Sunday, September 12, 2010
Saturday, September 11, 2010
Thursday, September 9, 2010
Monday, August 30, 2010
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
The days preceding the event were largely drowned in a river of Pepsi Max, pre-packaged sandwich meal deals, and a veritable cornucopia of sweets. I fear a the next time I go to the dentist, he'll examine my mouth only to find myriad greyish-brown caverns in what was once a healthy mouth. I have started flossing to compensate. Long days in the computer lab turned to long nights in front of my MacBook, fruitlessly searching for the perfect word or turn of phrase.
In the end? I'm not thrilled with it. But I suppose that's the nature of the beast. Once it's all over, all you can do is see the flaws, the areas to be improved, the times you should have stayed in to work. Yet, it's done. There's no more work I can put into it. No more graphs or charts. Not one more reference. And it feels good. It may not be my best piece of work, but its the culmination of a year of change.
I finished reading Pillars of the Earth the day after I handed in my dissertation. I'd been reading the book all summer, using it as a form of escape after long nights of work. What I realized was, as they were building their cathedral in the story, I was building mine. I faced setbacks, design errors, and flaws in construction. But I also had (short-lived) flashes of brilliance and delight in the knowledge that my project, bound as it was in its cloak of green, will stand as a testament to the things I've learned over the past year.
Now, it's time to move on to a new chapter in my life: a new job. I'll spend the next month largely looking in the UK. But once my lease is up, if I don't have any leads, I'm going to move back to the U.S., probably to settle in New York. Then again, it may all change tomorrow. Who knows...
*If you have some strange desire to actually read my dissertation, it can be found on my website: http://www.stephenanemeth.com under the "Portfolio" tab.
Sunday, August 8, 2010
I don't know, it's probably just looking at the same words over and over, trying to predict what's going to get me the right grade. Either way, I'm finished for today.
Friday, August 6, 2010
While playing Uncle Archibald in the Shawnee Mission East High School production of The Secret Garden, I was required to utter this ridiculous line. It was always the line that I had difficultly spitting out, because it seemed so inane. How could you not have a home?
But over the past nine-and-a-half years since I took my bow on that stage, those words have come back to me at various times. They haunted me on that first balmy night I stayed in the dorms, alone, when I went away to college. And they returned when I moved into my first studio apartment. Now, they won't stop ringing in my ears, yet again.
But, for me, these five words express a different sentiment than the OED would tell you.
I have no home. But because I have many homes.
There's my home in Kansas, where I know that various parcels of cheese, haphazardly re-wrapped with their torn Whole Foods labels, await my return. Prior to this will be a father who will excitedly tell me that we have a bottle of scotch waiting at home, all the while asking about the flight, hurrying my oversized duffel to the trunk navy Ford Fusion parked outside. And along side him will be a mother who, on our drive home, will tell me that she dutifully bought Anderson Erickson Cherry Vanilla yogurt (my favorite) and some overly-sugared cereal, preferably Apple Jacks, to welcome me back to normalcy. This is my home. where I spend my time, virtually or physically. It's where I recognize the smell of our musty garage, and anticipate the obligatory glance at the (no doubt) lit pond in the back yard.
But, while this may be my "home." I have other homes.
I have my home in Rome, where ochre-tinted lights allowed us to linger along the Tiber well into the night. The places where I learned to trust myself. To explore the world.
I have the couches where I spent many nights, lazily pontificating to wine-soaked minds. I have the restaurants where I spent so many weekend brunches. The metro stations, from which I rushed home, desperate to discard the day's events.
In the past year, I have added a new home to this list--Leeds. No, it hasn't always been ideal. But, it also has been full of adventures that I never thought possible. Slowly finding new words ingratiate themselves to my vocabulary. Discovering that I'm not alone in my fears. Realizing that it's not easy to start a new life, but it's worthwhile.
In a few weeks, my dissertation will be done, and I'll begin to make a new home. It may be in New York or San Francisco. It may be in Manchester. Or London.
Home? I have no home.
I am always home.
Listen, it's fine if you don't like the decision. But don't tell me it's invalid because the judge was biased on account of his sexual orientation.
Sunday, August 1, 2010
I should have probably been a bit farther on this bit by now, but I was in London for most of last week. On Tuesday, I went to the BBC proms with a couple of friends. After spending the day traveling, then going to the science museum, we made our way to the Royal Albert Hall for a bit of Beethoven. Hillary Hahn played with the symphony for one piece, and there were several encores to revel in the classical goodness. The highlight (for me) was Beethoven's 5th. Though not my favorite of his pieces--that would be the 7th symphony--it was still wonderful.
Part of the reason for going down, other than the proms, was to wrap up a few things with my internship at ecoConnect, and go to the Green in the City event it co-sponsors with Cleantech Investor magazine. While I didn't get as much wrapped up as I wanted to (you never do), I was able to attend the event and talk to my boss about future jobs. Though there aren't any opportunities with ecoConnect, there may be a few leads through some diligent networking. I suppose we'll see. The event was interesting, talking about the future of road transport and energy solutions, and after there was a networking session (ugh). It's not that I can't talk to people. Lord knows I could do that for hours, it's more the approach part that I dislike. It always feels so awkward and date-y and a bit forced. But I suppose we all know why we're there, so there's some solace in that.
Aside from the travelling and dissertation, I'm on the job hunt, officially. The trick for me is that I have a broad background in a variety of fields--sustainability, strategy, finance, communications, politics, history, stakeholder engagement, etc. Clearly a lot of this overlaps, but describing that in a resume and cover letter can be rather challenging. And, it also makes the job hunt a bit more difficult. If I were doing something specific, like SAP implementations, that would be slighly easier to find, but looking for jobs in sustainable business and communications strategy it just a bit broader. Luckily there seem to be a bunch of great positions. Unfortunately, I have no idea how competitive they are.
