I can't believe it's been so long since I've had a proper update. 

I had my third day in London half drafted, but I've other things to talk about so maybe I'll get it later.  Perhaps I'll have some sort of Lenten vow (on top of my "work out every day" and "eat less crap" vague notions) to post more and London can be recapped then. 

Today, though, I talk about school. 

Back in 1997, I started the classwork for a Masters in Public Health. That spring, I took Epidemiology and Biostatistics. I was halfway through law school, and I was overjoyed to be studying something that didn't make me angry and depressed and just plain miserable. My school was a hippie school. Grading was qualitative rather than quantitative.  Public health people are by definition do-gooders. And I got along with my classmates much, much better than I did with those at the law school. Granted, I was still taking two interesting courses over at the law school (as well as an internship with the Harris County Attorney's Office).  But, I could just breathe better at the School of Public Health.  

That summer, I took a healthcare policy course while still at the County Attorney's Office, but for pay! Pitiful pay, but pay nonetheless.

And the next fall was the semester that I look back with awe. I took 20 hours of classes: 17 at the law school (which included a research position with one of my professors) and 3 at the school of public health. Plus another 10 or so hours of work for the county.  How the fuck I did that, I will never know. But I was highly motivated because I wanted to get the hell out of law school a semester early. And I did.  I graduated from law school in December 1997. 

The next semester was all public health.   Four lovely classes: Administration and Public Health, and Social and Community Aspects of Behavioral Health and my awesome awesome awesome Overview of Environmental Health.  And a really cool seminar on Dialog, Deliberation and Democracy.  Oh, and the bar exam.  I loved, loved, loved my classes, but by the end of the semester I was truly burned out.  And I couldn't find a job.  I had three more credits to finish up, plus a thesis, and then I was done.  But I didn't have it in me.  I'd been to four elite institutions of higher learning from the fall of 1991 to the spring of 1998.  I'd written more papers than I can count. I'd studied and worked and labored and done everything I could to learn. But for some reason, I couldn't get this one paper out of me.  

I went through a year and a half of pretty awful depression.  I wrote a paper on healthcare compliance for credit somewhere in 1999, but I just couldn't get motivated to work on my thesis.  I tried a few times, but I just couldn't find a topic that worked for me.  Most of my efforts were spent looking for a job.  

And so, when I was offered a job in December 1999 and  moved to California, I always sort of thought, Ok, maybe I'll finish later on.  

I moved back to Texas in 2002.  And I tried again two or three times.  I got pretty close in 2007, but then a paper came out that covered everything my thesis was going to cover.  I got dejected. 

Somewhere in that year, I got a letter saying that I was going to be dropped all together if I didn't register that semester and if I wanted to come back, I'd have to reapply.  I decided to let it go. 

Fast forward the early part of this decade.  A few friends had recently gone back to school to finish up projects that had been started decades ago.   My brother leaving for graduate school had parted by daring me to finish my masters before he finished his.  At a Planned Parenthood event a year or so ago, I'd heard from a current MPH student that the thesis was now optional, and you could take a class instead.  Finally, my friend James restarted a degree he'd started in the early 90s.  Most of his current classmates weren't even born when he was last in the program.  My husband decided that he would like to go back to school too. 

In September, having seen all these signs, I made an inqury at the School of Public Health about readmission.  I got an immediate e-mail back telling me that I had four days to reapply.  Holy crap! I quickly got a hold of my old advisor, who retired last semester but is coming back to teach this semester. And he wrote a letter of support.  I got all of the other documentation in right in the nick of time.  

And the next thing I knew, I was back.  The requirements had changed. Instead of 36 hours of class, I needed 45. But they now accepted more courses from the law school than they used to.  I was four hours short, but I needed to take this culminating experience class and an ethics course anyways.  I met with someone in student affairs who helped me fill out the paperwork that I needed to demonstrate that I'd taken everything I needed to. 

I was in New Student Orientation on January 8. And I've been in class for the last five weeks.  

Today, though, was when I truly felt back.  

Public health is a really broad discipline.  It can be anything from data analysis to community intervention to policy development to working in a lab.  We generally choose an area of inquiry, while having a passing knowledge of the rest of the discipline.   The capstone class is supposed to be a synthesis of all of the learning that we've spent our Master's study on.  There are a number of projects that we work on in the class, but we also are tested on the five core subjects of public health: epidemiology, bio-statistics, environmental health, health promotion and behavioral sciences, and management and policy sciences.  We have handouts that are basic reviews of the courses, but our professors encouraged us to "review our notes from those classes" to prepare for the tests.  

Needless to say, it's been over 15 years since I've taken any of these classes. I honestly started to panic. 

Fortunately, I'm anal, and I have all of my papers from my previous masters study on my computer (plus all of college, all of Oxford and all of law school). Bless my environmental health professor who made us turn in summaries of the lectures after each class.  And apparently, I wrote nothing for Social and Community Aspects of Behavioral Health, because I have nothing.  

So though I barely remember what a Chi-Square is or how the hell to do regression analysis (or hell, even a standard deviation), I began to sort through stuff last week. I decided that since I do the management and policy stuff every day, I'd ignore that and hope I wasn't missing out on some new theory.  And I went through the environmental stuff pretty quickly, really remembering how much I loved that class.  It was when I got to the behavioral stuff that things started to click.  I remembered specific lectures, and I remembered getting excited about a variety of theories.  Then, epi started coming back to me. Of course I remembered the well and John Snow (not a Game of Thrones reference), but I also started seeing stuff in the review material that I deal with peripherally every day: Clinical trials and research methodology.  Various rates and cohorts and case studies and more.  I looked at biostats, but I decided to punt on that aspect for now.  I had enough other stuff to worry about. 

So I studied for the first time in 13 years. Really studied.  The last time I studied for anything was the California Bar in 2000.  

Our first quiz was today.  It was done on the learning management software (this is new to me) during the first 30 minutes of class.  And the results were immediate.  I was well above passing.  We have to pass two of four of these tests to pass this course.  I'm much more confident that I'm going to have my masters in May than I ever have been.  I still have a ton of work to do, and I have to pass my ethics course as well.  But, I'm feeling good about this.  

And my over-education will be complete.  

For now anyways.  

20 years since SJS

So my 20th high school reunion was this weekend.

There was a party scheduled for Saturday, but it conflicted with my friend Jim's Halloween/Birthday Party, and I just didn't see how it was possible to do both. So I just went to the Friday night tailgate party, instead.

The tailgate party was right before our big football game at Rice Stadium. At first, I didn't think Graham would be able to make any of it, since he djs on Friday nights, and he generally leaves around seven to get to the bar in time to set up. But, the tailgate party started at five, and the game started at seven, so Graham could go.

We had a mini discussion about whether or not I wanted him to go. On the one hand, I'm ridiculously proud of him and want to show him off. On the other, I can't imagine subjecting some poor soul to something like this, much less someone I love so much.

This was part of the discussion:
"I'll go!"
"But you hate hoity toity things!"
"It's a tailgate party! How hoity toity could it get?"
"This is St. John's / Kinkaid. There will be brie!"

In the end, he came and stood around the coolers and cookies and hummus (no, brie at our party, but the first graders one car over had a spread that cost well into the four digits) and vehicles for about 20 minutes while I looked at maybe 40 or so of my classmates with a mix of awe that absolutely no one has changed and shock that there are so very many kids spawned.

It's so weird to talk to someone that you haven't seen in 20 years as if nothing had happened in the intervening time. It's strange to look at someone and know exactly who they are even though you haven't laid eyes on them in two decades. A lot of us live in Houston, but we never see each other. There were more wrinkles and gray hairs than any other signs of aging. Everyone looked fit and pretty happy, though I suppose that people always bring their best selves to these things.

The weirdest part was that I didn't have to be reminded of who someone was at all. Everyone was so familiar, even though I hadn't seen most of them in decades. Doctors, lawyers, lots of teachers, people in technology. Lots of stay at home moms who are thinking of reentering the workforce, because their kids are getting old enough to go to kindergarten. I'm not the only childless one, and there were a few who are pregnant or just had kids or whose wives are pregnant.

Ours was a really small class. I think there were 104 of us who graduated, and we were pretty close. There were certainly popular people and nerdy people and jocks and artists and all, but every one knew each other fairly well. And even if you weren't the closest of friends, you certainly had a general idea of everyone else in your class. We probably each had a class with every other person in our grade. We probably each had some sort of memory of the others. I wouldn't say that it was always happiness and joy, because high school never is that. But it was comfortable--at least for me--and certainly by now any angers or hurts or grudges must have dissipated over the intervening 20 years.

I wasn't really anything in high school, though someone told me that they remembered me as being very articulate. There are worse ways to be remembered. I had friends, but none were particularly close. I was liked, but I wasn't necessarily beloved. I didn't hate high school, but I wasn't unhappy to move on to my life afterwards. I have some fond memories, but it wasn't the end all and be all of my life.

