The Lost Spirit of the GI Bill

September 28, 2007 at 1:56 am (opinions, politics)

No “I was to busy to blog” excuses here for my latest hiatus. I actually got away from Arizona for a short few days to be with my fiance, my family and my own thoughts for a change.

Thinking through the latest news items which have peeked my interest, I keep coming back to one that NPR has covered for the past two mornings. The GI Bill, discussed in audio format from September 26 and September 27. I had given this little, well, no thought before these stories, but its an important issue to consider. Everyone says, “I may hate the war, but we need to support our troops” – but what exactly does it mean to support our troops? I think that it’d be quite easy to argue that our government is not doing anything close to what they should be doing to support our troops and veterans.

The GI Bill was enacted in 1944 to provide troops returning from WWII with and opportunity for an excellent and otherwise unattainable education. It is one of our Army’s strongest recruiting tools, as it promises money for education as well as living expenses while veterans search for civilian jobs. Just 8 years after it was enacted, the GI Bill was changed so that it no longer directly paid Universities for fees and tuition. Instead, vets were given $110/month (~$825 today) on which to live, and pay for tuition, fees and books. By the time Korean War vets were coming home, the basic principles of the bill were already being eroded. Throughout the 1970’s, the stipend was increased to $311/month (~$1125 today), encouraging more vets to pursue college degrees. As of 2007, vets are paid $1101/month to put towards education. As the NPR stories point out, this amount doesn’t touch a private school education, does not cover room/board at a public university, but just covers an education from community college. Not to belittle community colleges, they are certainly a great option for many students and many careers, but this does not comply with the original spirit of the GI Bill.

Veterans returning from WWII had the option to go to any college to which they were accepted, from community college to Harvard. It is on the shoulders of these men and women that the middle class was largely built. Before the GI Bill, higher education was quite uncommon and almost exclusively for the rich. NPR emphasizes how veterans who took advantage of this education opportunity went on to be our senators, presidents, business icons and Nobel prize winners. There is good reason to call them “the greatest generation”.

It is shameful that our returning veterans, who put their lives on the line just as much as any previous veteran, are not given the same critical and deserved chance at education. Obviously I am not discussing other issues that need immediate attention like the physical and mental health care for vets. It is time for our government to stop with the irrefutable and empty rhetoric about supporting our troops. They need to take action to bolster and revitalize the GI Bill.

Update:  I saw a news story yesterday about the Minnesota National Guard, aka the Red Bulls.  Many members of this group were ordered to serve 729 or fewer days.  This is significant because they are required to serve 730 days to receive GI bill benefits, including the education benefits.  Talk about losing the spirit of the GI Bill.  They seem to be intentionally screwing these brave men and women out of their earned and deserved education.  Disgusting.

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A Farewell to Rove

September 19, 2007 at 4:00 pm (Current Events, politics, The Atlantic Monthly)

I have unfortunately been too busy to read any books lately, but in the little snatches of time I can steal throughout the day I grab my new favorite short-term reading source:  “The Atlantic Monthly”.  I’ve been eying this great magazine for a while now and a few months ago I gave myself the present of the subscription.  The articles are long, but well written and very in depth.  I find that I’m learning a lot about very diverse subjects that I normally wouldn’t seek out information on.  The September issue focuses a lot on the failed Bush administration – “failed” is their word, not mine (although I agree).  It had a feature article on Karl Rove, a man that I have long disliked, but really didn’t know a lot about.  So in honor – or celebration – of his departure from the White House, here is what I learned about “The Architect” from the wonderful article, “The Rove Presidency” written by Joshua Green:

