24 August 2010

Diving into deep waters in re: millenials and IR

Yesterday Daniel Drezner raised the question of how millenials (meaning folks in their 20s like me) think about international relations.  There are some really thoughtful responses in the comments, mentioning things like the interconnectedness of our current world, the massive sea of information in which we swim, how a huge growth economy that precipitously tanked on us impacts our lives, and how we see a role for the United States to play in the world without necessarily resorting to hyper nationalist imperialist misadventures. 

I want to respond to the piece, but I want to do so by altering the premise a bit.  Like one, if not more, of the commenters, I was a student of both history and political science.  But then, influenced by a Quaker educational setting and my own personal struggles for social justice, chose to pursue graduate work in international conflict resolution, rather than straight up international relations.  Because jobs in conflict resolution are just a wee bit scarce, I've ended up working in international education, while continuing to do very local level activism at the same time.  And in these past few years, an insight that sparked as an undergrad has become a core belief:  we cannot separate the local from the global.  Or, in other terms, the distinction between domestic policy and foreign policy is purely academic.  As I see it, such a division doesn't actually exist.

This insight first came to me, somewhat unexpectedly, while writing my senior project for my history major oh so long ago.  Through a someone circuitous path, I ended up writing on the domestic political constraints that impacted U.S. decision-making in the Korean War -- a war that could have ended two years sooner had Truman not been afraid of appearing soft on communism at home.  Today, we see that a faulty immigration system impacts our relations with our immediate neighbors.  Our unwillingness to provide healthcare to our citizens evokes scorn from some of our allies.  Because we have a massive array of ill-conceived farm subsidies, we dump unneeded foodstuffs in foreign markets and crush local farmers' livelihoods, all the while calling it aid.  We can't actually cut the bloated military budget because people need the jobs.  The United States lectures the world on human rights, and yet contains fully a quarter of the world's prison population -- jails filled predominantly with young black men serving time for petty crimes in an attempt to keep our longstanding racist history going full steam, but with less overt fanfare.

As I see it, the lesson for my peers is that we must recognize that our domestic politics have impacts on our foreign relations -- beyond the obvious choices in fighting wars, managing economic crises, or cleaning up oil spills.  It is arrogant and hypocritical to claim to be a shining city on a hill so long as children are going hungry, the elderly can't afford their medicine, and it is legal in about 30 states to deny employment and housing to people just for being gay or transgender.  We have enduring cycles of poverty and repression in this country, based on racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism and all manner of xenophobia's other children that we consistently fail to address.  My family came to this country 400 years ago, and yet I was the first of the line to get a college degree.  It wasn't until my grandfather's generation that my someone in family was even able to earn a steady paycheck, and yet my father has been unemployed for at least two years.  It's still far too likely that if you're born poor in this country, you'll die poor.  In our society, you either have privilege or you don't.  And if you don't, getting it takes work.  And that's an understatement.

In my mind, politics should be about the pursuit of justice.  We have a moral obligation to pursue it domestically and abroad, concurrently.  I don't just mean justice in a legalistic sense.  I mean justice in its fullest context -- social, cultural, economic, political, legal, and everything else.  But that isn't happening in our national politics.  Turn on cable television any night of the week and you'll find blabbering dunderheads of both the left and the right nannering on in a language that isn't the least bit powered by a brain.  Rather than focusing on issues that actually matter, politicians and commentators have spent fully two weeks debating where exactly one single mosque ought to go.  Stephen Walt points out that this kind of blubbering reminds him of the political discourse of the Weimar Republic -- not exactly high praise given what happened next.  If this is the kind of leadership my forbears want to demonstrate to people of my generation, then I'm afraid I must protest.  

Thus it is my sincere hope that my generation embraces a politics -- domestic and international -- rooted in justice that honors our fundamental humanity.  It is incumbent upon us to act where our predecessors have failed, namely to address some of the huge systemic problems we face.  I don't have any grand illusions about what can or might be achieved before my eventual demise, but I do know that we have to do better.  That we have to march on.  That we have to realize that justice is peace and that peace is justice.  And finally, I know this:  we damn sure better get to work. 

22 August 2010

Sunday news: let's embrace our trashy side edition

Are you looking for something more?  Are you looking for something less?  Are you looking for anything at all?   Join me in today's somewhat-weekly exploration of things that make the world tick.
Well now, that's that.  Don't you feel enlightened?  Ladies, don't go nuke anything.

19 August 2010

My question for the final DC mayoral debate

The Washington Post, WAMU and NBC 4 are hosting the final debate for the DC mayor's race at high noon on Wednesday, September 1.  Because I'm a nerd, I managed to get a ticket to the event before they were all gone.  Even better is that members of the public can submit questions in advance by email.

As you know, I do some grassroots organizing work with members of DC's trans community.  As an activist, I've always been into fighting for rights and justice, and I'm usually drawn to struggles that don't always get the attention they should.  I've written several times before that the fights over gay marriage or Don't Ask Don't Tell have never animated me, for a variety of reasons.  There are much more basic rights that are denied every day to LGBT people who are poor, rural, trans, youth, people of color, to name a few.  Those categories don't necessarily apply to me, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't join the fight against such discrimination, and I frankly believe that you should too.

