Shutdown is not the answer, to anything really

I spoke with a friend yesterday who has been waiting for a launch window for his astronomy research balloon, the culmination of years of work by talented astronomers, programmers, designers, and more. The most likely day for the launch window to open is Saturday, and if the government is shut down, the balloon doesn’t go up, and there’s no funding to continue the project. So zero science, zero new knowledge, comes out of an expensive, years-long project because Congress can’t get its act together and a minority of extremists believe this is the appropriate forum to push forward their agenda. Even if the shutdown is short, getting back up and running means delays and backlogs and the possibility of success is low. This is not cost-effective. Though science may be a minor part of the deficit, it’s definitely not going to be part of any “partial shutdown” deal. It’s so maddening how little foresight is being shown in these negotiations. And this is just one tiny example, totally ignoring the millions of 1,800,000 people who won’t get paychecks, threatening a fragile recovery, and myriad other hidden costs of shutdown.

There’s plenty of good analysis out there concerning the impending government shutdown. The Guardian, in particular, is live-tweeting the day and will hopefully be both entertaining and informative.

*Updated to reflect partial shutdown number of estimated employees furloughed 800,000 and another million to work without pay.

Graduation Day

Today was Gettysburg’s graduation day, along with several other schools. President Obama spoke at Morehouse College and countless students threw their hats into the air at any number of institutions after deftly moving their tassels from right to left. With two siblings and three degrees of my own, I’ve seen my fair share of graduation ceremonies. There are plenty of similar elements, a commencement speaker encouraging graduates to go out and use their educations to change or save the world, a throwing of the caps, parading faculty, Harry Potter robes, Pomp and Circumstance (literally), and more, but each one also has the little bits that make it feel special.

This year, I’m leaving Gettysburg along with my students, so instead of just being a member of the faculty, it’s a little like I’m graduating, too, which makes it special. This class of graduating seniors also included some of my first students at Gettysburg, and by virtue of teaching an upper level required class three of my four semesters here, I had tortured 46 of the approximately 50 graduates leaving with an Economics major. They were my first students in Methods, my first students in Labor, and even a few wayward upper classmen who decided Principles of Micro was an easy way to round out their college career. Today was full of hugs and goodbyes and thanks and though I didn’t get to see everyone, I’m so glad I stayed for it. No one would have faulted me for bailing early, for getting home to Colorado, for leaving a place that no longer had a place for me, but it is days like today that I’m reminded of how important pomp and circumstance are, how important goodbyes are, how important are those markers of change to help guide us through the tumult and madness.

Teaching is often a field where feedback is in short supply, and some even call it thankless, but this weekend was one filled with joy and thanks. I talked to so many parents and brothers and sisters and cousins who told me thank you, who said they had heard so much about me, who wanted to make sure I knew that I had had an impact on their graduate’s life, on their learning, on their development. It was really wonderful to hear, and despite my excitement for summer in the mountains and Lafayette, it made leaving a little bit sweeter, and a little bit harder.

Each year I’ve taught, there have been a few students who have kept in touch, via facebook or continuos random run-ins at Boulder coffee shops, and I really hope that many of this year’s #gburg2013 grads continue to let me know how they’re doing. Congratulations, Gettysburgians!

What I’ve been up to

You might be wondering what I’ve been up to as this space has been sparsely populated of late. I spent most of March fighting a cold, and then an infection, and then trying to get back on track from all of it. At one point, I actually called my mother and cried “what if I get a hole in my face and no one ever loves me?” Her response, ignoring my terrible sentence construction, was perfectly deadpanned: “Erin, they’re doing wonderful things with plastic surgery these days.”

Thank goodness for moms. In the meantime, I tried to do some research as well as figure out what the plan for the next year (at least) is. As most of you know, I’ll no longer be at Gettysburg in the Fall and I spent much of the year seeking out a new academic position. I’m excited to announce that I’ll be joining the faculty, albeit temporarily, at Lafayette College in Easton, PA, next year.

I’m sad to leave Gettysburg, my wonderful colleagues, and some great students. Though this was always the plan, it’s still tough. I ran into a former student the other day and when I asked him how he was, he said, “worse now that I found out you’re leaving.” They’ve already started guilt-tripping me for it.

