Friday, 21 August 2015

Back in the Saddle Again

Life Goals Accomplished: Married, PhD and Baby by 30

I told myself I would take six months off of thinking about work after the baby arrived, but I started working on my writing again after about six weeks. Our little George Pierre is lovely and I'm so grateful to have this time at home with him. It's wonderful to see him develop and change day by day--his latest trick is smiling and he has such a sweet little gummy grin. I can't imagine leaving him at daycare at this young age, and I know I'm really lucky to be a stay at home mom. Old habits die hard, though, and I'm already feeling guilty for not being employed or in school (somehow I didn't feel as bad about it while pregnant, but I did have a part-time marketing gig with the international office, so I was technically employed then). It's part of being driven and goal-oriented--the qualities that have helped me succeed are also the same ones that make me feel guilty when I'm not pushing myself to full capacity. Instead of taking a break and celebrating my accomplishments (PhD and baby), I'm already stressing about the next goals (publications, fellowships, career). It's not fair to myself or to the baby, really.

Baby George is eight weeks today, and currently napping in his bouncer seat--now that he's sleeping a bit better these days, I'm going to try to get back to blogging at least, as a gentle way of thinking about my research again. If J.K. Rowling could write Harry Potter with her sleeping baby beside her, I can update this blog more frequently!

A couple of quick PD-related thoughts:

1) US Election
 I watched some of the Republican primary debate last night and am embarrassed by the way the U.S. election system looks to the rest of the world. Firstly, the election is over a year away. Politicians will likely change their positions and sound bite lines a dozen times between now and election day, so why is Fox News holding debates at this early stage? (Putting aside the obvious answer that it's Fox News...It's too early, even for Fox News to be doing this!) 

Secondly, the front runner at the moment is Donald Trump. Really. His comments on immigration (build a wall?) and women are ignorant, populist and far right-wing. If you criticize his statements, he says the problem with America is that we're too concerned with being politically correct, and he refuses to be politically correct. No, Trump, it's not political correctness, it's common decency and respect for people who aren't white men--immigrants, people of color, women, LGBTQ, etc. He's like an exaggerated version of Nigel Farage. I know he won't get elected, but the fact he's doing well in the polls (even temporarily) is so disheartening for me to watch. 

Thirdly, Jeb Bush looked and sounded like a viable candidate. He's currently in second place and is probably going to have the staying power and electability that populist Trump lacks. But what is the world going to think of America if the 2016 race is between a Bush and a Clinton? During the 2008 primaries, I went to Obama's rally with some of my exchange student friends from Germany and the UK, and I remember even then some of them commenting that they preferred Obama because having another President Clinton would be too dynastic. If both parties opt to continue these dynasties, the 2016 election is going to look ridiculous.

2) My friend Caitlin shared this piece from the Washington Post yesterday on the US State Department's online counterterrorism efforts. It raises some very interesting points about the nature of Islamic State's online recruitment. Rather than use centralized messaging, they crowd-source their efforts--individuals spread propaganda on Twitter, sometimes with help from automatic systems that allow them to post thousands of tweets. The State Department's campaign, on the other hand, is able to tweet only a few authorized messages to counter these thousands of IS messages. Jane Harman also points out that the State Department often jumps into online conversations where it is uninvited and unwelcome, rather than using the subtle infiltration of ideas that characterized past efforts. She urges the U.S. to consider using a networked approach to counterterrorism messaging:

"When top-down government approaches are flawed, then bottom-up, grassroots organizing is an obvious next try. The government still has skin in the game — dollars and cents, and, more important, convening power and information-sharing — that can make these public-private partnerships work. But it needs to lead from behind. Get religious leaders, political consultants and tech firms in the same room, then step back. This is a community effort and an American effort — the feds aren’t the right face for it."

I especially like her idea of working with the tech firms. From a civil liberties stand-point, firms like Google and Facebook already know far too much about people for their own purposes (profiting off of targeted advertising). Wouldn't it be worthwhile to get them on board, to use their vast data to help the State Department target messages that promote moderate, mainstream Islam and denounce extremism?  Better yet, remove the State Department by another degree and use religious leaders and community members to construct these messages, increasing their credibility. The digital age is introducing new opportunities and platforms as well as new challenges.