  • He is not a college graduate.  He attended the University of Utah for a very short time before quitting to take a job with the College Republicans (apparently one needs not be in college to belong), he was definitely ambitious for a career in politics from the beginning.  So here we have a college drop-out as one of Bush’s top advisers.  No one would argue that Rove isn’t intelligent, but he is self-educated, and with self-education you can focus on only what you want to learn and filter out the rest.  Certainly not a well-rounded or complete education.
  • His grand plan for taking back the government by the Republicans was to have a candidate (GWB) run on platforms that would attract a wider variety of voters.  A prime example of this is Bush’s (Rove’s) stand on immigration.  Bush is widely criticized by the GOP for his views and plans regarding immigration, but if you think about it, those policies did attract a lot of immigrant/Latino voters for both of his elections.
  • He came to the campaign and to the White House with 5 major ideas, and thankfully they were not all successful.  (1) Education standards, i.e. “No Child Left Behind” – this was the first policy passed, although its success is highly questionable and it may not be renewed.  (2) Passing “faith-based initiatives” to direct government money to religious organizations – isn’t this patently unconstitutional?  Although very typical of our evangelical executive branch.  (3)  Privatize Social Security – this was his pet project, and we all know that it went over like a lead balloon, thank god.  (4) Private health-savings accounts, instead of Medicare – again, like privatizing social security, the average citizen should not be held responsible for managing their own retirement or health insurance.  Its risky and doomed for failure.  (5) Reform immigration laws to appeal to the growing Hispanic population.  Also another raging success.  This was in such conflict with the GOP base that it really never stood a chance, although such blatant pandering to Hispanics is quite a bold choice.
  • President William McKinley is his hero.  The GOP really took hold during and after McKinley’s presidency, and it is this series of events that Rove has tried to emulate.
  • Pretty much everyone on Capital Hills, GOP and Dems alike, think he’s an uppity asshole.  The author of the article interviewed Republicans and Democrats that said he bullies our elected representatives around like he is actually in higher standing than them, even though, until just a couple years ago, he had no official title in the White House.  He is compared unfavorably to the “Big, booming voice of Oz”.  He and Bush are said to be arrogant and jerky to most people around them, which is one of the main reasons why no one would work with them on getting the majority of his 5 policies passed.  Bush worked cooperatively on with Dems. on the “No child left behind” act, but inexplicably abandoned that cooperative nature for later policies.  Maybe after 9/11 he had the Dems cowed for so long he thought it was no longer necessary.

Granted the article is obviously written with a bias against the Bush administration, but frankly, its hard to write about it without a bias these days.

I have been thoroughly enjoying all of these articles.  In the same magazine there was a great one written about Bush’s former lead speech-writing, Michael Gerson, another ego maniacal evangelical Christian.  That article was actually written by another Bush speech writer, Matthew Scully, so the perspective on the situation was quite interesting.

So a final farewell to Rove, you certainly won’t be missed by me and my fellow liberals.  However, I’m sure your words and wisdom will never be far from our President’s mind, even while you are “spending quality time” with your family in Texas.

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All Kansans Aren’t Idiotic Hicks, Just The Ones That Make The News

September 12, 2007 at 3:56 pm (Current Events, Kansas, politics)

Thank you G for sending me this article and making me proud all over again for being a Kansan!!

 

Horrible antics of college Republicans.

 

 

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Politics and Personality

September 12, 2007 at 3:30 pm (opinions, politics)

I have often wondered how relationships can survive in which one person is a conservative and the other a liberal.  Oh sure, it makes a cute movie, but in real life, how would this actually work?  I think it could only be possible if both people in the relationship were a bit apathetic or not very passionate about the issues.  On a funny personal note, the man I am engaged to nearly cut our relationship off before the first date because I USED to identify as Republican (eww, I feel dirty even saying it) – mainly because that’s how my parents identified (pre-Bush, that is).  But then G said that he kept talking with me and realized I was liberal after all, I just didn’t know it yet!  I’m glad he saw through the ruse.  But it is an important distinction when getting involved with a potential partner.  It seems to me that one’s personality, outlook on life and political affiliations are so integrated that I just don’t see how two people could have a successful relationship when they differ on so many fundamental levels.

Well, my pet theory was bolstered thanks to G, who alerted me to a recent study done which highlights some of the behavioral/psychological differences between liberals and conservatives.  There are actually a couple of studies out there, but I thought this was a really nice and thorough one if anyone is interested.  I will give some of the highlights which I found interesting.  And to give full credit where it is due, I originally linked to it from another blog which published a short piece on it as well.

