Tuesday, September 30, 2008

16 Days

It has been 16 days; more than two weeks of long, mildly stressful but altogether intriguing days since anything has graced this blog. Although it is still relatively early in my first semester of post-graduate study, it is abundantly obvious that the nature of the game is much, much different than that of my recently completed undergraduate coursework. That the level of intensity would be turned up a notch or several is not in and of itself surprising, but the process of getting acclimated has been. But I don’t really want to get into the trials and tribulations of all that - I refuse to risk sounding ungrateful. The point is that in all this dizzying wonderment, my time for activities such as writing these blog posts has become scarce indeed.

Part of my curriculum involves not only my role as a student, but also that of an instructor. I hold the paid (barely) position of Graduate Assistant; I am a “GA.” I am employed by, and a student in the same institution. Teaching isn’t a required part of my curriculum, but it is highly recommended since my concentration is organizational and instructional communications. I teach the discussion portion of an upper-division communications studies class - COMS 103. I work under a professor who teaches the lecture portion and guides a team of GAs in the several discussion sections. It is a speech class oriented towards business students and, as one would expect, it is populated primarily by business majors.

After two semesters as a GA, I can apply for a much better paying Teaching Associate (“TA”) position. In addition to a pay level that has a little substance to it, a TA is the teacher of record for his or her class - two per semester for up to two years, or four semesters. It is experience that will be invaluable to my marketability after graduation. But my first semester as a TA is still a long way away. First I have to get through my first two semesters of grad school - a task that will test me like never before.

It is interesting, however, that looking at this seemingly insurmountable goal is not an unfamiliar position for me. Indeed, I have been here before, recently and repeatedly. And after looking back just briefly, I come away with an unavoidable epiphany. Every goal completed along the way - as hard and unrealistic as it appeared at the time - would be easily accomplished today. In other words, to go back and complete my bachelor’s degree again, or another one for that matter, would elicit only complete confidence in my ability to do it and do it well. Experience, it would appear, has provided me with all the confidence I need.

Although the path I am now traveling is significantly different from any I’ve followed before, the déjà vu-like feelings directly parallel those I have experienced in other situations - both of my choosing and not. Experience tells me that the path will indeed be long and arduous. But it also tells me that nothing is insurmountable and that taken a day at a time, it is not at all overwhelming. True, some things will have to change and my commitment will have to be strong, but it is also true that it is within my power to do this.

Or not.

Blog author’s note: The following has nothing to do with the preceding, I just need to get it out there.

In the last two or so weeks, much has happened nationally on Wall Street, in Washington D.C. and in this historic race to the Whitehouse. Although I would like nothing more than take the time to write an analysis of what I think has happened, I can’t and won’t. Can’t because I simply don’t have the time to absorb it all, do the research and put together the words necessary to convey my opinion in a clear and concise manner. Won’t because I can’t and because there is already so much commentary available - much of which reflects my own views.

I will say this: It is important that we as Americans and world citizens pay attention. Close attention. Read beyond the rhetoric, listen to the liberal media; listen to the conservative media… there is no “unbiased” media. If you want to know the truth, you’ll have to decipher it yourself - and that takes Maureen Dowd and George Will. Listen to Rush Limbaugh, watch MSNBC, take what you believe to be unbiased and pick a source that you believe to be slanted and pay attention to them both. Here is a little hint: if you can’t think of a news organization that you think is left of where you are, you need to consider those to the right. And if all you can think of are organizations that are to the left of Fox News, then you should listen to them.

It is not an attempt to convert one side to the other; it is to try to understand where the other side is coming from. Look at it this way - it can’t hurt and it might give you insight to be open to compromise or at least to be able to create a more effective battle plan. If you don't know their arguments, how can you effectively argue against them? If we only listen to who we agree with, we get the kind of extreme partisanship that has contributed to or created so many of the problems we are now faced with.


Sunday, September 14, 2008


I have been under attack. Not a personal attack (although others might view the same circumstances that way), not a physical attack, but rather I have been experiencing information overload. It’s just coming so fast and so heavy that this busy post-graduate student hardly has time to write about one epiphany before the next comes along. And of course by that time - poof - it’s gone. And make no mistake, not only is there news aplenty to write about in this presidential election, it also has the distinction of being new news.

In January, history of unprecedented proportions will be made; either way, there will not be two white males serving as president and vice president. Can’t happen. Sometimes in the heat of the rapidly escalating battle, this little historical footnote is lost in the noise. And although it represents the bridging of a huge gap in racial and gender equality, it is equally important that we keep our eye on the ball. This country, despite denials from the current administration, is a mess.

