This week saw the culmination of a lot of people's hard work. We held a rally against guns on campus. A few hundred students walked out of class and headed down to the Texas Capitol.
It meant a lot to see that some students are as interested in prevention of school shootings (rather than reaction) as I am. And it also served to occupy my mind for what I thought would be the most difficult day of the week.
On the 14th, I learned that the students who want to be able to carry guns in classrooms had released a press release with my name in it. They said I was trying to politicize a tragedy--no matter that they're the ones pushing Virginia Tech's tragedy as the reason for allowing handguns on campus.
I wish they could feel what I feel for just a day. I wish they could understand that it's not politics for me--it's personal. I wish they could see that all I care about is preventing other people from feeling what we felt at Virginia Tech.
On the 15th, I discovered that the staffer of a representative on the committee we're targeting went to Max's high school. She also went to Radford, just a few miles away from Virginia Tech. I had to pause for a few moments to catch my breath.
On the 16th, I rang a bell thirty-two times. It was perhaps one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. It felt, with each ring, like I was the one firing the gun and ending the life of a living, breathing person. I wonder how and why Seung shut that part of himself down--the part that feels compassion, the part that should have protested each time he pulled the trigger.
In the Capitol after the rally, I encountered a man who had been in Norris Hall on the 16th of April, 2007. Again, I had to pause for a few moments, taken aback by the shear improbability of such a meeting.
There is a symmetry to space and time.
I return to Blacksburg and look at her memorial and it hurts as if it were yesterday.
I return to this place in time--Earth's location relative to the sun--and it's as if the very fabric of space and time is steeped in sorrow in the vicinity of the ides of April.
Only now do I think to wonder if the days after April 16th, 2006--a year before the shooting--bore the same darkness, then inexplicable. Did I sit and ask myself, "Why so sad? It's spring!" If so, I don't recall. Certainly I could page back in my journal to see, but part of me doesn't really want to know that tragedy could have been anticipated, even indirectly.
I asked a close friend once, "Do you think we'll ever see her again?"
"I see her every day," said the friend.
And it's true. I do see her every day. This time of the year it's a tiny bit easier to see her, to hold her hand, to hug her tightly, to hear her laughter. That aspect makes it almost bearable.
It seems that the White House had a choice.
The debt was going to be there no matter what. Wall Street was failing, and in the process it was going to take out the world economy. Reboot. Start over. No credit for small businesses--no credit for any businesses. Lay-offs, or at the very least people who wouldn't get paid for the work they were doing, and money spontaneously disappearing from people's accounts. Remember? That's what we were afraid of back when the Reserve Fund broke the buck. Some of those fears have been realized. Some haven't. Why?
The government took the debt. The tax-payers bought it from Wall Street. In doing so, they may have sacrificed the social programs that Americans so urgently want.
But perhaps this was a foregone conclusion. Had the government not bought up the "toxic assets"--and if it refuses to continue doing so--spending would be lower, but the deficit might still be there. Why?
Taxes. People pay taxes on money they make--not on the money they don't get paid, or the jobs they lose. If they don't get paid and don't pay taxes, the deficit grows not through spending but through lack of tax revenue. You can't just cut spending instantly, as we saw when the White House floated the idea of cutting military healthcare; people get upset, and furthermore, lots and lots of government employees (and others who are indirectly employed by such programs) would suddenly lose their jobs.
A lot of those taxes, like it or not, come from folks on Wall Street. Not as many as between WWI and WWII, of course; back then, a 90% tax rate was no big deal for the well off. Still, were Wall Street to fall, the government would find that the floor had dropped out in terms of tax revenue.
I hate bailing out Wall Street as much as anyone else, and I loathe that people are getting bonuses for failing to do their jobs. But we must recognize that we are in a lose-lose situation with Wall Street. Even if you wanted to redistribute wealth you couldn't--not without the wealth.
So now, Obama has to fight critics of government spending. As a Democrat, I believe we are right to invest in social programs and infrastructure. Did you know every dollar invested in the University of Texas at Austin puts eighteen dollars into the Texas economy? Wisely-funded projects give people jobs and push money back into the system.
