In the midst of midterms

I have resurfaced from my usual asceticism. I mean, I will go back to it after I write this post, but seeing that I have a paper to write, I figured I would do some warming up.

Speaking of which, I have come across this amazing list. It is called “David Romer’s rules for making it through graduate school and finishing your dissertation.” Of course, I am not in grad school yet (more on this later), but still found the tips immensely useful. I intend to print this and put it in the center of my desk while writing the said paper.

There have been a few unexpected turns in my life, which is quite normal if you know what I’ve been doing in the past 10 years. I recently changed my major to economics. It wasn’t accidental, of course, but quite gradual. I was a Business Management major before, then International Relations. I took at stab at intermediate micro freshman year, and quickly decided against it because I loved anthropology and the wordier– more social constructivistic (not a word) social sciences more. After interning and networking in DC, for the careers I was drooling over, it quickly occurred to me that all required an economics degree. Even if you want to go into policy for economic development, it was clearly (duh) important that I knew my econometrics. The only problem was that I’m halfway done my undergrad degree. Thankfully, I came to college with a lot of useful credits (both micro and macro as well as calculus etc), so it didn’t seem impossible. Actually, I have never been surer about what I want to do with my life. I know I love doing research from being a research assistant for the business school in the OB department, digging through stacks or papers (and links) and most of all writing papers.

Tomorrow is registration day, and I will be choosing my classes for next semester. I am a little nervous that 4 out of 5 are all economics and calculus, but I think it can be a healthy challenge. If not now, when will I have the opportunity to struggle this much in such luxury?

Joking aside, I’m just glad that I finally know what I’ll be doing for the next 2 years.

Surfing the interwebs, I found this helpful article by a faculty in Columbia about the amount of Economics you need to know (for a future career in research). It’s not only this article, but his whole website that gave me a lot of good insights for what I needed to concern myself with for my future career in international development.

I would like to write more, but I’m pressed for time…

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Week 6, Washington D.C.

I could never be a great journalist but I might make a decent historian. I don’t like to report events as they happen, but rather like to look at things as part of a trend or a grander stroke. It takes time to create a good narrative. What I’m writing now isn’t breaking news, but an account of what’s been going on in my head in the past few weeks.

So I’ve been in DC for a while. Long enough to really see the flow of the city and the people that reside here. Georgetown, the area where I live, isn’t the best representation of what it’s like to live in DC since it’s known for its 5 million colorful matchbox condos (or townhouses?) that are lined up from Prospect st up to Volta. However, an attorney/business women I met for coffee described it the best–DC is a city of many layers, and to experience all of the layers, you have to have friends in each. There is the governmental layer with the lobbyists and the Congressmen/women, politicians. Then there are the intellectuals, and the professors–DC being a city with a concentration of  world-renowned universities and think-tanks. There’s the  history and the arts in the Archives and the Smithsonians as well as in bookstores like Politics and Prose. There is also the nightlife, some high-end, and some a bit shady and maybe unsafe (e.g. in parts like Adams Morgan where one of my roommates were advised by a cab not to go after midnight.). There are many other layers, like the activists, writers, non-governmental organization (NGO) professionals, high-ranked officials et cetera, but my point is, DC is one of the most colorful, vibrant and exciting city to work and live in. As it is the case for most capitals, it is the figurative heart of America, pumping the blood to the rest of the country, feeding the policies and ideas to the 50 states. I was fortunate enough to be in DC for the monumental health care hearing. Some of my brave co-interns even stayed overnight at SCOTUS to witness the ruling. Everyone here at the minimum dabbles in politics. I am far from being fluent at it, but you cannot possibly live in DC and ignore what’s going on in Congress, the White House or the State department. It gets so American sometimes, I am more conscious of my nationality than I’ve ever before.

I’ll write something about the people I met at the program here at TFAS next time. Off to bed now.

-A

Washington D.C.

I just realized that I have less than a week until I will be dropped off at Georgetown for classes/my internship and I have no big plans except to visit the Smithsonian, the Portrait Gallery, The Phillips Collection in Dupont Circle, see the original Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights at the National Archives, go to the Library of Congress and go to fantastic ethnic restaurants people recommended. I have deviated from my over-planning tendencies. To restore that, I looked through a few things on the Brightest Young Things, a D.C. culture blog, and 100 free things to do in D.C. and decided I’ll just plan when I get there.