It just is. The responsibility appropriately falls squarely upon the shoulders of the administration - and party - in power. Ok, I know, I know, the Democrats are the majority in both houses, but not in large enough numbers to affect any real change. You know, the kind of change the Republicans perpetuated from 2000 up until the 2006 midterms. That kind of change is not what we need any more of. It is, in large part, why this country is a mess.

Allow me to enumerate. First and foremost… the granddaddy of all blunders, a fiasco that captures all the insidious elements of deceit, huge amounts of wasted (and as yet unfunded) taxpayer dollars and last, but absolutely not least, the needless deaths of more than 4,000 US service men and women. Never mind the civilian casualties (Iraqi and American) and all those untold thousands of life-altering injuries that will remain to cause this administration recurring embarrassment on how these brave souls are treated when they return home. In case you’ve been living under a rock, I am speaking about the war in Iraq.

It is a war that one party and its ticket still supports. The war has not been as much a page one event as it once was, but it is still going on. It appears to be going better, but nowhere close to good. People are still dying at an alarming rate, money we don’t have is still being spent so fast it boggles the mind and Bin Laden (who had absolutely nothing to do with Iraq), is still on the loose. We need to get out and one party’s ticket has pledged to do just that.

But that’s not all. The Republican Party has become increasingly elitist, and I don’t mean in the academic sense. The cronyism, which has done far more than dance on the line with corruption, is rampant. These are not scandals of impropriety (read sex scandals), they are real crimes with real victims. Valerie Plame, Joseph Wilson, Scooter Libby, Doolittle, Abramoff, Cheney, Rove… perhaps Reagan left some of that Teflon for ole’ W, but it all smells the same. There are so many more names that space simply does not permit... And that old song and dance is being revived in a ticket called McCain-Palin.

New York Times Columnist Paul Krugman recently wrote how the McCain-Palin campaign has a teensy little problem with the truth. After citing several fallacies iterated and reiterated from the campaign, Krugman sets the record straight, but more importantly, he lends insight into what this pattern of factual impairment might mean. He contrasts the comparative complexities of the Bush-Cheney deception with the ease of seeing through McCain-Palin lies. “How a politician campaigns tells you a lot about how he or she would govern,” he said.

Since both Obama and McCain are campaigning on a "change" platform, let us take a look at what that change would mean. Granted, McCain appropriated the change message late in the game, but it is fair to say that change would occur in his administration despite Obama’s claim that it would just be four more years of the last eight. I agree with Krugman, “I’d argue that Obama is wrong to suggest that a McCain-Palin administration would be just a continuation of Bush-Cheney. If the way John McCain and Sarah Palin are campaigning is any indication, it would be much, much worse.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Experts

Blog author's note: This post was originally published Oct. 21, 2006 on "Been Some Places, Seen Some Things." In an ongoing effort to consolidate relevant posts and because I am much too busy reading to do any recreational writing, I offer you this, a little gem from my archives...

I must admit, I didn’t know - much. Apparently I am not alone and I am in good company. Last Tuesday, the New York Times ran an op-ed piece by Jeff Stein, national security editor for the Congressional Quarterly entitled, “Can You Tell a Sunni From a Shiite?” Like I said, I didn’t know. And although the article doesn’t really explain the difference (I will, my curiosity was piqued), he is surprised, as am I, that those in the highest levels of government don’t have a clue.

I am majoring in government-journalism at Sacramento State. That could mean several different career paths. As much as I have any influence over it (not much I’ve learned, but that’s another story), my path is heading towards journalism (as opposed to government or PR) with a specialty in government reporting. Within that area, foreign policy interests me the most. Therefore, I should have known the difference as well. The key difference between my ignorance and say, oh… FBI National Security Branch Bureau Chief Willie Hulon’s is not a matter of trivia – it’s life and death.

The following is taken directly from Stein’s column:

Take Representative Terry Everett, a seven-term Alabama Republican who is vice chairman of the House intelligence subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence.

“Do you know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?” I asked him a few weeks ago.

Mr. Everett responded with a low chuckle. He thought for a moment: “One’s in one location, another’s in another location. No, to be honest with you, I don’t know. I thought it was differences in their religion, different families or something.”

To his credit, he asked me to explain the differences. I told him briefly about the schism that developed after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, and how Iraq and Iran are majority Shiite nations while the rest of the Muslim world is mostly Sunni. “Now that you’ve explained it to me,” he replied, “what occurs to me is that it makes what we’re doing over there extremely difficult, not only in Iraq but that whole area.”

I couldn’t paraphrase it any better. It is that last quote that is particularly telling.