FiveThirtyEight has an excellent analysis explaining why cap-and-trade is on the back burner
. When no one can afford to drive, pollution just isn't as big of a deal. On the other hand, if Americans have healthcare and public transportation, they are more efficient and productive as workers.
So, it seems the White House really had no choice.
I wonder: were McCain the winner, would he be advocating increased government spending? The New Deal worked, and for Republicans to say otherwise is revisionism.Note: A lot of people tend to get debt and deficit confused. The difference between revenue and expenses, when negative, is a deficit--that is, in a given year we're spending more than we're taking in. The debt is the sum total our government owes to China or whoever buys the bonds.
I've been thinking a lot about the roles graduate students--particularly Ph.D. students--play on university campuses, and how that figures in to their identities.
My alma mater is part of me and will always be, with or without horrible acts of violence. The green grass, the brutal winters, the beautiful red-golden autumns1
, and the peaceful breezy summers will always lie epigenetic upon me.
I spent five years there, a year longer than most, and most summers as well. My sister Mollie, too, is likely to spend a fifth year--or so my parents claim--and Marsha is always quick to point out that her master's degree is from Virginia Tech. This propels the place to the status of 'family legacy' in a sense. Still, five years are five years.
And it seems that I may spend as many as seven years here at the University of Texas. Longer, perhaps. The average graduate student rarely plays a major role in the community, but I'm disregarding boringly normative messages and trying anyway.
So what will that make me when I leave here? Am I growing as a person less now than prior to reaching the arbitrarily-imposed U.S. drinking age?2
Is my psychological growth decelerating? I refuse to be a mere passenger. I refuse to stand still.
I involved myself in Student Government and Graduate Student Assembly here because I believe there are others who do not want to be passengers, who want to be active participants in the UT community. We spend more time here than many undergraduates and yet our presence is taken for granted, both by others and by our own selves. That seems wrong to me.
It makes me nervous that I might leave this place more a Longhorn than a Hokie.
I anticipated returning to Blacksburg eventually, to be in the place where my heart no longer yearns despite frequent wind chill and many painful memories. Becoming a Longhorn scares me: what if I return to Blacksburg only to find I yearn for Texas? As Davy Crockett so gracefully put it, "You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas," just before dying at the Alamo. What if my heart can never settle anywhere and be content?
I suppose we have to make a life with what we have; that's the thing I've realized gradually since the shooting.
You can't change time; time changes you. I want to have a say.3
Subtitle: I guess I'm just glad I didn't go to UVA.
- Autumni? Autumnae? 'Autumns' feels very odd.
- Perhaps, but I don't drink that much (anymore).
- I refuse to stop wearing maroon, no matter what they may throw at me.
- Tags:austin, blacksburg, grad school, home, introspection, undergraduate, university of texas, virginia tech
- Location:MBB 3.210B, University of Texas, Austin, TX, US
Dreams have been treating me strangely of late. Two nights ago, I dreamt I was dying of social anxiety disorder. There were these little sores on my neck and cheeks, much more severe and scary looking than hives, but basically still caused by stress.
Between dreams, I find time to work on the whole introvert/extrovert thing. I thought for some time that I was becoming an introvert--perhaps I'd lost trust in people after the shooting. Now I realize a lot of it was depression, along with feelings of victimization.
As I become more extroverted again, I also become significantly happier. I introduce myself to nearly everyone again these days (with the exception of those I'm pretty sure I've already met--it's always embarrassing to forget their names).
Since 4/16, I stutter and trip over words more when speaking. I used to be able to speak a mile a minute, but since the shooting it's been hard to get a full sentence out. These last few weeks I discovered that whatever neurotransmitter is missing, I can replenish it simply by feeling like I'm Accomplishing Things. Introducing myself to people--that's Accomplishing Things, as it happens, so again the extrovert-reward pathway is being activated.
I've been physically active since New Year's. It wasn't a resolution. Every time I make a resolution, it fails miserably within three weeks. This time, I resolved not to go to the gym, and here I am almost two months later, still breaking my resolution. The extra energy expense forces me to eat more, which in turn makes me feel much better physically and mentally.
Yet not all is chocolate and strawberries. The upside of feeling down is that my dreams become oddly positive. Accordingly, the downside of feeling up seems to be that my dreams are becoming more nightmarish. There was the dying from social anxiety disorder (do I even have that?). And then there was last night.
