

It's not a bad system, really. America keeps the best of those they train, ensuring that those entering the country through this avenue will contribute to society at large. Personally, I think our economy would benefit from an influx of highly-trained workers, but clearly the government feels the need to limit it. I'm willing to compete with 'em, but getting ahead on the basis of merit isnt as American as it used to be...


9:34 PM  

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