Some people traveled from a long distance to come to this event. I don't think I would have done it had I lived elsewhere. In fact, I went to the Buffy party in Vegas in 2001 instead of going to the ten year reunion. I did go to 15, five years ago. But I wasn't sorry to go to this.

I went to the game with a hunk of the group after the tailgate party wrapped up, and I watched our team lose to Kinkaid. While it didn't seem that my classmates had changed at all, the high school kids looked so very young, especially the cheerleaders. I couldn't decide if their apparent youth was because we were so removed from that now or because we keep on being told by television that 23 years olds are 18.

The game itself was familiar, though. Every grade shows up to this event, and it's the only thing that the whole school, from pre-kindergartners to seniors do together. Everyone's parents and sometimes grandparents are there, all of the teachers, and whichever alumni that happen to be doing a reunion that weekend. In front of our cluster was a group of middle school girls who were playing on their iphones. I'm certain that middle school girls never paid much attention to the game (unless there was a boy who they crushed on playing), but this was a new focus.

Three of my classmates and I went back to the tailgate to help clean up. The one friend I had kept up with in all these years since high school had organized everything, and I wanted to make sure she didn't have too much work to do in the cleanup. We stood around her car with a bottle of wine and gossiped and chatted and confessed that none of us had ever been to the rather infamous house parties that one of our classmates threw when his parents were out of town. There was a kinship in that.

I exchanged cards with one of my Houston based classmates who is moving to my neighborhood in a few weeks. And maybe we will reconnect in more normal circumstances. I always liked her, and the hug she gave me when she saw me was truly genuine. I am curious as to what happened at the party on Saturday, and whether people came that didn't go to the tailgate party. I suspect that good times were had, and then everyone went back to their regular lives.

After I got out of there, I went to Prohibition to hear Graham spin, and then I went home. The next day, we got ready for Jim's party, and we had a fantastic time with a good hunk of our more accessible, everyday friends.

In some ways, I know absolutely nothing about these people. 20 years is a very long time for interesting, life-changing things to happen that I have no idea about. I know that I've certainly changed dramatically since high school. But in others, I know more about them than their spouses. It's a weird thing to have this shared four year history and then to go off and do your own thing and then reconnect.

20 years ago today

from the ranch
The pooch came up with us to the ranch this weekend. It's the first time in a while that we've been here alone, which has been lovely. We took a long walk around the lake and into the woods yesterday, and Celosa had a blast having full reign to run around. Graham made an awesome pasta last night, and we capped off the evening watching the first four episodes of season seven of Buffy.

Earlier this week, I got a notice about my 20th high school reunion. I honestly forgot that it was this year, and I'm sort of weirdly excited about it. Prompted by the news of this, one of my friends from high school put together a facebook group for our class, and another sent out an e-mail to those not on facebook. There's been some chatter on both venues.

It's been sort of cool looking at the small snippets of my classmates lives. I have some contact with a few people, but it's very limited. Only three people have made the facebook cut, and they are people I would have remained friends with regardless. Otherwise, I will occasionally run into someone from my class--or the sibling of someone from my class--at some function or another, but by and large, I'm not all that connected with the people I went to high school with. Glancing at the facebook profiles, though, it seems like people have done fairly well. Lots of pictures of kids. Lots of people living in Texas, though not everyone. Jobs all over the place. I suspect that we're at the point now that the slights of high school don't really matter all that much anymore. I certainly don't really care much what people from that era of my life think of me, but even so, I'm pretty ok with who I am and how I'll end up presenting myself.

We'll actually probably have two reunions. The school decided to move the traditional reunion weekend from October to April, and we're the first class that is really impacted. The move caught us all off guard, and with not that much time to plan, we decided to go ahead and do the big reunion in April. One of my classmates, though, volunteered her house for a casual get together during the school's official alumni weekend in April.

Our class was fairly small. There were only 103 of us, and we were fairly close knit. I found my old yearbook in my room here, and I went through the senior pages, remembering names and faces I hadn't though of in at least 18 years. I am sort of curious how we all turned out. I guess I'll find out sooner rather than later.



Back in high school I went on a very memorable trip to Spain for the summer between tenth and eleventh grades. I was just sixteen and feeling quite grown up going to a foreign country all by myself. My high school Spanish teacher was also on the trip and kept an eye on all of us under 18, but it was still quite exciting.

For the majority of the adventure, I lived with a host family in Segovia. I had a roommate, another girl from my class, and I sort of got the impression that the host family was in it for the money rather than the rich cultural experience of having two 16 year olds living under their roof for a summer. I don't really remember interacting much with the family. There were two kids and a couple in the household, and I sort of got the impression that we were to stay out of the husband's hair. They didn't speak much English, but our Spanish was good enough to get by. Most of what I remember from that household was spending lots of time with Amy, my roommate, in our bedroom.

Part of the deal, though, was they were supposed to feed us. By and large, the food was good. Sometimes it was what I consider traditional Spanish food, sometimes just food. Pasta, salad, fried ham or chicken. Nothing particularly spectacular. Nothing particularly memorable on either good or bad, though I'm vaguely recalling a nice paella.

Except once. I'm pretty sure it was a weekend. It seemed that the sun was still up pretty high when we sat down. It started with this salad. It seemed that it was entirely made of mayonnaise, but not particularly good mayonnaise. Just blobs on our plates, with peas interjected every now and then. Amy and I knew that our host mother would be insulted or worried or horrified if we didn't eat what was put in front of us. I think she was concerned that we'd report her to some authority and we (and the money we brought in) would be re-homed. She hovered at every meal, asking us all the time if we liked something. So we knew better than to not eat what was put in front of us. And we figured that whatever came after the salad would make up for it.

But no. I don't remember if there were any side dishes or not. I just remember that slab of liver sitting in front of me.

I pause to explain how much I hate liver. Loathe it. Can't stand the smell or look of it. Pass quickly when I see it in the grocery store. My dad, of course, loves the stuff, and as a child, there were several attempts to bring me on board which failed drastically. I stayed firm in my hatred and revulsion, not even looking at it when it showed up on his plate every time we went somewhere it's served. (He can be found some Fridays at lunch at DeMarco's feasting on the liver of some poor cow. I always make sure to sit on the other side of the table when he invites me along.)

Etiquette and the horror of my host mom made it impossible to refuse or develop a quick allergy or otherwise turn it down. Amy's feelings on liver must have been the same as mine, because she just turned green and stared at the meat for a few seconds before looking up. The host mom hovered.

I cut into the meat.

Oh god.

I opened my mouth and took a bite.

It was as bad as I thought it would be.

I smiled at the host mom, who was hovering even more than usual.

And so the agony began. Amy and I weren't really talking about it, but we knew we were soldiers fighting side by side in the same foxhole. We knew we had to eat a certain amount--maybe half of the portions we were given--before politeness could allow us to announce our satiation. So we settled in and ate.

Bite. Chew. Swallow. Grimace. Bite. Chew. Swallow. Grimace.

At some point during this, Amy started drinking with every bite. It wasn't a bad idea. I don't remember if it was milk or coke or water, but anything to mask the taste. I, on the other hand, started bypassing the "chew" step, opting instead to swallow the meat whole in an attempt to get it out of my mouth faster. I had to cut smaller pieces, but it seemed to work. A little.

Our host mother relaxed at some point. Amy and I had to very carefully balance our appreciation that we were fed with any hint of enthusiasm for this particular meal, lest it be decided our favorite and show up on the menu again.

When we declared our selves finished, having done every trick in the book to make a plate look like more has been eaten than actually was, we got more questions than usual. I think it was because we didn't eat as much as we usually did. We had to reassure her several times that, no, no, there was nothing wrong, we're just full.

And then we made our escape.

Fortunately, Amy and I had food of some sort in our room, and we were able to rid ourselves of the taste of liver.

Ever eaten something that you couldn't stand for the sake of politeness?

Facebook blasts from the past

I wish
There are very few parts of my life that I really avoid. I had a relatively ok high school experience, great college, wonderful Oxford, and awesome adulthood. Even law school, which I hated, wasn't bad on a social level.

Middle school and--because it was the same place and the same people--elementary school, is the glaring exception. I hated, hated, hated 7th and 8th grade with a passion. I wasn't necessarily bullied, or if I was, I didn't really notice. But the kids I went to school with by and large made life miserable for me.

In the summer between sixth and seventh grade, I went from a relatively flat chested girl to holy-shit!-those-are-boobs seemingly over night. I also was one of the "smart" girls in my class, put into a separate sections for both reading and math with maybe five or six other kids in my grade. Somewhere in this time period, I also ratted out one of my classmates for distributing cocaine in science class. I didn't really mean to do this, but it didn't occur to me not to tell my mother about it, who promptly reported it to the school. All of these things made me go from being a relatively well liked person in my class to one of the least popular.