It's exciting and scary, knowing that I'm in for another life change, only a year after I settled into this one. What I do know, is whether I end up in London, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, or Des Moines, I'm ready for the change.
P.S. If you know of anyone looking for a sustainability consultant or marketer or CSR guru, let me know at stephen dot nemeth at gmail dot com.
Friday, July 23, 2010
Monday, July 19, 2010
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Or maybe not.
The work on my dissertation never ceases, though, after talking to those on my program, we've realised that expecting more than a couple of hours work on it in any one day is probably pushing it. But I figure if I stick to a couple of hours each day, I should actually complete it. All I can say is thank god for having to learn typing in school. It's a lifesaver.
Now to procrastinate a bit more before I completely flip out and realise my methodology is completely baseless...
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Monday, July 12, 2010
My new internship with ecoConnect has been going swimmingly, though. I'm really enjoying the chance to do a full-on social media/communications strategy. By the time I finish up on August 1, I should have a podcast, website, strategy, master deck, and a few blog posts under my belt. Not bad for two months work.
Monday, April 5, 2010
After getting back to Leeds, there was another week of school and then classes were done. For. Ever. It’s a bit weird, and it’s flown by, but essays and exams call, so there’s not too much time to think about it yet. I’m currently writing my last assigned paper right now, though I can’t say it’s going swimmingly (yet). We have to make recommendations to the government, which, given my propensity for dispensing advice, should be an easy assignment. But somehow, having to cite everything makes it far less compelling.
I’m still not sure what summer plans will be, other than writing my dissertation. Perhaps an internship? And speaking of internships, for the next two weeks, I’m going to be interning at a company in Manchester, doing some internal communications work for an environmental campaign. I have to say, I’m slightly nervous after being away from the working world for 8 months, in a different field no less. Luckily, I’m working with another colleague who I already know, so it helps alleviate some of the dread. So, up at 6 tomorrow to catch a 6:30 train. It’s going to be a long day.
Friday, April 2, 2010
Sunday, March 28, 2010
Saturday, March 27, 2010
"Even the optics must be irritating. A woman (Nancy Pelosi) pushed the health care bill through the House. The bill’s most visible and vocal proponents included a gay man (Barney Frank) and a Jew (Anthony Weiner). And the black man in the White House signed the bill into law. It’s enough to make a good old boy go crazy."His point is that more-or-less the tea partiers don't represent the direction the country is headed in. Politics aside, this group, still does represent a number of individuals and their opinions have a right to be heard. However, they should be doing it in a civil manner. The same can be said for the far-left groups, though their popularity has waned in recent decades as the demographic shift of the boomers shifted America's politics more towards the right (the older we get, the more conservative, etc.).
It reminds me of some of the exercises we used to do at Deloitte with generational issues. A topic would be posed (e.g. remote working) and invariably the older workers would say it should never happen and the younger workers would say they should be allowed whenever they wanted to. Clearly (as with most solutions) the answer was in the middle, but the important thing was making sure that the older workers didn't feel marginalized. Even if a company is shifting, it is important to give some token points to the older generations. Bottom line, the younger people will be there to change policies when they get in power, while the older generations feel completely powerless if they do not get a bit of deference. This is, I think, how many of the tea partiers feel right now. They feel like their voice is not being listened to at all, so their only option is to become louder and more virulent. Strategically, not brilliant, but one can understand where they're coming from. It's the politics of frustration. Yell and scream until someone does something you like (or you fall apart).
It would seem that the best strategy Obama, as "CEO," could take right now is to divide and conquer, similar to how you would in an company setting. Figure out which workers (voters) have issues that can be addressed and those that you will never get back. I would bet that if someone were to look at the various blogs, conferences, and rallies out there, they could find a few token policies that could be given into to siphon off some of the more marginal tea partiers. Bottom line, it's not a coherent group (organizationally or ideologically) , it shouldn't be that hard.
Quite frankly, I'm not sure what this type of policy would be. But, it would ideally be something that says, look, we value your opinions, but you also have to work within the context of the what's going on right now. The thing the tea partiers fail to understand (and which I have yet to see pointed out by the MSM) is that voting Republicans into power isn't going to make America some magical tea party state. People in power want to stay in power. A representative swept in on a tea party platform still probably only garnered about 50-60% of the vote. There are a lot of other people that they have to serve, otherwise they face a one-term-and-your-done legacy.
Bottom line, America is changing a lot--demographically, economically, and socially. Those who feel marginalized by those changes are going to be upset, frustrated, and start to yell. But, the real problem they feel is not the political stances, it's the loss of a voice. By giving them back a (civilized) voice within a different context, we can, and will, begin to move forward again. It all reminds me of one of my favorite movies, Pleasantville. The people start turning from black and white into color and the response of those who haven't changed yet and feel their power is being usurped is to turn to violence and persecution. In the end, the world keeps on changing, because it has to change. Trying to preserve the status quo is a losing battle with time and history.
Monday, March 22, 2010
Friday, March 19, 2010
Essentially, Blond would take a political culture that has been oriented around individual choice and replace it with one oriented around relationships and associations.It seems more and more of what we do is dominated by relationships, exemplified by the boom in social networking. It's difficult to imagine what this looks like policy-wise in the U.S., but it's not uncommon for socio-cultural trends to make their way into politics. There seems to be more and more discontent, but as others have pointed out, it's disjointed. This may indicate that we're on the verge of a massive shift in governance philosophy.