Last night, I dreamt I was talking to the bus driver on the way to campus--some blend between Virginia Tech and University of Texas, not any specific campus--and suddenly she looked to be in a great deal of pain, doubling over. Heart attack.
She wasn't slowing the bus down, so I yelled for help and hit the break myself, put it in park. She seemed so lonely, and the EMTs were taking forever to get there; so we took her to my house to make her comfortable. But then some friends showed up, friends I hadn't seen in forever, and I abandoned her to go talk to them--just for a few minutes. By the time I returned, she was dead.
And then our washer-dryer died, and we were forced to spend $220,000 to replace it. Yes, that's right. $220,000. That specific amount. No, that's not the bad part of the dream, just the irrelevant odd part.
Perhaps this was the trigger: yesterday, I may have thrown two people under the bus. No, not literally. But they didn't give me any choice; they didn't seem inclined to work with others, and they were defensive and rude when we tried to act like adults about it.
I haven't written much.
There are reasons for this which I can't explain here (because of those same reasons). In short, I've decided my personal life needs to be somewhat separate from my professional life--as much as such a thing is possible.
Other than the Reason That Cannot Be Named, it's also been very frustrating for me that those who comment don't always seem to give "due diligence." This term is one ario
used in describing the issue, and I think it fits quite well. One of my main insecurities in writing controversial entries here has been that I will fail to communicate an idea properly and be attacked for it. That kept happening. To be fair, I think I take comments a little too seriously.
And that's why there needs to be a separation.
Don't get me wrong. I've appreciated a lot of comments. A LOT. I don't know how I would've gotten through April 16th (or the subsequent one) without you loyal readers. I may need you again this time 'round. I can't express how grateful I am for all the times someone's emailed me privately and said, "Hey, keep writing. You don't know me, but I read." That's meant so much. A couple of my sister's sorority sisters (that's a tongue-twister) at VT told her
they read this blag through Facebook and were grateful for it. That made me glow a little. Thank you. Ut prosim.
I'm in the process of starting a new blog. I won't link to it yet because I still have a few tiny bugs to work out. I plan to take comments there less seriously. In fact, I'll probably ignore anything negative altogether, a skill which I learned (belatedly) from the guys over at FiveThirtyEight and all the trolls on Slashdot.
I do need this
blog, though. I need to vent, I need to write about personal issues, I need your insight. I'll probably friend-lock a lot of what I write.
And I probably won't write as much.
Last night I started to read through the records Virginia Tech released related to the shooting. Although I only looked at what the Collegiate Times made available, and not the full archive, I got the feeling I wouldn't find the answers I seek. Answers, yes, but not my answers.
Seung's emails were painful to read. They filled in a piece of the puzzle that had been missing: his humanity. He was a scared kid that no one really understood. He was also a coward. Afraid to confront the people who made him so miserable, he went after strangers.
No one had any basis for understanding him. Dr. Roy tried hard, and of all those who directly interacted with him, I think she showed the most wisdom. I sympathize with BH, too. My initial base urge was to hate him, because he was failing Seung in his class in Spring of 2007, and that failure perhaps contributed to Seung's fall.
Still, he was doing his job, and he actually tried, which is more than can be said of many teachers. And even hindsight is not twenty-twenty, because I know I sent emails with the same tone to my students just this semester. In the end, it was not BH who caused Seung to lose it, and he is not at fault; in the end, it was people like Dr. Roy who kept him from losing it sooner.
I wish the records were not so completely sterilized. Everything that looks like it might be interesting reads, REDACTED. I wonder if these trimmed documents actually fulfill the terms of the settlement--or if they just delay it until the current administrators are old enough to retire.
Would-be Obama aides must disclose Web posts, Facebook profiles
Wow. I can't say I hadn't seen this coming.
I imagine they realize the impossibility of what they're asking. If you manage to find someone who can actually find
all his or her posts, he or she is probably not going to be tubes-savvy enough to work in White House 2.0.
The Internet is destroying privacy. It's illegal for me to break into someone's house to find evidence of indiscretions, drug use, past mistakes, and so on. Prior to a decade ago, that law mostly protected those who did not expose transgressions to the public. Over the past eight years, all
transgressions have begun to become visible to the public.