I don't remember many of the details. I've probably blocked them out. I remember getting a note in my locker from one girl telling me that she and I could no longer be friends because I wasn't popular enough. Unwisely, I wrote her back. I remember a boy wanting to "go" with me as a joke. I remember having very few people to sit with at lunch. I remember the boys pointing and laughing at my boobs, and the girls picking me last for sports teams, even though I was a pretty good athlete for a middle schooler.

It was terribly confusing to me because I'd known these kids for most of my life. Most, if not all, were "friends" in the way your entire classroom in elementary school are "friends" when you're little. Most of them had been to my house at some point or another, most had been to my birthday parties. Some even got to go to the ranch. I'd known them since I was six years old. Having them go from relatively friendly if not actual friends, to horrible enemies who could stab you in the back at any moment was excruciating.

I'm sure it's probably not as bad as I remember. There were some kids that didn't particularly get involved in that sort of bullshit. Probably there were half dozen or so ringleaders, arbiters of popularity, and everyone else sort of followed along to varying degrees. Most people were sheep, but the leaders were vicious.

Fortunately for my sanity, my best friend didn't go to my middle school. When I went home, when I socialized out of school, I had nothing to do with the kids from school, and I could leave all of that behind me. And aside from sports and girl scouts, I didn't have many activities with them. We went to the ranch every single weekend, so I didn't really hang out with them much out of school.

I remember being overjoyed to get the hell out of there when I graduated, and being even more happy that not a single one of the people I went to middle school would be at my high school. I could start a new school with a blank slate, and that's exactly what I did. And with the exception of one person who ended up being a friend of a friend that I see occasionally at dinner parties, I haven't seen or heard from anyone from middle school again.

Until, of course, Facebook.

I don't remember when I accepted a friend request from the one girl. It was months and months ago, and after the friends request was approved, I didn't really notice her much. I mean, I have 495 friends on Facebook. There's no way I pay that much attention to the superficial ones. After that, another boy that I barely remembered added me. Again, this was months ago. I finally remembered him as relatively nice, and I accepted his friends request too. I didn't really think about it much.

Then this weekend, another girl added me. She was actually friends with another friend from another world, so I figured it'd be ok. Then yesterday, the boy who lived on my block when I was growing up sent a friend request. Part of me kept thinking, "I've known these people for well over 30 years, of course I should acknowledge them." But I haven't really known them since we all left middle school in 1987, 23 years ago.

And today, the girl who added me this weekend posted our 8th grade class photo, tagging everyone she knew or was connected to in the picture. There were a couple comments from people in the photo, too. Comments from people I didn't have any Facebook connection to. My privacy settings are set so that only I can see photos tagged of myself, but that whole picture scared the crap out of me. And I went ahead and untagged, just to not have any association with the photo. First of all, who the hell wants to look at them self in 8th grade? Second of all, I haven't sought these people out for a reason, and bonding over photos of a period of my life I've done a great job of putting behind me isn't something that I really want to do. Finally, I am a little nervous that some people in particular would find me through something like this. One in particular may have a very coincidental and tangential connection to my current life, and I really don't want to deal with that intersection in any way.

It's not that I don't like them. Individually, I'm sure most of them turned out great and maybe even regret any pain they caused, to the extent they remember it. I'm sure they went through their own version of adolescent hell at some point or another and weren't particularly interested in anything but surviving their own childhood. The people who were tagged in that photo tend to have profile photos of themselves with/or their kids. Most look married and settled down and the pictures tend to be relatively conservative. I would guess that they're all relatively happy with their lives.

But I find myself wondering what they think of me. Whether I'm too racy or liberal or far out there for them. Whether I would post something offensive for them. And then I remember that I really don't care about what a group of strangers, especially this particular group of strangers, think of me, despite the shared childhood. Most of the people on Facebook actually know me. They're people who have reached out to me because they're people who find something about me to be interesting or funny or memorable or have some sort of current even tenuous connection with my life. Even ancient friends from high school and college tend to be people who have some interests in common with me and that I was genuinely upset to lose contact with. I can't think of a single person from those early years that I wonder about or think fondly of when I reminisce. I just continue to have that feeling of relief that I survived that place and was able to go elsewhere as soon as I could.

I'm not going to un-friend anyone or worry about this too much. The people who have friended me aren't particularly harmful or bring bad memories (though I should ask the girl who added me this weekend if she still has my Banana Republic tee shirt. She "borrowed" it the last day of 8th grade after our graduation pool party, and I've never seen it--or her--again). I imagine that the friend-ing will stop now that the photo is untagged, and I'll forget about them again with the occasional reminder from time to time on Facebook status updates and so forth.

But it is the jarring part of Facebook. Opening yourself up to one person can potentially make you have to deal a whole group that you have no intention of connecting with.

Education in an unenlightened state

So, as most people probably know by now, my state's Board of Education evicerated the Social Studies cirriculum last week. Apparently they have another vote coming up in May, but I don't really see the five democrats on the Board managing to wrangle three votes from the ten republicans.

So, as a Texan that doesn't have kids but plans on it in the next year or so, I'm left feeling a little sick. The two public schools near my house are excellent. The one that we're zoned to has a bilingual cirriculum which would guarantee fluency in two languages for my kids. The one that is actually closer is a k-8 Montessouri school. Both have reported fairly high test scores over the last few years, both are in fairly close walking distance to our house, and I generally felt a comfort level in the idea of sending my kids to either.*

But now, I'm not so sure. If we're in public school, my kids are going to learn a right wing view of history, economics and sociology. My kids will have to receive supplemental education in order to actually know what they're supposed to know to be good citizens. I suppose it means more work for me and Graham, but I fear that we'll miss something or the kids will disregard what we tell them about Thomas Jefferson because he's not on their test.

So I guess the options are to either look into private school or look into home-schooling. I don't have a problem with private school per se. I went to private school my entire life (Graham also mostly went to private schools), and I'm comfortable with the idea of private school. But, I had generally assumed that I'd send my kids to public school for k-6, maybe to eight, and then transfer over to my college prep high school when they get old enough. I liked the idea of ensuring that my kids had socio-economically diverse peers in their lives. I liked the idea of not having to pay upwards of $13,000 a year to send my kids to school for the early years.

But if my kids are going to get a downright bad education at public schools, then I don't really see an alternative but, er, to seek out alternatives.

Part of me thinks that this whole vote is some sort of Republican plot to destroy public education. They never liked the idea in the first place. And if there are more people like me who flee from public schools because of the things they will teach my kids, then the divide between the haves and the have nots will become even deeper than it already is.

I hope that the situation will resolve itself by the time my kids are in school. I mean, it's at least six years, probably closer to seven, until kindergarden for the first. But it makes me angry and scared that something so fundamental can be fucked with by people who have no idea what they're doing.

*I lean more towards the Montessouri, only because Graham speaks no Spanish at all, and our kids would learn predominately in Spanish in kindergarden through fourth grades. However, the bilingual school is rated "Exemplary" by the Texas Education Agency, and the Montessouri is rated "Academically Acceptable". I think that this is because the Montessouri changed everything in 2005 and is still in rampup stage.

Money and education

The Pembroke College Foundation of North America in support of a small college at Oxford University gets 100 of my charitable contributions to higher education. In part, this is because I consider Pembroke to have been the best education that I received from the five institutions of learning that hound me for money every year. (St. John's School comes in very slightly behind at second, and Pomona College and the University of Texas School of Public Health tie for close third. Fifth, of course, is the University of Houston Law Center. This is not a slam on UH, which has a fine law school. It's a slam on law school. I fucking hated law school.)

I read this article about Oxford and Cambridge with interest.
LONDON – Oxford, Cambridge and other British universities said Tuesday that the government's plan to cut hundreds of millions of pounds (dollars) from their funding would put their world-class reputations in jeopardy.

Unlike most elite institutions in the United States, Britain's top schools rely almost exclusively on taxpayers keeping them going.

But strapped for cash, the government has slashed its higher education budget by 600 million pounds (nearly $1 billion) over the next three years — a figure British media say comes to a 12 percent reduction when combined with other cuts.

British universities have little chance of raising big funds on their own: Student fees by law are capped at about 4,000 pounds a year, and endowments generally are no more than modest.

The Russell Group, representing 20 leading research universities, said the cuts would have "a devastating effect, not only on students and staff, but also on Britain's international competitiveness, economy and ability to recover from recession."

