Intrepid Girl Reporter

Wednesday, 11/11: it’s the great Marxist, Charlie Brown
November 11, 2009, 7:20 pm
Filed under: 공부방 (after-school program), politics

Up to this point, I have blogged an impressive (impressively narcissistic?*) nine times this month – that’s once per day. Evidently frameworks don’t always work for me, as the last time I tried to do NaBloPoMo I gave up after maybe three days. I did not make it to the computer yesterday, which may actually have been for the best, as frustrations at my work – where I am now no longer allowed to offer academic interventions to most of the lowest-level kids, as they are not going to boost our school test scores** – came perilously close to causing my brain to boil out of my ears. It’s best to keep those sorts of emotions off the internets.

So I’ve spent most of this dreary day talking to Communists, asking them why they have not elected a president in the US ever. Well, questions along those lines. I had the good fortune to speak with Vijay Prashad, who has one of the best book titles I’ve seen in a long time and whose child (maybe a toddler?) I could hear in the background. Perhaps it’s reflective of my sheltered reality that it felt like a throwback to discuss the proletariat. I’d like to work on a personal essay on this topic myself – as has often been discussed, I have a complicated familial relationship with leftist ideologies, and Neutral Milk Hotel has already given me a title. I’m in Starbucks, where I was driven out of a table by a man chewing but not smoking a cigar (white) and his mustachioed friend (black) so they could play cribbage (wood-colored). The scene was weird, and weirdly heartwarming, enough that I almost didn’t mind. And now I’m giving my brain a break before moving to article #3, and then grad school essays? I only have time these days for a relationship with my MacBook.



*That word took me about two minutes to type.

**Let’s be fair here: my principal has done some very impressive work. And we are judged/funded by the number of kids we get over the hump – not the number of kids we get from really low to just sort of low in terms of test scores. But I still have a real internal problem with the idea of not devoting at least a few of our resources to second graders who don’t know the alphabet. Even if they are, quote, the teacher’s responsibility. We are all part of the beloved community.


Sunday, 11/8: what’s so great about Charlie?
November 9, 2009, 8:32 pm
Filed under: identity, life progress, politics

Despite having gotten Not Much Sleep the night before, I was kept fully alert this morning at the airport by the terror alert level (orange) and the news that one Republican had crossed over to vote yes on the health care debate. I was a bit surprised, until I heard that it was my beloved Anh Cao. Say what you like about the abortion compromise (which is a topic for another post another time, or perhaps it isn’t); I was mostly happy to see him not acting like a partisan asshole. He’s not going to make many friends by doing this, which I think is pretty admirable. Also: do they even let people fly on red? And, given my own lack of knowledge on this subject, do people even pay attention to this sort of thing anymore?

I’m here in Boston for a grad school interview, and I took the time to see Auntie Phu, who is a family friend, and Ba Muoi, who is my ninety-five-year-old great-great-aunt. Aunt Phu promptly whisked me off to a birthday party for her niece, which featured awesome Viet food and a durian-flavored birthday cake that tasted like a combination of fish, onions, and whipped cream. It reminded me of the episode of Friends where Rachel accidentally makes a trifle-shepherd’s pie hybrid. I wonder if people my age are the last group to use Friends as a reference point. There were just so many episodes that it’s easy to find what you’re looking for, I suppose.

I bought a copy of both The Atlantic and Details at the airport, as is somewhat customary, and saw that the metro system in Boston has better names for its stops (though there’s certainly no Tooting Broadway.) but otherwise appears to be dirtier and more expensive than the DC metro, which makes me question Rooms and K’s March assertions re: my fair city’s transport system. Care to explain?

Thursday, 10/9: in which Econ 110 has not proven helpful
October 9, 2008, 4:17 pm
Filed under: politics

Despite the fact that I am one of the few people I know who actually enjoyed my econ classes in college, I, like almost everyone else I know, have had a good deal of trouble understanding the current economic disaster. It is my secret belief that even most people who claim to understand it actually don’t, at least not in totality.

Recently, however, my ignorance has been remedied, at least partially, thanks to This American Life. (Of course.) Please allow me to recommend the following:

1. The Giant Pool of Money, an episode breaking down what happened to the mortgage industry in comprehensible but not stupid terms.

2. Another Frightening Show About The Economy, which addresses everything that’s happened since then.

3. Planet Money. This is not actually an episode of TAL; rather, it’s a podcast spinoff of TGPoM, featuring the same correspondents. Only half an hour each.

