Intrepid Girl Reporter

Wednesday, 8/20: Inara George
August 21, 2008, 5:31 am
Filed under: IGR Recommends, music | Tags: , ,

I heard a song from her album on the IndieFeed podcast, and then it turned out that my father had downloaded her album, which is one of the pluses of having a parent who reads Entertainment Weekly cover to cover. She sounds like she’s starring in a production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Regina Spektor.

Inara George – An Invitation


Sunday, 8/17: IGR still loves Paul Tough

IGR is, in fact, a big fan of the aforementioned NYT education reporter, although the initial exposure came not from an article about education but rather an article on the Weakerthans that ought to be required reading for anyone who has ever lived somewhere that is less than ideal.

His articles on the American educational system and its successes and failures, however, are equally compelling.

Here’s one on Katrina and the opportunity to utilize New Orleans as a sort of test lab for education (it sounds a lot creepier when phrased that way, but quite frankly, there was nowhere for NOLA to go but up). He also did a fascinating earlier piece on the successes and failures of NCLB. What I like about him is a refreshing fairness; I find that most of the education articles I read are biased one way or the other, although, you know, if either side was totally right we would not have these problems. Not to point out the obvious or anything.

One question that does arise for me though is regarding a not-inconsequential reform that is barely mentioned in the articles, simply because it’s not all that widespread: teacher pay. This, to me, seems like a significant variable that has in no way received the attention it deserves. Teach for America has done an admirable job bringing a degree of prestige back to the teaching profession. But however: there’s still the inevitable whiff of the “do-gooder” about it, a faint hint of martyrdom. Teaching is difficult, but it is also really fun if you like that sort of thing, provides the practitioner with the opportunity to learn innumerable skills, and, I think, deserves considerably more rigorous study than what it is so often granted. As a result, the profession remains – well, not inaccessible, but it certainly garners less respect in many circles than it deserves, and it still lacks the prestige it ought to have. So it’s attracting a smaller pool of talent and burning out the talent it brings in. I wonder what studies exist re: pay and performance. Note to self.

I would also like to recommend an article on the other man who rules my heart. Hey guess what, Jon Stewart doesn’t like ideology either.

Thursday, 8/24: and on two lighter notes
August 15, 2008, 6:42 am
Filed under: IGR Recommends

1. My College makes a name for itself. Take that, MIT!

2. Mike Birbiglia is funny, although his web design is lame.

Thursday, 8/14: when you like the idea of something but you hate the thing itself
August 15, 2008, 5:37 am
Filed under: election, politics

…It was okay to be perplexed, to be torn by issues, to look at the world and not feel inadequate because it would not sort itself out cleanly.

– Ted Gup, “In Praise of the Wobblies”

Growing up is a process of, among other things, discovering the traits that define oneself. Using myself as an example: I do not really like either broccoli or McDonalds, despite having eaten both mindlessly for the majority of my life. I look best in bangs. I don’t hate working out as much as I hate heavy shoes and sweating. I don’t play video games not because I hate them, although I do think their negatives largely outweigh their positives, but because once I start I have difficulty stopping within a reasonable period of time. I like chocolate malts and I prefer Kikkoman soy sauce to La Choy, which, in a family that takes its food seriously, is like coming out of the closet or moving into a van down by the river.

In this Year of The Election, writing as I do for a political site, I’ve spent a great deal of time considering my own political orientation. And when I do, I return time and again to the story of Antwonn.

Antwonn ran the afterschool program that I also ran in college. Antwonn was deeply religious and related by blood to approximately half of the students who attended the program. Antwonn believed in Christian instruction and did not believe in talking much to uppity outsider women or listening to their ideas, and he seemed to think that most of my attempts to feed the kids snacks other than baloney and cheese were hooey. I did not get along very well with Antwonn.

What I learned, over the course of the first year, was that Antwonn and I wanted essentially the same thing for the kids with whom we worked: to provide them with support and love, to help them achieve, and to prevent them from losing faith in themselves. We just had very (very) different ideas about how to go about doing this. My plans involved showing them the fascinating world of words and ideas; Antwonn’s involved a lot of prize bribery. We both had a lot to learn, obviously, in that not everyone automatically finds ideas fascinating, especially when they’re hungry, and that prizes don’t always work and are pretty expensive.

As a result, we both grew a lot: I learned to provide for the kids’ basic needs before moving on to more advanced stuff and not to pitch every battle, and Antwonn learned that listening to me would not make him go deaf. At least for a while. Then he decided to take over the program entirely and teach Jesus stuff behind my back, in a story that is too long and boring to go into here, but it wasn’t a reflection on his ideas as much as it was a reflection on him as a person I never want to work with again.