Of the many things I didn’t plan for, I did not plan to get addicted to Science Fiction this summer. I point my finger at my favorite economist Paul Krugman in his Wired interview. He says he’s particularly into futuristic utopian as well as dystopian novels because it helps you think outside the box, think of possibilities with less constraints. He applies his theory in an economics paper called “The Theory of Interstellar Trade” back in 1978 as an assistant professor, in which he wrote about actual trade illustrating it through sci-fi:

The joke was, since time of shipment is a big factor — even, actually, in real international trade — and time of shipment would be much longer in interstellar trade, how much time do you spend on shipment, considering we’ve got the theory of relativity, which says that it depends on the observer? So, you know, playing with that. And because I was blowing off steam, I actually did the economics right, so as I said in the introduction, this was a serious treatment of a ridiculous subject, which is the opposite of what we usually do in economics.

It ended up saying that it actually doesn’t matter how much time elapses on the spaceship, it’s the time that elapses in the frame of reference of the people doing the investing that matters, which is of course obvious if you think about it for a second, but I was able to have some fun, and among other things put in a diagram of Minkowski spacetime, which has an imaginary time axis … which was a blank page, because, after all, it’s just imaginary. So I was having some fun.

With this paper, fusing Sci-fi, International trade, AND the theory of relativity he was secretly knighted as the emperor of Nerdom, where I reside. I am so in love.

Revised reading list (Sci-fi only):

  • The Ender’s Game
  • Dune, Frank Herbert
  • Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan
  • Iain M. Banks’s Culture Series

Keeping up with Krugman and economics:

I read The New York Times, The Financial Times — the Financial Times has a blog, FT Alphaville, which is just for market stuff, but the next stop is a blog called Economist’s View, which is Mark Thoma at the University of Oregon. It’s a personal blog, but he actually gathers material and produces what really amounts to a daily economics magazine, with links to much of the stuff that’s going on out there in the discussion. Brad DeLong at Berkeley has a more personal blog. He was there first; he was an inspiration to me to start doing it, and he’s still a really interesting guy. I read a bunch of others in rotation, but I think basically I start each morning with those, and then I actually usually read a couple of more political blogs: Ezra Klein at the Washington Post, Greg Sargent, also at the Washington Post, on more politics, The Washington Monthly. And at that point it’s time to prepare the next class, so I move on from the blogosphere and start putting my lecture notes together.

This is such a relevant essay to what I’m re-experiencing, moving back into a city. Not just any city, but THE city. Driving through the boroughs of New York is like crossing invisible borders. Going from one street to the next, it’s no surprise to see a sudden shift in ethnic composition. For example, we were driving in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, driving eastwards. You would see Latinos, Blacks then suddenly Orthodox Jewish men dressed in traditional black clothes. It’s something that I’ve been used to for most of my life. Even beyond cities, in different countries, and even countries in such close proximity like Canada and the US, the difference in the reception of diversity and multiculturalism is quite vast. This has a lot to do with the different policies each nation decides to implement. The institutionalization of diversity which trails behind the “lived experience” which aims to accommodate the cultural and economic differences has come a long way, but there are still many flaws.

 

The most interest region to look out for is Europe, which has recently experienced a manifestation of what Americans call “terrorism.” With a decreasing birth rate hanging below the replacement rate, the cluster of socialist countries will not be able to sustain the old age pensions with its aging population, without a change in their immigration policies esp. for migrant workers.

 

There are many myths, especially the ones in this post, which fuel more hatred towards the minorities. This hatred is more pronounced during economic downturns such as the one we’re experiencing, as more people are unemployed and disgruntled. In this situation, minorities and new immigrants are easy scapegoats to blame. There is hope, however, seeing that there have been surprisingly a historical trend toward more openness (i.e. France since the revolution vs. the film, Haîne), anthropologically speaking.

Interesting post!