I know I've got a snowball's chance of getting this answered in what's sure to be a madhouse event with a packed agenda, but nonetheless, my question: 
Mayor Fenty:  In 2008, your administration tried to exempt District custodial agencies from complying with the gender identity and expression provisions of the Human Rights Act.  Your administration failed to report hate crimes against transgender people and failed to include the same population in your recent LGBT health report.  Your Office of Human Rights persistently refuses to enforce laws allowing transgender people to safely access public accommodations.  Overly aggressive enforcement of prostitution free zones has led to rampant and blatant profiling of transgender people as sex workers.  And in 2009, a year in which a transgender woman was brutally murdered in broad daylight, your LGBT affairs director refused to attend the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance because he had hockey tickets.  Is there a particular reason your administration is targeting an already extremely disenfranchised part of the population for additional abuse?  For both Mayor Fenty and Chairman Gray, how do you intend to rectify these problems, including addressing persistent unemployment in the transgender community and the growth of hate violence against transgender people of color?
I'm sure you'll be hearing from me again on September 1 to see whether or not it gets answered.  

You should submit a question too!   Blog it, tweet it, facebook it.  Too often people have said that the race between Fenty and Gray is about style, not substance.  But in this, and in other areas, there are real substantive problems that need to be addressed. Let's make sure those problems see the light of day before this race is over. 

17 August 2010

Perish this particular thought

Via teh facebooks, I saw an article from Sunday's Post inquiring as to the future of the home library.  Allow me to say, unequivocally, that this assault on culture and learnedness shall not stand.  

At least not in my house. 

You see, anyone who knows me well can attest that I love my books.  I love their look, their smell, and even the words printed in them.  I catalog them and gently arrange them according to my own bizarre sense of logic.  I bought an old fashioned rocking chair so I could sit around and read them for hours while gently relaxing.  And yes, I have a room of my house dedicated to my books, and I'm out of shelf space.  I particularly cherish older editions of great works.  Of course, there are a few that go unread, that I keep for purely quirky value, like that 900 page beast on what the U.S. should do about the Soviet Union after the fall of the Berlin Wall, published about a month before the Soviet Union ceased to be.  I picked that one up at a used book store in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and bought it out of sympathy for the poor schmuck who did all that work.  

Then there are others.  The books inscribed with love by my English teacher from high school, who is one of my personal heroes.  A random assortment of titles about the U.S. Civil War, shelves dedicated to my weird fascinations with Queen Elizabeth I and Eleanor Roosevelt, inspirational pieces from activists of yore, and heavily used books from grad school all have their place.  

I spend far too much time in used book stores, looking for something unique to jump out at me, or hoping to find treasures by favorite authors that may have since gone out of print (I found one just last week).  

I'm not going to be so bold as to say I'll never have some tacky electronic book reader.  I (sort of) see their merits.  But to think that I'll ever be willing to give up that visceral connection you make with a text you hold in your hands and flip through with care seems preposterous.  So I'm keeping my books.  And trying to figure out where to put them all. 

16 August 2010

Happy Monday, office drones!

And, uh, to all the passive aggressive micromanaging manwhores out there.  Enjoy the following.

Don't you feel better now?  I know I do.

14 August 2010

Your guide to registering to vote in DC. Deadline is Monday!

Do you live in the District of Columbia?  If you don't live in DC, or otherwise can't vote in DC (you're a foreign national, you're registered elsewhere, you ignore everything I ever write) then feel free to ignore this.  But otherwise, please pay attention to the following:

September 14 is primary election day in DC.  If you're not yet familiar with District politics, you should know that many races, including the mayor's race, are usually decided in the primary (especially the Democratic primary).  Yet, to vote in that primary, you need to register!

The deadline for pre-registration for the primary election is Monday, August 16.  You can still register after that date, including on-site on election day, but will only be allowed to vote on a provisional ballot that may or may not be actually counted.  Thus it's still important to register to vote by Monday.  You should also note that Monday is the last day to change your party affiliation  (the options are Democratic, Republican, Statehood Green, or independent). 

Who should register (or change their registration)?  Anyone who is a new resident of DC or anyone who has moved within DC since the last election. 

How do you register?  Visit www.dcboee.org and click Register to Vote in DC or Update your Registration Info in the Voter box.   You'll be walked through some question and at the end will be presented with a nicely filled out form for you to print and mail (postmarked by Monday) or deliver in person to the DC BOEE, 441 4th St NW, WDC 20001.  You'll need to include proof of residency at the address you put down on the registration form.  This can be a pay stub, government check stub, utility bill, lease or copy of a DC driver's license/ID card.

What if I don't know if I'm registered?
  That's easy!  At the DC BOEE website, click Check Your Registration Status in the Voter box.  Just enter your name, address, and date of birth and you can find out. 

Thanks for your attention to this really important stuff.  Happy voting!

ETA:  I've received a few questions from folks asking for additional clarifying details.  Here you go:

I checked my registration status, and it says INACTIVE.  What do I do?  Your name was removed from the voter roll for one reason or another.  You need to register again.