In many ways it goes back to something that we discussed in my climate change mitigation class. People are having difficulty relating to complex problems with linear solutions. Our dominant paradigm has been to look for cause and effect, but as we're discovering (especially with climate change), that linear relationship does not always hold true (e.g. multiple causes and multiple effects). I tend to think that the shift will occur once we begin to think of issues/problems/policies as interconnected ecosystems. Healthcare is much more easily viewed as an ecosystem than a linear cause-effect relationship. The same with finance, climate change...the list goes on.
The current frustration seen in Tea Parties and other movements is that we're realizing we cannot operate on the old model any longer. There is no 'cause' for many of these issues, it's a complex series of events happening within a network of related issues. The frustration, then, is that we want to still be able to identify the 'cause' even though there isn't one. We don't have the conceptual and policy models to be able to deal with this, and it's a big problem, because it makes it impossible to improve the situation. We don't need different policy, what we need is a new way of thinking about our relationship to issues.
Now the question is what those new models look like...
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Sunday, March 7, 2010
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Lame puns aside, I got back from Amsterdam on Sunday after a much appreciated vacation. School continues to be crazy, with the administration attempting to cram 11 weeks of work into 8 weeks. It's not pretty. But, work must be done, so it will be done.
It was a bit of a tight fit getting in a paper on the topic "Copenhagen: Success or Failure. Discuss" in before I had to jump on my plane (oh, irony). Being sick with a cold the weekend before meant that I was hopped up on meds, and as a consequence in no state to press my case for the fact that Copenhagen was a success, even in spite (or because) of its failure to be legally binding. If you're interested, there are a couple of blog posts that make the case far better than I do. Luckily, a friend of mine offered to print out my paper and hand it in for me so that I could get on my merry way Thursday morning.
All in all, the trip there was relatively uneventful. Aside from an hour delay due to extremely thick fog, I got in with no complications in the early afternoon and headed to meet my friend Steve at the hotel. After tooling around a bit on the streets and canals and picking away at sandwiches and espresso, we headed back to the hotel to meet up with his coworkers for dinner and general merriment, including getting lost on the canals. Once we found the signs for the Centraal Station, we were home, though.
The next day was filled by trips to the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum, both of which were very impressive. I especially enjoyed the Rembrants at the Rijksmuseum. Later on, we walked around the Red Light District (natch), though I declined to purchase any of the, um, goods. It's a weird thing walking around there. On one hand, you can't help feel that a lot of these women are being degraded by dancing around in a window like a tea kettle or something. On the other hand, they are making decent money, and I suppose it reflects more on my values that I find it somewhat "icky" to be a prostitute, than it does on the actual act. After all, people sell their best assets all the time, whether it's the delicate hands of a seamstress, the brawn of a builder, or the abstract brain of a designer, we are all selling ourselves, physically and mentally.
The rest of the crew shipped out Saturday morning, but I soldiered on to see the Anne Frank House, the Niet Normaal exhibit at the Beurs van Berlage, as well as just generally walking through the city and getting a feel for the canals and streets. Honestly, there really are that many bicycles. It's fantastic to see people going around in other ways than cars.
Later on, after checking into my new Hotel in the Museumplein, I headed over to the Bols 'experience,' more or less to get a decent cocktail. While the exhibit was rather boring, the cocktail was excellent. I had a Holland House with Bols Genevere, which is one of the best cocktails I've ever had. It reminded me, in some ways of the tartness of a Pegu Club, combined with the smoothness of a Vesper (both favorites of mine, anyway). I'm not sure if you can get it in the states, but it's worth tracking down. I never knew the history of it, but it was more or less the forerunner of gin, and was used in many cocktail books at the turn of the century where gin features now. Another reason I probably liked it a lot.
The night concluded with a long meal solo, at, fittingly, a place called Solo. It was a very well presented and solidly constructed meal--the duck pate was excellent. The next morning it was off to the Foam photography museum and then back to the train station to get back to the airport for my flight home. All in all, a very relaxing weekend. Unfortunately, now it's back to work.
Monday, February 15, 2010
There are a couple of honest-to-goodness highlights, though, throughout the week. On Tuesdays, our program now has a "coffee talk" about sustainability. Essentially one of us circulates a topic/paper/video and then we talk about it for an hour. It's good to get the different views, and work through some of the issues we're bound to face. Speaking of, I really need to read the one for tomorrow. Thursdays bring our climate change seminars. After an hour-long lecture in the morning, we have a couple of hours to discuss a problem facing the world, whether transportation, energy solutions, or otherwise. Its honestly surprising how often we come up with the same general solutions. Though, as they say, the devil is inevitably in the details.
As much as I like the climate change class, though, it's difficult, because I feel like all too often sustainability is conflated with carbon, and, at least for me, the two aren't one in the same. I'm glad that scientists continue to question the evidence around climate change. They should. Though, unfortunately, the slightest bit of doubt is what makes the headlines, like so many other politicised issues. To me, either way you slice it, whether the world is cooling or warming, fewer pollutants in the air like CO2 and SO2 are a good thing. But that aside, sustainability for me is about living better. It's about cleaner air, and fresher foods, healthier populations, and happier families. We often forget that so many of the sustainability initiatives have such a positive impact on our happiness. More light from sustainable buildings, trees and flowers in landscaping, and fresh foods all make for a happier people, and that's worth something, even removing CO2 from the equation.
Back to our regularly scheduled program. I was interviewed by Samantha's boyfriend, Marcus, recently about UK fashion for his website. I'm sure most of my UK friends will disagree, but, I had the platform, so there you go.
