succumbing to peer pressure

Friday, July 15, 2005

So it's been an interesting week. The boy was unexpectedly back in town, which means most days were spent lounging in bed and watching movies* and getting absolutely nothing done. No complaints here. Fortunately though, from an economic perspective, things are picking up a bit. Met with Lance today about starting a lit search on health disparities and turns out my least favorite prof has no idea that I strongly dislike her and for some crazy reason thought I'd make a good advisee. Nevertheless, I'm going to see if we can compromise on some part-time work rather than a dissertation-size project, as the topic is interesting and I could work primarily with Brian, which is always enjoyable. And my advisor hopes to have actual data soon, so I may even start playing around with some dissertation research. Plus, over the past few days I've gotten back into writing some code and was pleasantly surprised that even after a two month hiatus I still mostly remember how to do this stuff. So, yeah, intellectual matters have been generally good and rewarding. Which is, quite frankly, a huge relief. (my brain has felt so fragile lately that literally up until a couple of weeks ago I've felt incapable of reading anything with equations or Greek letters. I was starting to worry that might not wear off) And I leave for NYC in a few weeks and we're moving about the same time, so, you know, things are going on. Thank goodness I didn't end up with some 'real' job this summer. Pulling full time hours right now, while nicer for my bank account, would really kind of suck. Instead, I do believe I'll continue to milk my 3 am bedtime-noon wake-up time for all it's worth.

*The Ring - excellent, impressive cinematography, incredibly disturbing imagery that's difficult to avoid, even if you're a wimp like me and watch scary movies mostly through your fingers
War of the Worlds - enjoyable, as long as you go in with the expectation of a summer movie where things explode and people scream; more graphic and somewhat more disturbing imagery than I was expecting, satisfying ending (true to original story) as far as the aliens go, typical annoying human characters from Spielberg
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - thoroughly enjoyable, totally over the top, very trippy (if you do drugs, I'm certain that indulging before this movie will increase your enjoyment); as usual, Depp is brilliant and amazing to watch

During our chat last night Carrie lamented - why can't I just buy you guys in a store and take you home with me? I second this query, though at the time I wondered if the store-available-versions of Mark and I would in fact be us or weird copies of us who somehow might not live up to the originals. You know, like they would occasionally malfunction and the store-Mark would try to date a girl or something. The relationship the three of us have, and the two beautiful years we lived together at Belmar Estates, must have been the result of some amazing alignment of the stars or something. Anyway, we're constantly trying to tell stories to other friends about our lives together, and are constantly met with this confused, that's not really funny, sort of look. Nevertheless, Carrie has posted alternate messages for the flowers she and Mark sent me over on her blog, and I think they're hilarious. Go read them and be amused. Or not. Whatever.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

I heart Sarah Vowell (and Jimmy Carter)

The only possible presidential speech fantasy in my wildest of daydreams, my oratorical castle in the air, is that one day, for just one measly speech, the president - the man of "mission accomplished," the man who was once asked at a press conference to discuss one of his mistakes and couldn't think of any, the man who is surely the sunniest looker-on-the-bright-side east of Drew Barrymore - would sit behind his Oval Office desk, stare into a TV camera and say: "My fellow Americans, good evening. As if that's possible."

He continues, "We are a divided people, but let us celebrate what we have in common. We don't all worship the same god. Some of us do not believe in a god at all. But the good news is that, thanks to me, we all now believe in the Apocalypse. You're welcome."


Those frank words, coming out of a presidential mouth, are shocking. It will be difficult, but think back and try to remember an America dependent on foreign oil, an America with high gasoline prices, an America consumed with crises in the Middle East. And imagine you feel there is nothing you, the average American, can do. Then your president goes on TV and instead of saying you can do something vague like "stay the course," he tells you that there is something small and practical you can do. You can carpool!

These days, there's just something refreshing about reading through Carter's clear-eyed political suicide. Daydreamer though I am, I have never expected a president to solve our chaos. It's just nice to know that once, one of them acknowledged it.

"It's not your fault."

I had a rather "Good Will Hunting" moment this morning in therapy. My therapist offered up that phrase in response to my argument that this whole anxiety thing is so frustrating because I feel like I did everything right - I really felt like I was taking care of myself before the exam, making time for trips to the gym and quality time with friends and whatnot. It's surprising how hard it is to believe that this isn't my fault. It's my brain that's doing this to me, it's my life that nuked me, so to speak. How can it not be my fault? So, yeah. Therapy was...a little rough this morning.

Fortunately, coming home to the boy still in my bed, and going back to sleep until mid-afternoon, was the opposite of rough. In fact, it was downright lovely.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Plame Thing

So I haven't been following the whole Judith Miller/Matt Cooper thing very closely, mostly because I don't have the stomach for it. So it's entirely possible that I'm missing something in the assessment that follows: My impression is that the critical problem with the Plame affair is that a CIA agent's cover was blown, thus endangering her life and the success of any cases she may have been working on, and, as far as I can tell, for no real gain as far as transparency of governmental functioning and whatnot. Meanwhile, other stories are getting squashed out of fear of similar trials and jail time - The Cleveland Plain Dealer is not reporting two stories of "profound importance" because they are based on illegally leaked documents. I know it's the easy comparison, but the Pentagon Papers were also illegally leaked documents, but I believe history generally agrees that it was a good thing those facts became public knowledge. Shouldn't it be a fairly obvious line to draw between information for the public good, information regarding the misbehavior, and potentially illegal behavior of our government, and, you know, information that puts one individual's life at risk with no public gain?

