Thursday, August 28, 2008

Must See Movie - Trouble the Water

Tonight, E. and I saw the film Trouble the Water. I can honestly say that it was one of the most moving movie experiences that I have ever had - with only Hotel Rwanda coming even close.

The movie is a documentary that follows a husband and wife couple during and after Hurricane Katrina. The couple had a video camera that they used to film their neighborhood (the 9th Ward) before, during, and after the hurricane. The directors meet up with the couple two weeks after the hurricane and follow them for the next several weeks. The directors weave the raw footage from the couple with their professional footage along with news clips and press conferences to tell the story of Katrina as it was experienced by this couple. The movie does an incredible job linking the experience of this couple with the larger social structures that serve to exacerbate the problems experienced by the victims.

I cannot believe the strength of Kimberly Rivers Rodgers, a.k.a. Black Kold Madina, and husband Scott is truly amazing. I would like to think that in a similar situation, I would show the compassion and concern for fellow human beings that the two of them did. But, looking deep down in my heart, I know that just plain isn't true. In the worst of times, they rose to the challenge and quite literally saved lives in the process. Only then to watch them suffer the injustices wrought by a failed government and structural constraints that made it virtually impossible for them to build a new life outside of New Orleans. Again, I would say more,

I don't want to say too much about the specifics of the film, but instead encourage everyone to see it, but I worry that it will ruin the power of the movie. It made me sad to watch the suffering and it made me angry watching our government's complete disregard for that suffering; more than anything, however, it made me feel an incredible sense of compassion for others. Unfortunately, it is only playing in a couple of venues for short runs, so it is not exactly accessible. But, I think that the success of the film and, thus, the opportunity for more viewings in more cities is going to be based on the success where it is currently running. I would strongly recommend everyone to go see it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"Back" to School!

This week marked the return of undergraduates to the university at which I work. Not all of the undergraduates—this week is just reserved for the newbies. The mixture of excitement and fear was etched into their faces. The orientation mentors, on the other hand, seemed relieved to be back at school away from their summer jobs, parents, and back with their friends. It was also interesting to watch all of the parents drop their kids that is where you see panic. Honey, are you sure that she is going to be alright. I mean, this is New York City... That, combined with their attempts (mostly failed) at a) driving around campus and b) finding parking was hilarious.

It's funny, back at the university at which I am a student the end of summer was always marked by the dread of finding parking spaces anywhere within the vicinity of campus. Here in New York, the end of summer is marked by the l-o-o-o-o-o-n-g wait for the elevator because so many people are getting on and off. It's funny how the same event, with many of the same feelings is marked differently existing in different surroundings. At least it struck me that way. Perhaps it was just the physical manifestation of the various transitions that have occurred and brought me to New York and my "second-home" university.

Although school being "back" in session has very little effect on me since I am neither taking nor teaching any classes, it does mark a countdown that is fraught with excitement and nerves. I guess it's not unlike those freshman starting their first class next week. After a year of transitions, this year is going to be pretty intense given the goals that I have laid out for myself. At this time next year—if all goes well—I will hopefully be Dr. Mike and be marking another pretty big transition to the the next phase of my career, hopefully with a job/post-doc in hand. I guess it's t-minus two days and counting...[1]

[1] That reminds me that I need: a) an advisor voodoo doll, b) committee member voodoo dolls, c) application reviewer voodoo dolls, and d) graduate college voodoo dolls. I'll put them on my birthday wishlist.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Dissertation Advice from the Best

This PowerPoint presentation was forwarded onto our graduate student e-mail list. I thought that others who are in the process of thinking or writing about their dissertations might find it useful.

It looks like these slides were adapted from a presentation that Charles Tilly gave. There are five slides with content, and I pulled the one that I found the most helpful. It shows the relationship between the risks and rewards of choosing dissertation topics. Basically, he recommends picking a topic that is somewhere in the middle, though closer to the bottom-left than the top-right (he suggests saving that for your post-doc).

Also, for those who might have missed other really helpful dissertation advice check out Fabio's Grad Skool Rulz number 10 that also describes picking a topic and numbers 12 & 13 on actually writing your $^#@@ dissertation (his words, not mine). And, for what it's worth, I really wish that I had listened to perchesk's sage advice a while back to "try to write a lot of the dissertation this summer before ASA, since it is hard to make research and writing progress once the job market is in full swing."