I'm registered as a member of the Statehood Green Party.  Can I vote in the Democratic primary?  No, you can only vote in the primary for the party of which you are a registered member.  If you're not registered for the party for which you would like to cast a primary ballot, you MUST change your party affiliation by August 16 to vote in your preferred primary.  You CANNOT change party affiliation after that date.

11 August 2010

A particularly peaceful podcast

Warning:  this here post is about 7.2 million years late for the blogging world, but you're getting it anyway.  :)

I recently was tipped off by a friend that NPR's Speaking of Faith had done a very good show related to peacebuilding.  Turns out, it featured none other than legendary peacemaker John Paul Lederach.  Legendary, that is, if you've been to peace school.  

Anyway, you should listen to the show when you get a chance.  It's incredibly insightful, and even spirit-warming.  And it will help you to understand just how peace can be made, and what a beautiful process it can be.  If you have the time, listen to the unedited interview for extra tidbits of fun.

10 August 2010

Boldly going back to my life

I have a confession.  Sometime last year, my illustrious partner started watching a few Star Trek episodes online.  He doesn't watch old shows in any particular order, but eventually he (sometimes joined by me) knocked out both The Next Generation and Voyager.  However, unlike me, he generally saved this supreme nerdiness for sick days, rainy days, and the like. 

Not me.  No, no, no, no, no.  When I bite a bullet, I want to taste powder.  So I set about watching the entire Voyager series, in order.  All seven seasons, 26 episodes each.  That's some big number my little head can't compute.  But then I switched to Deep Space Nine, with its huge story arcs and that whole being a seven-year long allegory thing.  The boy abandoned me at that point.  This ridiculous feat was all mine.  Besides, I'd watched parts of both series on my mom's couch while I was in high school (mostly before I got involved with the artist formerly known as Bunny).

And this past weekend, I finished it.  Good finally conquered evil, and there was even an exceedingly awkward farewell montage.  (Sadly, this montage did not include any hot lesbian make-out sessions.)  

Now I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a burning desire to go watch The Next Generation from start to finish.  But, no, it's time to stop.  I've spent too much time on Memory Alpha researching bits of nuance about cultures and technologies that don't actually exist.  I'm ridiculously fascinated by Borg, and that has to stop.  I think.  

Anyway, look for more blogging, more socializing, more world saving, etc., now that I've successfully completed this mission of exploration and defense of liberal enlightenment. 

Just don't forget the prime directive.

09 August 2010

The battle for conflict resolution: graduate training vs. the real world

A new report by the U.S. Institute of Peace helps explain a lot of my recent(?) career woes.  The results are from a study commissioned to examine the correlations between graduate study and actual careers in the international peace and conflict work.  The results, however, are a little grim.  The first summary bullet really gets you:
Graduate-level academic institutions are not adequately preparing students for careers in international peace and conflict management. Curricula need to incorporate more applied skills, cross-sectoral coursework, and field-experience opportunities.
The report goes on to outline the crucial differences between academics' views of what their graduates should know compared to employers' views of what their staff should be capable of doing.  Let's just say these two things don't match up terribly well.  Part of the problem, according to the authors, is that the international conflict resolution field is relatively new, and that the primarily development oriented agencies and funders that are doing this work don't necessarily understand how conflict resolution works or what its underpinnings are and how it changes their long-established games.  

But there are some core issues here too, primarily (in my view) the lack of adequate field training/experience building that students need to get jobs in the profession.  I was actually lucky enough to get some brief field experience, and even so, you can't exactly say I roll in the conflict resolution world at my current job.  Here's your money quote:  
Students face a perpetual Catch-22. Employers want applicants with field experience, but if all employers want this, how are students to get their first experience? Although all programs provide some opportunities for field experience, in general, opportunities are few and far between for people to gain experience abroad, especially hands-on work in conflict areas, whether focused on development practice or directly on conflict resolution practice, and also whether through their academic program, other institutions, or on their own. A significant related obstacle for most students is the lack of funding to enable their travel abroad, especially for unpaid work.
That, to me, is a much bigger issue than whether or not someone can actually comprehend USAID created gobbledygook-speak, which one can probably (if not grudgingly) learn on one's own.  Like I said, I managed to get some field experience while in grad school, and several of my classmates got loads of it.  But we were still relatively young, and at the end, many of us struggled to find work even remotely related to what we studied.  

This raises another, essential question that the USIP report does not address:  What is the demand for an international conflict resolution graduate student?  Is the supply of conflict-sensitive people currently larger than the demand?  There's some hint of that in the report, but it's not really explored.  Or, alternatively, are the senior decision makers that allocate resources and set staffing not yet adequately aware of the need for/value of having conflict sensitive people on their teams (this is alluded to much more fully in the report).  I guess for me, as a young professional, I want to see people with crazy little peacenik grad degrees get jobs in our field, or at least quite close to it, within a reasonable amount of time after graduating.  As it stands, it seems that there are several catch-22s that get in the way.

ETA:  Inside Higher Ed has coverage of the report, and additional perspectives, here.