Perhaps Hulon and Everett (and others - some very highly placed) should pay attention now as I will briefly explain the difference not only between these two religious sects, but also a little about the ethnicities involved.

Although I still don’t have great deal of detailed knowledge of Islam, or for that matter any religion, I will try to explain why these two branches of Islam differ. According to a variety of sources, it has to do with the lineage of the prophet Mohammed. It is somewhat complex, but there is some dispute about which of the descendants should be followed. It could be likened to the various different branches of Christianity or perhaps a better analogy is the split between Judaism and Christianity.

Not to muddy the waters even further, but within the Sunnis and the Shiites, there are further divisions and factions, which probably lends a little more accuracy to the Jewish/Christian paradigm. The issue is complex indeed, but there are those whose job it is to understand our enemy and I’m afraid, as Stein so aptly points out, that this very basic crash course is more than many of them know. But wait, it gets even more complex; again, I will distill it down to my level of understanding.

In the region, there are several different ethnic groups as well. For instance, the Iranians are not Arabs, but Persians – and mostly Shiite. The Iraqi’s are mostly Arab, except for the Kurds. Most of the Arabs in Iraq are Shiite like the Iranians, but not Persian. Most of the rest of the Arab world is Sunni, as are the Kurds, but the Kurds are not Arab. Are you taking notes?

For those that have a hard time understanding how Muslims can kill each other so persistently, ruthlessly and unconscionably, perhaps remembering the slaughter among those of differing sects of the Christian faith will help put it into perspective. Maybe historical accounts of Christians killing Jews will lend a better understanding. Realizing that all three major religious divisions have a common root probably won’t help much, but it is true enough that all three are “Abrahmic” spin-offs.

So perhaps our “leaders” don’t understand that we’ve inserted ourselves smack-dab into the middle of a religious-ethnic-territorial war that is hundreds of years old. Maybe they underestimated the complexity of the demographic makeup of the region. Perhaps if they had done their homework, we wouldn’t be in this mess. Maybe it’s not too late to find a solution. It’s time to cram – finals are coming.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Next Level

For those who have postgraduate degrees or for those in grad school, nothing I say here will be particularly Earth shattering. Indeed, I rather imagine that when I look back upon my experience, I will be so familiar with the rigors of postgraduate study that these insights will be hardly insightful. But perhaps for those who have embarked on this path, my discoveries will bring back that sense of awe and bewilderment… the feeling that leaves me saying, “What have I gotten myself into?” And maybe the strength you mustered to persevere will again energize you.

Or, maybe not.

Regardless of what memories my experience conjures up for you, these are my perceptions in this very moment nonetheless. In the final analysis, that’s really all I ever write about. After spending the past nearly three years documenting much of my undergraduate journey, this post marks the first in the series illuminating my postgraduate experience. And at just one week into it, it has been quite the experience. After what I can only describe, however retrospectively, as a marginally challenging road to my BA, my Master’s - at the same school, in the same department - will be nothing of the kind. Of that I am absolutely sure… after just one week.

Based upon what I have gleaned thus far, I have already reduced my course load from nine to six units. Instead of trying to tackle three very labor-intensive classes, I am only taking two - and my plate is full, thank you very much. Although I have a fair degree of trepidation and the feeling of impending doom is already looming, I am confident that I can reach my goal in a reasonable period of time. But it will take more dedication and work than I have ever committed to before.

And that is a good thing. Placing the bar just higher than I can reach motivates me to reach it, come Hell or high water. But some changes must occur. I will no longer be hanging out with my old friend and compatriot, procrastination. My social life will become much less so and, of course, other sacrifices will have to be made. It’s not as though these lifestyle modifications are completely foreign, I have had to make those choices in the past, but the magnitude and the duration will require dedication beyond that of any goal I have ever attempted - successfully or not.

I don’t know if every grad student comes to these conclusions. It could be that these changes are so subtle and gradual among those who have taken the more conventional progression through higher education that these steps up in commitment are no big deal. But I doubt it. Unlike my undergraduate career, I don’t believe factors such as my - ahem - advanced age play much of a part. It’s not that my age group is that much better represented, but rather, it takes a certain level of maturity to maintain the discipline that is required, regardless of age.

So the question remains unanswered. Can I do it? Of course I have to say with confidence the answer is an emphatic “yes.” But that is merely a belief bordering on conviction. There are valid reasons for my belief, but it won’t be fact until I have a Master’s degree hanging on my wall. At least two years and more reading and writing than I can possibly image will pass before I know. It is, taken in total, an insurmountable task. But taken one day at a time, one page at a time, it can be done. No... it will be done. I’ll keep you posted.