"It has taken more than 800 years to create one of the world's greatest education systems, and it looks like it will take just six months to bring it to its knees," according to an editorial by the group's Chairman Michael Arthur and Director Wendy Piatt, published in The Guardian newspaper.
This is the other reason that Pembroke gets the bulk of my financial attention. While this article makes it seem like this is a shock to higher education in the UK, I'm not surprised in the slightest. My college in Oxford was one of the poorest for decades, and for whatever reason, philanthropy to educational institutions doesn't exist in the same way in the UK as it does here. Roy Disney, for example, was a distinguished alum of Pomona College, and he was active with the school until he recently died. I am confident that Pomona will see a hunk of his fortune land in its coffers after probate. I'm not as confident when a wealthy British alum of Pembroke kicks the bucket. (Mu uncle, though, says that Pembroke is the major beneficiary of his will. He has no children, and he visits the college at least every other year.)

The money crunch at these British institutions has been around for awhile, as far as I can remember. My dad also went to Pembroke (as did my uncle). It wasn't until the 1980s, when Sir Roger Bannister was the Master at Pembroke, that the College started hounding Americans for money. And I think it worked. The above foundation was founded, in order to make the taxes easier to bear. And I think that the College started turning around financially when they realized that Americans are more than happy to give to causes that done them right. By the time I got to Pembroke, most of the colleges were looking for ways of making extra cash off of foreigners. For example, I and the other half dozen foreign students at Pembroke paid full freight. Nowadays, I think there are 30 or so students from US institutions at Pembroke, paying tuition. Every school has seminars and retreats and summer programmes on their facilities when term isn't in session. Additionally, there have increasingly been partnerships with corporations and other institutions.

But the bulk of the money to run the Universities comes from the government. Tuition is nearly paid for in full, and rents are highly subsidized. In a financial environment where robust endowments were hit hard by the stock market crash last year, where charitable giving has been decimated, a government cut could be devastating. It's not unprecedented, though.

30 years ago or so, US public institutions subsidized education at a much higher rate than they do now. It used to be that the state of Texas kicked in two or three dollars for every dollar of tuition that a student paid at UT or Texas A&M. I think it's now something like seventy cents. (There's an interesting graph out there on higher education spending in this country vs. prison spending.) Two things started happening: 1) Students got used to paying a little bit more for public education, and 2) the private loan market opened up to cover the cost of tuition.

I don't know if that's going to fly in the UK. Frankly, the lack of endowments and philanthropy is more troubling than the lack of tuition. And while the institutions in the UK have done what they could to get support from the sources most likely to give (there's a reason that the business school in Oxford founded in the mid 90s is named after a Syrian businessman instead of a Brit). I think that the Brits are going to have to get used to the idea of giving back to their educational institutions if they want to keep them world-class.


Amalia Hethcoat

Relampago ocean
Jose was going through his facebook account at the ranch on Sunday, and his face fell. "Oh no! Mrs. Hethcoat died." It took me a second to realize what Jose was talking about and then I was awash with a supreme sadness.

Amalia Hethcoat was my home room/advisory teacher my first and second year of high school. She was born in Bogota, Columbia, and she always had a fairly thick accent. We'd meet in the language lab in the mornings, and ten or so of us would spend ten minutes at the beginning of each school day with her. She'd record attendance, dole out announcements, and otherwise start off the school day with us. And in those two years, I felt like she took particular attention to me, especially early on. I was new in the school when many of my classmates had been there for eight years prior. I had been a big fish in a small pond in my elementary/middle school, and I was definitely a small fish in this much bigger pond at St. John's. I was sort of lost in my first semester or two of high school, and Amalia helped me considerably. She was kind to me, and she guided my academics in those first few years so that they were managable.

I never called her Amalia back then. She was Mrs. Hethcoat, and in addition to being my Advisor, she was my Spanish teacher. That first semester, she helped me figure out which spanish class I should be in. I had a masssive vocabulary and very poor grammar, which made sense given the way I grew up speaking Spanish in a very haphazard manner. So I had good reasons for being in anywhere from Spanish I to Spanish III. Ultimately, we decided on Spanish I, so I could have a class that I excelled in while I was struggling in some others, and so I could really polish off the grammar demons that had haunted me for awhile. I consistently did very well in her class.

My relationship with her was always pretty good, but it got even better in the summer of 1989, between my sophomore and junior year of high school. I was 16 years old, and Amalia (this is when I started calling her Amalia) arranged for a group of maybe 15 of us to go to Spain for the summer with students from Rice University. This was the first trip of what would become an annual affair for students at St. John's. We started for a week in Santander, tooling around in the northern part of the country. We even jaunted into Biarritz and Bayone in France for a weekend. And then we moved to Segovia, closer to Madrid, where we lived with a host family for five weeks and took Spanish classes. On weekends we'd wander around the Spanish countryside, checking out culture and history. Amalia relaxed condsiderably on this trip. She didn't really care if we drank alcohol and she wasn't scandalized when the driver of the bus that took us from Madrid to the northern part of the country put a soft-core porn in the overhead video. She just made sure that we were all in relatively one piece at the end of our adventures, and she made sure that our Spanish improved considerably. My final teacher-student interaction with her was my final year of high school when I took AP spanish with her. I got a 5.

All three of my siblings followed me through St. John's, and most if not all of them had Mrs. Hethcoat as their spanish teacher at some point or another. Olivia went to Spain with her on a similar trip that I had gone on when she was 16. Amalia would occassionally ask about me, and I'd see her every few years when I'd go back for a graduation or some on-campus event. After Olivia graduated in 1997, I didn't really have a reason to go on campus much, and I sort of lost track of most of my beloved teachers at St. John's.

I last saw Amalia two years ago at the party for the Latin Wave film festival at the Museum of Fine Arts. The films for Latin Wave are all from Latin America, and the festival takes place over the course of a weekend. I looked over to see my sister Claudia animatedly talking to someone, and she waved me and Jose over to come see. Amalia had been in the theater watching a few of the films, and she'd stopped by the party to grab a glass of wine when Claudia ran into her. She couldn't believe that I was a lawyer, Jose was an architect and Claudia was running promotions at the museum. She mentioned that her daughter Julie, who was a year or so ahead of me at St. John's, had also gone, like Olivia, to live in San Francisco. She told us that she was still teaching at St. John's, still taking kids to Spain. She looked great, and it was wonderful to see her after so many years. She seemed so much like she always had, and I realized that one of the things that I loved about her was that she treated me like an adult.

It's sort of shocking that she's died. A few people on facebook are also in a state of shock over this. I saw in her obituary that she'd stopped teaching in 2008 because of her health, and I gather that a cancer of some sort took her life. It was too short, and it's hard to think of someone with such a passion for life as having died.

She will be missed.

Saying no

There's a discussion going on over at BitchPhd about whether or not to go on to get a Ph.D. in the humanities.

The gyst is, don't do it. There are no jobs out there for you, and you will waste your 20s to end up in a rut and have no place to go.

The author of the post in question is on the market after having completed an (I think) English Lit PhD, and prospects are grim. The comments have been pretty interesting though, so I encourage you to read the whole discussion.

What I find interesting is that I have seen the exact same discussion happen with lawyers. Sure, the job prospects are not nearly as grim out of law school, but I've heard lawyers over and over again say "Don't do it" to those who would follow in their paths. Hell, I've said it.

I think the similarity is that there's an expectation of "success," however that is defined, in pursuing both tracks. People who go on to get PhDs, like people who go on to get JDs, are smart and have been pretty successful in academia prior to deciding to move on. Many prospective JDs, though, in my experience are often unsure of what they really want to do. I was unusual in my class, I think, in that I knew that I wanted to be a health lawyer. I focused my applications on law schools that were well regarded in health law, and I ultimately went to the top ranked health law school in the country.

But even then, law school didn't at all prepare me for having to fight for a job for two years after leaving. I knew a lot of people who had no place to go after graduation. It seemed to me that the career services people were only interested in getting people into the larger firms, and the larger firms were only interested in a handful of students from my law school.

These days I don't necessarily advise against law school, but I do advise that you should only go if you really want to be a lawyer. Not if you want to be well off. Not if you want to be able to "do anything with a law degree." (That is bullshit crap that law school admissions people spew and has no basis in reality.) Not because you took a law class in college and love the academic side of the law. You should go to law school to be a lawyer. And you should do research on what exactly that entails before going. Don't assume the big firm with the ridiculous salary. And if you do assume that route, realize that it's your entire life that you're giving to the profession. And I'd recommend having a Plan B.

Tomorrow morning, I'm meeting a woman to talk about what it means to be a health lawyer. She's a third year law student, and she thinks that what I do may be interesting to her. I'm happy to share what I know about the profession, and I hope that the information that I give her is useful.

As for academia? I think that's probably better answered by other academics. I do think a lot of people go to grad school to hide from "the real world," whatever that may be. But I also think that academia is important, and that people go because they enjoy rigorous study in their chosen area of interest and want to pursue it. And again, I think that anyone who is interested in pursuing that route for their lives should do research on what happens at the end of the road to the PhD. Talk to others about it who have gone down that path before you.