I was originally going to go down to London on Friday to see an exhibit at the Design Museum about Dieter Rams, the head designer for Braun for 40 years. See some of his designs here. I really believe his principles of good design are the bedrock for sustainable design in the future. I'm hoping I can incorporate his work into my thesis somehow. So, as I was saying, I was going to see the exhibit on Friday, but then got an offer to go with a coursemate down on Saturday morning and stay with her sister that night and leave on Sunday. I figured longer in London wouldn't hurt, and I'd be going with a friend, which is far better than going alone.
I ended up having such a nice time. The ride down was uneventful, but we met her sister, who lives in Brixton, around 1 at the Brixton market for lunch with another couple of friends. The place served sourdough Neapolitan-style pizza. Even though it was a bit of a wait, it was worth it. FINALLY, decent pizza in the UK. Though, I don't think I'll travel down to London every weekend to get it. After, we toured around the market for a bit, where her sister volunteers for Brixton Transition Town. After walking into the shop next door I ended up getting in a great conversation with a guy about design, then off to the house for some dinner and a movie. The next day, after breakfast, we headed into central london, only to stop at a silent disco for a quick dance. For those of you who don't know, it's where you wear a pair of headphones and listen to music, rather than it being pumped over loudspeakers. Looks kind of funny when you're on the outside looking in, but there's something very liberating about dancing with 50 strangers, where no one cares. I highly recommend you attend if you have the opportunity. After an hour dancing, we got to the design museum, I saw my exhibit, and then we went for a late pub lunch. Tired, we dragged ourselves back to St. Pancras for the ride to St. Albans (lots of saints in this country) to catch our ride home. I was exhausted by the end of it all, but I had a great time.
So that's my life thus far. Oh and I forgot, Wednesday I went ice skating with climbing club, which was a blast. And we ended up going to a really great bar afterwards with live jazz-y type music. I guess I was a bit busier than I thought.
Well, pancake day is tomorrow, so I've stocked up on shake and pour (thank you betty crocker) and some nutella and bananas for a bit of a morning/night rendezvous with the frying pan. Sexy.
Back to the reading and presentation preparing! Oh, and check out The Local Natives, they're quite nice, if a bit similar to a lot of the other indie acts out there right now.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Best Occupational Category
You're a CREATORKeywords
Nonconforming, Impulsive, Expressive, Romantic, Intuitive, Sensitive, and Emotional
These original types place a high value on aesthetic qualities and have a great need for self-expression. They enjoy working independently, being creative, using their imagination, and constantly learning something new. Fields of interest are art, drama, music, and writing or places where they can express, assemble, or implement creative ideas. CREATOR OCCUPATIONS CREATOR WORKPLACES Suggested Creator workplaces are advertising, public relations, and interior decorating firms; artistic studios, theaters and concert halls; institutions that teach crafts, universities, music, and dance schools. Other workplaces to consider are art institutes, museums, libraries, and galleries.
Suggested careers are Advertising Executive, Architect, Web Designer, Creative Director, Public Relations, Fine or Commercial Artist, Interior Decorator, Lawyer, Librarian, Musician, Reporter, Art Teacher, Broadcaster, Technical Writer, English Teacher, Architect, Photographer, Medical Illustrator, Corporate Trainer, Author, Editor, Landscape Architect, Exhibit Builder, and Package Designer.
Consider workplaces where you can create and improve beauty and aesthetic qualities. Unstructured, flexible organizations that allow self-expression work best with your free-spirited nature.
Suggested Creator workplaces are advertising, public relations, and interior decorating firms; artistic studios, theaters and concert halls; institutions that teach crafts, universities, music, and dance schools. Other workplaces to consider are art institutes, museums, libraries, and galleries.
2nd Best Occupational Category
You're a PERSUADERKeywords:
Witty, Competitive, Sociable, Talkative, Ambitious, Argumentative, and Aggressive
These enterprising types sell, persuade, and lead others. Positions of leadership, power, and status are usually their ultimate goal. Persuasive people like to take financial and interpersonal risks and to participate in competitive activities. They enjoy working with others inside organizations to accomplish goals and achieve economic success.
Monday, February 8, 2010
Sunday saw a trip to Roundhay Park for a leisurely pub lunch and then a long walk around the park. A nice (if chilly) way to spend and afternoon. Last night I meet up with a friend to watch the Superbowl. Of course, here, the Superbowl goes from 11pm to well past 3am, so it was a bit of a long night. Also, no commercials, which was very odd. Either way, a great game, though it was a bit sad not having my DC friends around me to partake in some pigs-in-a-blanket. Side note: pigs-in-a-blanket in England are sausages wrapped in bacon; a lovely idea to be sure, but lacking in the amazingness of cocktail sausages cloaked in golden, buttery dough.
Oh well, off for some more reading, that is if I can stay up...
Friday, January 29, 2010
I handed in my dissertation concept note yesterday. I settled on something dealing with the intersection of design and sustainability, but beyond that I have about 20 ideas for how that could be carried out. At least I have a professor who's interested in discussing the topic, so I guess that's good. Classes overall are much more practical this semester. I think it will be interesting to see how they unfold. European Environmental Law is going to be my most challenging, but I think most rewarding course. I'm just not a "5 foot" thinker, I tend to be at the "50,000 foot" level, so it will be a good exercise, even if I want to kill myself by the end of it. Updates will follow...
I'm glad to be getting past January and moving on. It's such a slow month, with resolutions and whatnot. I've been better about keeping to my resolutions. So far, I've cut down on sweets and have been working out more and doing more yoga. Though, I'm not sure there's a perceptible difference, yet. We shall see. Maybe I'll become really ripped and start up my modeling career as an underwear model. Ha.