Pandaemonium

I gave the Milton K Wong lecture in Vancouver on Sunday.  I very much enjoyed the event- it was a stunning venue, a superb audience and a good discussion of the issues. My thanks to the Laurier Institution, University of British Columbia and CBC for inviting me. Entitled ‘What is Wrong with Multiculturalism? A European Perpective’, the lecture pulled together many of the themes about immigration, identity, diversity and multiculturalism of which I have been talking and writing recently. It was a long talk, so I am splitting the transcript into two. Here is the first part; I will publish the second part later this week. It will be broadcast in full on 22 June on the CBC’s Ideas strand.


It is somewhat alarming to be asked to present the European perspective on multiculturalism. There is no such beast. Especially when compared to the Canadian discussion, opinion in Europe is highly polarised…

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Road trip

This is probably the longest time I’ve been on the road for 2 days. Another time I took a road trip as long as this one was when I drove from Toronto to go to Ottawa.
We were just going to drive the whole day yesterday but due to unforeseen circumstances, namely the tornado we overlooked, we had to pull over to a questionable hotel that would have been rather unsafe to have the “do not disturb” sign outside the door.
We’re in Maryland now. Slowly edging towards Pennsylvania where there are Wawas.
We contributed to the state revenue of the North Carolina in a way we didn’t quite plan, but shit happens.

Thoughts of an ADHD careerist

I’m halfway done with my degrees (IR and History) and starting to look forward rather than reminisce (a little too early for that) about my undergrad years. I’ve gained a lot if leadership experience (most of them de facto), networked, had an amazing internship at a great startup, found my passion, matured… But so what? More of my friends were graduating seniors this year, giving me more than a glimpse of what I needed to see for what I would have to face by the time I am in their shoes.

Yes, panic ensued.

Having recently changed my major from the most practical (Business administration) to the most ambiguous (History) to a potential employer, I had ample reasons to be anxious. Yes, parents, I am aware that Accenture would be more inclined to put their bets on an undergrad who knows her managerial accounting than the French Revolution for their purposes. But then thoughts of going to law school or to grad school trumped my ridiculous ideas. And really, I’m just happier (and better) in the realm of humanities. In addition, I have already established myself as a researcher in organizational behavior and maintain a great relationship with my advisor who is so supportive of me in venturing into my own areas of interest.

Sidenote: I’ve changed mind about my major about ten times so far. Political science, economics, art history, philosophy, anthropology, you name it, I’ve been there. Indecisiveness comes to mind. But it might be less pathetic if you see it from my perspective. The majors I’ve touched on are very similar in material and explore the same world through a different lens. For the first grouping, Sociology, Anthropology and Psychology. I was most drawn to cultural anthropology because for me it was so Nietzschean in its way for explaining the cultures, and personally helped me get through a period which I call “cultural crisis.” I thought it would be important in this age of accelerated globalization. And, I practically fell in love with writings by Malinowski and Durkheim. Similar thing happened in Sociology. Both of the classes helped me articulate what I wanted to express for so long in nice eloquent phrases about how the world operates.  For instance, the cultural theory by Levi-Strauss about mythical structuralism which juxtaposes opposing ideas in order to make sense of a thing leaves me with a feeling of satisfaction of having grasped human behavior to a certain extent. Intellectual and Cultural History was the answer to my ADHD-ness in my polygamy with the disciplines in humanity. While it overlapped a good deal with my IR degree, it covered all the great thinkers/ideas in the social sciences! This is what I call good planning. I’m quite clear about now and 20 years from now (become a Madeline Albright), but what will the gap between now and than entail? Peace corps? Research fellow? Entry level job in Wall St.? Office administrative assistance at the White house? Teaching English at $200 an hour in Asia?

Besides the black hole which awaits me, I’m little bit nervous. My GPA is not as high as I want it to be (almost everyone’s problem), I’m not sure if I’ll get 179 on my LSATs, I don’t have a concrete idea for my research…

And do I want to go to law school or grad school? Should I enter into politics or academia?

With this thought in mind, I had some time to kill and I have an internship in 18 days in the legal field so I decided to take an old LSAT on my own. First ever. I mean, what am I going to do for 2 1/2 hours? It turns out I should not spend that much time on a single logic game, but everything else was pretty decent. Then I stumbled upon this law blog after I finished taking the test. I’ve lost faith in the profession since a law school was sued (imagine that!) for not being able to deliver its advertised 90-95% job placement rate. However, what I read from the Lawyerist, gave me a bit more hope:

How has the sluggish economy during the last three years impacted your law practice?