And maybe read the comment thread over at BitchPhd. They definitely recommend having a Plan B.



Facebook makes for weirdness in life. I'm a member of the Oxford University Society, which is the alumni group, so when I joined up Facebook, I joined one of their groups. Today I got this invitation:
Enjoy drinks and canapes at the House of Lords this Spring! Join other Oxford alumni and friends to experience the Peers Dining Room and hear exclusively from our guest speaker, Lord Butler, who will give us an insight into the workings of the House.
Sadly, I'm not going to be anywhere near London in April, so I will have to decline.



My undergraduate college just sent me a survey about my satisfaction with my major. I suppose that they're reviewing it and want some feedback from people who have gone through the program. By the end of the survey, I was running out of superlatives.

I majored in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Pomona College in the early 90s, with an emphasis on Politics. I graduated from Pomona in three years, and for the first two years, I was pre-Med, too, taking chemistry and biology. I still don't know how I did it.

PPE was a fairly rigorously structured concentration. I think in total there were 16 courses that we had to take for the concentration. The economics courses were more or less set in stone: micro, macro, price theory, and national income theory. If you were focusing on econ, you'd take two additional courses. Philosophy was a little looser: Social and Political Philosophy (one of my favorites); ethics, or philosophy of law (I chose the latter); ancient, modern or continental philosophy (I chose the fomer); and one other course (I took one that was also a religion course called "Possible Futures".) If you were focused on Philosophy, you'd take two additional philosophy courses. Politics was where I really shone, though. We were required to take Introduction to American Politics; one of the Constiutional law courses (I took both and those coures are why I went to law school); either classical or modern political thought (I went modern), and one other course. Because I was a politics consentrator, I took Con Law II, Women and Politics, a seminar on the Voting Rights Act, a wonderful seminar on Political Theory, and I did two independent study papers.

We were also required to take at least one statistics course, and we were required to take calculus (for the advaced Econ micro course).

And we were required to write a senior thesis. Mine was on rationing elderly health care.

My first PPE class was with Leo Flynn, Intro to American Politics, in the fall of 1991 or the Spring of 1992. I was a freshman, and I was disillusioned with the social anthropolgy class I'd taken my first semester. I had gone into college thinking that I'd be an anthro major, but I really didn't like that first class. But I LOVED Leo's class. He was this gruff Irishman, who at the time was the chair of the Politics department, and the very first class session he asked for a volunteer. I raised my hand, and he handed me a very small chocolate cake. His instructions were that I had to divide the cake in such a way to make everyone in the class happy.

Leo became my advisor shortly after that, and I found myself hanging out in the Politics department for the rest of my college career. But the philosophy and econ parts of PPE were important too. Econ was all discipline for me. I was afraid of mathy stuff, but I found myself getting the concepts in Econ, especially micro and stats. I remember taking my micro final in the spring of 1993, and Eleanor Brown called me shortly after the final was over to tell me that I'd done really well on the exam and that she was really proud of my progress over the course of the semester. And Philosophy was awesome. I like the abstraction, and I LOVED justice theories starting from Socrates and moving all the way down to Dworkin.

As I said before, I was also pre-med for a lot of this time. I'd worked in hospitals my entire life, and I loved taking care of people. I wasn't, though, any good at advanced sciences. I had horrific grades in chemistry, and OKish grades in biology. The spring semester of my sophomore year, I realized that I had enough credit from high school that I could graduate early if I stacked some other courses in the summer time and overloaded in my final year. This was a big deal for a lot of reasons. My family had three other kids to put through school, and college tuition at a private school wasn't cheap. A year shaved off would help enormously. My father also graduated in three years, and at the time, his opinion had a lot to do with my decisionmaking on what I should do with my life.

And the summer between my sophomore and senior year was huge. I did two things that summer: 1.) I took Organic Chemistry at the University of Houston. 2.) I wrote an independent study paper on whether so-called defensive medicine to avoid malpractice claims was a factor in healthcare costs. To get credit for organic chemistry, I just needed to get a C or better, so I blew off the course. And I failed a course for the first time in my life. For the paper, I spent hours and hours in the law library at the University of Houston. And I loved it. And I discovered a thing called "health law". I got an excellent grade on that paper, and I came back to my final year totally in love with the idea of going to law school later on down the line. (Incidently, that failure in Organic Chemistry fucked me over big time later on down the line when I was applying for law school. Turns out it did count. Still, all worked out in the end.)

My senior thesis was ridiculous. Usually at Pomona, students only took four classes a semester. I was overloading in my senior year so I could get out of there early. I'd gotten into Oxford to study PPE some more, and I was supposed to start in the fall. The University of Houston law school called me to see if there was any way at all that Pomona could move my graduation date (September 1, 1994) back a few weeks so they could let me in before graduation.

And my thesis on the ethics and economics and politics of rationing elderly healthcare became my life. I spent hours and hours and hours on my mac classic, outlining, citing, sorting ideas. I was in the library all the time, photocopying. Two professors, one in econ and one in politics, were overseeing that progress, and I had four other courses going on at the same time. My friends never saw me, I was up all night long for days on end, and on April 24, 1994, after spending 8 hours printing it on I turned in my senior thesis.

I use PPE all the time in my day to day life. It's pretty much the basis of law, and I think I had a leg up on my colleagues when I was in law school because of my concentration in undergrad (and at Oxford). But more importantly, it taught me how to think in every situation, how to be an engaged citizen. At Pomona, I was confident that my ideas would be taken seriously, because my professors were very engaged in my education. It was intense, and it was difficult, but it was extremely rewarding. I remember sitting at graduation, and someone pointed out to me that no one from PPE ever got magma cum laude, but that was because the concentration was so difficult. I don't mind. I think that finishing it was accomplishment in and of itself.

I'm ok, I'm ok.

king of mountain
Hope everything is ok for my California readers...I never got the hang of earthquakes, even though I've lived on and off in California over the years. My favorite earthquake story ever belongs to my sister, but she reads this journal, so it's up to her to tell that one in the comments.

Mine is a little mundane. I was in college about 45 miles away during the Northridge quake in '94, and I slept through the whole thing. I woke up that morning with the books having fallen off my shelves and the morning DJs giving everyone emergency evacuation information. Everything in Claremont was more or less Ok, but that quake turned out to be quite a bad one.

Two days later, I was laying on a blanket on my stomach in one of the quads and an aftershock hit. It was the weirdest thing to have the ground I was laying on just move under me. It waved, as if someone were shaking out a giant sheet that I was on top of. I was probably as safe there as anywhere, as it was unlikely that in the middle of a big grassy field anything would fall on me, but I felt very vulnerable.

That was the last of many times my family worried a little about my well being after hearing a news report of some disaster or another in Southern California. I don't remember the order of things, but my mom called at various points to see if I survived rioting, wildfires, flash flooding/mudslides and the Northridge quake. By the time of the Northridge Quake, she didn't bother to call anymore. She figured the college would let her know if I was in some sort of mortal peril.

The rioting was probably the closest that I ever got to actually being in trouble, though nothing actually happened. As soon as the verdict came out, the do-gooders in my college got together to, er, do something. I blame our parents, many of whom were Vietnam and other protesters back in the 60s, and they regaled us with stories about their various causes. This was an injustice that we could protest, so we did. Some people made signs, other people made banners. Someone volunteered to organize the mob. Someone else said something silly about what would happen if we went to jail; I think she was actually hoping that she'd get arrested. I got the impression it was something that would make her mom happy.

The plan, if I recall correctly, was to march to Foothill Avenue, create a barrier on the busiest non-freeway street around, and, er, let them know that we were pisssed. In retrospect, it was sort of silly, but whatever. So we gathered in front of the furthest dorm away from Foothill, and started walking north, picking up more people as we went along. I'm sure that no one from Claremont McKenna joined the cause; maybe a few from Scripps. I'm pretty sure that no one from Harvey Mudd knew what was going on. But Pitzer was ready and raring to go. I'm almost certain that their entire campus showed up.

So we get to Foothill. Our leader (with a megaphone, of course) inspires us with the all too familiar "no justice, no peace" chant, and we step foot into the busy street. Enter Claremont's finest. In full riot gear. As far as I could tell, it was all of them. In formation. Against maybe 500 college students. They look at us. We look at them. Their megaphone is louder than our megaphone. They make it clear that they're not kidding about hauling our silly asses to jail if we put one toe in the street. We grumble. A good hunk of the less inspired people start heading back to campus. They don't budge. More people start talking about how the dining halls are opening soon. The police shields still are interlocked. More people turn away. The chanting was totally gone. And eventually everyone went home, figuring that tear gas was much more fun in theory than practice. Foothill was shut down for a little while, but that was mainly because the police blocked it off.