I have to say, it's pretty difficult trying to watch things over here that happen in America with the time difference and all. I was able to catch the iPad announcement, but the State of the Union came on too late for me to stay up and watch the whole thing, so I saw clips and read about it the next day. Probably more efficient anyway. From what I could tell, it seemed to be a fine speech. Though, it was nice that he was more-or-less like, I screwed up, you screwed up, but lets not throw out the baby with the bath water. Everyone seems to be yammering about how they can't see the point of the iPad, but I think the problem is that most of the people talking are computer savvy. They can't understand why someone would want a device that can only surf the net, get e-mail, read e-books, look at photos, and play music. But, I tend to think there are a lot of people for whom that's really their only functional need. By stripping out all the other things that can go wrong (viruses, spyware, etc.) it may be the perfect solution for a lot of people who only have basic computing needs. Time will tell, though.
Last night I went out to a Moroccan buffet with a few friends, then on to the pub for a pint an some snooker. I suck at snooker, I might add. Tonight brings a birthday party with coursemates, which should be a blast. I'm pretty excited. Yes, and I'll post pictures from York soon.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Since I've started the blog I've, naturally, moderated some content. Some to protect what little dignity remains (though clearly, that has been shredded by pictures on Facebook). And some because, well, I knew it would piss people off. But, I've decided that I need to discuss this topic because it's important to me, and because it is part of my experience here (I know, I know, get on with it). The wall is coming down--I'm posting about politics. Specifically generational politics and the politics of anger. For those of you not interested, close your browser now. For others, read on. But, know that I write this with the greatest trepidation, and for those of you whom I offend, I apologize. There, apologia done.
I've loved the game of politics from an early age, as my parents will surely inform you. Growing up, around the dinner table we had lively debates on all manner of things, from abortion rights to international policy. This parlayed into one-half of my undergraduate degree in the form of a BA in Political Science (the other half was History). With regards to political philosophy, it's a mix between a libertarian ideal, conservative pragmatism, and a liberal view of personal rights.
I have watched the health care debate from both sides of the Atlantic now, and frankly, it's frustrating. Much of what I see are reductionist politics playing into American anger over the state of the economy. We are so stuck in a state of paralysis by the current debate that we fail to be able to step back and understand the complexity real issues at hand. Healthcare is a series of interlocking components that feed into one another. The fact that there are so many uninsured continues to drive up the cost of healthcare daily. Issues like mental illness (e.g. depression) which plague more than a quarter of the population and often play into a feedback loop of physical illness (e.g. obesity) are rarely treated properly due to stigmas and chronic underfunding of treatment, further driving up costs. The system is so overly fragmented between the insurance company paying the hospital, the doctor, and the pharmacist, that rarely does anyone know the true price of any component much less the proper billing code. We have failed ourselves by refusing to take responsibility of the actions that we can control. How many people could significantly reduce their health problems if they were to lose weight and stop eating unhealthy food (again, demonstrating the complexities of poor agricultural priorities)? How much asthma could we prevent in young children if we were to fix emissions standards and reduce air particulates? A free market system ultimately fails in healthcare because it's nearly impossible to put a price on health since it is an immensely personal issue that is extraordinarily difficult to remove from emotion. Just try it. Ask 10 people how much they think a life is worth. And tell them they can't say "priceless." Yes, a market economy should theoretically work this all out, but the problem is the price you might put on your neighbor's health is likely very different than that of your child's. Does it make sense to spend thousands of dollars per-year to extend the life of a 75-year-old man for just one more year? Economics would say no. But, ask me how much I would have been willing to pay to extend the life of my grandparents and the number is incalculable.
It is due to this inherent complexity that I support universal, single-payer healthcare--with a caveat. I truly believe that universal healthcare will help remove complexity in the system on a basic, interface level. But the caveat is this: the universal system should not be an all-you-can eat plan. In my mind, it should provide a base level of care that would be necessary to maintain adequate health for a normal person. But, it should allow for supplementary care above-and-beyond what the base plan offers. Everyone should have access to truly affordable healthcare. No patient should have to die because they couldn't afford basic medical attention and generic drugs. But, patients should also be allowed to purchase supplemental policies that cover chiropractic work, plastic surgery, and gastric lap-band procedures.
Looking at the current social programs in place, this is surprisingly the model that we often use. Social security provides a base level of income for many workers, but should you want to supplement that income, you can invest in an IRA or a 401(k). (Clearly there are issues with the benefit structure due to miscalculated life-expectancies, but let us assume that the fundamental model works). The same actually goes for another little social program: Medicare. You are provided a base level of Medicare for a relatively low fee; however, should you wish to purchase Medigap insurance or additional prescription drug coverage, you are afforded the opportunity to do so. And you know what? Medicare has been successful by many accounts in holding down costs (and by some marks has less waste than traditional insurance providers). Do I think this will solve every problem? Far from it. But, it's a start.
I honestly don't find this potential system that radical, given our current policies, but I can guarantee you that if it were proposed, people would throw a fit about the expansion of government and more government waste. It's not infrequent that I am asked about my positions on healthcare and/or the U.S. government generally. I think in many ways, people can't understand a system in which you wouldn't provide basic care for all citizens. Honestly, I can't either. It's difficult to explain the divide in U.S. politics between liberals and conservatives because I don't necessarily think there always is one. I truly believe the difference is between those who are willing to accept that many of the problems we face are immensely complex and exist at the intersection of emotion, economics, and personal history, and those who would rather reduce problems to slogans and newspeak because they would rather not have to think about it.
