What do I want to do when I grow up?

I don’t usually use this forum for work-related stuff, but I put a thread up on Twitter this morning about education, especially PhD education, and it has the kind of geopolitical feel that made me want to echo it, and maybe expand it a little, here. The road to a PhD has always been hard. Mine was considered relatively short, at five years, but it wasn’t easy and it was full of stories of faculty members making me feel like shit, and just generally feeling like shit, but also full of stories of feeling incredibly fulfilled and accomplished. If you spend any time the side of Twitter where academics roam, especially graduate students, you might wonder why anybody would ever even try to get a PhD. How is this geopolitical? Because I think its roots are in classic America-good-and-others-bad propaganda.

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The COVID-19 messaging failures keep coming

The CNN reporting on Trump administration officials and the internal arguments over the COVID-19 response has me thinking about what could have been and what should have been. I’ve been trying to avoid looking back. I think the Trump presidency was awful in many ways. And while I see the value in learning from mistakes, his presidency seems, to me, so unique that I’m cautiously optimistic that his mistakes aren’t the kind that any current or future president will make, so I’m not sure what we gain, in this case, from dwelling in the past. But when it comes to COVID-19, some of the mistakes keep getting made, and that’s really unfortunate.

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Reading between science lines

There’s a large disconnect between the world of science and the world outside of science. We’ve known this for a long time, and there’s polling to support it (more details about that later), but it’s become incredibly clear in the COVID pandemic. I’ve used this blog as a way to talk about things that aren’t related to my professional life, but as my hobby of being a political junkie mixes with the world of science, it’s sometimes hard to take off that hat that I wear while I’m working. And thinking about things as a scientist and as a non-scientist makes us see things differently, and makes us talk about things differently.

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Is it all about power?

Folks in politics and who talk about politics often accuse others of just trying to gain power. I understand this notion, but I’m not sure what kind of power people are talking about most of the time. Money? Sure. I can see that. Decision-making? OK. Feeling like you’re somebody special? I can understand all of that. But it seems like, maybe for one group more than another, those goals put people on very strange sides of arguments.

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The enduring oddness of Trump supporter

I’m feeling more and more like we’re leaving Trump behind and I think that’s a good thing. Without him on social media, his voice is much quieter than before. The onslaught of social media posts supporting him and his crazy ideas seem to have faded somewhat. I don’t know if they’re lurking in the shadows or if they’re really fading away. I’ve posted several times on Facebook that years from now I expect to hear plenty of “I never really liked him” or “he wasn’t even close to my favorite” from folks who were the most vocal in their support of him over the past few years. And while I’m ready to move on, I still can’t help being puzzled at support for him and, more broadly, the kind of thinking that goes on in the heads of those who do support him. Lately, it’s the vaccines that have me puzzled the most.

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Trump and the new version of identity politics

There are many things I don’t feel like I fully understand. The concept of identity politics is one of them. Perhaps it’s not that I don’t understand it as much as it confuses me because it seems thrown around so much that it’s kind of meaningless to me. But for many years I’ve thought of identity politics as a term used to describe the way that politicians try to attract voters of specific identities. The way that democrats have tried to appeal to LGBTQ voters or African-American voters, and the way that republicans have tried to appeal to military members and people who are very religious. When I think of identity politics, it’s about appealing to people with these specific labels being part of their identity. But I think the idea can also be thought of in the converse: that support for a specific politician becomes part of a person’s identity. A shorthand for what’s important to them and where they stand on issues.

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Today’s thoughts about COVID-19

There are now more than a million confirmed cases of infection by the virus that causes COVID-19. Worldwide, the mortality rate is 5.3%. Of course, there’s plenty or reason to believe that it’s less fatal, and that 5.3% ignores the many people around the world who likely have been infected but have not been confirmed (either because of false negative results or because of lack of testing). I spent some time crunching numbers this morning. Not because I think there’s anything that I can learn that others don’t know already, but because it keeps my mind from wandering and I like crunching numbers. In the same way, I’m sharing this number crunching here, not because I think anybody should read it, or take it as some real source of information, but because this site has been a faithful outlet for me to put my thoughts on paper. So here’s what I found.

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Space Force (and roses called other things)

One of the places where I tend to disagree with other liberals is the defense budget. Attacking defense spending is a common hobby for many liberals. I get the appeal. I don’t like spending astronomical sums of money for the purpose of killing people. It doesn’t sit well with me. But what I’ve come to realize is that the defense budget is so much more than a killing budget. It’s a convenient way for Congress to allocate money to things we need, as a nation, but can’t convince many voters (or even Members of Congress) to support otherwise. How do some countries fight unemployment? They hire lots of people to work for the government. We do that too, through the military. Want to provide education and job training and healthcare for millions of Americans…put money for education and job training and healthcare into the Department of Defense budget and consider it done. Want to spend money on biomedical research, on materials research, on computing research, on all kinds of research…put money into the Department of Defense budget and consider it done.

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Dreams of the future: what happened?

I have fond memories of emerging technology from my childhood. I remember listening, in awe, as my father put a pair of headphones on me and played a track from Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma with wonderful sounds clearly coming from the left and right, and a bee buzzing in one ear and not the other. I remember my father getting a car phone. Not a mobile phone, not a cell phone, but a car phone. Hard-wired into the car, with a pigtail antenna fixed to the back window and wired through the car to the phone in the center console. We watched the Jetsons and longed for the days when a robot would cook for us, clean for us, and make our lives easier. We had this vision of a world in which automation and technology let us sit by the pool and sip margaritas that a robot would make and bring to us with a tiny umbrella. What we never imagined is that the robots would take away the pool also.

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Dueling Perspectives: thoughts on Russia, Trump, and Climate Change

I got a new car a few months ago and it came with a subscription to Sirius XM. I had never had it before, except in a rental, and never appreciated it. Now I have it, and it’s fueling my news addiction. That only matters because it’s directly responsible for me writing something this morning, for the first time this month. A former Congresswoman, a republican, was on CNN. I was listening in the car, and didn’t recognize her voice, nor was I listening when they introduced her and told us who she was. Without the chyron below, showing her name, the piece ended and I was left not knowing who she was. She was asked about the difficulty being a republican in Congress in the time of Trump. She spoke, more frankly than most republicans do these days, about the clear evidence that there was bad behavior by the Trump campaign. She said something like, “honestly, we have to be concerned about the people surrounding the President who were involved with the Russians.” But, in the end, she drew the line and differentiated between what the President (then candidate) knew and did. It’s a funny line to draw, and leaves me with some competing narratives: dueling perspectives…which in my head quickly pivoted to Climate Change. Follow me for the ride.

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