Wednesday, December 24, 2008

TIME's Person of the Year

Like I do nearly every year, I tore into TIME's Person of the Year issue as soon as it arrived in the mail. Some of the POY choices have been kind of hard to guess in the past (I wonder how many people guessed Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin last year and You (as in YouTube) a couple of years ago) but this year you had to be pretty clueless not to guess that the choice was President-elect Barack Obama.

Somewhat surprisingly, TIME writer David Von Drehle doesn't dwell on the historic signficance of Obama's election, instead citing Obama's competence as the main reason for the choice. But I think he's absolutely right in reading the national mood: we elected Obama above all because we believe he can get things done, with the symbolism coming in second place.

Some highlights from the article:
In the waning days of his extraordinary year and on the cusp of his presidency, what now seems most salient about Obama is the opposite of flashy, the antithesis of rhetoric: he gets things done. He is a man about his business — a Mr. Fix It going to Washington. That's why he's here and why he doesn't care about the furniture.

Obama is quoted as saying one of his goals is the following:
"Outside of specific policy measures, two years from now, I want the American people to be able to say, 'Government's not perfect; there are some things Obama does that get on my nerves. But you know what? I feel like the government's working for me. I feel like it's accountable. I feel like it's transparent. I feel that I am well informed about what government actions are being taken. I feel that this is a President and an Administration that admits when it makes mistakes and adapts itself to new information.'"
(Excuse me while I stand up and cheer for that one. How completely opposite is that from the Bush administration?)
The country had to be hungry for the menu he offered, and in that sense, his path's true beginning lay in the drowned precincts of New Orleans in the sweltering, desperate late summer of 2005...Spare us the dead-or-alive bravado, the gates-of-hell bluster, the melodrama of the 3 a.m. phone call. A door swung open for a candidate who would merely stand and deliver. Simple competence — although there's nothing simple about it, not in today's intricate, interdependent, interwoven, intensely dangerous world.

His arrival on the scene feels like a step into the next century — his genome is global, his mind is innovative, his world is networked, and his spirit is democratic. Perhaps it takes a new face to see the promise in a future that now looks dark.
Funny quote of the day, as seen in my Gmail:
"Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else." - Margaret Mead

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

So it's Tuesday night and I'm looking at five beautiful days off ahead. *sighs with pleasure* Finally, some time to relax, decompress, think about things a little. I'm sitting here listening to Pandora and eating my new favorite Christmas candies, chocolate-covered caramels.

Somehow the lead-up to Christmas seems shorter this year (maybe not being in "real" classes at school, not to mention being too damn busy to think about it much), and I prefer it that way. I did all my Christmas shopping in a couple of hours last week, and didn't even obsess about finding the perfect gifts. Does anyone really remember what they got last Christmas? I certainly don't.

I'm halfway happy, halfway not, but isn't that how it always is with me? Maybe 50 percent happy is about as good as it gets with me, so I'm not complaining.

Friday, December 19, 2008


I'm finished then, with it all. I turned in my thesis this morning. I don't even want to explain why I turned it in on the last day possible in order to officially graduate this semester. Really, I'm not that bad of a procrastinator. But there I was yesterday night, like the slacker college kid the night before the term paper is due, adding more data, another graph, more explanations, trying to convert a file to PDF, wondering how I was going to burn a CD to submit to the grad school when my CD drive is broken. No, I really don't want to explain how I got into that situation. But I will say that it is all over.

I got to the Grad School office about 10:30 this morning, CD case and signed papers in hand and said, "I'm here to turn in my thesis." A woman who looked to be in her 50s glanced at everything and stamped one of the papers, and that was all. "Is that it?" I asked. How could it be that simple? I was expecting her to tell me something was missing, creating another crisis for me to resolve, or maybe for her to tell me to sign something to make it official, or even an interrogation on why I waited so long to turn it in. But nothing. Just like that it was finished.

I don't even want to think how many hours of work went into the contents of that CD. I feel like the last two months of my life are burned onto that disc, and now it will sit on a shelf somewhere, possibly never to be viewed again. The sacrifices were great. Was it worth it? I have to believe it was.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Holiday cheer

I can't take credit for the Christmas decorations -- Mom's in charge of the decorating here. They are very pretty and cheerful, don't you think?

John Mayer bakes cakes. How awesome is that?
Ben Casnocha on why college graduates struggle to find rewarding work: "So there are two intertwined dynamics in school that I think contribute to the aimlessness of new college grads: an entrenched habit of rule-following (the real world has no clear rules and no clear authority articulating them) and the promoted philosophy of 'be pretty good at lots of things as opposed to extraordinarily good at one thing.' "

Thursday, December 11, 2008

So where do I start? There's a lot I want to write about. I've been checked out of this space for awhile. Three words: work, work, work. Even now, there's a presentation tomorrow I am very underprepared for, that I should be working on instead of writing this, but I don't care so much at this point.

I'm the first to admit I haven't been much fun lately. A mass of anxious thoughts, forced to work hours beyond what a person should work to retain her humanity. In a way it is amazing the amount I've gotten done. On the other hand, I'm basically a shell of a person right now. I think I've put aside my emotions to the point where I don't feel them anymore. This is bad, and I know it. I've justified it to myself by saying that it's only for a while longer, then I can unfreeze myself and be a "real" person again. But is that a compromise one should ever make? Sell your humanity for the sake of getting stuff done?

Monday, December 08, 2008

Thesis is finished (sort of)

I finished putting together my thesis about 20 minutes ago. A final draft minus some data that needs to be collected and whatever changes the committee suggests. It's exciting seeing the chapters all put together. It's a relief, too. Yesterday I was sure I wouldn't finish...

Friday, December 05, 2008

Not my day today. Is it ever a good day to get a parking ticket? NO. But no classes today at UTEP, no shuttles running, you'd think the parking patrol would have some mercy. Argh.

I think I also might have gotten caught on one of those red light cameras. I was in a rush, it turned out needlessly. Double argh.

By the time I got home my car's gas gauge was on empty. Kind of a metaphor for my life at the moment.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Newsweek covers the drug violence in Juarez:

The border between El Paso (population: 600,000) and Juárez (population: 1.5 million) is the most menacing spot along America's southern underbelly. On one side is the second-safest city of its size in the United States (after Honolulu), with only 15 murders so far in 2008. On the other is a slaughterhouse ruled by drug lords where the death toll this year is more than 1,300 and counting. "I don't think the average American has any idea of what's going on immediately south of our border," says Kevin Kozak, acting special agent in charge of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's office of investigations in El Paso. "It's almost beyond belief." Juárez looks a lot like a failed state, with no government entity capable of imposing order and a profusion of powerful organizations that kill and plunder at will. It's as if the United States faced another lawless Waziristan—except this one happens to be right at the nation's doorstep.

Really a fantastic article. I wish the local news media would write articles like these.