New Yorker Archive heaven

There have been times in my life when I would devour a New Yorker from start to finish as soon as it hit my mailbox. They make great airplane companions, too, but sadly, now is not one of those times. The demands of work and travel and moving all over the place this summer mean my copy goes straight from my parents’ mailbox to their coffee table. Yes, I don’t even currently have an address to which to send them.

Even in times when I haven’t been able to read it a lot, archive access is one of my favorite parts about my New Yorker subscription. Since they opened their archives (back to 2007) through the end of the summer, so many publications and writers have come up with awesome lists of what you should read before they close them. There’s a great aggregation here of all of these lists, (with links!) for everything from food writing to stories about Boston!

My own list is not nearly so long, but it’s probably worth mentioning a few awesome pieces about women, gender, and female labor force participation, because I can.

  1. Shopgirls by Katherine Zoepf
  2. The Sex Amendment by Louis Menand
  3. Birthright by Jill Lepore
  4. A Woman’s Place by Ken Auletta
  5. Thanksgiving in Mongolia by Ariel Levy

Venezuela on my mind

As many of you know, in a past life, I worked as a journalist in Venezuela (before grad school). Given everything that’s going on there right now and the uncertainty about it, I’m a little stressed out. I’m not as stressed out as, say, Francisco Toro, perhaps, but my jaw has pretty much been clenched tight for the last week.

There’s plenty of misinformation floating around as well, so I thought I would take a minute to point out the links I’ve found to be the most informative and the most useful. I wouldn’t say I’m a dispassionate observer, because I definitely have an opinion, but I think most of what is here is a good representation of the views out there in English. I certainly missed plenty of things, so if you think something else goes here, please let me know.

  • First and foremost, you should go take a look at Meridith Kohut’s slideshow in the NYT on the protests in Tachira, now widely acknowledged as the place where the protests started in response to a failure to prosecute the sexual assault of a student. The accompanying article by Willie Neuman, frankly, take it or leave it, but Meridith’s photographs are stunning.
  • Francisco Toro and the crowd at Caracas Chronicles are writing up a storm. It can be a little much at times and definitely has an opposition-leaning slant but it’s current and they have enough people/contacts all over the country to have a good idea of some of the things that are going on.
  • For a less frenetic synopsis, read Francisco’s op-ed in the NYT today. It does a great job of explaining the history of the protests, why there is likely increased aggression and repression by the government this time and more.
  • Toro’s op-ed echoes many of the themes in this piece by Rafael Uzcátegui, who writes from an anarchist-leftist perspective. Strange bedfellows, perhaps, but that’s that.
  • Don’t let the Upworthy-esque title get you down, Emiliana Duarte explains a cadena and it’s worth knowing about to understand how the government actually controls information.
  • If you understand Spanish, you should listen to Henrique Capriles Radonski’s entire speech to marchers in Caracas. If you don’t, know that he’s one of the few people calling for reason.
  • George Ciccariello-Maher explains some of the long history behind Venezuela’s protests (like back to 1989 and 1992), but mostly gives a good overview of the Maduro party line and the international left’s understanding of the situation, i.e. US and international interests pushing right-wing facism to return Venezuela to the party’s elites. Also, read anything by Eva Golinger if you’re looking for this tack in English.
  • Rebecca Hanson, a researcher living in Catia, one of the western, mostly government-sympathizing, and poorer regions of Caracas, explains where the protests aren’t happening, what that means for Venezuela.
  • “This is a marathon, not a sprint.” Francisco Toro’s AJEnglish interview on protests becoming more widespread than just the middle class, or not.

UPDATED: February 27, 2014 10:22am

Some lighter notes for Valentine’s Day

I’ve got a nice, cynical paper post coming up, but because it’s Valentine’s Day, here are some warm and fuzzy things.

  1. The New Yorker on photographing love
  2. The US Department of the Interior’s Valentine’s Day message
  3. Things that are worse than being alone on Valentine’s Day
  4. I made you some cookies.

butter jewels

Marijuana and Alcohol: Substitutes, but for whom?

The push for marijuana legalization seems to be gaining steam, with even the Monkey Cage Blog asking whether pot was the new gay marriage, meaning solely that the trend lines in polling around the country were starting to cross, with a majority supporting it rather than a majority opposing it (The American Prospect denies that it’s that important, though, at least politically). The New York Times Editorial board published a piece today citing research by Dan Rees of Colorado-Denver and Mark Anderson of Montana State to support the idea that marijuana and alcohol are substitutes, which means good things for road safety.

Logic: more marijuana use means less alcohol use means less driving drunk and more driving high, and driving high is safer than driving drunk.

While it’s odd in and of itself to herald impaired driving (even if it’s in comparison to even-more-impaired driving), I’d question whether we knew all that much, in a scientific sense at least, about driving high. Surely, it happens all the time (I’m from Colorado, people, I know it’s happening and so do you), but it’s not clear that those who would drive drunk see marijuana as a substitute and thus would drive high instead. There’s been no evidence presented that the specific group of those with a propensity to drive drunk sees marijuana as a substitute, which is the key to the road safety argument.

Secondly, the Rees & Anderson paper says “there is evidence that drivers under the influence of THC compensate for these impairments. For instance, they tend to drive slower and take fewer risks.” Admittedly not having read the studies they cite, I’m curious whether these drivers are being more careful and following less closely because marijuana makes them more relaxed and in less of a hurry, or because the consequences of getting caught are higher. Legalizing marijuana would eliminate the second concern, taking road safety off the pro-legalization side. It may be that THC itself induces the behavior, but I’m not convinced by these logical leaps.

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.
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