From Bob Harris:

Right this minute, on the BBC World service: a lengthy report on humanitarian efforts in Africa. No news crawl. If you didn't know the London bombings had happened already, you wouldn't even know.

Right this minute, on CNN International: a lengthy report on anti-terrorism efforts in other countries, so far specifically framed as a series of successful trades: decreasing freedom for increasing surveillance, with greater security supposedly as the net result. Along the bottom, a news crawl repeats bombing-related headlines constantly.

One of these things is not like the other. One is constant, constant fear-pandering. The other -- from the country that actually suffered the bombings, no less -- is still reporting something resembling actual news, with something resembling a dose of actual perspective.

And so far, nobody on the CNN show seems to have realized that a London crammed with security cameras seemingly every few feet... didn't keep the bombing victims safe at all. The program is quite remarkably deceptive on its face, while advocating measures which attack our freedom much more directly than anything a terrorist can do.

I really hate the news sometimes.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Where to start? With the horrible realization that many of my fears back in 2000 may be coming true (fears which, I must point out, many people said were merely me overreacting). There are plenty of better sources out there for the upcoming SCOTUS battle, so I'll mostly just point to those. First, it's critical to keep in mind that although Roe v. Wade itself may not be in actual jeopardy (at the moment) since there's a 6-3 majority ruling on that one, there are plenty of other restrictions that the court can place on abortion which basically makes it impossible for the vast majority of women (read: non-white, non-upper-middle-class, non-well-connected) to get one. In fact, the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act (I hate typing that, there is NO SUCH THING as a partial birth abortion, the medical procedure is a dilation and extraction or dilation and evacuation, but that sounds so much less gruesome when splashed across news headlines) was never expected to hold up in lower-level courts, it was merely an excuse to get the decision before the supreme court. A series of cases that are on the docket for the fall term would provide the court with the opportunity to once again determine whether or not state statutes related to abortion must include a specific exemption for preserving the health of the mother, an issue with only a 5-4 margin, with the deciding vote belonging to O'Connor. Because clearly the agonizing decision of whether to try to save the life of your child or the life of your partner is best left up to state or federal legislation. Many states already have parental notification or mandatory wait periods, either of which make abortion impossible for many women. Abortion clinics tend to be located only in major cities, so if you're poor and live somewhere outside a major city, you have to take multiple days off of work, have one appointment to discuss the abortion, then wait the mandatory 24 hours or so, then figure out how to get back to the clinic for the actual procedure. (aside - if you're feeling particularly activist-y there are groups that organize people willing to provide a couch or spare bed to women who have had to travel long distances to have an abortion, so that they have a safe place to sleep during the waiting period. I wish I had contact info to provide, but I don't know about any centrally organized websites or anything, you'll just have to check it out in your own city).

Second, it's not just about abortion. Women's reproductive health rights, and their right to privacy regarding conversations with their doctors, is inherently a privacy issue. Many abortion rights rulings stemmed from privacy issue rulings, which could also easily be undone by a more conservative court. A court which would most likely remain in tact for decades. We're not talking about the potential ramifications of one or two presidential terms. We're talking about shaping the interpretation of the Consitution and the law of the land for many, many years to come. So wouldn't it be better to err on the side of moderation?

The Supreme Court Nomination Blog has an excellent run down of the issues at hand and Voices of Choice provides a sober reminder that "history shows us that women with families -- women who are mothers, sisters and daughters -- will put their lives at risk in order to decide when and whether to become mothers." Voices of Choice is a group of physicians who provided abortions before and after they became legal, and they have put together multimedia presentations about their experiences.
We can never forget what we saw when abortion was illegal – and we don’t want anyone else to forget either. Denying safe, accessible abortion puts women’s lives at risk and makes criminals out of caring physicians. We’ve lived in an America where women suffered tragically and needlessly, and we don’t want anyone to live through that again.

I know I'm preaching (mostly) to the choir here, but the thing that I feel like keeps getting lost in the abortion debate is that no one (at least no one I've ever known) is comfortable with abortion. Feeling uneasy or conflicted about abortion, or considering it as absolutely not an option for you personally does not make you anti-abortion. Of course it makes you queasy. Of course it's an unimaginably awful thing to consider. But it is precisely because it is such a complicated, nearly-impossible decision that it is so critical that it be a decision based (ideally) on discussions between a woman and her doctor and the father. It blows my mind that anyone presumes to be able to make this decision for anyone else.

And lastly, and unrelatedly, Timothy Burke has a bit up about teaching in general and grade inflation specifically.
Still, when I look at all the inquiry into grade inflation, I do wonder if sometimes the simpler explanations are overlooked. For one, the lack of explicit discussion of pedagogy in graduate training is not a recent shift in academic life: it runs very deep, back into the old days when average grades were much lower. As a result, then and now, you tend to start your teaching career in higher education with almost no sense of what other people are doing in terms of grading or how they do it. You get a vague, possibly erroneous sense of what the local norm is and you try to hit close to it. That’s a system which is almost intrinsically vulnerable to positive feedback effects. If the perceived norm drifts even slightly in one direction, that drift is going to feed on itself, and push the entire system towards an attractor. It doesn’t require any deeper underlying explanation or intent, as long as there’s nothing that “pushes back” or corrects on the system. I think to some extent providing extensive information about grade inflation and the distribution of grades within an institution is just such a corrective, and now that many institutions are doing that regularly, I suspect that there will be some push-back.

I had all sorts of thoughts when I first read this, but I'm a bit spent now, so I'll just throw that up there as food for thought and maybe we can get back to it later.