succumbing to peer pressure

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Wait, when did that happen?

It feels like I've only been here, in Atlanta, for a year. I'm still not really sure how 4.5 have passed. But this weekend was our open house, for potential PhD students, and it suddenly sunk in just how far I've come. Don't get me wrong, I liked some of the students quite a bit, it was just sort of shocking to remember that I was only 22 when I moved here, and to suddenly feel the emotional and intellectual distance that exists between the me now and the me then. Which is refreshing, and comforting, in a way, because who would want to spend 4.5 years working their ass off only to make no progress? But it's snuck up on me somehow, like a frog sitting in gradually heating water. Everything about the way I think about and approach work and research feels different now. And I can't imagine that I had any clue about what I was actually taking on back then, but I guess that's how youth works, right? I can only assume that 5 years from now I'll think back about how clearly insane I was to think that at 27 I could organize and teach those classes and at 28 that I took that job and how much I've learned and how different my thinking is. I guess it also makes me feel better about my dissertation - I read the best advice the other day, about how your dissertation will never be your best work, and trying to make it so will only drive you insane. And that, in fact, who would want it to be their best work? Because wouldn't it be sad if five, ten years from now you went back to it and thought, damn, I was smarter then than I am now? Sure, it'll be depressing to go back to it and cringe, and hopefully that won't actually happen, but it's perfectly reasonable to go back to it and think about other, different, better ways that I would do things. Sort of takes some of the pressure off to be perfect.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

10 year reunion or Bonnaroo?

So it turns out that my ten year high school reunion is scheduled for the exact same weekend as Bonnaroo. I know every year I swear that I've been enough and I won't go next year, but check out the lineup:

Pearl Jam
Jack Johnson
Kanye West
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss featuring T Bone Burnette
Phil Lesh & Friends
My Morning Jacket
The Allman Brothers Band
The Raconteurs
Willie Nelson
Death Cab for Cutie
B.B. King
Sigur Ros
Ben Folds
Broken Social Scene
Rilo Kiley
Tegan & Sara
Drive-By Truckers
Aimee Mann
Jakob Dylan

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Insert pithy title here
(I briefly considered "Goodbye Robin Morgan," but that really doesn't match my sentiment.)

Sigh. I have mixed feelings about Morgan's "Goodbye To All That (#2)." (Numerous people made sure I caught this one, so thanks.) On the one hand, she does an excellent job of outlining a few of the multitude of ways that it's still socially acceptable to say cruel, vulgar, and/or violent things about women. Indeed, imagine if someone designed a shirt, or organization (I refuse to link to Citizens United Not Timid) with Obama's face and the N word? Or Lieberman's and the K word? Maybe they just don't make as convenient anagrams.

But on the other hand, while these examples of the patriarchy certainly get my blood pumping, I don't think playing the who's-more-discriminated-against game is worthwhile or productive. It reminds me of an old anti-affirmative action joke - a blind, white man, a black man, and a black woman are sitting in a waiting area to interview for jobs. They get into an argument over who is more likely to get the job by filling some quota, with the black woman claiming that she's got two 'points' to the men's one. Then a blind Hispanic woman in a wheelchair comes in. The initial three tear up their job applications and walk out. All this sort of rhetoric does is distract us from the larger goal which we should all be working toward together - justice. Pick your adjective - social justice, economic justice. Instead of bickering over how we're going to split up our tiny pieces of a tiny pie, we should be cooperating to get a bigger damn piece of pie!

And I certainly don't take kindly to the implication that I'll have my feminist card revoked if I don't vote for Clinton.

I also think Morgan is wrong in her assessment of Obama, but as I've said here a couple of times already, to each his or her own, and certainly cogent arguments can be made as to why either is a better candidate, without ever getting into racist or sexist remarks.

On the other hand (wait, am I out of hands? Ok, on the left foot...) this is a pretty damn fine paragraph.

Goodbye to some women letting history pass by while wringing their hands, because Hillary isn’t as “likeable” as they’ve been warned they must be, or because she didn’t leave him, couldn’t “control” him, kept her family together and raised a smart, sane daughter. (Think of the blame if Chelsea had ever acted in the alcoholic, neurotic manner of the Bush twins!) Goodbye to some women pouting because she didn’t bake cookies or she did, sniping because she learned the rules and then bent or broke them. Grow the hell up. She is not running for Ms.-perfect-pure-queen-icon of the feminist movement. She’s running to be president of the United States.

