22 December 2005

Hope for the Holidays

I am working on two separate postings right now, one from work and one from home. I wanted to add a link to Rebecca Solnit's most recent article at the end of one of the forthcoming posts, but since I am taking longer than anticipated, I am simply going to link this article here for your reading pleasure.

I enjoy a good-ole-fashioned commercialized Christmas just like the next person, but the situation in the world often makes feeling secure and happy at this time of year rather hard. The other night I sat talking with some long-lost friends at The Bitter End (an SF bar with a really fun pub quiz) and I realized just how widespread feelings of political hopelessness have become amongst my peer group. The issues seem insurmountable, and individuals feel they lack agency (the ability to affect change). I am thankful for my ability to remain hopeful and attribute these qualities to my upbringing, my introspective friends that listen to me babble, and my faith that there is a pragmatic middle ground within this seemingly polarized world - we just need to shed light upon it! So here, to bring you all a little hope during this holiday season is a very thoughtful article by Rebecca Solnit, published in Mother Jones.

2005: Bad Year for Goliath. How About David?

I have been following the Taco Bell strike she discusses since college, and the news that it ended successfully thrills me. However, I don't think I am going to start eating at Taco Bell any time soon. Happy Holidays

20 December 2005

My Confidence Emerges From A Momentary Hiatus: It's Called Quarter Life Crisis for a Reason

Chrismukkah and a slew of reunions with long lost college friends have been leading the list of distractions in my life of late - not to mention this "job-thing" that takes up about eight hours-a-day. Post-football season, however, my social engagements have actually been on the backburner - having recently submitted a paper for a historical conference, my brain has shifted back into the academic world it left behind last May. By July, during my trip to Sweden, I was ready to swear the "academe" off forever, finding the liberty of reading/studying whatever I wanted to be of greater satisfaction. As I find myself using my free time at work to read Intellectual History syllabi and sneakily print articles on pragmatism from the American Historical Review off of JSTOR, I know I cannot just leave academia behind.

I have spent a lot of time lately thinking about the working world and my place in it, and moreover, why I felt restless even as I hold the entry-level job of any aspiring political-historical writer's dream. My transition from school to work was abrupt, unexpected, and more or less, quite traumatizing. To those around me, I think it seemed natural enough - especially since I was handed an amazing job. However, as the fall semester comes to a close, and I continue to sit at my desk across from a now deserted library, I realize I finally have actually transitioned into the working world enough to recognize why I still feel anxious here. There are three forces at work concurrently in my work life: idol worship, external perception and internal self-perception.

I am meeting/talking on the phone with all of my idols. I used to really want to be a film director - and Hollywood-types fascinated me. At the end of my junior year of college my political leanings were radicalized, I fell in love with Noam Chomsky, rekindled a love for Howard Zinn and began to subscribe to The Nation. Since then, my poltical world has broadened, and while I still am on the far left of a normal spectrum, I take great interest in leftists who subscribe to a pragmatic world-view. So while I meet writers and editors of The Nation and Mother Jones at this job, they are not coming through the office to meet me, but rather my boss. I have a case of "so close to my goal, yet SO far away."

This brings me to my second issue - external perception. I sit behind a desk, dressed in twenty-something business casual, blonde hair often pulled back to promote some sense of authority. As people walk by I smile and giggle - the Leah--esk mannerisms you know and love ;-) It is easy to stereotype, and if ever I am reminded to suspend judgement on others, it is when I experience the ramifications of fitting an easily stereotyped mold myself. But I have recently remembered that I do not need to feel such a huge need to immediately defy people's assumptions, but rather remind myself that in time, my own interests and ambitions will come across to others and allow people to see beyond my external perky persona. It is my own injured self-perception in the wake of PhD rejections that has made me so anxious, rather than the actual perception of others. This realization has allowed for a new calm to re-enter my life...a feeling I haven't experienced since before last March when my "historian" identity was somewhat squashed by small envelopes from elite schools.

19 December 2005

Swarovski-encrusted Rock 'n Republics, not Head Wounds!

I find this piece LA’s True Religion Is Overpaying For Jeans in Defamer hysterical even though I know I am semi-representative of the trend-followers they are making fun of... truereligion.jpg I swear I would never want a Swarovski-encrusted head wound!

12 December 2005

Killer Coke

I am a Diet Coke addict. On a warm day, there is almost nothing I like more than a fizzy, straight from tap, Diet Coke to cool me down and wake me up. I have been following the "Killer Coke" campaign for awhile, and today have finally decided my conscience can overlook this ethical issue no longer. As of today I am no longer purchasing Coca-Cola products.

Last Friday, New York University officially banned Coke
distribution from its campus (http://www.nyunews.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2005/12/09/4399264e25c89), and I am going to stop purchasing their products in solidarity with the student/faculty organizers who have worked hard to bring about this partially symbolic yet significant change.