The effect is that these requirements select for people who are either dishonest or incredibly secretive. But are those really the people we want in charge? Those people are why we have security clearances in government--we don't want people in power who could be blackmailed.
In twenty or thirty years this will change. The pre-Internet generation will fade out of public life and those who replace them will realize that glasnost--openness--is the best recipe. Even if you do something illegal, declare it. There is precedent: the IRS requires filers to declare even illegal income.
Does anyone know anything about Georgia vote discrepancies in the 2008 election?
I keep waiting for 538 to do something, but no such luck (yet). So I thought I'd take a hack at the numbers.Georgia Early Voting Statistics
- These statistics REALLY suck, but they're all I can find on early voting.Georgia Election Day Voting Statistics
, Presidential Election
- These are much better, but I'm not clear on whether early voting is included. I've heard rumors it's not, but they're only rumors.
You can also look at the results on Google's Election Map
, by clicking on Georgia.
I compared the results across the past few elections. People have said Georgia turnout was down
this year, but that doesn't appear to be the case. In fact, it was up nineteen percent. I don't know how that compares to other states.
Additionally, the total Republican win (red minus blue over total) is 5.28% (with the current vote tally, anyway). In 2004, it was 16.7%. 2000 showed 12%, and the Clinton years were by 0.5% and 1% (1992 and 1996, respectively).
I doubt further research based on numbers alone would offer any further insight--unless someone knows of some other statistics out there. There are also a few outstanding votes, of course, but unless there's some serious fraud going on, it's unlikely they'll make up the 207,000-vote difference between McCain and Obama.
For those who are curious, the new blagoblag is nearly up and running. I'll let you all know when the first post goes up. =)
Fortunately, I often skim blog entries before actually reading them. I write 'fortunately' because this one was full of doubt and bad breath and smog and sour milk and--well, worse things. I decided not to read it after all, nor the other three similar articles I encountered.
These aren't the rallying cries of despondent Republicans. These are people who should be thrilled by the prospect of an Obama presidency. They're progressive, and they (mostly) haven't even lived long enough to become truly jaded.
Sure, there are unhappy Republicans
, too. But that's to be expected. They feel like they lost. (They haven't, just wait and see. My father, for one, is expecting this to go not as well as I hope it will--but at least he's giving Obama a chance.)
"He's exactly like all the other politicians, John Woods," said one angry Hillary-supporter-turned-Palin-supporter with whom I am acquainted. "I hope you realize that. You're just going to be disappointed."
People hear political slogans and think--understandably--that because every slogan before has just been a slogan that these new ones are just slogans. That's induction. I like induction; I'm a scientist. But I prefer intuition, and those people did not see what I saw on Tuesday night.
Every time I've come up with a way to change something, I've had to fight the system every step of the way. Nevertheless, when I--a brand new volunteer!--ran into the office clutching my phone at the Travis County Democratic Coordinated Campaign Headquarters, no one said "No" to me. When I called Rosie to ask if I could help, she didn't say "No" to me.
People thought I was joking at first, but they still didn't say no. They made sure I was serious, and then they said what Barack has been saying all along:
"Yes we can."
I've been glowing since Tuesday night. Maybe some people think I like being the center of attention, or perhaps they assume I'm thrilled about having made a difference. Well, yeah, both of those are true, but it's not the cause of the halo. I'm really, truly happy for the first time since Max died because Tuesday night I tried to make a difference and for the first time in my life, no one
objected or told me it was impossible. That is what this campaign has been about.
That is what this campaign has been, and that is what America should be.
If you are pessimistic about Barack Obama's presidency, it's because you haven't seen the energy, the enthusiasm, the motivation. You haven't seen volunteers working non-stop or the crowded GOTV phone-banks, and you obviously haven't seen Les Misbarack
It'd be impossible to turn this off. America is waking up. People are realizing the rewards of achieving social change. Life will never be the same again in this country.
What is it people say? Lead, follow, or get out of the way.
I believe most Americans have no reason to be pessimistic. Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois community-members (and families), members of the military and Iraq/Afghanistan war veterans, Republicans, John McCain, people on death row, hurricane refugees, and other unfortunates: you lot can be whatever you want. But the rest of you, don't you dare ruin this for us. This is the only time I will ever say, "No, you can't do that."