I’ll just bullet point a few of the key differences between conservatives and liberals listed from the article, and I will do my best to write all traits in a non-biased manner.  For fun, I will put in bold the personality traits which I identify with.  (some of the following are direct quotes)

Liberals:

  • Their homes are messier, have more clutter, and more color
  • Display more flags, maps and travel documents in their home
  • Have lots of books, and books on a wide variety of topics.
  • Enjoy classical music and jazz
  • Optimistic
  • Enjoy abstract art
  • Enjoy romantic comedies (men)
  • Enjoy reading, writing poetry, writing in journals, playing musical instruments and acting
  • Individuals who grow up to be liberal at age 23 were described as having the following types of personalities as children:  energetic, impulsive, self-reliant and resilient.  They formed close bonds with peers.
  • Intellectually curious
  • Excitement-seeking
  • Creative
  • Craving for stimulation in areas of travel, color, art, music, and literature
  • “[M]ore likely to see gray areas and reconcile seemingly conflicting information”
  • Have more education, with the exception of advanced degrees in business, medicine and law.  With the latter degrees, financial security commonly leads to conservative leanings.
  • People who study abroad are more liberal.

Conservatives:

  • Homes are neater, well organized and well lit
  • Enjoy country music
  • Religious
  • Prefer traditional entertainment like TV and talk-radio (men)
  • Individuals who grow up to be conservative at age 23 were described as having the following types of personalities as children:  easily victimized and offended, rigid, inhibited, indecisive and fearful
  • Have little tolerance for ambiguity.  Tend to see things as black and white.
  • Are comforted by having a strong leader.

The article goes into a post 9/11 shift towards conservativism, and why/how this is guided by fear and thoughts of death.  I won’t get into that hear, but it is worth reading.

It is truly interesting to me that all of these personality traits can be correlated with political affiliation, and it underscores my belief that our politics are not just about who we vote for.  How we identify politically is determined by how we view the world, what we think is right and wrong, and how we think are the best ways to achieve such goals.  It is no wonder that not only our partners, but also our close friends and the people we work with best tend to be of similar political leanings (those are only my own personal observations).  These beliefs run much deeper than red vs. blue, they are indeed indicative of who we are on the whole.

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Thompson: A Real Revolutionary

September 9, 2007 at 9:25 pm (feminism, opinions, politics, presidental race, rants)

Gee, I’m so excited that Fred Thompson decided to grace the presidential candidate pool with his presence.  He’s a real breath of fresh air among all the other crotchety old white men running on the Republican ticket.  He also has ground breaking views on all of the social issues dominating headlines these days (and yes I did get this link from Feministing).  This makes me want to vomit:

Thompson praised Bush’s performance on Iraq, the economy and Social Security. While criticizing the president for presiding over “too much spending” at the federal level, he said he backed Bush’s efforts to try to overhaul Social Security with private investment accounts. He also praised Bush for “doing a good job” on the economy and said, “I give him credit for the Supreme Court nominations that he’s made.”

Yea, go Bushie for nominating two more conservative white men to the Supreme Court, who needs diversity?  Its only the group of people that determines most of the rules by which ALL Americans live by.

The other part of this that disturbs me pertains to the abortion rhetoric.

Don’t punish women who have abortions,” presidential hopeful Fred Thompson says. Punish the doctors who perform them.

This is a point on which I have engaged in discussions on other blogs, but not here that I remember.  It is the idea that an abortion is something that is done TO a woman, not an informed decision that SHE makes.  Not that I agree at all that anyone should be punished for the practice of abortions.  I just don’t understand why only the doctor is held responsible and not the person that chose to go to the clinic.  This is so patriarchal and condescending.  Treating the woman as if she is a helpless victim of abortion.  ‘Gee, I just stumbled into this clinic and, wait – what is that evil doctor doing to me?????’   I guess, given that he’s about 120 years old, Thompson still believes that it is our “wandering uterus” which makes us so crazy.  Clearly we don’t possess the intellect or logic to determine how to manage our own bodies.  Which is why its a good thing that President Dumb Shit had the presence of mind to only put more men on the Supreme Court.

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Emergence of the Domestic Goddess

September 9, 2007 at 5:44 pm (books, cooking, environment)

Inspired by the wonderful book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver (along with her husband and daughter), I’m bringing out my domestic side.  I’m doing some “putting up” this weekend.  Kingsolver’s book (in case you haven’t heard) is all about eating local, seasonal food for better health, global consciousness, and to support local economy.  Putting up food for the winter is an important part of being a “locavore”, it is the only way to eat vegetables and fruit year round without resorting to buying food imported in from South America or other distant places.  And to be clear, I’m definitely not joining the locavore movement completely.  For one thing, I don’t have the freezer or cellar space for a winter’s worth of canned and frozen food.  Also, I don’t have the time or energy to complete this task.  But for some foods, I think it may just be worth a little bit of effort to reap the rewards later.