I still get goosebumps over the gender in that last sentence.

So, I don't know. She does write a powerful essay. And it certainly got us talking, which is the point, really.

New Credit Card Feature - healthcare points!

I'm inclined to agree that this new trend of linking healthcare to credit card options (discounts on prescription drugs, dollars back on healthcare bills, etc. a la the sorts of points you can earn on frequent flyer credit cards, or gas cards, or whatnot) is a pretty sick indication of just how sick our healthcare industry is:
"It's a huge sign that our health-care system is broken, when banks see that [medical expense] market as an opportunity," says Tamara Draut, director of the economic opportunity program at Demos, a New York-based economic research and advocacy group. "The credit-card companies wouldn't be offering these rewards if they didn't think they could snag a couple of consumers with revolving debt."
Just as with any other type of debt, carrying that on a credit card is about the worst option out there. On the other hand, as the article says, if you're the type who pays off credit card bills every month, maybe it makes just as much (financial) sense as earning frequent flyer miles or gallons of gas or nights in a hotel. I suppose this is an example of the economic market, but I still balk at the idea that our health should be treated as a business for some people to profit from. Call me crazy.

Monday, February 04, 2008


and this are exactly how I want to feel about politics. I want my politics to give me goosebumps and make me misty-eyed. I want to raise my voice in passion and joy for once instead of anger and frustration.

But the most pitiable fear of all is the fear of disappointment, of having our hearts broken and our hopes dashed by this radiant, humane politician who seems not just with his words but with every step he takes, simply by the fact of his running at all, to promise so much for our country, for our future and for the eventual state of our national soul. I say "pitiable" because this fear of disappointment, which I hear underlying so many of the doubts that people express to me, is ultimately a fear of finding out the truth about ourselves and the extent of the mess that we have gotten ourselves into. If we do fight for Obama, work for him, believe in him, vote for him, and the man goes down to defeat by the big-money machines and the merchants of fear, then what hope will we have left to hold on to?

Thus in the name of preserving hope do we disdain it. That is how a phobocracy maintains its grip on power.

To support Obama, we must permit ourselves to feel hope, to acknowledge the possibility that we can aspire as a nation to be more than merely secure or predominant. We must allow ourselves to believe in Obama, not blindly or unquestioningly as we might believe in some demagogue or figurehead but as we believe in the comfort we take in our families, in the pleasure of good company, in the blessings of peace and liberty, in any thing that requires us to put our trust in the best part of ourselves and others. That kind of belief is a revolutionary act. It holds the power, in time, to overturn and repair all the damage that our fear has driven us to inflict on ourselves and the world.

And when we all wake up on Nov. 5, 2008, to find that we have made Barack Obama the president of the United States, the world is already going to feel, to all of us, a little different, a little truer to its, and our, better nature. It is part of the world's nature and of our own to break, ruin and destroy; but it is also our nature and the world's to find ways to mend what has been broken. We can do that. Come on. Don't be afraid.

Go read the whole thing. You'll be glad you did. (via Decatur Metro)

Ezra Klein totally copies me

and posts the differences between Clinton and Obama. Apparently, he thinks there are only three topics - the rhetoric of militarism, healthcare, and new blood. But he does really nail it with the first one:

Clinton buys into the rules of the current foreign policy conversation. "I believe of any one of us," Clinton has said, "I am better positioned and better able to take on John McCain or any Republican when it comes to issues about protecting and defending our country and promoting our interest in the world." Her rhetoric and voting record clarifies why that would be: Clinton can match McCain's militaristic appeal because she marries militarism with competence, and popular domestic policy liberalism.

Obama does not propose to respect those rules. Responding to Clinton, he said, slightly abstractly, "I believe that the way we are going to take on somebody like a John McCain on national security is not that we're been sort of like John McCain, but not completely; we voted for the war, but we had reservations. I think it's going to be somebody who can serve as a strong contrast and say, 'we've got to overcome the politics of fear in this country.'" Obama talks about "the politics of fear" quite frequently. Most Americans probably don't know quite what he's referring to. That's a political failing on his part, and it would be nice if he'd tether his answers to earth a bit more often. But over time, it's become clear that Obama is referring to a discussion space that lets war policy stand in for foreign policy, that elevates only questions of troops, and dismisses soft power, negotiations, multilateralism, rules, cooperation, and most every other tenet of a progressive foreign policy approach.

