Tag Archives: college

On XOJane today

Hey y’all, happy pre-Thanksgiving! Are your offices quiet? Are your thoughts on pie and next-day turkey sandwiches? Are you dreading obnoxious relatives or looking forward to the rare chance to play with cute kids? Football? Parades? What ever your TGiving jam is, I hope you’re feeling it.

Cool news to share with you today. You guys know XOJane, right? Founded by Jane Pratt (read this excellent profile about the “perpetual 15-year-old”), XOJane is one of the many of the many lady-sites out there for the media-consuming millennial girl. Today, one of those pieces of media is mine. It’s an essay that I wrote last year (originally for The Good Men Project, which was later reposted on Jezebel), called You Can Get Laid without Being a Jerk, effectively a letter to my brother and his college bros about hook-up culture, douche moves, and enthusiastic consent:

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Filed under Body Image, Gender, Media, Republished!, Sex

Perfect Storm: Versailles, Tiny House, Concord and DeLillo

If I’m not careful, this post will come off as nothing more than a fawning review of Lauren Greenfield’s new documentary The Queen of Versailles. For you Chicagoans, it’s at The Music Box and you should absolutely go see it right now. It’s about the Siegels, a richer-than-God Florida couple who are building the biggest house in American in 2008, right as the market tanks.

Here’s the official trailer:

When was the last time you saw a piece of art or heard a piece of music that stuck with you days later? I can’t shake this movie from my brain; everything else I read or see seems to echo one of its themes, images, lines.

I’m reading Don DeLillo’s White Noise, and each passage about consumer culture, Americana, perceptions of luxury, etc is reverberating extra hard against the backdrop of Versailles. Then, I read this great New Yorker essay (sadly behind a paywall) about Concord, MA, and the town’s weird peccadillos around wealth and showmanship, and the Versailles bells started bellowing again. And then, this finance newsletter I get had a story about the tiny house movement, about a couple that downsized into 128 square feet in pursuit of the things that truly made them happy. Ding ding ding!

I love this feeling; it’s what I felt like I was always pursuing in college. When the reading from one class informed the lecture of another, and both of those added layers of nuance to the novel I was reading, and all of that seemed related to dining hall convo. It’s a rare but magical perfect storm and I feel like I’m right in the middle of one right now. Crossing my fingers that it lasts for a while.

This intersection of material is all about happiness, finding it, affording it, keeping it, sharing it. How do you tell which path or paths will lead there? Can you buy it? Can you buy access to it? Do I have any answers? Of course not, I’m just enjoying the questions.

Related Post: Another perfect storm, Hans Rosling and Cloud Atlas.

Related Post: Another perfect storm, tigers and grandparents.


Filed under Art, Books, Chicago, Family, Media

So What Do You Do Exactly? Think Tank Edition

Hearty welcome to Michaela, today’s interviewee in the ongoing jobs series, So What Do You Do Exactly? Michaela works at a think tank in D.C., doing think-tanky things. Actually, a big portion of this interview was trying to understand how think tanks work and why. Read on!

What’s your actual title? Program Associate at a conflict and research non-profit (aka “Think Tank”)