Lately, I have gotten into cooking with roasted eggplant – and for those of you that read my other blog, I’m truly not obsessed with eggplant, I promise, just bare with me!  I remember from years past, its exceedingly hard to find edible looking eggplant during the winter at the local supermarket.  So this weekend, I am roasting, pureeing and freezing eggplants. It freezes remarkably well in roasted form in freezer bags.  While at the grocery store yesterday, I scurried gleefully over to the eggplants in the produce section.  I was more excited than I should have been at the sight of lots of big, beautiful eggplants – all for 99 cents a piece!!  So I bought six of them, and god knows what the cashier thought of me, but who cares.  I’m sure it wasn’t the weirdest purchase she encountered that day.  I also got a strange look for my cotton mesh produce bags that I bring from home, I’m sure she thought I was just some tree hugging freak, which is OK with me.

The undergraduate student that I’m training at work always asks me what kind of plans I have for the weekend.  No doubt she already views me as a total science geek, and I’m flinching a little to think how she’d view me if she knew that my weekend plans centered around putting up roasted eggplant.

So after the jump, I’ll put my two favorite roasted eggplant recipes (same ones I’ve put on my other blog).  One is Roasted Eggplant Orzo Soup and the other is Roasted Eggplant Marinara.  They really are tasty, easy and quite healthy.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Piled Higher and Deeper

September 7, 2007 at 3:43 am (grad school, random thoughts)

I haven’t been able to think of anything clever or note-worthy to write lately, and I think its because my brain is going through a total melt down.  More specifically, the brain melt-down that is associated with being in your final 6 months of getting your PhD.  Not only am I in the data slump from hell right now, I also have the added pressure of knowing that I need to (gasp) find a job.  I’ve been in school/academia literally since I was 3 (I’ll have to talk to my parents about that one, but isn’t 3 a little early to start pre-school?)  so I think the idea of getting a real job in the real world scares me way more than writing my dissertation.  Writing is easy, hell – I’m doing it right now!  Finding and getting a job?  That, I’m not so sure about.

I’ve been thinking lately about what I’ve learned about life while in grad school.  Sure, I’ve learned a lot of technical crap which, frankly, I pretty much hate talking about at this point, but grad school is about more than just the specific field you study.  So here, in bullet point form (its easier for my left-brain oriented mind to organize things into bullet points) are the things that you will learn from graduate school.

  •  PhDs are a dime a dozen.  Seriously, you look around and everyone has one.  That’s when those insecurities about securing any sort of meaningful job seep in.  You think, what in the world do I have that is in any way special?  Why would anyone hire me?
  • There really are very few standards for who gets a PhD.  This one has really been a sore point with me lately.  I have seen, within my own program and others, a very wide difference in how much work students have put in towards their PhD.  There are no set exams or other standards that need to be met.  It is all up to your adviser and committee.  And if your adviser is powerful enough they can pretty much dictate when their students graduate.  Its all kind of a sham.
  • Earning a PhD is not so much about intelligence as it is about perseverance.   Grad school will beat you down.  You go through amazing highs and depressing lows and you just have to ride it out knowing that someday, it will all be over.
  • Stress can send you to the emergency room.  I had this wonderful experience after working too many weekends, having too much crappy data and going through the inevitable money woes.  I had a sudden onset of intense muscle spasms in my neck, a real pain in the neck (oh come on, I had to).  Stress is insidious and will sneak up on you if you let it.  I think the best way to beat the stress is to hop on the elliptical trainer and sweat it out for an hour.  Either that or sneak off to a movie during the middle of the work day!

G and I were discussing recently why they call this degree from all fields of study a PhD.  I personally think its called a doctor of philosophy because above all else, you learn to think in graduate school.  You learn how to analyze and solve problems, you learn how to be critical, you don’t learn facts, you learn reasoning.  This is where a PhDs differs from JDs or MDs.  No disrespect intended, but for those degrees, original thinking isn’t really encouraged and you are forced to memorize insane amounts of black and white information.  That is of course necessary for doctors and lawyers, but it is a distinction nonetheless.