What I think is nice about these is their refreshing absence of partisan loyalty. Everyone involved seems genuinely curious about where things went awry on both sides, which makes all of these sources of information uniquely accessible. In my opinion, anyway.

Also, one more question re: the economy: why are we not seeing more play of this video

that, it would seem, places blame squarely on both sides? This is a legitimate question. I ask because I can only find mention of it on websites with a very obvious conservative orientation (including the fascinating Hip Hop Republican); I can’t find any news sources offering context, commentary, etc. Can someone give me an explanation here, or is this as dismaying as it appears?

PS. I haven’t forgotten that I promised a second announcement. I’m still sitting on it.

Monday, 9/8: I kind of hate Jezebel, and I’m tired of talking about this
September 9, 2008, 4:59 am
Filed under: blogz, politics

More from Jezebel on whether or not Sarah Palin is a feminist. I like Jezebel because I like getting information on fashion and sex and celebrities “without airbrushing,” as they claim, but I do find it rather irritating that a community of women who are supposedly such free thinkers are so intolerant regarding dissent. The number of comments dismissing Palin as a “hand puppet” of the GOP – ergo, being unaware of her own “best interests” as determined by the liberal crowd – is truly staggering, although far from surprising. A few days ago there was a post on Bristol Palin with some woman telling “these people” not to “breed,” to which one (minority) commenter responded, “So liberals are the only ones allowed to have babies?” Or something to that effect.

I’m pretty bored with this topic, so I promise this will be the last one, but I will say that watching these people scrabble and squabble gives me the same feeling I have when I argue with my father about his watching of FoxNews, which is to say: if you were totally convinced about being right, you wouldn’t need to shut out dissent. (And just for the record, please allow me to straighten out one inaccuracy cited frequently by the commenters on this article: aside from all the moral hysteria regarding pro-choicers and pro-lifers, Roe v. Wade is a case about PRIVACY. Overturning it will NOT automatically take away a woman’s right to choose; rather, it will simply allow each state to decide for itself – although that could in turn make abortions illegal, it’s true. Whether or not such a setup is constitutional depends on your reading of that hallowed document, and one I will not weigh in on here, but arguments are greatly strengthened when their accuracy is enhanced.)

Thursday, 9/4: more fun facts
September 5, 2008, 5:11 am
Filed under: blogz, fashion, IGR Recommends, media, politics

More from your favorite pundit.* I’m writing this from an almost totally clean room, a feeling so refreshing as to be almost foreign. All thanks to the preponderance of medical school students who will descend on our house Saturday for the party, thrown by their teacher and my father, that ranks in legend as one of the parties of the year. (No, really.) I am currently taking suggestions for a party playlist. In the meantime, some recommendations.

1. Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc. I know, a big brouhaha was made over it a couple of years ago. I wanted to read it then, but as previously discussed, I’m a big fan of being behind the times when it comes to pop culture. At any rate, this book has prevented me from being productive for the past three days. Her documentation – and refusal to pass judgment or offer excuses – is incredible, although you may need some sort of cheat sheet to keep up with all the men and children who pass in and out of the two main women’s lives.

2. Leanne on Project Runway. a) Adorable (with a sense of humor!) and b) actually reminds me of some of my friends. And c) I generally like her clothes and her aesthetic a lot. But I’m sad to see Stella Zotis and her phone calls to her boo Ratbones go. Who isn’t, really.

I like Kenley’s personal style, in general, and I like most of her pieces, but I think Project Rungay hits the mark when they describe her as “the kind of girl that other girls hate on sight.” She reminds me of a girl I knew from My College. I think it’s the laugh. Although, you know, I’ve been That Girl before too, so I’m willing to give her a little slack. Just a little. Also, did Blayne REALLY think that Mary-Kate Olsen was a fashion icon? I am hardly well versed in the language of couture, but I know when the line between high-fashion and homeless has been crossed.

3. Making your own freezer jam. Who knew preserving was so simple? Maybe I’d make a good pioneer after all.

4. Tulle has made three of my favorite coats, all of which were under $100 and all of which are adorable, colorful, and well-made. Browsing the site, it appears that they have a lot of nice stuff that is also affordable, but it is in the outerwear arena where they really appear to shine. I love the Mary Tyler Moore aesthetic that a lot of them have going on, especially my new corduroy roll-neck jacket:

what a snuggly jacket

what a snuggly jacket

I like the fact that it also evokes Paddington Bear, although I’m not sure what that says about me.