The issues of reductionist politics occur on all facets of every issue. Democrats are just as guilty as Republicans in this. People would rather not think about the complexities because in doing so, they have to give recognition to the "other side." It's easier to get angry at your enemy than to understand where they're coming from. We have gotten into a mode that says that because 1/100th of the counterargument is false, suddenly the entire position is false. That's like saying because you get one foul in basketball, you lose the game. These issues are fluid networks of problems and solutions that flex and sway in the winds of academic and social debate. We have entered into a phase wherein we are unwilling to educate ourselves through experts and would rather be told a 30-second sound clip by a blow-dried desk jockey. This is inane. There are multiple angles to be told. I recognize that my position on healthcare has a counterargument. And I am willing to have that debate. But not with someone who is only willing to call me a socialist and reduce my position to a word they saw on a poster.
But I do have hope. I look at the current generations in power and it seems that much of their socio-poltical beliefs are rooted in a distrust of authority and a post-modernist mindset. Boomers and Gen-X were the first generations to feel the effects of divorce on a personal level, through themselves and their parents, respectively. Social institutions that had once been the norm slowly broke apart. Naturally, this engendered a mistrust of authority figures. After all, how could you believe anyone when your spouse, to whom you had promised a life of love, decided that they didn't feel the same. How can you trust an authority figure after you see part of your world destroyed in a parent's divorce. This is not to condemn divorce, as I think people often grow apart. But the difference is that we have social mechanisms through television and mores that help people deal with divorce now. It is no less shocking, but it is now a common experience, which reduces its impact to the collective psyche of the nation. Both generations saw immense socio-political change as presidents (Nixon and Clinton) were publicly discredited. How easy is it to trust authorities, experts, and anyone when the status-quo is evaporating on the front pages?
Similarly, the Boomers grew up at a time when post-modernism was coming into our national consciousness. No longer was there an ultimate purity of truth to be attained, to put it simply, if your worldview was your reality, why would you need to consider others opinions? It was this shift towards post-modernism that served to reinforce this distrust of authority. I think Americans were profoundly affected by these social shifts, in far larger ways than we realize. Much of the anger we are experiencing now is misdirected. I don't really believe that people are upset at Obama. Or the health reform bill. Or taxes. I think what people are upset with is the fact that we're in situations that are complex and difficult and are going to be extremely difficult to solve and work through. And that brings up issues of insecurity and uncertainly, causing people to lash out with anger.
So the hope part. It really does exist. I think it comes through Gen-Y and Gen-Z, but through new concepts of society and interconnectedness. As trite as it may sound, growing up in a fully globalized economy with the internet available at a moment's notice has prepared these generations to accept and appreciate complex issues more than other generations. They grew up with a basic understanding that the products came from all around the world, seeing and interacting with networks on a daily basis, from satellite feeds on CNN to Wikipedia entries on Miley Cyrus. When issues of distrust of reigning authority still persist, the solution is not necessarily to get angry and hurl pathetic barbs, but instead to band together to work around the problem. These generations embrace complexity, as long as it is wrapped in a simple, easy-to-use interface. Witness the technologies created or modified by the current generations. Peer-to-peer file sharing (e.g. Napster or Bittorrent) is perhaps the epitome of network visualization, intended as a workaround to poor distribution models and over-priced content, but achieved through a simple click and download interface. The creation of social networking sites with clean and simple designs (e.g. Facebook, Twitter) as a counter to the disconnectedness of a modern lifestyle. Home-brewed apps that enhance the functionality of existing systems (e.g. the iPhone). Yes, Gen-Y and Gen-Z may demand more on-time access and total connectivity, but the ways in which they create solutions to roadbloacks is a new paradigm that serves to enhance society. The good news is that more and more, the Boomers and Gen-X are utilising this paradigm--albeit in more traditional ways--as a way to work through problems.
The current generation of politics, exemplified by the healthcare debate, is simply a symptom of larger problems in society. But by embracing complexity, and using it as a medium through which we can understand problems and develop new solutions, we have the potential to actually improve our global society. The trick is this complexity must be wrapped in a cloak of simplicity. A paradox, to be sure, but consider the fact that most people don't know and don't care how the internet works, they only care that it works when they open up their simple browser. Universal, single payer healthcare will not remove the complex financial and emotional decisions and networks that underpin a hospital, or the doctor-patient relationship, what it will do is simplify the interface so that people can focus on the things that can benefit their health, rather than worrying about the complexities of getting a bill paid. And the more complexity we remove, the more we can focus on the networks that matter--our personal relationships.
Friday, January 22, 2010
After the exam, my coursemates and I all went to the Terrace Bar for a celebratory pint (or five). What started out innocently became a mad bar-hop around the city. I'm still recovering, as is my pride. Given last nights events, it seemed like a good idea to sit out tonight and stay home catching up on 30 Rock and Modern Family.
Wednesday I saw "Bright Star" with a friend, and Monday, it was Avatar. I've got to say, while I think Avatar was incredible for the artistic direction and the action sequences. The script was--to use one of my favorite britishisms--pants. Really, I'm not sure there could have been any more holes in the plot if they had written it on mesh screening. But, the great visuals made up for it. I was definitely glad I saw it in 3D. Still a couple of movies I want to see before semester two starts up on Monday, though. Maybe Sherlock Holmes tomorrow night.
Tomorrow a few of us are taking a day trip to York. I've really wanted to see it for a while now, so I'm hoping the weather will hold out and it will be pleasant. But, I promise I'll post pictures from the excursion. If I can remember.