If I can look up at the sky and see beauty and have hope, even after losing friends in a shooting, and even after nearly getting curb-stomped outside my home, then you can too. Yes you can.
My friends, I believe we're home.
What is this place? It's Camelot 2.0.1
1. Without the accompanying superstition, I hope; that comparison has already been made, anyway. Furthermore, Camelot isn't Utopia. (Utopia itself is satire, as I remember.)
Payton handed me the microphone.
"I have a special surprise tonight, if you're willing to make a few more calls for Barack."
A pause. Dramatic effect. People looked a little annoyed that I was interrupting whomever was speaking on MSNBC.
And then, in my best who-wants-a-cookie-Madagascar
voice, I said, "I just know some of you have been waiting all night to call Wasilla,"
while waving the fat stack of call sheets. "There's only one hour left before Alaska's polls close."
Eyes widened. A moment earlier, only five people wanted to make phone calls still. Now we had thirty. It was on.
It was my very second time volunteering for Get Out The Vote. I'd been registering Austin voters for weeks, but this was pretty new for me.
It started off slow. I was scared to make the first few calls. Soon, I'd polished off two sheets from each of Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Mexico, and Nevada. I finished the very last number on my Nevada call sheet just as the polls closed.
Only a few people were rude. One Prince William County (Virginia) voter rasped, "I wouldn't vote for Barack Obama if he were the last man alive," and promptly hung up. I wish he hadn't, as I would've retorted, "If he were the last man alive, you'd have trouble voting."
The networks kept "calling" states early, something that bothers me. They call it "projecting," not calling, but it's effectively the same. How can you call a state with only three percent of the vote reported? I know enough statistics now to realize that the networks
don't know enough statistics to project accurately. I followed FiveThirtyEight
's reporting as Nate was being much more conservative with his calls.
It mightn't have bothered me so much except that every time a state was projected, a loud cheer would go up--invariably just as the person on the other end of the phone picked up. The person being called would invariably then get snitty at me for calling so late and having to shout into the phone.
Then there was the thing of how every time a state got called, people became less interested in calling. Again, I understand the enthusiasm--but this wasn't over yet!
And now we were done with New Mexico. One woman--enthusiasm somewhat misplaced--was all ready to call Hawaii or California. Payton, perhaps joking, suggested we call Alaska.
I picked up the phone and called the only person I know in all of Alaska: topaz
AKA Rosie the Awesome. Perhaps I only expected, initially, to congratulate her, thinking the Stevens/Begich race was in the bag. I didn't quite expect to hear what she said next, when I asked if they needed help getting voters to the polls.
"Ohgodyes NO ONE IS TURNING OUT to vote because they think the race is over! Areyouserious?" exclaimed Rosie, barely.
No more than half an hour later1
, volunteers were printing out lists of names and phone numbers.
For those who don't follow politics as closely as I, here's an explanation. Obama had little chance of winning Alaska, but the Democratic Party had its bets on replacing Ted "Tubes" Stevens--the convicted felon--with Mark Begich
. For Obama to have a free hand, we would need that seat.
As McCain was conceding, we had thirty people in the call center, all dialing Wasilla and Eagle River, Alaska. The scripts for the swings states had all been a page long, but the Alaska script was three lines. It went a little something like this:
-- Hey, didja vote yet?
-- Well, go vote! You betcha this is important!
-- Do ya need a ride? Call this number...
(Actually, it was even shorter, and without the Alaska-isms. You get the idea, though.)
Alaska has to count 40,000 absentee ballots, and Stevens currently leads by under 4,000 votes
. A lot of us here in Austin would be thrilled to know we helped make a difference in a state with fewer people than our city.
By far the most amazing part of my experience yesterday was the empowerment. In no other election could a brand new volunteer walk into the office and say, "Hey, I can get numbers for Alaska, and they really need our help," and have people listen (even if they did think it was a joke at first).
When Obama says the people really made the difference in this election, he means it. He means us. He means people like Rosie, Mary-Evelyn, Payton, Starshine, Ian, and others.
Palin and Giuliani made a mistake disregarding the power of community organizers. It was Barack's experience as
a community organizer, through the power of many people, that translated into victory yesterday.