Back to the whole “finding a job” thing.  My most despised question that I am asked by everyone I know is “what do you want to do after you graduate?”.  I know its horrible to say this, but I’m still not sure.  What I really want to do is take a year off to let my mind atrophy a bit.  Everyone assumes that since you’re getting a PhD you have this grand plan for your life, but I’ll tell you another secret, grad students are the most confused people around, this may have something to do with the aforementioned brain melt-downs.  Don’t even try to ask me about the future.  I can barely plan dinner.

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Sexy Cancer?

September 3, 2007 at 9:20 pm (feminism, opinions, television)

In the weekly Feministing reader I came across this article about the “Crazy Sexy Cancer”
story.  I have seen ads on TLC for this and for reasons I cannot quite articulate, it really bothers me.  I guess the whole point of it is to show that these women are empowered to fight this horribly disease, which it truly a worthwhile message.  These women are putting a positive spin on their strength and determination.

Here are a couple of explanations I could come up with, and these apply just to the title and premise of the show:

  • It implies that even in the face of pain and illness, women are expected to be upbeat, cheerful and sexy.  Their ultimate goal is to go into their MRI or their chemo treatment, or surgery with a big, toothy smile on their face .
  • The name of the TV show itself is quite flippant and juvenile and evokes images of bright pink Chick-Lit novels one would read over a margarita at the beach.
  • It somehow gives the impression that there is always some happy ending, which there isn’t.  Cancer treatments have advanced by leaps and bounds in the last few decades, but it is still and incredibly difficult disease to treat and live with.
  • I think the women battling cancer can be crazy, beautiful, sexy, empowered, whatever she wants to be, but the disease itself is none of the above.

I know it seems cold and callused to criticize this, and I have absolutely no idea how I would view it if I were personally affected by cancer.  With my work, I am definitely on the periphery of how cancer affects the patient and their family.  I know a lot about the molecular workings of cancer, but my education is lacking any emphasis on the emotional or even symptomatic aspects of the disease.  As a cancer researcher, I am always eager to learn from those who are more intimately affected by the disease.  I’d be interested to hear what others think about the idea of this show.

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News of the Week

September 2, 2007 at 12:30 am (Current Events, opinions, politics)

We all knew it couldn’t last.  And in Iowa of all places!  After a brief legalization of gay marriage in Iowa, it was taken away, but not before 20 couples could get their marriage licenses!  Now of course Iowa will have to add a constitutional amendment to guarantee that something so heinous never ever happens again.  So sad.

And everyone’s favorite Fox “news” analyst turned Press Secretary, Tony Snow, is leaving his post, apparently because he’s one step up from having to pan-handle for his chemo.  Are we really supposed to believe, or find it reasonable, that he left his White House job because $170,000 is not enough for him and his to live on?

Mr. Snow said. “I’ve told people when my money runs out, then I’ve got to go.”

This I just do not understand.  Either he is leaving for completely different reasons (my guess) or this was the best of the lies they could come up with.  How can someone say with a straight face that $170K a year is not enough to live on when the overwhelming majority of Americans survives on much, much less.  What evil arrogance this is.  It is my personal interpretation that he may have mounting medical bills due to his extended battle with colon cancer that his insurance has been unable or unwilling to cover.  Someone working for our government in a public and powerful position isn’t able to support both his family and extensive medical treatment on the generous salary of $170K.  Isn’t irony a cruel mistress?  I know this is only my guess at the real reason, but its still better than the reason we are supposed to choke down.

And of course there’s the latest train-wreck of a sex scandal that has rocked Washington D.C.  I won’t even touch that one because really there is nothing new to say and I honestly don’t know what to believe in this case.

However, just because I can’t let it go without saying anything…I will say that overall, it is incredibly sad that homosexuals aren’t able to be both openly gay and openly Republican.  Really, its actually the case that few politicians on either side of the aisle are open about homosexuality.  Statistically one in ten are gay, so that would mean 10 senators and about 43 representatives.  And we are supposed to believe that only 3 actually are (Rep. Barney Frank D-MA, Rep. Jim Kolbe R-AZ, Rep. Tammy Baldwin D-WI)?  That math certainly does not add up.  And these representatives aren’t even all currently serving.  (On a side note, Kolbe just happens to have been the representative from my own district until last year, and I didn’t even know he was gay!  You learn something new every day!)

Now I didn’t do an exhaustive search on openly gay Congress people, and I didn’t include all of the former openly gay Representatives.  So if you’re saying, well duh, there’s also so and so, please correct me!

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