From the early arguments over negotiating without preconditions to his more recent statement that "I don't want to just end the war, but I want to end the mindset that got us into war in the first place," Obama is previewing an aggressive stance against the fundamental sicknesses in our polity that led to the war in Iraq, and will lead to future, equally ill-considered invasions. If he can lead the country towards, at the least, respecting an alternative foreign policy vision, he will have enacted great change. This is not an attack on Clinton: I have no doubt that she will pursue a better foreign policy than this president has. But I don't think she will advocate for a new foreign policy mindset. And that's a big difference.

I think, as I said in my comparison post, that this, coupled with his transparent government rhetoric, are really what push me over to the Obama side. But I could see a coherent argument that that doesn't outweight the healthcare debate. To each his/her own.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

More political round-up
(I swear, Sid, I'll get to medical rewards credit cards soon)

In comments to Amelia's post about age and cohort effects on the Obama vs. Clinton race, Ben reminds us "..what Hillary thinks of us." Which is a link to a blog post about a news story from May '06 about Clinton criticizing the work ethic of our generation. While I'll admit, the bit about work being a four letter word stings a bit, and certainly generalizing is always a bad idea, I'm not convinced at all that "Kids, for whatever reason, think they're entitled to go right to the top with $50,000 or $75,000 jobs when they have not done anything to earn their way up," is a totally unreasonable thing to say. Just anecdotally, I know people my age who have quit (or want to quit) their jobs because within the first 12 months of said job they are a) doing the same, repetitive thing over and over again and/or b) they aren't managing anyone below them. Now, again, I get that if you've invested in your education, and especially if you've gone into debt to obtain that education, you're going to be a bit touchy about your salary. But you know what? You do have to start somewhere. And if you're a high school graduate or the holder of a bachelor's degree, you probably aren't going to make more than $50,000 a year at your first job. Thems the breaks. And no matter what your degree, you are most certainly going to have to pay your dues doing shit work and being the lowest rung on the totem poll with no minions to answer to your beck and call. That's how the work force works. So suck it up and invest your 12 months and then show off all your hard work and dedication to your boss and ask for a raise or a promotion or a minion to call your own or whatever it is that you desire. Until then, shut the hell up and stop whining.
(I know, I know, as someone who has not yet entered the workforce, it's easy to say, and I may just eat my words. But I promise, if I whine about one of the above things during the first 12 months of my job, you have every right to tell me to shut the hell up. In fact, please do.)

It also makes me nervous that during the course of a conversation with a friend I commented that both Obama and Clinton were in favor of rolling back tax cuts for the rich, where rich was defined as making more than $250,000 a year. This friend made a face, implying that $250,000 a year wasn't 'rich.' I know we all have our own contexts for what does and does not constitute wealth, and I know that I in particular have a tendency to undervalue myself, monetarily, and I know that once you have a family to support even the largest of salaries seems to disappear rapidly. Nevertheless. $250,000 a year is a shit ton of money. Again, if you ever catch me claiming differently, remind me to shut the hell up.

On the front of the AJC this morning there was a local woman quoted as saying that she's voting Republican this year because "health care is broken and the Democrats can't fix it." Oh this breaks my heart. Because even the briefest of glances at any of the Republican's websites, or the side-by-side analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation reveals that this is just so patently untrue. Indeed, McCain is the only Republican suggesting even the vaguest of reforms and modifications to our health care system. I know a post like my previous one is overkill and way beyond what should be expected of the average voter, but nonetheless, if you're going to claim to vote in a particular way because of a particular cause, for the love of god, please, I beg of you, do at least some sort of rudimentary research on that topic! Even if we are diametrically opposed in our ideas about how a certain problem may be solved, we should still be able to agree about who does and does not have any sort of plan to solve said problem vs. a bunch of empty rhetoric that clearly doesn't imply any sort of change or progress or solution.

And speaking of McCain, I used to think that I could almost get behind his candidacy too. He's clearly not my guy, but he could be ok, maybe. But then he started actually running for the highest office. And he started saying shit like this, "I will try to find clones of [Justices Samuel] Alito and [John] Roberts." Again, even if we completely disagree on the role of government and the solutions to common problems, we should be able to find common ground regarding people who are a) just plain bad at their jobs and b) violate the US Constitution.

Senator Hillary Clinton or Senator Barack Obama?