Now, back to my prospectus...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Obama = Rocky

This was too good not to pass along...Obama's Rocky-esque quest to the White House (h/t Fabio). I particularly like the reversal of the racial symbolism.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

World-Class Sexism

As long as I’ve been watching the Olympic Games, I’ve presumed based on the coverage that when it comes to women’s sports, Americans seem to want to watch only swimming, gymnastics, and beach volleyball. Okay, we are a country that wants to watch only the bathing-suit-clad female athletes; fine. (Yes, women’s track and field also gets some action from time to time, depending on star quality.)

But having spent a good many evenings this week watching this, it has been excruciating to listen to the way men and women are covered.

What are we to learn from Bob Costas and company?

1. The most important thing you need to know about a French swimmer is that she had controversial photos taken of her, and she lost her man to an Italian swimmer. (Both are accomplished athletes, and, oh-by-the-way, the Italian swimmer broke her own world record yesterday.)

2. What’s really amazing about the U.S. women’s volleyball team is that they actually get along. Oh yes, and they have both been married since 2004! And one of them almost lost her wedding ring in the sand!

3. This American gymnast is so upset. Let us close up on her face as it nearly tears up.

So, if I’m a 12 year old athlete watching, what I am learning is, no matter what you accomplish in your sport, even if you get to the absolute top of your game by competing in the freaking Olympics, you will only be recognized for tabloid controversy, nuptials, tiny dramas, or crying. And bonus if you are totally BFF with your volleyball teammate. Otherwise there is no way you’ll be able to set for her.

It’s a shame. I’ve always thought that Costas was so classy, and I am really proud of our female American athletes because truly, most of them do set an incredible example for girls. Dave at Organizing Grievances has a post about the ludicrousness of the hype around China’s anthem-singing boo-boo, and MaryAnne Johanson has a good find about the more overt cases of sexism. But sometimes subtle sexism is the most treacherous kind, because of the way it seeps in.

Five Years

Seeing the front page on one of the New York free dailies handed out at subway stations today reminded me that it was five years to the day that I showed up to grad school. How do I know? I showed up to grad school the day that the lights went out from the Great Lakes all the way to the East Coast. I tried to make sure that I didn't take it as a sign from somewhere that I shouldn't start grad school. Instead, I unpacked my car, slept in the dark for a night woke up the next morning to drive to Maryland and visited E. Who knew four and a half years later we would be married and I would be within a year of finishing grad school (hopefully)? I guess life has a way of working out really well.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

I Want a Vacation -

- so I'll take one!

I returned from ASA in one piece. I wish that I had more time to find people and meet them. But, I was so nervous about my first experience as a discussant, that I missed the opportunity[1]. Next year in SF, I'm meeting everyone at the Scatterplot party though! And, hopefully, I'll meet some of you before then.

However, before the real intensity of applying for post-docs and buckling down on dissertation research starts, E. and I are off for vacation to be tanned, rested, and ready for the craziness that is going to be the upcoming year!

[1] Talk about impostor syndrome; I can't believe people actually wanted to hear what I had to say! I benefited from a lot of really good advice from people regarding being a discussant, so maybe I will post some of it when I return.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Brooklyn: Full of Wonders

Being married to someone who studies neighborhoods, living in a specimen of the gentrification debate, and inhabiting one of the most diverse areas in the country sometimes make you over-question your surroundings. My sister and I, who give ribaldry a new meaning, hit up Midwood, Brooklyn today. Certainly, I thought, Midwood would look like the other parts of Brooklyn I had seen: three- to five- floor apartment buildings, a nice diverse population (maybe some segments would be denser than others in some areas), small, sparse parks.

But imagine our surprise cruising down Ocean Parkway, and seeing enormous Georgian mansions interspersed with fancy synagogues. Mansions! I get that we're near the beach, and maybe back when New York beaches were unspoiled sparkling wilderness, rich folks had beach houses there. But now? I mean, you're an ad executive and you maintain a condo in the UES, a chateau in Provence, and a beach house a mile away from lovely...Coney Island??

I had so many questions.

1) If you can afford to live in a mansion, why Midwood? What is fun here?

2) Where do you work where you can afford this mansion, if you're not a local doctor or suffering a 2 hour commute into job-dense Manhattan?

3) Who are you?

Perhaps I will call chacha to figure this out, and see what kind of subjective, loaded answer they give me.