That night, we were all sort of surprised that the rioting got as out of control as it did. We figured that if the fucking Claremont police were fully prepared for a scirmish after the verdict came down that the LA PD had geared up for a full on war. My friends Don and Won borrowed my camera and took it in to Pomona that night, and they took some pictures of some of the minor rioting and looting that went on there. The rest of us sort of stayed glued to the dorm TVs and reassured our parents that we were OK.

A few days later, a bunch of us drove into LA to help with the clean up. The rioting wasn't quite contained yet at that point, but it was close. The clean up efforts weren't that organized, so we drove around, found crews thta found stuff to do, pitched in a little in mopping and gathering and otherwise getting some of the burnt out debris out of the streets. We also helped out at the A&E Baptist Church with organizing food and clothing distribution. At one point that day, some National Guardsmen pulled their rifles on us when we tried to go down a street they didn't want us to go down. It was an exhausting day, but I survived, and my mom didn't worry too much about me.

BTW, for those who felt that quake today in California, go to the USGS website and fill out their survey on this quake. It helps them gather data for earthquake preparedness in the future.

Excuses, excuses

This post and the comments that followed reminded me of my own shennanigans in trying to con a professor. There's some discussion in there about the rash of grandmother deaths and associated excuses for not finishing up papers, taking exams, etc. towards the end of a semester.

My most shameful attempt at getting out of a paper was at Oxford, in the spring of 1995. I was taking tutorials from a woman at Nuffield College, and every week (as I had to in every one of my tutorials back then), I had to write a paper about whatever it was that I was studying (I can't, for the life of me, remember the course, though I'm pretty sure that it was something political or philosophical or both). We'd meet once a week for an hour or so, and I'd read my paper to her aloud (I think, she may have been one of those profs that made me turn it in early, so she could have more time to tear it apart. I forget. It's been a dozen years.), and then she'd quiz and poke and prod at my position on the paper and understanding of the general material.

Anyhow, the tutor and I got on fairly well. She was American or Canadian, and she wasn't very old. I'd been studying with her from mid January to mid March, and we'd chatted a lot about our adventures in Europe. She knew that as soon as the term was over, I was headed to Turkey and Greece to backpack by myself. She'd been in those areas a year or two before, and she lent me some of her travel guides on Turkey for reference.

So, Eighth* week loomed, and I had absolutely nothing on the paper I was supposed to write. I read the material. I sort of understood the material. I just had no inspiration to write. I was much more obssessed with a) a guy I'd met that term and quickly fell in love with, and b) my upcoming solo trip into the European interior.

I blew off the paper.

But I still had to go to the tutorial and sit there for an hour with my tutor. Awk-ward.

Fortune, though, sprang upon me. Religious riots started hitting Istanbul around that time, and there were a couple of bombs that went off in southern Turkey. I started (legitimately) worrying about that news of unrest there, as I was supposed to be hopping a train or boat or something to get to Istanbul in a few weeks. By myself. I started to revise my plans.

So I, with a straight face, told my tutor that I didn't write my paper because bombs were going off in a country several thousand miles away. Fortunately, I'd read most of the material and could talk about it, but that was a tutorial that I was thankful to get out of alive.

I never made it to Turkey. While I was in Greece, I kept on hearing reports that things were not well there, and a lot of people advised me that a single girl wasn't necessarily safe there. I went to Italy instead afterwards.

And I still feel guilty about blowing off the paper.

Which is your worst** attempt at conning a professor?

*The Oxford terms were eight weeks long. Calendars were more or less kept by which week you were in.

**Define as you will: most shameless, least successful, most cringe worthy, whatever.
come and get me
I saw this article today about the death of Megan Meiers (more information here), and I couldn't help but make comparisons to my own pre-adolescence.

Megan's story starts out as the typical "the Internet wants your daughters" scare story that Allyson talks about in Vampire People. Or, come to think of it I, Robot, You, Jane. An awkward 13 year old girl is friended by a cute 16 year old boy, and she begs her mom to please, please, please let her add him to her myspace account. She walks on air for a few weeks because it seems he really likes her, though she doesn't know much about him other than his myspace profile. She's suffered from depression off and on, she's struggled with her weight her whole life, but it seems like things are turning around for her since she started her new school. And a cute boy liked her.

One day, the cute boy said he heard rumors that she wasn't a nice person and thought that maybe they shouldn't be friends. Megan spent the entire next day on the computer, obsessed with finding out who said what to the cute boy about her. She was upset, but her mom had to take her sister to the orthodontist. Her mom told her to sign off, but things were getting nasty on Myspace and Megan couldn't sign out and her mom was out of the house with her sister. They were posting bulletins about her being fat, about her being mean, and she was in tears. When her parents came home, they found her in tears and upset and they made her sign out because of the nasty things that she was firing back.

She ran to her room, and twenty minutes later, her parents found that she'd hung herself.

She died three weeks before her 14th birthday.

The story gets worse. Turns out that (surprise!) the cute boy didn't exist. Turns out that, and this is actually a surprise, the cute boy was a fabrication of one of Megan's former friend's parents. Kurt and Lori Drew apparently wanted to know what Megan was saying about their daughter, so they created "Josh" so they could keep tabs on Megan. They recruited other kids to join in on the joke on Megan. A kid who had been involved finally fessed up and told Megan's family about it.

I was enraged when I read the story. I immediately thought of my own pre-adolescence and how absolutely miserable that was. I wore glasses, I struggled with my weight, I was socially awkward, I had a horrific layered haircut that featured "wings", I was smart and got good grades, and worst of all, I grew boobs. Ginormous boobs that seemed to have appeared over night. None of the other girls were as "developed" as I was, so they were mean to me about it. The boys were worse. They'd point and laugh and make awful comments.

I remember, in seventh grade, I got a note in my locker from Louise Wooton, someone I thought was my friend, that I shouldn't try to eat lunch with her anymore because I was so unpopular. I hung out with the four or five other nerdy types and just prayed for high school to start so I could get away from all of these people.

It's bad enough to have to deal with the kids in middle school, but adults? They should fucking know better. I don't give a shit what the hell Megan was saying about their daughter. I don't give a shit whether or not there were also kids involved. Thirteen is hard enough with other thirteen year olds, who generally grow up to be relatively decent human beings. To have an adult orchestrate this sort of torment is unforgivable.

Apparently the outrage over the case has been effective. Someone on the Jezebel website reported that advertisers with the Drew family business have been getting calls requesting boycott from all around the country. The initial community newspaper story didn't identify the Drews, citing a desire to protect their daughter, but a later St. Louis Post-Dispatch identified them. And it looks like the community is not sympathetic to their position. Their house has been paint ball shot a few times, a few bricks thrown, and a lot of hostility has been hurled towards them. There is some nutjob out there defending Megan's death. It's not a particularly persuasive piece of writing.

I'm certain, given where my interests lie now and how hooked in I am webwise, that I would have been drawn to life online as a pre-teen. And I'm certain, if something like this had happened to me, I would have been destroyed.

Being 13 is hard enough, having adults stacking the cards even further against you is horrific.

Talking to kids

There are worst things you can do then spending an evening with friends and family drinking bad wine, eating good food, and eventually watching the Greek dancers.

In other news, the college interview process has already begun. I just got a note warning me that a kid from Austin will be contacting me soon about setting up an interview.

I've been doing these things for years. I figure it's a better (and cheaper) way of giving back to my college than sending in a check. I meet with three or four kids a year, and then I write a report to give back to my college on whether or not I think they should be let in.

I generally approach the thing to answer the question "would I have wanted to live with this person when I was a freshman?" I figure that the admissions people will figure out if the kid has the grades and the test scores and all that crap to get in. I'm more interested in finding out whether the kid is interesting, whether he or she has a cool personality and varied interests and a sense of self. I don't necessarily need to feel like we would have been best buddies when I was in college, but I do need to feel like if he or she had lived in my dorm, they would have added to the experience of being there.

I've had a few duds, but by and large, the kids I've met have been pretty cool. They're always sort of nervous about the whole thing, but they calm down after a few minutes talking to me. I generally feel like if I have to pry information out of them, then they're not particularly worth my time, though sometimes I'll end up with a kid who isn't a great conversationalist or socially awkward (which is obviously not a deal breaker for me) or otherwise hard to talk to.

I'm interested in this kid from Austin. I e-mailed back when they sent me her information, letting the admissions people know that it'd be a 160 mile trip for her. They said that she'd said she'd be willing to travel to another city nearby for an interview. She must really want to go to Pomona badly if she's willing to make that sort of trek.


The one true Church

I swear
He seems like he'll be ok. They're sending him home later on this morning.

In other news, it looks like the Pope is out there making friends with other cultures and traditions again:
LORENZAGO DI CADORE, Italy - Pope Benedict XVI has reasserted the universal primacy of the Roman Catholic Church, approving a document released Tuesday that says Orthodox churches were defective and that other Christian denominations were not true churches.

