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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Thesis Etc.

Our internet at home hasn't been working properly, and Comcast is in no rush to fix it, so I'm writing from a lab on campus.

After some equivocating as to whether I would write a thesis or not, last Monday I finally decided to go for it. I met with a professor at Public Health (who's a friend of Annie's) who told me that he wasn't sure there was anyone there who could help me very well with my idea about consumer health information and market mechanisms in health care. But after describing my interests he recommended doing an analysis of Maryland's so-called "Wal-Mart Law," which requires large employers that don't spend more than 8% of payroll costs on health care to either spend more or pay the state the difference to help cover the extra Medicaid costs. Of course, the only company that fits this description is Wal-Mart. The law, passed last year, was just struck down by a federal judge a couple weeks ago, so its future is uncertain, but it attracted a lot of notice and other states are considering similar moves.

I thought this was actually a pretty good topic idea, so I'm going with it. To some extent, I will do an analysis of what the effects of the law are likely to be and whether it's an effective policy, but the main focus of the paper will be on a policy process perspective -- i.e. how did we move from a problem to this particular solution. For many people with a stake in the debate, the law came out of nowhere, and seems not to follow some of the major theories of process literature, so it'll be an interesting case study. The Public Health professor knows the main advocate behind the law fairly well, and he apparently would be happy to work with me, which will be a great resource for getting a good sense of all the machinations. My research will be very heavy on interviews with the parties involved (legislators, advocates, lobbyists, etc).

I stayed up rather late last night to write my proposal (an exciting Saturday night), because the proposals are due a week from tomorrow -- last-minute as always. I'll be revising it this week with my advisor. There is no requirement to write a thesis in my program, and it is supposed to be seen as an honor to do so; there is a faculty committee that selects the students who will write a thesis based on these proposals. So I do have to get past that first.

In other news, we have lined up a final new housemate, Susie from Oakland, CA. I've never met her, but she seemed cool the times we talked on the phone. She'll be starting a PhD program in epidemiology at the School of Public Health at the end of August.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Home invaders

So, it's bad enough to have mice and rats in your house. But you know it's a bad sign when plants infiltrate your home:

I found this plant coming through the baseboard the other day. Couldn't believe it. We're showing the place to potential housemates right now, so I wanted to get rid of our new foliage ("uh, yeah, we like to keep a natural vibe"), but I'd sort of like to show the maintenance guy when he comes just to make a point. So it's still there right now. It's behind the bar, so people aren't that likely to notice, anyway.

Looks like we'll decide on someone to take our empty room by the end of the weekend. Three people have already said they would like to take the room, and I'm showing it to a couple more today and tomorrow. Then we'll have a little house conference tomorrow afternoon and see who we think would be the best fit. Actually, April and Jason are out of town and Steve hasn't moved in yet, so I guess Dana and I will be the only ones conferring.

I'm working from home on Monday (brought my laptop with me any everything) so that I can be here when the exterminator comes, and so that I can go to a midday meeting with a professor at the medical campus about a possible thesis topic.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Songs of the Moment (An occasional feature)

> Blur - Out of Time
> Guided By Voices - Everybody Thinks I'm A Raincloud (When I'm Not Looking)
> Modest Mouse - Here It Comes
> Elf Power - The Naughty Villain
> Pavement - Gold Soundz
> Ted Leo/Pharmacists - The Great Communicator
> Radiohead - No Surprises

Those videos for Out of Time and No Surprises both happen to be great examples of simple music videos that work really well.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Concerts, house, international politics, etc.

Still pretty dang busy this week, thus the lack of posting. Hopefully things will be less hectic by next week. (Be warned, you may find this post to be a rather tiresome listing of what I've been doing lately, but it's perhaps more for my benefit than yours.)

Last weekend was that Belle & Sebastian/Broken Social Scene/Ted Leo concert. (It's sort of funny, it's the only show where those three bands are playing together...not sure what the impetus was.) It was a great show. I go through cycles of enthusiasm for Belle & Sebastian, and hadn't been blown away by my first few listens to their most recent album, so it was nice to find that they were really excellent to see live. They played the three songs I most wanted to hear -- If You're Feeling Sinister, Judy And The Dream Of Horses, The Boy With the Arab Strap -- so that was satisfying (though no Fox In The Snow, Jesse/Seb). Their stage banter is also really good (and really Scottish!), which I've come to realize makes a significant difference in how much I enjoy a show, since my tendency is to want to place the songs in the context of the artists that make them. Broken Social Scene and Ted Leo were also very good (I'd seen each of them twice before), but BSS had the singer from Stars in place of regular member Leslie Feist, who is probably irreplaceable. (Thanks to the magic of YouTube, you can watch a variety of crappy videos of the performances.)