I come from a conservative family. I am the product of a liberal arts college and I have a lot of idealistic friends. As a result, I’ve heard a lot from both sides about Barack “Our Ford” Obama and John “I Used To Be A Person Everyone Liked And Now It’s Totally The Opposite” McCain, and what I find from both sides is a dismaying refusal to listen. In a way, I feel like listening is the reason why I hesitate to align with either side.

Being independent, it seems, is a decidedly unfashionable position to take. My parents don’t understand how I can consider someone with such minimal foreign policy experience; my friends don’t understand how I can refuse to write off anyone who considers continuing the war in Iraq. My politics in a nutshell don’t bear minute breakdown here, as you don’t have that kind of interest and I don’t have that kind of time.* But suffice it to say that while I share a lot of goals with the Democratic party, I don’t necessarily agree with the solutions they offer, inasmuch as I don’t believe in the reality of easy panacea or the possibility of pleasing everyone. And I share a lot of philosophies with conservatism, but I find myself unable to go along with the party as it is currently populated. I want to see (and work for) a better world, but I don’t believe in legislating what I perceive as idiocy out of the picture. In short, I believe in giving people choices, but I don’t know that I believe in using their government to make them go along with them, at least not always. And I think that both parties need each other to continue to refine each other’s ideas, but more often than not they appear to be pressing for each other’s eradication.

I’ve met a few of us, people who feel almost guilty for their skepticism and their refusal to stand on a hill with a bullhorn, who insist on pointing out the flaws on either side, and they know who they are. Most people who have met me would probably be surprised to find me placing myself in this camp; I am, after all, more than a little passionate and what some would consider uppity, and yet it is precisely this passion that has taught me that my ideas can always benefit from a little opposition. And even fighting for what you believe doesn’t necessarily exclude listening to the other side. I sort of wish I could get behind this whole good vs. evil dichotomy, but at the same time, that’s what’s preventing me from being a full-throated supporter of either side; I would do it if it didn’t seem to imply a mighty wish for the one party’s dominance over the other. I would do it if I could wear a button saying “I think he’s mostly the best choice, but I do wish that he would reconsider his positions on A) B) and C) and take back what he said about D).”

To be totally honest, I don’t think our problems are going to be solved by one man in one term; I think our problems are going to be solved by all of us, with a little bit of government help here and there, over a long period of time, because humans are humans and they make mistakes and messes and disagree and have affairs in airport bathrooms or with trashy women named Rielle and totally ruin the reputation of their respective organizations. So I’ve resigned myself to supporting a candidate with whom I’ll have a few problems (that’s both of them, in case you haven’t been following). Right now I’m leaning a little bit towards Barack, simply because, having lived abroad, I think it would be healthy for the US to have a president that other countries liked, and I’m really not happy with the way McCain is pandering to the far right. I mean, I know that America is always going to be resented no matter what it does, but I think having a popular administration for four years, simply on a common-sense level, is going to make our lives a little bit easier. But I truly haven’t decided. I guess I have to reserve my passion for other things, like education, like a free press, like a clean world that people will choose rather than have forced upon them, things that NO candidate will do perfectly with. I’d rather focus my energy on working to offer the best world, both with and without government help, than in promoting one man and one all-encompassing ideology. As always, I have to learn to accept imperfection and to learn from it. (And I reserve the right to change my mind at any time. Duh.) But it seems that not knowing, as well as knowing, is part of my definition.

*Although I do plan to blog about each candidate’s policies and the pros and cons of each in the future. Maybe this will help me make up my mind and get more comfortable with supporting at least a limited degree of government action.

Thursday, 6/14: rising again
August 14, 2008, 5:37 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Also, has anyone else noticed how much Bela Karolyi looks like an early Confederate general? I tried to find a picture of him from the latest coverage that I could etch in PhotoShop to bring him back to his appropriate era, but I was unable to find any, probably because he is concerned about being caught by Union spies.

Wednesday, 8/13: I love
August 14, 2008, 2:21 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

There are a few things more depressing than eating alone in an airport, but not many. The only good thing is that in an airport, you’re never the only one eating alone; there are always three or four people hunched over their table at California Pizza ASAP!, looking bored and unhappy. They don’t want to be alone, of course, but they don’t want to be with you either, just like you put your laptop bag on the other chair in the hope that no smelly man on his cell phone will sit next to you. The airport is probably the only place I can think of that has so many people who crave company, are surrounded by it, and reject it, all at the same time.