Benedict approved a document from his old offices at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that restates church teaching on relations with other Christians. It was the second time in a week the pope has corrected what he says are erroneous interpretations of the Second Vatican Council, the 1962-65 meetings that modernized the church.

. . .

Benedict, who attended Vatican II as a young theologian, has long complained about what he considers the erroneous interpretation of the council by liberals, saying it was not a break from the past but rather a renewal of church tradition.

. . .

It restates key sections of a 2000 document the pope wrote when he was prefect of the congregation, "Dominus Iesus," which set off a firestorm of criticism among Protestant and other Christian denominations because it said they were not true churches but merely ecclesial communities and therefore did not have the "means of salvation."

In the new document and an accompanying commentary, which were released as the pope vacations here in Italy's Dolomite mountains, the Vatican repeated that position.

"Christ 'established here on earth' only one church," the document said. The other communities "cannot be called 'churches' in the proper sense" because they do not have apostolic succession — the ability to trace their bishops back to Christ's original apostles.

. . .

The document said Orthodox churches were indeed "churches" because they have apostolic succession and that they enjoyed "many elements of sanctification and of truth." But it said they lack something because they do not recognize the primacy of the pope — a defect, or a "wound" that harmed them, it said.

"This is obviously not compatible with the doctrine of primacy which, according to the Catholic faith, is an 'internal constitutive principle' of the very existence of a particular church," the commentary said.
I don't think that this is necessarily inconsistent with anything else that the Church has ever taught, though it does seem a bit weird that they felt the need to put it out there again. I certainly know that they ingrained into me at a fairly young and impressionable age that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church, and that all others are a poor reflection of it. On the other hand, my liberal sense of humanistic relativism sort of rejects that notion, and I suspect that religious leaders of other traditions aren't going to be too happy about this assertion either.

I had a sort of related discussion last night over dinner with my siblings and our friend. Jose and Claudia were talking about the movie Jesus Camp, which is a documentary that I have not seen, but I heard was really good.
A growing number of Evangelical Christians believe there is a revival underway in America whereby Christian youth must take up the leadership of the conservative Christian movement.

JESUS CAMP, directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (The Boys of Baraka), follows Levi, Rachael, Tory and a number of other young children to Pastor Becky Fischer's Kids on Fire summer camp in Devil's Lake, North Dakota, where kids as young as 6 years-old are taught to become dedicated Christian soldiers in God's army. The film follows these children at camp as they hone their prophetic gifts and are schooled in how to take back America for Christ. The film is a first-ever look into an intense training ground that recruits born-again Christian children to become an active part of America's political future. -- © Loki Films
Jose said it was kind of scary.

"I object to any sort of indoctrination or propaganda to kids that young," he said. "It's scary and dangerous."

"You started Catholic school when you were in kindergarden. Why do you think they wanted to start on you when you were so young?" I replied.

"Yeah, but with me, it didn't take," he shot back.

"I dunno," Claudia said. "I know every single aspect of a mass. I know what to say and when to say it. I find myself genuflecting involuntarily when we walk in. They seem to have gotten to me at a very fundamental level."

Our friend, who was also raised Catholic, agreed that there's something about their methodology of teaching that gets you pretty good. And I think that the hold of the Church on the young is probably the reason my parents sent us to Catholic school. Certainly, they were not people of great religious observance. But they also were taken young by the Catholic Church. They also can recite prayer and liturgy by rote. They also haven't really looked to other organized religions.

I think that we're probably more suited for something like the Universal Unitarians than any other faith. But something, that thing that the Pope released today, keeps us back. We were indoctrinated at a young, young age to believe that there is only one Chruch, and for better or worse, that's the Roman Catholic Church. So we, the lapsed Catholics, struggle with our belief that the Church's teachings are flawed in many, many ways, but we don't have anywhere else to go.


I read an interesting article in the New York Times, about a group of liberal arts colleges called The Annapolis Group, that are going to develop a competing ranking system to the annual US News and World Report survey.
“We really want to reclaim the high ground on this discussion,” said Katherine Will, the president of Gettysburg College and the incoming president of the Annapolis Group. “We should be defining the conversation, not a magazine that uses us for its business plan.” The association did not take a formal vote and each college will make its own decision, Dr. Will said.

The members of the Annapolis Group also decided to develop their own system of comparing institutions. The group intends to work with other higher education organizations to come up with a common format with comparable data.

“They will do what they will do,” Michele Tolela Myers, president of Sarah Lawrence College, said of U.S. News and World Report. “We will do what we will do. And we want to do it in a principled way.”

Brian Kelly, the editor of U.S. News, said the magazine applauded any effort to come up with new data. “If they come up with some new data, fine,” Mr. Kelly said. He was also conciliatory toward the presidents who said they would no longer cooperate with the magazine. “If a few presidents don’t want to participate, we understand,” he said.

. . .

The decision by the Annapolis Group comes on the heels of an effort this spring by a dozen college presidents, several of whom belong to the association, urging colleges to pledge not to participate in a critical section of the U.S. News rankings — a survey in which its asks presidents and other senior academic officers to rate the reputations of other colleges and universities. That survey is weighed more heavily in the magazine’s rankings than any other factor.
My undergraduate college, Pomona College, is a member of the Annapolis Group, and I'm curious as to whether or not they'll still participate in the US News and World Report rankings. When I was in college, Pomona was ranked number five for liberal arts colleges. (More recently, 2003, 4th, 2004: 5th, 2005: 6th, 2006: 6th, 2007: 7th (tied).) Amherst, Swarthmore, Williams, Middlebury and Vassar sort of hovered around us. It seems to still be the case. Most people haven't heard of Pomona, and so I did take some comfort in it's being well regarded by the people who had heard of it when I was in college. I don't remember paying much attention to the rankings when I was applying to college. My college counselor just recommended it to me as something that may meet my needs. I had absolutely no desire to go to the East Coast, and Pomona seemed to fit the small liberal arts college feel without having to invest in any cold weather gear.

I think the rankings are good for Pomona, but I also think that Pomona doesn't need the rankings of a third party in order to attract good candidates. It has a very good reputation, and the quality of people coming out of Pomona is high. I also think that if I were to have gone to any of the schools in the top, I dunno, 20 or so, I'd have similar things to say (and a lot more sweaters in my wardrobe). A lot of the factors of what makes a good school have nothing to do with the rankings, but more to do with the individual student's needs, goals and willingness to adapt.

I imagine that if schools were to be ranked in clusters, it'd give a better idea of which ones to look at more carefully--which ones to strive to get into--than saying that this year Pomona is slightly better than Carlton but slightly worse than Haverford. And I'd be hard pressed to get anyone to say that going to Pomona in Claremont, California and going to Bowdoin in Maine is the same thing.


Only game in town

law geek
Dunno how many people this effects, but I think I get a double shot. And I think that lawgeekgurl may also have more than one opportunity to get made whole.
If you purchased a bar review course from BAR/BRI anywhere in the United States anytime from August, 1997 through July 31, 2006 (the “Class”), you may be affected by a proposed settlement of a class action lawsuit pending in the United States District Court for the Central District of California called Rodriguez, et. al v. West Publishing Corp., d/b/a BAR/BRI, and Kaplan, Inc., Case No. CV-05-3222 R (MCx). This is to inform you of the nature of Plaintiffs’ claims, the Court’s preliminary approval of a proposed settlement and your right to participate in this Class (“Class Member”).
I took Barbri in January and February 1998 for Texas and again in January and February 2000 for California. The first was a live course and terrified me. The second was an audio tape course and bored me. I couldn't not take the courses though. They were the only game in town. Barbri sucked up West's rival test review course right before I took the first exam.

I don't remember exactly how much I paid for each, but I think it was something like $1300 for the first one and $1500 for the second. If they're really paying out 25% this could be a good thing. Course it won't be for months until I see it.

Just as an FYI for anyone else that this applies to, the deadline to submit a claim is September 17, 2007. You can download the claim form here. Also, if you don't remember how much you paid, there's a 1-888 number you can call and leave information on when you took the course, and they'll get back to you with the information. The number is 1-888-285-7850.

My favorite part of the FAQ:
14. What if my employer reimbursed me for the full-service BAR/BRI bar review course?

If you paid for the full-service BAR/BRI bar review course but were reimbursed by your employer, you should complete and submit a Claim Form since BAR/BRI’s records only reflect the name of the person/entity who paid for the BAR/BRI full-service bar review course. Whether you should tender the cash payment to your employer is an issue you need to address with your employer.
I don't think that I'll be discussing anything with that employer.


Hare tales

My best friend in college was a guy. We met our freshman year in an effort to hook up with each other's friends. He had a thing for a woman that lived down the hall from me. I was desperately in love with one of his friends. We agreed to do what we could to help each other out in each other's romantic endeavors.

