The Polite Liberal

A rant-free discussion of liberal philosophy and policies.


The Polite Liberal is the pseudonym of a "nontraditional" graduate student in mathematics (for nonacademics, "nontraditional," is a polite way of saying, "older than 25.") The Polite Liberal is an attempt to spur real policy debate, instead of partisan insults and conspiracy theories. Conservatives (and liberals, of course!) are welcome.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Of Computers and Quals

If you've been wondering, I'm still alive.

My backup computer (which I used for my last post) lasted exactly a week before its six-year-old hard drive decided that it had had just about enough of all that spinning in its old age and packed it in. That left me with no computer except at my office, and I have this strange feeling that I should be... y'know, working or something when I'm there. I'll be replacing the computer later this month, finally (money gets in really short supply when you return to graduate school in your thirties with children).

The other thing that's putting a crimp in my blogging style is my upcoming Qualifying Exam. For those who haven't taken a shot at a Ph.D. before, most schools have two great chances to toss you out on your ear: a Preliminary Exam (typically a written exam) in your first year and a Qualifying Exam (typically an oral exam in front of a committee of professors) by the end of your second year. I'm just finishing my second year, so the Qual is looming.

In a math Qual at my university, faculty members grill you for 2-3 hours on topics that you select ahead of time. Just to be clear, there's no notes or reference to books---you just stand there with a bit of chalk and try to handle what's thrown at you. If you do so to the satisfaction of your committee, you get to stay in university for another three years or so and write a thesis. If not, you get a second chance; if you fail that one you're handed a nice, shiny MS and told to go find a job.

The really depressing thing is that I already passed one of these wretched things back when I was a Physics student in the late '90s; starting in math has rewound the clock.

Basically, I have to memorize the greatest hits of six textbooks. My posting here will be a bit thin until I pass the sucker.


Blogger WarWagon said...

Ok, now you've got me curious. Being a math kinda guy myself, how can you claim to be of the liberal bent and have an ordered mind? Not being facetious but most of the liberals I have "talked" to are from the softer side of the house.

9:25 AM  
Blogger The Polite Liberal said...

Just to be clear, I've never claimed to have an ordered mind, just one that I can impose a partial order on when necessary.

I suspect part of the problem is that you tend to notice people when they do annoying things. That's why it's so easy to end up with a caricature of the other side--you don't notice liberals that teach calculus and (quietly, on their own time) want to keep tuition low to promote social mobility, but you do notice lunatics that turn their required classes into seminars on "why Bush is evil."

Similarly, liberals don't normally run into the "I'm running a marginally profitable small business that'll go unprofitable if taxes nudge higher" conservatives, but can't escape the folks that want to use the government to promote (usually a specific denomination of) Christianity.

That's actually part of why I started this blog--I figured that arguing the liberal position is too important to leave to the "America is the greatest force for evil in the world" crowd.

So yes, I'm a liberal. I think that well-funded public education and a good system of low-tuition universities is crucial in giving people a means to escape poverty. I think that it's not reasonable to tie medical care to employment, if you also want the efficiencies that "at-will" employment contracts provide. I think that--with all the many advantages that the wealthy can provide their children--that it isn't unreasonable to use the government to guarantee that at some point people need to earn their own money. I think it's extremely dangerous to run a large structural deficit.

I don't think that we're a force for evil in the world, or that conservatives are a collection of the greedy and the feeble-minded. Many (perhaps most) liberals don't. Of course, the ones that do never shut up. Haven't you ever been tempted to go up to a conservative, shake him, and yell, "Get off my side"?

12:53 PM  

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