My consumer law practice suffered during the last three years, but not much. Debt collection problems were on the rise, which meant my intake got steadily more busy. At the same time, the poor economy hurt the collection industry, which meant collectors were more stubborn about settlement, despite a general worsening of the abuses I was seeing. A sharp rise in jury verdicts across the country helped things get going, though.

I also started a business practice representing tech startup companies. Since I started it last year, I don’t have much to compare it to, but 2009 was a record year for new business filings, and we experienced healthy growth.

Of course, my experience may not be the norm, but overall, it seems like solo and small-firm lawyers did okay—at least those that were already in practice before the slowdown. New solos are a different story, which I will touch on later.

The main takeaway was that a) lawyers don’t make a lot of money practicing law, b) only good lawyers can survive nowadays, c) it’s not just lawyers, it’s the economy.

Next idea. Find a university that will grant me a fellowship. I haven’t done much research into this yet since I’m still not sure what I want to study in grad school (Foreign policy, History or East Asian studies?), but asking for money is not easy.

I should probably wrap this up since the ideas presented in this article are pretty much written in a stream-of-consciousness style and may not be useful to you. My parents (both graduates of B-schools) are becoming more and more skeptical of their investment towards their idealistic, intellectually curious and stubborn daughter. What am I to do? I just can’t help myself.

Summer reading list.

As of 7/14/12

Read so far:

  • The Man Without a face: the unlikely rise of Vladimir Putin, Masha Gassen
  • Reborn, Journals and Notebooks 1947-1963, Susan Sontag
  • Leading Teams, J. Richard Hackman
  • Love’s Body, Norman O. Brown
  • Law in America: A Short History, Lawrence Friedman
  • Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power, Rachel Maddow
  • Phenomenology of spirit, Hegel
  • Ender’s Game (Ender, Book 1), Orson Scott Card
  • Common Sense Economics, James G. Gwartney et al.
  • The Road to Serfdom, F.A. Hayek

Reading:

  • Our Divided Political Heart, E.J. Dionne
  • The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • Bleak House, Dickens
  • On Suicide, Durkeim
  • Milton’s Paradise Lost
  • The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot and a guide for the poem by Nacy K. Gish
  • In America, Susan Sontag
  • A failure of capitalism : the crisis of ’08 and the descent into depression, Richard Posner

To read:

  • Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith
  • The Portable Atheist , Christopher Hitchens
  • Hot, Flat and Crowded, Thomas Friedman (re-read)
  • Against Interpretation, Susan Sontag
  • The bottom billion : why the poorest countries are failing and what can be done about it, Paul Collier
  • The Savage Mind, Claude Lévi-Strauss
  • The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir
  • Breakout Nations: In Pursuit of the Next Economic Miracles, Rushir Sharma
  • The Nine

Recommendations for fiction, and non-fiction (i.e. East Asian and Middle Eastern politics  and the economy, sociology and anthropology) are welcome with open arms!

The reality is this.

The reality is this.

Think back to the how much of your day you’ve spent living in the present. You must discount the hours you’ve spent reading books, concentrated your attention to the news on the radio and stay glued to the TV as well as the time spent reminiscing about your past (via flicking through Facebook photos etc.) and writing in your agenda about the people you’ll meet tomorrow. Critically speaking, no one has the time nowadays to truly live in the present. To live efficiently we meticulously plan and  mull over our past so that we can live to the fullest. Mottos such as YOLO and carpe diem provoke us to think about the quality and the content of our lives. But then we reach the dilemma of spending our lives planning and contemplating to live better tomorrow instead of living by trial-and-error, spontaneously.

It would be fair to compare this dilemma to the stereotype of the Asian tourists taking pictures of their kids in front of Disney World than letting their children go on the rides because they believe that they will have something tangible to reminisce about when the kids grow older. (I’m not suggesting that this is not come from a personal experience at all, ahem.)

With so many choices and so much information available, it’s easy to get stuck in moments of distress like the one I mentioned above. But that’s when you need to take a moment and step back and think about what your purpose was in the beginning.

I hope all this did not sound too much like a “be true to yourself!” bumper sticker.

-A