As such things tend to go, our matchmaking turned out to be an unmitigated disaster.

But we became best friends. From two or so months into our freshman year until the end of our sophomore year, we were inseparable. We'd hang out in each other's dorm rooms. We'd go on adventures into LA together, since Marc had a car. We'd ski at Mt. Baldy. We'd go on spring break in Mazatlan. We made really, really awful fake IDs and used them at this crappy Mexican restaurant in Pomona called Tropical Mexicana to order pitcher after pitcher of very weak strawberry margaritas. We trolled thrift stores together to find our supplementary furniture for our dorm rooms (and I scored my favorite sofa of all time at a Salvation Army store for $25). We cleaned up after the LA riots together. We ate together. We studied together. We went to basketball games together. We never slept together.

Marc's uncle was an actor, and he did a spot for Edwards Cinema when we were freshmen. Edwards gave him a free movie pass for 1992-1993, and I guess that there were no Edwards franchises around his uncle, so he gave the movie pass to Marc. Marc and I went to see every single movie that came out that year and the following year, because the people at the theater didn't really care that we altered the pass.

When we were sophomores, Marc found the old pre-web, BBS bulletin boards, and he met this girl on line that lived in Boston. They were smitten. I remember arguing with him over and over and over again that you couldn't actually know someone that you'd never met before. He went to see her that year for spring break, and they had a good (for college anyways) run. Years later, I had to eat my words about online interaction because Marc found out about the Bronze, and how much I'd been sucked into a virtual life. (In the-world-is-a-tiny-tiny-place category, a Bronzer went to work as an intern in the same company that Marc worked. The co-workers discovered the Bronze because the Bronzer spent a lot of time at work there. They became fascinated with it.)

My dating life in college sucked because of this. Everyone thought I was dating Marc. Marc went to Cambridge and Washington, DC for our junior year, and I graduated a year early. When he was gone, everyone asked me how I was taking his absence. When he started dating someone in his senior year, everyone asked him when we'd broken up.

As is terrible, as tends to happen with time, distance and different experiences, Marc and I drifted apart. I think I saw him last when I was still in law school and going on interviews in DC. He was still working at the newspaper there, but he soon thereafter left for Chicago, I think, to get a masters in communication and then went to work for a fortune 500 company. He got into a few serious relationships shortly after college, and I think that they took up a lot of his time. I'm not the best correspondent in the world, so it takes effort to keep in touch with me if you're not part of my ordinary social circle (on-line or IRL). I googled him a few years ago, sent an e-mail to the address and got a reply, but we didn't really maintain communication. I assume he's still working at the same place, but I'm not sure.

I've been thinking a lot him in the last few days, though. My friend Katie, committing the cardinal Easter sin, came back from visiting her grandmother with two itty bitty baby bunnies. They're three weeks old and utterly adorable. She said she had to adopt them since there was a high likelihood that they'd get eaten otherwise. Farm bunnies tend not to survive too long. I cannot emphasize how cute these bunnies are.

When we were sophomores, Marc and I went to a pet store, and he left with Murphy, a lop eared brown and white spotted bunny. She was adorable. I insisted that I could build a hutch for her instead of spending money on a fancy store bought hutch. We went to Home Depot, and I bought boards, wire mesh, and some nails, and I built a wonderful little hutch for her. It wasn't special, but it was hers and it was made with love. We'd go to the quad with her and hang out, letting her hop along. I'd threaten to dye her purple or pink or yellow. She'd sit on my lap and her nose would go a million miles a minute. I learned to love a rabbit.

Katie is in the construction business. She's the one who is building the container houses. She's also the ringleader of the art car. So I imagine, while we're building the piano tonight, we'll also be building a very cool looking home for the baby bunnies. And I'll think of Marc and Murphy and the bunny house that I built for them, and I'll smile at those memories while I do so.

Friday Night Lights

Sports fan
On Friday, I will be attending a high school football game. I can't remember the last time I've been to one. Probably 15 years, which coincides with the last time I was in high school.

My school, like every single other high school in Texas, takes football very, very seriously. My school, unlike most high schools in Texas, is a private non-denominational school. My graduating class had 102 people in it, the upper school had about 500, the entire twelve grades, maybe 1000, but that's pushing it. If you've ever seen Rushmore, you've seen my high school. But every Friday, the bleachers around the football field would be packed and everyone in the upper and middle schools would show up to watch the Rebels (a possibly politically incorrect name since changed to the Mavericks) play some other private school from the area, though we occassionally made it up to Dallas and even Oklahoma, since there aren't that many schools like ours.

Our big game is against Kinkaid, our rival school. That's who we will be playing on Friday. While the rest of the season matters, the Kinkaid game is the only one that anyone will remember. It's as close to a homecoming as we have, but the game is played every year in neutral turf: Rice Stadium. Kinkaid, like St. John's, is a twelve year elite preparatory school. St. John's is in River Oaks and Kinkaid is in Memorial. We like to think of oursevles as better than Kinkaid, because we are. The Kinkaid game is the last game of the season, and even if the rest of the season is undefeated, the season cannot be considered a success if we haven't won the Kinkaid game.

Kinkaid week is important for a St. John's kid. Every day of the week leading up to the game is dedicated somehow to getting ready for it. There's Kinkaid day, where all of the seniors dress up like the snobby kids from Kinkaid. (The social dynamics are sort of hard to explain. We liked to think of ourselves as the smart rich kids (which we were), and we liked to them as not as smart rich kids (which they were). Dressing up like our caricature version of a Kinkaid kid involved a lot of snooty preppy wear and a lot of make up.) There's some day whose name I can't remember where all the guys show up in cammo. (Needless to say, we were all in plaid and/or kakhi uniform under normal circumstances). There are numerous pranks played on the other school (the most memorable of which simply involved a U-lock in the middle of the night on the front gate of Kinkaid's grounds). Everyone's car windows were decorated with white shoe polish declaring school allegiance, the inevitable defeat of the enemy, and possibly, that the driver of the vehicle is a sexy senior with arrows pointing in the appropriate direction.

And there was Red and Black Day on Friday, where the whole school, from the prekindergardeners to the Seniors wore red and black in support of the team. On Red and Black Day, the whole school attends the massive pep rally at the football field that seems to go on for hours. The drum corps and the cheerleaders and the football players and the junior varsity football players and junior varsity cheerleaders and middle school football players and middle school cheerleaders and everyone rallied and cheered and hit a purple and yellow falcon pinata (our colors are so much cooler than theirs). Sometimes the cheerleaders would show up piled in someone's convertable. One time some were on horseback. I have heard, but I have not had confirmation, that they once arrived in a helicopter. If I had been more aware of events outside my own circle of friends, I would have seen that the itty bitty kids from the Lower School were terribly, terribly excited to be there. The bleachers look really cool, because they're arranged by class, so the little tiny ones are all the way to the right, and the size of the kids grows as you walk towards the left. It's the only event of the year that the entire school participates in. Most of the time the students of the Upper School, the Middle School and the Lower School don't even see each other.

When I was in high school, the Rice Stadium parking lot used to be a study in the Chevy Suburban. There was one suburban for every other upscale vehicle in the parking lot. It was a practical car for someone with kids back then, and a lot of families that went to either school, like mine, had property in the country that made the vehicle that much more practical. I suspect that the Excursion, Expedition, Tahoe, and the Lincoln and Cadillac versions of the same have taken some of the Suburban's dominance away. The tail gating is pretty hysterical, since the parents go to Whole Foods and Central Market or Eatzi's or get some sort of upscale picnic catered from a restaurant, and there's a lot of cheeses and baguettes and olives and cured meats eaten ahead of time. A lot of wine is drunk in that parking lot before the game starts. There are a few alumni tents set up (where I will be prepartying on Friday night) for alumni, complete with some sort of barbeque (this year, Demeris will be catering) and (thankfully) beer.

About fifteen to twenty thousand people show up for the game between two schools with maybe a thousand students combined in the Upper Schools. The little kids and their parents show up. Alumni like me show up. Everyone in the Upper and Middle Schools and their parents show up. Grandparents. Aunts, uncles, cousins. It is the big game. The players burst through the banners and the game starts and everyone is terribly excited about it. The Rice Stadium is massive. It holds about 80,000 people, and the two schools do a fair job of filling the areas from maybe between the two 30 yard lines in the lower decks. The game is generally a good one, because (I assume) it's important to everyone in the stadium. After the game is over, everyone from the winning side floods down to get on the field and congratulate the players. And then we head to the after-parties.

I am proud to say in my year, we won the Kinkaid game (we won almost every other game that season, we had a very good team). That meant that the next Monday, Seniors got to skip class without worry. And of course, bragging rights.


'stina is, surprisingly enough, a lawyer from Houston, Texas who rambles about quite a number of things.

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August 2014

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