I'd also like to add that it was a stroke of genius on the parts of Graham, Tristan, and Rosie to send us call sheets for Wasilla. There is no better way to motivate progressive Democrats than to offer them the chance to make a difference in Sarah Palin's hometown.
Word Of The Day: Adrenaline
1. It only took so long because we'd all had a few too many celebratory drinks at that point, and we couldn't quite get the printer to work.
I have to run in a second, but I wanted to give you my electoral projection.
I go with FiveThirtyEight's projections, generally. However, I project Georgia to go with Obama.
I also project that Texas will be much
closer than projected, considering Bush's margins there in 2000 and 2004 were in part the home-state advantage. In fact, I place Texas as toss-up, given its demographics, the get-out-the-vote operation in the big cities, and the presence of early voting.
(When I say toss-up, I don't mean that it's close. I mean that there's no way to know. It's a complete coin flip, given that the last two elections were native son.)
I also project a much larger popular vote margin for Obama nationwide owing to turnout. The Campaign's GOTV operation is unprecedented. And that
is what it means to be a community organizer, thankyouverymuch.
Alright! Off to get-out-the-vote for the Obama campaign! Those of you who aren't terribly busy today, I highly recommend you either head to your nearest volunteer center or log on to my.barackobama.com
and make some calls. You can do it from home!
Don't let this one be like 2000 and 2004. Close the deal, progressives!
(Live blogging from the campaign office, I hope!)
Does anyone know why I'm getting a hundred billion copies of every invitation from Facebook? It's like it thinks it's reminding me or something--every hour or so.
A letter I sent to my students today, because some of them cheated.
Please read this carefully, and feel free to email me if you don't understand something. I'm happy to clarify.
I was disappointed to find that some of your answers looked copied from someone with the other test form.
As I'm sure you realize, it's pretty hard to prove someone was cheating. Without proof, I don't want to accuse anyone because I know how much it sucks to be accused of cheating when you didn't do anything wrong. I also know how awful the honor system can be and how long it can take.
Luckily, it's a moot point because almost all of the people concerned failed the exam anyway. Those who didn't fail did pretty badly.
And actually, that makes me sad too. You guys shouldn't have to be doing badly on these exams. I know there's a lot of material and you have no idea what to study, but that's why we have study groups and TAs. Too much to study? Come see me. I can help. I've taken this class a couple of times and I've had to find ways to remember really large amounts of information. (If you think this is hard, try taking the graduate level biochemistry.)
A quick story:
I knew a kid who cheated regularly on all of his tests. He was actually good at it, and got away with it--unlike the people who copied answers on this test. He's an aerospace engineer. That means he designs airplanes. Do you really want to fly in an airplane designed by someone who never learned how to design airplanes?
Don't cheat. People could get hurt badly in plane crashes (or in the case of biochemistry, you might accidentally create a zombie virus).
As for the people we think are cheating, we will be watching you. I strongly suggest you study next time.
Your friendly neighborhood TA
Oh my god. Zenobia Hikes
This won't matter much to most of you non-Hokies, but it matters to us. Zenobia Hikes was one of the few administrators I still felt I could trust after the shooting--and I suspect that to be true for others, too. She always worked so hard for us, and always listened.
A story, because it's good to tell stories when people pass away:
After the shooting, the campus was swamped with missionaries. There were missionaries from Falwell's church, not far away in Lynchburg; well-dressed Mormons from Salt Lake City; and representatives from (most likely) every major evangelist church in the country. I think there may have even been representatives from that church that likes to protest homosexuality at the funerals of American soldiers (I refuse to speak its name).
Most notably, there were Scientologists. They wouldn't leave us alone. Kept offering us massages every time we tried to cross the Drillfield, and as I walked past the Post Office on my way home on several occasions.
Zenobia emailed the student body one day, mentioning the presence of the various religious groups. "We haven't received any complaints yet," she said, but we are listening. So if anyone bothers you, she implied (or maybe said--I don't have the email), let me know.
Shortly after, a friend emailed her to complain about the Scientologists. The massage tables and yellow shirts were gone by the next day.
I don't know what else to say. Zenobia Hikes, you are sorely missed.
She was only 53.