I spent yesterday afternoon pouring over their respective websites, voting records, etc. etc. I'm not sure that I'm any closer to a decision, but perhaps organizing it all into a post and discussing with you dear readers will help. Where possible, I tried to only write down details where the two differed.

  • wants to increase federal funding for 'transitional jobs' which help the 'chronically unemployed' gain a foothold in the workforce
  • he also recognizes the critical part that transportation plays in being able to obtain and hold down a job, so he plans to 'double the federal Jobs Access and Reverse Commute program to ensure that additional federal public transportation dollars flow to the highest-need communities and that urban planning initiatives take this aspect of transportation policy into account'
  • wants to double investment in education research and development, so we can identify education methods that work
  • website says he'll "make math and science education a national priority" but no specific details about how he plans to go about doing that
  • wants to create a website with a searchable database of 'lobbying reports, ethics records, and campaign finance filings.'
  • wants to create an independent agency to investigate Congressional ethics violations
  • another public database detailing 'how much federal contractors spend on lobbying, and what contracts they are getting and how well they complete them.'
  • "As president, Obama will not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days."
  • would encourage diversity in media ownership
  • Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Act - "remove some of the government penalties on married families, crack down on men avoiding child support payments, ensure that support payments go to families instead of state bureaucracies, fund support services for fathers and their families, and support domestic violence prevention efforts. As president, Obama will sign this bill into law and continue to implement innovative measures to strengthen families"
  • Iraq - Obama talks about our moral responsibility here, and plans to "form an international working group to address this crisis. He will provide at least $2 billion to expand services to Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries, and ensure that Iraqis inside their own country can find a safe-haven"
Although Clinton says a lot of similar things about government contracts and ethics and creating a more transparent government, I'm more convinced by Obama's page on ethics, and he has more actions to back-up his words - Obama proposed ethics legislation with Senator Feingold, passed a law with Senator Coburn to create 'Google-like search engine to allow regular people to approximately track federal grants, contracts, earmarks, and loans online,' and in 1998 helped pass the "toughest campaign finance law in Illinois history." Additionally, 'Obama's Transparency and Integrity in Earmarks Act will shed light on all earmarks by disclosing the name of the legislator who asked for each earmark, along with a written justification, 72 hours before they can be approved by the full Senate.'

In terms of notable votes, Obama did not vote on the official motion to oppose Gonzales, and the Democrats fell 7 votes short of passing that motion. He also voted against funding the Iraq war in 5/07, against the official Democratic position. Other key votes are listed here.

  • says similar things regarding ethics and government transparency - would end 'abuse of no-bid government contracts and [post] all contracts online,' would also publish 'budgets of every government agency'
  • notably in the safeguarding democracy category, Clinton specifically addresses voting machines - although Obama does mention protecting voters, he doesn't specifically mention the technological mechanics of voting. Clinton would require paper trails and make election day a national holiday. She also introduced the Count Every Vote Act in 2005.
  • has a much more comprehensive reproductive health plan, co-sponsored the Prevention First Act, which is "...aimed at reducing unintended pregnancies, preventing abortions and improving women's health," and partnered with Senator Murray to get FDA approval of emergency contraception over the counter
  • Clinton also mentions the bureaucratic waste that often happens to child support payments and plans to ensure that 'every dollar of child support payments directly benefits children'
You can see Clinton's key votes here.

Both, with subtle differences
Both support increasing federal funding for basic research, though Clinton specifies:
  • increase basic research budget 50% over 10 years at the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy's Office of Science, and the Defense Department
  • increase the National Institutes of Health budget 50% over 5 years and double it over 10 years
  • triple the number of National Science Foundation fellowships and increase the size of each award by 33%
Both will reform No Child Left Behind, though Obama specifies:
  • modify assessments so teachers don't spend all their time preparing for tests
  • modify system to support schools that fail to meet criteria rather than punishing them
Both talk about restoring scientific integrity, though Clinton specifies:
  • immediately 'rescind the ban on ethical embryonic stem cell research'
  • 'ban political appointees from unduly interfering with scientific conclusions and publication'
  • strengthen the White House Office of Science and Technology
Voting records
If you click around on those links to key votes, you can also find lists of votes where each disagreed with the official Democratic party position and a list of votes that they missed. Between 9/6/07 and 1/24/08 both Clinton and Obama missed about a hundred votes, on topics such as tax relief, headstart, injured service members, non-competitive earmarks vs. competitive grants for government contracts, women's health/reproductive health/family planning, and civil rights. They both missed virtually the same list of votes. The ones I chose to note are fairly arbitrary, except that they either touch on a topic that one or both candidates specifically mentioned as important to him or her or a topic that's important to me personally. I know during this period they were campaigning, but it still seems reasonable to hold them responsible for doing their jobs.