Last week I saw the Weakerthans at the 9:30 Club in DC. It was also a great show. Their music is obliquely political, and the lead singer made a remark that it felt strange to be playing in "This dying capital of the world...or is it the capital of this dying world?" Which, as the news got more depressing over the course of the week, felt a little too true. And while I'm on that topic, you should really check out this blog written primarily by Raja and Doha, whom I know from my program (Raja just graduated, Doha is his girlfriend). Raja is in Lebanon right now and provided gripping dispatches from the field as things unfolded. He's been out of touch for a few days now, though, so Doha is now writing the entries from DC. Seeing the Lebanese point of view is valuable, and in the comments there are Lebanese and Israelis talking, debating, and wishing things weren't so screwed up. It's heartening.

In more domestic matters, last weekend I auditioned five women who responded to our Craigslist ad for the room (we wanted to keep the house gender-balanced). In the end, only one person wanted it, but she was probably the one we would have chosen anyway. Dana needed a place right away, and she moved in on Friday. She's a student at Hopkins, too, and has spent the last few years in various countries outside the US, so she'll be good to talk to.

Meanwhile, Caitlin, one of the two incoming students in our program who was going to live here, bailed out, so I am now finding someone else to take her spot. Are you a woman looking for a place to live in Baltimore? Talk to us. I will be glad when this is all done, it's kinda stressful and time-consuming.

Oh, and did I mention that Zach (who I hired as an intern for Local 33 back in MN, and is now the national legislative liaison for AMFA in DC) got a letter published in The Economist? Not only that, it's about nuclear weapons and it's semi-rebutting the letter in front of it by Ted Turner! Holy crap!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Wiped out

Whew. I feel like I've been going non-stop all summer -- that free time hasn't really materialized. I guess I do leave home at 7:00 am and get home at about 7:00 pm each weekday.

Of course, I did have a nice vacation last weekend, even if it was slightly hectic. I left for the airport straight from work on Friday afternoon. Coincidentally, I saw Dan Poppy on the Metro on the way there; he was also going to the airport, and also going to Minnesota (though not on the same flight). It seems like I've run into him randomly in odd places several times since Carleton.

Sun Country Airlines, based in Minneapolis, runs a single flight out of Dulles each weekday. You have to sidle up to the Continental counter to get your boarding pass -- almost seems illicit, like somebody's going, "Pssst! Want some Sun Country?" Anyway, part of their schtick is that you get a hot meal on board. On the way out they announced that they would be coming around to give each of us "A cheeseburger and a cookie." Sounds sort of like kindergarten. Anyway, the cheeseburger was disgusting -- tan, flavorless meat and a bun hardened on the outside from being microwaved inside its plastic bag. I ate it anyway because I was starving. I'm not sure why I'm telling you this.

It was great to see everybody in Minneapolis, and especially nice that I unexpectedly got to see Sebastian and Becky the first night even though they were going out of town for the weekend. Andrew and I took a ride (with me on Eden's bike) out the Greenway on Saturday morning and went to the French Meadow for breakfast, two things I really miss about Minneapolis (I should probably add that I miss Andrew, too).

We left for St. Croix State Park midday Saturday, and stayed there for two nights. Matt, Risa, Alex, John, Hannah and I went. It was quite nice, as I will now demonstrate through a photo montage:

We went for a long hike on Sunday.

We took a break in the Kettle River (which flows into the St. Croix). There were lots of crayfish, but unfortunately also some leeches.

The foil packet dinners the first night were delicious.

Climbing this fire tower was pretty cool.

Anyway, I returned to Baltimore to find that housemate Sarah (in NYC for the summer) had suddenly decided to move out before our new lease starts in August. Having just completed arrangements for Steve and Caitlin, incoming students in our program, to move in, this threw everything into flux. Caitlin understandably doesn't want to be the only woman in the house, but at this point there are no more females in our program looking for a room. So I posted on Craigslist for a female roommate, and a few people responded. I'm showing the house to four women today and one tomorrow. Both of the ones I've already met seem cool, and hopefully we'll get one or more who wants to take it and have everything squared away. I hate this housing crap.

Tonight I'm going to see Belle and Sebastian, with Ted Leo and Broken Social Scene opening. It's at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia; nobody else from Baltimore is going down with me, but I'm meeting folks from work there. Should be great.