Please consider looking at the Global Exchange's brief report on corporate human rights violations: http://www.globalexchange.org/getInvolved/corporateHRviolators.html

09 December 2005

Tis the Season to be Single

Speaking of growing up...I think I have simultaneously evolved and regressed of recent in my interactions with the opposite sex. As you all probably know, "Leah" and "committed relationship" do not often refer to each other, and more often than not seem to be polar opposites, repelling each other at every turn. Somewhere along the line I think I convinced myself that when the right person came along I would miraculously get over my fears, but I realize now that I feel extremely productive as a single individual and don't want my goals to be filtered by the needs of another person right now. When I am confident enough as an individual, I will no longer fear becoming stagnant in the presence of another person's needs.

Slowly but surely I am getting there, and I see this because the type of person I am interested in is changing. While this observation certainly has not yet passed the test of time, I feel my interest in the unattainable ending. By pursuing fellow commitment-phobes I ensure I will never be weakened in my determination to remain single for I am not given the choice. Recently, I have developed an interest in someone who seems to be the commitment-type and has an intellectual depth that I am completely drawn to. But what was it I was saying about regression? Maybe I should mention that I don't know this person. I guess you could say it is a different type of unattainable. Backwards sure, but for someone like me, it is progress none the less. ;-)

Ah, being alone during the holidays is so peaceful. I am obviously not ready yet.

God Jul and the joy of entertaining

Wednesday this past week I took my Swedish test to pass out of my language requirement and finally formally receive my masters in history. For three hours I sat alone in the Scandinavian Studies Library at Berkeley with the largest Swedish-English dictionary I have even seen, translating a passage on Scandinavian media imperialism in the new Baltic States. I left feeling exhausted (as I haven’t concentrated that hard since I took my Masters Culminating Exam in May), slightly demoralized, and definitely frustrated with myself for having too much of a moral compass and not calling Mormor, Mom or Justin with the few questions I had. While I might not pass, I am excited about the progress I have made with the language, and am looking forward to possibly traveling with Danika to Sweden this summer. I feel I am finally making the commitment to really learn the language. Not only that, but I also feel I am making a commitment to keeping in touch with my Swedish heritage, and continuing the traditions of my childhood in the lives of my family’s future generations.

I don’t know what it is about this specific year that has put me in the holiday spirit, but I definitely have some sort of Christmas fever. Some of Sweden’s best traditions surround Christmas, and courtesy of “min lilla mormor,” I learned every Swedish Christmas song growing up. In this state of holiday cheer, Nicki and I decided to throw a Christmakkah party later this month. Chrismakkah is Seth Cohen’s favorite hybrid-holiday on The OC, and even though Nicki and I are as WASPy as they come (with some Catholicism mixed in), we wanted to honor the spirit of inclusion as well as The OC (just kidding) and throw a festive (atheist-friendly) party. We (and by we I mean, Nicki) are baking lots of cookies for the event including some of Mormor’s best recipes. Maybe it is the season, maybe it is that we are actually growing up, but there is something so appealing to me right now about entertaining – the only domestic skill I have taken to.

06 December 2005

Required Reading

Fun with the web cam at work! Did I pull off the smokek eye look, or am I just tired? I have so much to write, but I have actually been working hard recently on getting myself back into academic mood, working on turning my resume into a Cirriculum Vitae and writing an abstract to enter a paper I wrote last year into a conference on Californian history. What am I getting myself back into you may ask? Since one of my closest friends just dropped out of an ivy history program, I certainly am questioning my sanity. But I feel it is right, academic research is what I am "meant to do" if such a thing exists.

So until I have time to write all about my Swedish qualifying exam and my trip to the Swedish Holiday Cultural Festival, I am simply going to share the abstract I am submitting to the history conference with you all. It is an example of the type of research I hope to continue...


The Scopes trial of the 1920s is often utilized to represent the growing struggle between modernity and fundamentalism, science and God. Few histories focus on the rich gray area between this dichotomy. When missionaries commissioned a sociological survey of the “Oriental Problem” on the west coast in the early 1920s, this proposed project represented the height of the intellectual tenets of pragmatism, progressive cooperation between science and the increasingly modern theology of the social gospel. However, by 1925 the failure of this project to satisfy the needs of either the Chicago sociologists who led the survey or the missionaries, who commissioned it, signified a larger disillusioned turn away from a religious-scientific middle ground. The sociological field aligned itself more closely with science, attempting to strip itself of its reform-oriented roots. The California missionaries, however, remained committed to social engineering and the liberal Christian theology strongly associated with the progressive tradition. In the wake of the Survey on Race Relations, religious intellectuals strengthened the social reach of faith-based organizations to continue the work they previously pursued in tandem with sociology.

Henry Yu’s "Thinking Orientals" is the first monograph to deal extensively with the Survey on Race Relations on the West Coast. Focusing on the division between the white and Asian players in the Survey, Yu separates the “oriental” object of white curiosity from the “collectors of the exotic,” missionaries and sociologists influenced by Enlightenment thought. This categorization, while important, overlooks intellectual historical trends driving the Survey and the significant division simultaneously occurring between the sociological field and missionary work in the 1920s. Greater cooperation and understanding between theology and sociology marked the early twenties, and the Survey of Race Relations should be seen as a pragmatic experiment, an experiment that failed as the alignment between these fields broke down.