It was a difficult decision; I turned down a few other enticing offers, but ultimately decided that being on the East Coast was important as a collaborator and I explore some research opportunities in DC and Northern Virginia. The faculty at Lafayette are world-class (including fellow Boulder grad and family economics guru, Susan Averett), and I’m hoping that my time there will yield some fruitful collaboration. In addition, I’ve agreed to help UNICEF with the early stages of a data collection project on services for victims of interpersonal violence and for juvenile offenders in Zimbabwe, a project that gets me all kinds of excited.

I got my first revise and resubmit on a single authored paper (it was really fun to revise my CV to reflect that!). I’ve also been immersed in the finding-new-research-ideas process as well as the finishing-old-ones process, and hope some of that can come to light shortly.

As for this space, I plan on continuing to babble here, and hopefully there will be plenty of exhilarating topics to cover as my research and other projects expand. I’ll try not to harass you with too many moving complaints. Google reader is going away in a few months, which means I need a new way to keep track of all of you I love to read, so if that’s how you’re following here, please do update it.

Thanks for staying tuned!

My Chávez

Unlike most, I didn’t have my Chávez obituary ready. Folly, I know. But I also made a conscious decision to put it on the back burner for a few days. I may have missed the media frenzy, but if you’re not totally sick of reading about the passing of Venezuelan leader Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, here’s my two cents.

2012 Re-election campaign poster in Caracas City Center

2012 Re-election campaign poster in Caracas City Center. It reads “Chávez, Heart of my Fatherland.”

Starting around 4:45 on Tuesday, March 5th, my facebook wall and twitter feed were filled with the laments of mourners, obituaries, links to photo essays, exclamations of grief and of hope, and exhortations for a country divided to remain calm and be sensible. It’s a lot to take in. It’s a big deal when a head of state dies, but an even bigger deal when your head of state dies. And yet, Chávez wasn’t actually mine. He led a country I called home for a time, and though I have been tear gassed on Caracas streets, though I dance salsa like a Venezuelan, speak a lilting, eat-your-esses, caraqueño Spanish, and make arepas with the best of them, I’m still just a girl from suburban Colorado.

Much of what you’ll read over the next few days and months on Chávez’ death and the transition to a new government comes from people I worked with, people I went dancing with, people I debated with over the relative merits of some rum or another in one breath, and some policy or misión in another. Anything I write won’t compare to the access enjoyed by Jon Lee Anderson, or the passion for the paradox from Francisco Toro. Jens Gould, Simon Romero, Rory Carroll, Juan Nagel, Peter Wilson, and many more have several lovely turns of phrase in an attempt to sum up a man who was so adored, so reviled, so polarizing, so mesmerizing, so befuddling.

I won’t try to add to their stories, try to tease out the politics or predict what comes next. I can tell you, though, that Chávez had a tremendous influence in my life, though somewhat indirectly. Though I never met him, he opened doors for me and he shut them in my face. Through telling the stories of the country, mythology, government, and cult of personality he created, I found myself a different person. I cut my teeth as a writer, a journalist, a feminist, and an economist picking apart his words and policies, talking to his constituents, listening to his endless cadenas. I made some close, dear and wonderful friends, some native Venezuelans, some who ended up in Venezuela by chance, some who followed the almost unbelievable story that was Chávez. I quit the second real job I ever held in journalistic defiance of a Chávez-sympathizing (Chávez-bankrolled?) editorial board who mangled my words to fit their narrative. I made friends of strangers and enemies of friends debating Chávez, his programs, and his legacy. I was granted job interviews where the interviewers told me straight up they really just wanted to hear about my time in Venezuela and no real intention of hiring me (yes, more than once).

It may seem like a lot for any one man to have had such an influence, but Venezuela was, and still is, very much a world that is steeped in Chávez. My being in Venezuela, my friends’ and colleagues’ being in Venezuela, whether by choice or fate, was shaped so dramatically and fully by him. No other country I’ve spent time in has been quite like that, where the totality of an experience is so profoundly based in a single individual.

Caracas from Hornos del Cal Metrocable Station

Caracas from Hornos del Cal Metrocable Station

I’m not sure how well any of us can really convey that. I’ve tried. Many more have tried harder. And though plenty of people will try to explain to you what is going on in Venezuela over the next few days and months, I’m sure that most of them have no idea. For all her outward friendliness and beauty, Venezuela is not an easy place to know, and Chávez only made it harder.