On 3/29/06 Obama voted against the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act whereas Clinton voted for it. The amended version is available here, and as you can see, much was crossed out, so it's possible (though not clearly specified anywhere that I can find) that Obama voted against something that he supports in theory because he could no longer support the bill with all the changes that had been made.

Lastly, according to GovTrack Clinton has missed 145 out of 2,396 votes (6%) since 1/23/01 and Obama has missed 179 out of 1,088 votes (16%) since 1/6/05. I'm trying to decide what this 'means' to me as a voter. On the one hand, it drives home just how much longer Clinton has been a senator than Obama. On the other, they've missed a similar amount of votes since they started campaigning, it just happens that Obama has been campaigning for the majority of his tenure in the senate.

The Urban Institute ("non-partisan economic and social policy research") lays out why individual mandates are a critical part of universal healthcare:
In this brief we conclude that, absent a single payer system, it is not possible to achieve universal coverage without an individual mandate. The evidence is strong that voluntary measures alone would leave large numbers of people uninsured. Voluntary measures would tend to enroll disproportionate numbers of individuals with higher cost health problems, creating high premiums and instability in the insurance pools in which they are enrolled, unless further significant government subsidization is provided. The government would also have difficulty redirecting current spending on the uninsured to offset some of the cost associated with a new program without universal coverage.

Clinton's healthcare plan includes individual mandates, Obama's does not (and his campaign has been sending out some pretty negative literature about Clinton's mandates). Obama's position is that individual mandates will be too hard to sell to the small-government-conservative crowd. And that is a pretty compelling argument - moving toward universal healthcare is a giant leap, and there are still a ton of American citizens who don't think they have anything to gain by sharing the burden together (and who apparently will just never believe the empirical evidence that they're already sharing that burden by paying for emergency room visits through taxes and insurance premiums). I have to admit that on this detail, I'm just not sure who is right. Detailed comparison of the two plans from the Kaiser Family Foundation available here.

Totally subjective analysis
I guess what it boils down to for me is this. Many (if not most) of the subtle differences between the two will cease to matter as either will have to compromise specific positions to get any actual legislation/policy revision/action accomplished. My general feeling is that the places where Obama's proposals have more specifics there is an indication of real thoughtfulness about a problem (transition jobs, affordable transportation). Although Clinton certainly has more political wonk credibility, I'm not entirely convinced that that will translate to more effective leadership (she also has a lot of negative baggage, that could easily slow down any negotiations with Congress). And I'm just not sure I can get past Clinton's record on Iraq. She seems amenable to change, when pressured, on this topic, but then she goes and votes for additional funding anyway. It seems reasonable to be optimistic that Obama will surround himself with smart people and take good advice in areas where he is lacking in personal experience. Although he doesn't have the comprehensive reproductive healthcare plan that Clinton does, back in Illinois Planned Parenthood gave him a 100% rating "for his support of abortion rights, family planning services and health insurance coverage for female contraceptives." So that makes me feel a bit better. And although we do only have two years of voting record in the Senate to attempt to extrapolate into what sort of president he might be, we have eight years in the Illinois senate, during which he sponsored a total of 823 bills, the summary of which reflects a comforting consistency with the rhetoric he's been using in his campaign. His stated positions and tangible record on ethics and transparency are precisely the antidote we need to the crap that's been festering in DC. I just wish/hope that he'll tone down the anti-Clinton healthcare plan rhetoric. Although I'm still undecided as to who is right when it comes to the sell-ability of mandates to the American public, I am convinced that they are needed to successfully implement universal healthcare, and I'm convinced that Ezra Klein is right that Obama's current stance will be used against him (or Clinton) when the battle actually begins to pass healthcare legislation.

So. Having written that all out and spent two solid days thinking about all this information, here's where I find myself. I want to vote for my first female president, I truly do. And should Clinton receive the nomination, you can bet your ass I'll be out there knocking on doors and making phone calls and anything else I can possibly do. But as for Super Tuesday, I guess I'm an Obama Girl after all.