Tim Thoughts data/rstats/policy

Hello darkness, my old friend

(Bear with me, this point takes a while)

Last night I was scrolling through some Reddit comments in r/politics (it’s one of my insomnia habits), and came across comments criticizing Hillary Clinton for her “hawkish” policies in comparison to Bernie Sanders. Such criticisms are not entirely unfounded, but it got me thinking, do these comments even remember real hawks? The Project for the New American Century, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and all those Bush-era neo-cons were targets of my high school idealism, and it’ll be a long time before I forget how they helped persuade the DC establishment and public into a prolonged and misguided Iraq War.

While Clinton certainly favors a strategy more willing to consider using American military capabilities regarding the Syrian/ISIS conflict, to lump her in with the hawks of the Iraq War is a bit unfair. The Libya intervention during her tenure as Department of State painted her more as a liberal internationalist, as did the other key figures of the Obama administration like Samantha Power and Susan Rice.

Further clues to Hillary’s internationalism was her appointment of Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter to the Director of Policy Planning. Professor Slaughter is a scholar best known for her work on international law and “the responsibility to protect” doctrine in human security. Another clue was her “smart power” doctrine, a twist on Joseph Nye’s IR concept of soft power, and her consistent stance on the necessity of partnership between civil society and government in the context of global development.

(Actually while writing this post I discovered this link to a Foreign Policy piece about Hillary Clinton’s ideologies which will better explain her ideas, because I’m getting distracted from my main point.)

My point is, I haven’t touched IR in a while. A night’s browsing through old blogs searching for more clues to Clinton reminded me of the joy I used to have in college. Memories of overdue library books outside my syllabus, of traveling to political science conventions to meet my favorite bloggers and professors in person, trying to get a half-decent picture with Joseph Nye. Memories of friendly yet rigorous debates with my classmates and friends, of plans and goals to work in this world somehow, ambitions in grad school to make it to DC someway.

And along the way, I gave up, I didn’t make it, I wasn’t good enough for it. It pains me to wonder, what if I had been a more disciplined student? But then I wouldn’t have been me, I suppose, the boy who still keeps notebooks full of book annotations of subjects I never even took in college. All those notebooks with plans and ideas for a future that was infinitely blank, the world would be my canvas to paint with my ambition to help make this world a better place.

And reality, and costs, and burdens, and home. The closer I got the more I realized I wasn’t cut out for it. I could barely handle my Masters program, let alone the discipline for the PHD. I enjoyed my DC internship, but that beautiful city was hollow to me at that time, it wasn’t mine to keep. Even the little things mattered, like Facebook pictures of my friends’ birthdays that I missed. And of course, there was Luna, who showed me worlds and futures that I never even imagined. In the end, my place was home.

And for the last 18 months, I’ve tried to find home again. I’ve experienced new memories with my old friends, rediscovered the beauty of Los Angeles with new friends, dated after Luna, found some semblance of community with the Hack4LA/tech stuff in the city, cared a bit more about local California politics and issues, and went to 3 U2 concerts in a row, gotten closer to my brother and cousins. I’ve unfortunately also experienced my parents’ divorce, leaving my job, and lot of indecision and anxiety about my next steps in life.

I’m writing this because I miss you. The old you, the young one whose dreams exceeded his reach, before he knew the costs of reality. I’m not saying I want to go back and be you again, I just miss being that inspired and thrilled to even glimpse a bit of you, in my old bookmarks and blogs and notebooks. Of politics and policy, of my first love, how I miss you…

I remember standing in a Starbucks parking lot late at night, just venting into a Skype conversation with a friend halfway across the world, just because of immigration, of my heritage, of the boat people, of my parents. Even during my little autumn exile from a social life, only Ian Burnside was clever enough to rouse me by texting me questions about Donald Trump, of the election, of things to come. I don’t know how, but our conversation turned to nuclear proliferation the other night, and it triggered all the research I did for Model UN prep and suddenly we’re discussing second strike capability, of Scott Sagan, of a world I thought I left behind. Apparently I am the type of person who checks Reddit threads at 2am when I can’t sleep, in forlorn hopes I’ll find nuggets of the intellectual rigor I once found in those blogs, those books, those conventions. Watching the West Wing on Netflix has been painful and joyful, for so many reasons.

There’s a lot about the new me, that I really embrace. I care more about family responsibilities, of local communities here in Los Angeles. I’m more realistic with my financial and social goals, which didn’t really exist back in college honestly. I really get a kick out of the tech/data/R/stats stuff I’ve been teaching myself for the last 2 years or so, I’m hungry to really get better at this stuff. But I’m not as hungry as I could be, I’m more motivated by the polls, by my Twitter community of political journalists and data geeks, by debate transcripts, by Internet arguments I shouldn’t get involved in…

I just wish this new me can find some way to make the old me proud of my future self. Is it impossible rekindle my first love of politics into a more meaningful and realistic career within the social parameters and responsibilities of my life? I wrote a reflection not unlike this on my new blog back in August here, and not much has changed. I’m more conscious of my failings and weaknesses, and what I have to improve in my work and life habits to finish my goals (like…not stay up so late writing and reading).

A lot of work left to do in 2016. A lot of missed connections and friendships to rekindle, a lot of people yet to meet, a lot of Shiny data visualizations to build, a lot more books to read. And who knows, I may yet find the best of me is still to come. Despite all my flaws and failures (and there are many), there’s something about the call to service that keeps me motivated and that is something I can never compromise on.

So thank you, the friends who’ve fought for me, who’ve been there for me, the unsung heroes of my life who I am truly undeserving. This is one of those moments where “I love you” is too ordinary or clichéd, and only my actions will be proof. I’ve been absent by my own standards (see Thanksgiving post), and that is not me being my best self. I want to be my best self, I’m not even close to there yet.

I hope 2016 brings all of us a bit more joy, a bit more love, a bit more purpose, and a bit more clarity to the underpining ideologies of our presidential candidates. See you on the other side.

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