5. Fortune Magazine investigates the gender gap in pay and finds that, apparently, there are a lot of factors besides gender that influence this gap. I sort of disagree with Cait Murphy in her “let them be social workers” analysis, but for different reasons than those her opponents mention – I don’t know that we should offer higher pay for these industries simply because they’re not being paid the same (because equivalency is far more complex to determine than such a blanket statement would suggest), but more because increasing pay would, in many instances, increase the prestige (and thus the talent pool) of different careers and would work to alleviate the sort of burnout that characterizes, for example, the teaching profession. Nonetheless, I was unaware of this study, and I find the results indicative of a whole host of other issues that also require discussion and address. Have there been any studies done that counter this? Thoughts?

6. What I like most about The American Scene, to be totally honest, is its reasonable tone. Hysterics aren’t foreign to either side of the political spectrum, obviously, but in all the Obama frenzy a lot of conservative talking heads seem to be almost more unable to keep a note of bitterness out of their analyses. These guys are conservative, make no mistake – more so than I am, at least in the two days I’ve been reading their blog – but they’re not party zealots, and regardless of affiliation, their writing is engaging and offers clear, thoughtful analysis of their positions. Also, apparently Reihan Salam is only 28, which makes me feel totally worthless and like I have done nothing with my life.

7. I am published for the first time in several months. I am also working on a piece re: Obama supporters in the 1st District of Tennessee; they’re an admirable bunch, given that this is one of the most densely Republican districts in the nation. Although, frankly speaking, the Tri-Cities being heavily Republican is not much of an endorsement for the GOP.

8. Francis Fukuyama, end-of-history theorist and neo-con-turned-Obama-supporter, has a magazine. I am intrigued. I am also considering appropriating the name Francis Fukuyama for a future child or pet.


*Thanks for the nickname, Grey Munford.

Wednesday, 9/3: the need for time-out chairs
September 4, 2008, 4:51 am
Filed under: politics

Darling readers, I know you are a) legion and b) wondering where I’ve been, and the answer is: interviewing, and also nowhere in particular. Truthfully, it feels like I don’t have all that much to write about lately, although nothing’s really changed – I’ve been reading a lot, making things, half-heartedly attempting to go on South Beach in order to reclaim some of my clothes from high school. As a testament to my willpower, my mother and I made snickerdoodles tonight and ate probably a quarter of it before it even hit the tray. Needless to say, snickerdoodles are not on the South Beach suggestion list in either their raw or their cooked form. If there was a diet called, I don’t know, the Santa Claus Goes To Italy diet, in which I could eat fresh vegetables and delicious whole grains and funky cheeses while also gorging myself on baked goods, I could see myself doing pretty well. Probably because that is more or less what my diet already is.

I’ve also been watching both conventions and, quite honestly, found them to be not all that different from each other, at least not in terms of self-congratulations and promises. I actually think McCain made a very smart move in choosing Palin in that he fired up the conservative base he’s had such a difficult time corralling, but a very dumb move in that he further alienated independents hoping that he would not act in the best interests of a party whose convention was sponsored by Exxon Mobil. At any rate, all the chatter about whether or not he was pandering to women is missing the point (he was pandering, but to evangelicals). And the claims that Sarah Palin isn’t good for so-called “women’s issues” are exhausting me – I don’t agree with her positions on most things dealing with the female body, which is why I probably will not be voting for her, but to claim that she doesn’t represent “women” is erroneous, because I’m here to tell you that there are a lot of women out there who like her, who see themselves in her, and who agree with her. Does she represent what I feel are the best interests of women? No. Does this make her not a feminist? Not if you accept the definition of a feminist as someone who sees women as equal to men (which her run for VP would suggest is true). And for the record, being pro-life and being feminist are not mutually exclusive.

Still, it would be a great relief to me – and, I think, a lot of the country – if this angry bickering could be given a rest. I realize that it is both entertaining and an inevitable part of the election year, but I simply don’t buy into the idea that one party has it all right, because if that were true what we would essentially be agitating for would be a single-party system. Can’t we consider the possibility that different problems might merit different approaches – and (gasp) different ideologies? There’s a difference between satire attacking both sides and crass stereotypes that favor one side or the other.

On a note both nonpartisan and nonrelated, I have decided to start learning the mandolin, effective tomorrow. I do have two of them, after all, neither of which I paid for, which is more likely than not to be a sign that the mandolin and I are destined to make beautiful music together.

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.