One of the MetroCable Cars. This one says Pasión Patria, or Passion for the Fatherland. Others say "Love," "Freedom," etc.

One of the MetroCable Cars. This one says Pasión Patria, or Passion for the Fatherland. Others say “Love,” “Freedom,” etc.

What we do know is that lots of people are mourning today, and will be for some time, officially or unofficially. A very large segment of the Venezuelan population genuinely loved and adored him. Even for those that didn’t, his passing leaves a gaping hole in Venezuelan politics, in the Venezuelan psyche, and the future is rather uncertain.

I can’t imagine there will ever be another like him. My condolences to his family, his admirers, and the people of Venezuela. May he rest in peace.

New Mausoleum for Simón Bolívar's remains at el Panteón. And possibly those of Chávez?

New Mausoleum for Simón Bolívar’s remains at el Panteón.

Clarifying parodies of binders full of women

A few people who didn’t watch the debate told me this week that they didn’t understand my binders full of women reference in Friday’s post. The tumblr page was one of many internet parodies of a comment by Mitt Romney in last week’s debate regarding his concerted effort to hire more women as governor of Massachusetts. His request for “binders full of women”, or rather, binders full of female candidate’s portfolios, came in stark contrast to Obama’s very concrete support for the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Here’s a link from the Daily Beast explaining it a bit better. I foresee so many binder Halloween costumes this year.

What I’m reading

I’m headed to Maine this afternoon for a quick talk at Bates College and a wedding in Kennebunkport. I’ve never been to Maine, so I’m excited for the beach and seafood, among other things. I’m also excited to read some books that have been on my list for awhile and another that just came out. This is what I’m taking with me:

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, death, and hope in a Mumbai undercity by Katherine Boo

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Nobel Prize Winner Daniel Kahneman

This Is How You Lose Herby Junot Diaz

It should be a good weekend!

Job listing of the month

I’m late to this as the website was down yesterday and the first two weeks of school have taken up tons of my time, but today’s telling job posting comes from Facebook.

Facebook is seeking exceptional PhD-level graduates in the quantitative social sciences for analytical roles in support of its advertising business and products. Analysts develop expertise in Big Data analysis and of Facebook’s advertising operations and products to provide recommendations fueled by detailed analysis and thoughtful modeling of future scenarios. They work cross-functionally with Product, Engineering and Business teams and help shape the future of Facebook. Ideal candidates combine intellectual curiosity and analytical abilities with strong time management and communication skills and a passion for Facebook.

See! They are trying to make money. And they think that an economist should tell them how to do it.

Menlo Park wouldn’t be so bad, right?

Sabana Grande, renovado

The first time I lived in Caracas, I had an internship at a small business and finance magazine in a part of town known as Sábana Grande. It was not the nicest part of town. The pedestrian mall, which stretches from Plaza Venezuela to Chacaíto, was filled with buhoneros, or street vendors selling socks and batteries and burned CDs. And not just filled like If you were the one copyediting late, you weren’t allowed to be there by yourself, walking around at night was not allowed, under any circumstances. Since then, the pedestrian mall has been totally repaved and the buhoneros have been exiled to a large building named after liberatadora Manuelita Saenz (one of the few famous female figures from Latin American independence movements). It’s clean. And almost totally lacking in street vendors. It’s a supremely surreal experience, to walk up and down the mall. Music is still blaring, cheap shoes are still sold in half of the storefronts, and mannequins with impossible proportions (or rather possible with surgery) grace the windows. My enduring complaints about Caracas are being eroded. Well, at least the dirty part (we won’t get into the catcalls I endured today.) In fact, I’ve been impressed with quite a few areas that were once run down and dangerous and have been renovated. I spent the morning in areas called Altagracia and Capitolio, which has a new (not yet inaugurated) mausoleum for Simón Bolívar’s remains, a renovated Plaza Bolivar, repainted municipal buildings and more. I even saw some people scrubbing the bricks in Sábana Grande today and friends tell me that the nightlife in Capitolio is where it’s at. Unthinkable a decade ago. It seems that Caracas actually has changed in the last 10 years, though perhaps not so much in other ways. I’m here for another week, trying to dig up some data. I’ll let you all know what I’m up to after I get back.