What would your title be if it actually encompassed what you do? I think “Program Associate” works for its very non-description. Maybe “Director of Things Analysis-ful and General Manager of Internal Resources”.
When I picture “think tank,” I always envision people strapped up Matrix-style to an actual tank. What exactly is a think tank? That is exactly what happens at a think tank. We’re waiting on a shipment of upgraded pods right now.
Think tanks are usually a bunch of people who had fun researching and writing papers in school, and have now found an excuse to keep on doing that professionally. However, we pick topics that have “so-what” value and make an effort to say something new, which is a lot more than I can say for the papers I wrote in college…
Who hires your organization? Do you choose a topic and then write? Or do you get a commissioned study? We’ve been hired by a pretty broad range of clients, but in general they’re looking to better understand the conflict dynamics active in a given region. So for example, we’ve emerged in the past couple of years as one of the best DC sources on Somalia – so we’ve written a chapter on Somali piracy report for a major INGO, consulted for other research organizations looking for more complete data or context on the situation, provided policy recommendations to US stakeholders, etc. When we’re not maxed out by paid work (or I guess even when we are…), we also pursue projects that are just of interest to us internally, like this incredible genealogy of Somali clan lineages going back to Qureish.
Somalia is definitely our bread and butter right now, but we also have a little niche doing original-language research on Chinese foreign policy perspectives and internal political dynamics, and we’re expanding our capabilities in West Africa as well, since that’s a powder keg no one knows a whole lot about. We focus on sort of “emerging and nontraditional conflicts” and try to stay out of the crowded big-money topics like Iraq and Afghanistan.
Where do you get your information? What kinds of sources go into your research? It depends on the project, but as a general rule we use original language, local media, and local people as our sources to whatever degree possible. It’s time-consuming and intimidating but totally worth it to learn an area like crazy. Information can seem credible, but what are the interests of the source? Who might have a different perspective on that information? If I keep hearing a consistent narrative about an event, even if it’s unverified, how do I understand its underlying implications? It’s also really important not to ignore big boring datasets – there’s a lot of exciting stuff hidden away in those if you know how to look at them.
How do you measure the success of a project? Persuasion metrics? I guess it’s hard to measure success, particularly since the market for information and analysis is so heavily dependent on the mood swings of so many different budgets. Our Somalia project generated interest but not contracts until fairly recently, but we knew we were doing some pretty unique work.
How does a think tank like yours–security and conflict–negotiate the partisanship of DC? I guess we just try not to play that game. As long as you’re faithful to reality you can mostly avoid overlap with the political narratives of a conflict…
Give me a sample day in your life. The more specific the better: Get in about 9, go over my to-do lists. I have a like master list in a notebook with everything, and a smaller pad for today’s tasks that I keep in front of me in lieu of an actual attention span.
A normal day might mean creeping toward a target word count for a report, reviewing internship apps (ohmygod please proofread your stuff), tinkering with software, reading the new UN Monitoring Group report. Checking in with the interns on their projects. Catching up on my Google Reader and news while I eat lunch at my desk. Trying not to fall asleep at my desk after lunch. A quick trip out for coffee with a colleague or intern. Pretending I don’t have to respond to emails and gchatting while I wait for the caffeine to hit. Getting my shit back together eventually. Probably a conference call. Going back over my outline, realizing it’s all wrong, drawing up something better on the whiteboard. Heading home around 6:30 or 7 after having finally worked the new structure into the damn draft.
Do enjoy the broad range of subject matter in your job? Or do you look forward to focusing on a more narrow expertise? I like to be able to sink my teeth into something and get a really solid grip on it. Nothing like being able to call an expert out on his bullshit to make life worth living! That said, I do think it’s valuable to be forced to expand your competencies; there’s overlap where you might not have expected it, and the injection of fresh material to your perspective can do some good things to it.
Should there be more think tanks or less? Different ones? I think a lot of the organizations that exist need to raise the bar on the quality of their work. There are people doing some pretty fantastic stuff out there, but it’s disappointing to realize how many scholars and experts just aren’t. I certainly understand the compromises that have to be made – when a client pays for a 15pp report, you really can’t write a dissertation. But you can have higher standards for the rigor of that report.
If it were up to you, how do we get Americans more invested in global affairs, instead of the latest sex scandal? It seems like people simply don’t understand how to go about tackling complex problems – sex scandals don’t require much from you intellectually, and nobody actually cares about these things so they’re much less intimidating. For this balance to change, I think critical thinking should be the ultimate goal of education. Math, reading, writing, science, art – all of these are, in my opinion, different and valuable tools for teaching children how to think critically and intelligently about the world
Related Post: So What Do You Do Exactly? Model UN edition.
Related Post: So What Do You Do Exactly? Photography edition.


Filed under Education, Guest Posts, Politics

Sunday Scraps 57

1. GEOGRAPHY: Lovely essay by Ciara Flynn at Thought Catalog about the lure of a geographic change when you’re looking to jumpstart your life.

2. CULTURE: Should you check your email? Here’s a flowchart, but I’ll cut to the chase: The answer is probably no (via The Rumpus).

3. HOLLYWOOD: Where are they now? Buzzfeed has a gallery of child actors from the 90s (supporting characters only) and what they look like these days. Generally speaking, not good.

4. EDUCATION: David Brooks’ column in the New York Times is about institutions of higher education and the growing trend to measure students’ progress after $250,000 and four years. Reasonable, right?

5. SPREAD: CNN has a pretty sweet gallery of images from space documenting the spread of humanity around the world.

6. BOOBS: Thanks to New York City’s topless-in-the-park laws, a brave contributor at The Gloss ventures out sans shirt to see how the law works in practice.

Related Post: Sunday 56: Letter from Hef to Chicago, interview with Barney Frank, Come to Bed with Bryn and Caro

Related Post: Sunday 55: Photos from juvenile detention centers, fake MA towns, geeky tattoos


Filed under Education, Hollywood, Media, Really Good Writing by Other People

Oh, for the love of education

Meet Virginia Foxx. Sadly, I couldn’t find a porn star who shared her name, and trust me, I looked. Come on, internet, help a sister out!

Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC)

Virginia Foxx is a Republican Congresswoman from North Carolina. She is also the chairwoman on the house Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training. Pretty badass, right? Here’s what she said on a recent radio show:

“I have very little tolerance for people who tell me that they graduate with $200,000 of debt or even $80,000 of debt because there’s no reason for that. We live in an opportunity society and people are forgetting that. I remind folks all the time that the Declaration of Independence says ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ You don’t sit on your butt and have it dumped in your lap.”

Isn’t that fun? Just as an aside, let’s remember that she graduated from UNC in 1968. The rate of college tuition has far exceeded the rate of inflation, so this is not just a simple case of “back in the day a soda cost a nickel.”

Let’s give Ms. Foxx the benefit of the doubt and assume that her bottom line is more students getting more education. After all, if that’s not her goal, than perhaps this particular subcommittee is not such a great fit. With that in mind, what do you make of her comments?

Here’s one perspective, which I’m going to offer with the opening caveat that I know I am very, very lucky. I have two parents with advanced degrees. I went to a top ten private University that cost about $45K per year. I graduated in four years. For the first half of college, I worked one job 12 hours per week. For the second half of college, I worked two jobs for a combined 20 hours per week. I also made the Dean’s list. The combined debt shared between my (generous) parents and me is upwards of $60K.

Now, did I have to go to a top ten school? No. The University of Massachusetts is a very reputable institution and would have cost me a fraction of the price. But, let’s not pretend there are not substantial advantages to going to the “best” colleges you can get into (a distinction I’m well aware is subjective).

The undergrad alma maters of our current Supreme Court justices are Harvard, Georgetown, Stanford, Stanford, Holy Cross, Cornell, Princeton, Princeton, Princeton. The most commonly held Bachelor’s degree in the 111th Congress? Harvard. Is politics the only arena in which to be successful? Of course not, but look across leadership platforms in virtually any industry, and you will see top-tier, expensive college degrees. In other words, we are not wrong to encourage students to shoot for the stars. More importantly, we are not wrong to encourage poor students to shoot for the stars. And at the moment, the stars tend to cost a lot of money.

Do we think that state universities provide the same caliber of education as elite private colleges? U.S. News and World Report (one of many list-makers) doesn’t have a single public school in its top 20. To be comfortable with that path, we need public schools to be provide the same level of opportunity as their private peers. And some do. But, what if you’re a stellar student who lives in a state without a stellar state run university system? Your choices are to pay out of state tuition to a well-regarded state school (with loans), pay private tuition (with loans), or suffer your not-so-great in-state option.

I’m starting to ramble, I know. So let me summarize: Ms. Virginia Foxx, we can all agree that the higher education needs some serious revamping. We need high caliber programs and training available to more students at a cost that doesn’t bankrupt families. But, that is no excuse for the  tsk tsk-ing, condescending, finger-pointing bullshit you just pulled. Do not think that students and families enter into that kind of debt lightly. Your “tolerance” is the last thing on their minds when they are facing some pretty tough decisions.

Related Post: Alfie Kohn sums up all the problems with test-based education.

Related  Post: Matt Damon and his mom on school reform.


Filed under Education, Politics

Identify Your Ick Factor

Is your “ick factor” keeping you from advancing in your job? Do you disgust people on a regular basis? Have you noticed that your colleagues involuntarily shudder when you walk by? Does everybody avoid you? If so, this seminar is for you:

This course was offered in my alumni event booklet that just arrived in my mailbox. I love my alma mater, and I am a loyal, vocal, and enthusiastic alum, but come on, guys… for real? We’re nerds and geeks and at times socially awkward, but a seminar on social graces seems a tad extreme….

Related Post: Here’s a kid I wish I’d known when I was in school.

Related Post: See, I’m this kind of nerdy, but I don’t need a seminar.

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Filed under Chicago, Education


Pretty much sums up my feelings about Penn State right now:

I didn’t used to have a poor impression of Penn State. I know some pretty cool people that went there, and I’m perfectly confident that there are a lot of pretty cool kids that aren’t smashing cars up right now over the proper and much delayed consequences to a horrible and tragic series of crimes perpetrated against children. Unfortunately, those Penn Staters aren’t on the news right now, so for the moment, they’re unfairly being rolled up with all the assholes. And to the aforementioned assholes, I ask you one thing: what if it were your kid?

Related Post: Disappointed in he of the poofy hair, Bulls player Joakim Noah.

Related Post: “Hey, I play for Pitt football, don’t arrest me.”


Filed under Education, Sports