I’m not sure when I stopped enjoying traveling alone. In high school I liked it because, being as I was periodically without a car, it gave me the opportunity to buy magazines and eat the junky kind of prefab sushi that I secretly crave, things I wanted to do but didn’t really have occasion to at home. I wasn’t then, and I’m not now, accustomed to doing things simply because I want to; spending so much time with my family, who mostly but not always did things that I also wanted to do, I rarely did anything me-specific unless I had a reason to do so. And then in college it was fine, I was an adult and everything, and in Korea I spent all my time pondering my identity anyway, an act for which travel is uniquely suited. (I also mostly traveled with my friends, specifically Hallim, Oregon, Soccer, and Scooter, so it wasn’t a huge deal.) But slowly, like a balloon with a pinhole, the excitement has drained, a few too many nights spent at the Atlanta airport, a few chain restaurants losing their allure for the grownup me. (Although it should be noted that I actually do enjoy California Pizza Kitchen in both its ordinary and abbreviated forms.) Maybe it’s just because I’m coming back from my first grownup job interview, but suddenly it all seems rather lonely.

DC is, however, a nice city. Last night I had dinner at Zaytinya with one of my best friends from college and her boyfriend, who also went to My College, and then we met up with one of my favorite people, one of my friends from my summer at Summerbridge. (Zaytinya, by the way, has the very unique honor of having served me both the best octopus and the best rabbit that I’ve ever had – in the same meal.) And today I had an interview and now I’m sitting in the Charlotte airport, watching the reflection of the person next to me, having bought Miguk Oma a copy of Gourmet and myself a copy of a magazine called Good, designed specifically for the person I don’t want to be and do. While I contemplate the chutzpah of what I’ve done (Good?!? Really?), the most important thing to me at the moment is returning home to the fam and thinking about the other one, who went to the beach on Jeju the other day and wished I could have been there too. Host Mom finishes all the calls now with “[IGR]…I love,” which is almost better than having “you” at the end. Such greetings make occasional loneliness a little easier.

Sunday, 8/10: bullet points
August 11, 2008, 4:33 am
Filed under: IGR Recommends, life progress

So much for cohesion.

  • I am almost embarrassed at how into the Olympics I am. I mean, I always watch them, but never with this fervor, even the boring sports. And I LOVE the commercials. I have always appreciated a good marketing ploy, but, despite my advanced age and increased skepticism, I find myself, almost against my will, inspired. 
  • Continued: I love the Visa commercials with Morgan Freeman, and the Nike spot that juxtaposes “I’ve got soul/but I’m not a soldier” with the images of the athletes. And, hello, the McDonald’s commercial featuring kids singing “The More We Get Together”? Say what you will about the corporations themselves, but one must acknowledge that their marketing people are earning every penny. 
  • Continued 2: Is that REM in the Embarq commercial where the woman is made of gold? If not, how did they find such uncanny REM impersonators?
  • Started listening to “new” DCFC album, Narrow Stairs. Almost everyone I know who liked them in high school/college has made a big show of being not interested in this album. Maybe it’s because the last time they were popular, most of us were much younger, i.e. very different people. Or maybe I’m friends with a bunch of elitists. I like it, of course, because I have a giant marshmallow where my heart should be. It’s not the best they can do, the lyrics kind of suck it up, and I’m not in the same overly sentimental place, but it’s certainly not BAD, despite the presence of “I Will Possess Your Heart.” Note to Ben Gibbard: I know you’re going for the whole sort of Police-esque creepy-but-endearing vibe, but I don’t think you’re going about it the right way. 
  • Speaking of music, may IGR offer a recommendation? The IndieFeed podcasts: (or on iTunes, obv). As long as you can get past the pretentious information blurbs. I’m especially partial to this week’s Indie Pop pick, “Night Vision Binoculars” by Passenger, which actually does – sort of – hit the Police sweet spot mentioned above. The lyrics aren’t the best part of the song, veering as they do dangerously close to novelty-song territory, but the chorus is terrific.
  • IGR also, rather obviously, recommends the Olympics and the accompanying, if false, feeling of hope for humanity.
  • John Edwards: not so hot right now. No shit. Lots of people have affairs, of course, though his was particularly trashy and involved more sleazy coverup than average. But what I find nearly as appalling – and what is getting very little coverage in the mainstream media – is the LA Times’ coverup effort. Liberal media, it is getting harder and harder to defend you to my father.
  • Actually I am pretty disappointed in most major politicians right now. Look, I don’t expect perfection, but Obama, would it have killed you to do the extra debates with McCain, or to stick with your original fundraising pledge? McCain, did you really have to go the negative route so soon, and did you REALLY have to juxtapose a WHITE family with Obama, “the biggest celebrity in the world”? It’s not the evangelicals you have to worry about losing. These are stupid mistakes that could have been easily avoided, and both of these campaigns should hire me to run them.
  • Job stuff in DC this week. Nothing is sure. But – should I get a job – there are a lot of people in the DC area whom I really like. Things could be going worse.