Oh well, time to become friends with my liver again and let it rest for a bit.
Monday, January 18, 2010
J. Tillman - http://myspace.com/Jtillman
I honestly can't figure out who J. Tillman sounds like, but it's someone I've heard of before. But, with a pure voice, a bit of a twang, and nice riffs, it's good background/Sunday morning music.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
I can't say it was the most exciting paper I've ever written, but how thrilling can cost-benefit analysis, be anyway. I originally had some awesome ideas for telling the story, but it seemed that a cost-benefit analysis of prostitution probably wouldn't fly with the lecturers. Then again, maybe it would have gotten me a better grade. Oh well.
So, after catching up on Modern Family and 30 Rock, I met a friend for a pint, which ended up turning into going to the international store for a full-on middle eastern dinner, with a little TV on the side. Hummous in a can is scary stuff.
Feeling listless later on in the night, I went to Fruity at the University with a few people. First, Fruity, despite what it would sound like, is not some multi-colored gay bar with skittles vodka shots. Our student union in addition to a traditional-style pub, has a bar and three clubs. For Fruity, they open up the clubs and have a different style of music in each one. Since they're clubs, they naturally all have one-word names--Stylus, Pulse, and Mine. Side note: I'd really love to see a club with a descriptive name sometime, like Jack's Den of Debauchery or STDs Free With Every Shot. Walking in, I felt older than dirt given the overwhelming number of freshers milling about. Luckily, some guy with grey hair missing a few teeth was standing close to me at the bar, at which point I felt better about myself again. Either way, it's still weird to now go to hear 90s music as quasi-retro. 90s music as faux-ironic I get, but the fact that I can remember hearing some of the music on the radio makes the cobwebs start to creep out. Obviously, I'm 26, so it's not as if I'm headed for retirement village anytime soon, but it does put a bit of perspective on the situation. Still, I had a good time, though I don't think I'll be heading back to Fruity any time soon. It was good for a laugh.
Now, off to go gum down some food, watch a history program on BBC and fall asleep at 7pm.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
The next hours/days were filled with more-or-less doing nothing in an attempt to get motivated to write my Sustainability Assessment paper on cost-benefit analysis versus multi-criteria decision analysis. Riveting stuff. By Tuesday night, I ended up with about 1300 words, and not much else.
I have a terrible time concentrating. I suppose part of it is due to the fact that my mind goes in about 1,000 different directions every second. It doesn't take much--a word, a picture--and suddenly I have to find out what aboriginal peoples of south Gambia knew about paper making in the 14th century. All this is just a giant timesuck. As are the multitudes of flash games available on the Internet. God, I hate flash games. They're far too addictive.
So Wednesday brought the big 24-hour take-home exam. Oddly enough, despite the title, I did most of this in the library. It's about the only place I can concentrate, plus stare awkwardly at people while I contemplate things such as "ecological modernisation" and bias in aggregate index scores. Really, I lead a thrilling existence. A few breaks with some of my coursemates later, I was done and finished by 12:30 last night (this morning?) and I walked home with a little Sam Amidon to keep me cosy. Nothing says "you're finished" like listening to "O Death" on your iPod.
Not being able to concentrate anymore, I rolled into bed, only to find that, of course, I couldn't fall asleep. Hesitating to take melatonin was really a poor decision on my part, and meant that I only got a couple hours of sleep before waking up at 7:30 to get a start on the revision. Which didn't go as planned after my printer crapped out on me. Damn internet inks. While the first essay revision went well, the second, uh, well, let's say the second paragraph's OK, but after that it's a ski-slope of mangled words and awkward phrases. OF COURSE, the internet was slow at school, which meant that after e-mailing the final paper to myself, printing, and trotting off to the dropbox, I only had about 2 minutes to spare.
After a hot chocolate (I'm five years old) and a Pimms (but also of legal drinking age) in celebration, I headed off home to fix myself lunch and settle down for a long winter's nap. Which. Was. Glorious. Apparently others had the same idea, though their's didn't turn out so well. Girl Robin apparently had a nightmare where I said horrible things to her. While this sounds entirely plausible, I'd like to think that when girls dream about me it concerns my incredible love-making skills rather than my ability to call them fat. C'est la vie.
Unfortunately, now, I still have to finish the other essay by the 2pm deadline tomorrow. It'll get done, I'm sure, but until then I'm just going to stew about how idiotic Pat Robertson is for talking about devil pacts, and how entirely comfortable Sarah Palin is in her own bullshit. Incidently, her talking about George Washington at the end reminds me of my favorite history clip of all time.
Saturday, January 9, 2010
On the upside, I did (lightly) work out this morning (crunches + pushups), which is an achievement, and I did about 10 minutes of yoga. I guess it's gotta start somewhere. Since it's been snowing on and off all day, I have no motivation to leave my room.
On a brighter note, I love my socks. Seriously. I've never been much of a sock man, but these new boot socks I picked up may have changed my life. Comfortable as hell, I basically never want to take them off again. Which could be a problem for anyone near my feet.
Eh, on to the paper, I suppose. Ugh.
Friday, January 8, 2010
In an attempt to stretch the limits of my budget, I turned to those old (cheap) standbys--canned tuna and potatoes. As anyone who's known me for a while knows, potatoes and I don't have an illustrious history. My feelings can be summed up in the song "Yakkey Yak, Don't Come Back." Slowly I've come to endure, even enjoy them. In an attempt to find anything other than plain roasted potatoes or mashed potatoes, I came across this recipe for "Crash hot potatoes."
It was freaking revelatory. It was like a potato latke + smashed potatoes + the top of twice baked potatoes. Anyway, they're dead simple, so I suggest you try. The only thing I did different was cut out the rosemary and added hot sauce. 'Cause I'm caliente.
My experiments with tuna were slightly less revelatory, but nevertheless good. Let's call it a hot tuna salad (which sounds kind of gross thinking about it). Either way, you can't go wrong with sauteed garlic, red onion, canned tuna, and spinach. Or you can, but I didn't. 'Cause I'm caliente.
And cooking post, complete.
Wow, reading that I sound like a total yuppie. I swear, it's not as bad as it seems (or maybe it is).
After a few hours of restless sleep, I caught a ride to the BoltBus pickup point (nee abandonded parking lot) for a four hour trip to New York. Thankfully, I was able to get a seat with a power outlet and the wifi worked.
Jesus, I'm really digging my way into yuppie hell, aren't I?
Anyway, I met my sister for a quick lunch and then it was on to Newark International (god help me) to fly back to Manchester, via Brussels. I sat between two aging boomers who compared sleeping pills and bitched to the stewardess about not having a pillow. In theory, I would have given her mine, since I never use them, but I resented her for the inane conversation and her stupid, look-how-arty-and-independent-I-am brown felt clogs and flowing clothes. Unsurprisingly, she had moved to Bennington, VT recently. Shocker.
My mild annoyance was quelled by the exceedingly large glass of scotch the flight attendant poured me. I'm not sure if it's standard or not, but it was about a wine-glass full. Needless to say, water post-drink was appreciated. Vegetable curry was on the menu, since they were out of the meat dish, but it was tolerable (the scotch may have helped). The flight was uneventful, save for a spate of turbulence, and I was able to finally watch Inglorious Bastards.
After a quick layover in Brussels (where there are a shockingly high percentage of hassidic jews), I flew into Manchester International, eyes closed and mouth agape the entire way there. So far, only a 30 minute delay the entire trip. But then there was...the snow. I didn't realise that much of Northern England reacts to snow in much the same way DC does. Had I been coming a day earlier, the entire airport was shut down. Personally, it didn't seem like that much, but I am not an air traffic controller, so perhaps it was the equivalent of a blizzard. After deboarding and checking the balance in my UK account (ugh), I bought my ticket for the trip into Leeds. Despite the warning from the station agent, the trip was quick and without many delays. Into a cab and onward home, I quickly stocked up on a few essentials (pizza, yogurt, and veggies), and crashed.
More or less, my entire day was spent mindlessly looking at my computer screen. Something I am extremely good at. Sadly, today was much the same story. After falling asleep at 9pm last night, I woke up at 9am today (after a bit of melatonin-fueled sleep) raring to go. It would seem I'm not terribly adept at statistics, and much of my go-get-em attitude was quickly subsumed by a what-the-hell-is-this-sign-or-is-that-a-number feeling. A brief study group today helped clear up a couple of things, but I still have nothing more than a title on the page. I did manage to download a trial of SPSS. So I guess that's something, right? RIGHT? Maybe I'll pick out some sexy variables upon which to perform calculations that, no doubt, a fresher could do far better than me.
And so it goes.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
But, on a lighter note, I had a great day yesterday. I had lunch with an friend downtown, then saw a movie and grabbed dinner with another friend then went to a new cocktail bar with a few others. All-in-all, a great day. Today I've got dinner with an old friend at one of my favourite thai restaurants in DC, Rice, and I'm off to see Precious in a couple hours, which I've heard was really fantastic, if depressing. Not sure what tonight holds, but it might be a trip to Red Derby, my old local bar, or maybe to another movie (Sherlock Holmes or Avatar?) with friends.
Monday, January 4, 2010
Overall, I've hit a lot of them, learning how to rock climb, boulder and ski, doing more kayaking/rafting and yoga (though that's fallen off recently), getting my MacBook and taking more picture, etc. 2009 was a year of big changes. I left my job, friends, and the life I had built over the prior 8 years and moved across the ocean to England to begin my masters. It hasn't always been easy, and there's been a lot of emotional upheaval at times, but I'm enjoying my course and I've met some wonderful friends.
It's hard to say what 2010 will hold. I find myself faced with the prospect of finishing a masters and finding a job, not knowing what kind of job that will be and where it will take me. But that's OK. One of my goals this year is to try and make sure that I don't discount my own happiness in the pursuit of what I think that I should be doing (more on this in a future post).
While 2009 was a year of revolution, I'm hoping 2010 will bring evolution (along with some inevitable revolution, I suppose). I want to get better at the things I enjoy, and remove the elements that drag me down. Tangibly, I'd like to get better at climbing, get back into semi-regular yoga, and concentrate on doing more, and better writing.
But it's not all something I can just attend a class for, or practice at. Part of my goals are to get better at the intangibles--strengthening friendships and making an effort at having an adult relationship. Unfortunately, these are harder to achieve. I don't yet really have an action plan or know what needs to be fixed, but I guarantee you there are many things. So I'll seek help where available and reflect when necessary. Part of the reason why I haven't blogged as much as I'd like to is that I've got a few really serious posts that are swirling around in my head, and I'm not sure how comfortable I am yet with putting it out there for anyone to read. But, taking inspiration from Paige, I think it's time to lay it on the table and fess up to my emotions, thoughts, and the power of an open forum.
So that's where I am right now in 2010. A bit confused, with no tangible goals, but more experience and a readiness to face things I haven't wanted to over the past 26 years. As 27 creeps up in June, and the completion of my masters presents itself in September, it's time to cast off the bad and embrace the good. Happy twenty ten.