PS321: Public Policymaking

As an American History – Political Science major, policy is something that I’ve always taken for granted. I frequently discuss the intentions implications of government policy, but I never gave much thought to how it was created. So imagine my enthusiasm when I saw PS321: Public Policymaking on the course schedule. Not only was it a new area for me to think critically about, but it was taught by a new professor, Elizabeth Coggins, who came highly recommended by my advisor. I immediately signed up.

After two blocks of Feminist & Gender Studies to start off the year, I was excited for a return to my comfort zone in Block 3: bread and butter American political science. The first day of class, however, I was shocked to find that half of the class consisted of Environmental Science majors. This is because the course is cross listed as EV373, a requirement for the Environmental Science major. The make up of the class has already proven to be a blessing in disguise. In our first few days we have been able to achieve vibrant discussions, bolstered by the diversity of thought and experiences. Whereas the Political Science majors bring political theory to the table, the Environmental Science students add compelling examples and unique thoughts to class discussions.

Fortunately for me, the course has a heavy (yet rewarding) workload, without the high levels of stress typical of fourth week. Throughout our three and a half weeks, we will examine the policymaking process through broad theoretical analysis, examination of specific case studies, and visits from guest speakers. Our learning will culminate in a ten page research paper and presentation on the policy area of our choice.

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In the first few days, my traditional understandings of the policymaking process have already been challenged, complicated, and ultimately, changed. We read John Kingdon’s influential theory that problems, proposals, and political factors converge to open a “policy window” in which interest groups must “couple” their preferred policy with the problem that is being addressed. One element of Kingdon’s argument that came as a surprise to me was that, more often than not, interests create solutions and then attempt to link them a problem. In other words, we create the solutions in search of a problem. This flipped my conventional understanding of the policy making process, that of a process centered on finding solutions to problems that emerge, on its head.

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Frank Baumgartner and Bryan Jones further complicated my understandings of the policy-making process with their explanation of “punctuated equilibrium.” They contend that the United States’ political system is defined by periods of relative stability, which are punctuated by periods of volatile change. Under this framework, the same factors that open Kingdon’s policy windows can converge to create a system of positive feedback in which dramatic change explosively occurs. Once this window closes, and the positive feedback ends, the new policy forms the foundation of a new period of stability.

The theories advanced by Kingdon, Baumgartner, and Jones differ greatly from the assumptions I have always held about how policy is created. Despite this incongruence with the dominant way of thinking, they make intuitive sense. All in all, I buy their explanations of the policy making process and look forward to applying them to specific cases, such as welfare and the death penalty, next week!

 

Addiction in the Natural World

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If there is one thing the internet loves, it’s animals acting like people. 37 million people have watched this cat being forced to play the keyboard and millions if not billions more videos have been dedicated to anthropomorphizing animals. So by popular demand this is my post today will be about wildlife using recreational drugs just as irrationally as humans.

Animals remain to be a critical tool in the research of addiction. Many experiments deemed too unethical for human studies are often passed off to literal lab rats and even dolphins. In one 1950s experiment, the US government gave a dolphin LSD in an effort to teach it english. That made me wonder if animals had any desire to alter their surroundings outside of forced consumption from humans.

In Indonesia, an orangutan named Tori became hooked on tobacco after zoo-goers started flicking lit cigarettes into her enclosure. In India, elephants have been known to break into liquor stores and  go on drunken rampages causing property damage and in some cases trampling townsfolk to death. Outside of human influence there are also some examples of wildlife altering their state of consciousness. Reindeer, big horn sheep and jaguars are all known to seek out hallucinogenic plants and ingest them for seemingly recreational reasons. This might suggest that seeking a high is just an innate pursuit of life on earth, no different than seeking out food for sustenance or air for oxygen.

This poses the question of why we as a people ingest drugs at all? Before this class I always thought it was just another side effect of the modern human condition. We’ve become so good at not dying that we turn to mind altering substances to give us a high that doesn’t come from a 40-hour work week with a 90-minute commute. We even force our pets to get high. When you think about the concept of catnip, it’s bizarre that we purchase a stimulant for a pet because we’re board of watching them sleep. There seems to be something in us that demands for the outside world to be altered beyond sober parameters. I for one blame Spuds McKenzie and the year of 1987, enjoy.

Economics And Neuroscience Meet In The Economics Of Addiction

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I’m currently the Economics of Addiction, taught by economics professor Aju Fenn and guest professor Angela Scibelli Clute. Aju teaches how the economic theory is affected when addictive substances are factored into models, while Angela focuses on the scientific side of how substances affect the brain neurologically. We spend 3 days of the week learning economics and 2 days learning about the neuroscience. Studying the subjects in tandem reveals the subtle similarities and differences between the subjects. The scheduling also makes for a unique experience for students familiar with the block plan. This is my senior year at CC and it almost feels like I’m back on a semester system taking two different, yet complementary classes. I’m a big proponent of the block plan, but it’s a nice change of pace from the intensity of focusing on a single discipline for four straight weeks block after block.

A lot of assumptions are made about addicts. They live on the fringes of society, they’re mentally ill and they don’t think rationally. As an economist, we often endeavor to prove these assumptions right or wrong based on quantitative evidence. Are there environmental commonalities between addicts that lead them down a road of self-destruction? Or are there complex genetic predispositions in their genome present to blame for their life choices? Can a certain phenotype be factored into an economic model? This is where the economic and biological aspects of the course meet, whether we find some consensus is anybody’s guess. Stay tuned…

HY233 U.S History from 1943-73 post1

In HY233, a central paradox lies at the heart of all the readings and discussions with which we have engaged. On the one hand, the era following World War II represented the prime of, as Tom Brokaw dubbed it, “our greatest generation.” But on the other, the same era marked the brief high point of a social and political system soon to be challenged by the tumult of the ’60s.

By 1945, we had defeated the Axis Powers and their accompanying evils, pulled ourselves out of the Great Depression and built a massive military industrial complex. By 1947, the Truman doctrine declared, with regard to the Soviet Union, that once again America would stand against totalitarian regimes that, “reach their full growth when the hope of a people for a better life has died.” Following in his footsteps, Eisenhower continued a cold-war policy of containment abroad and Keynesianism and social planning at home. Reducing the defense budget from 50 billion to 40 billion, keeping inflation at 1.5% annually, ensuring open access to oil and other precious commodities, and maintaining tranquility within the home front all seemed like good ideas. The liberal consensus was widely agreed upon in Congress. Unlike today, elected congressmen from both parties actually collaborated in a successful effort to do their jobs: pass legislation.

But beneath a veneer of peaceableness and prosperity, rumblings of a different America and a different world grew louder.

Such sounds were most theatrically and poignantly expressed by the likes of such rock stars as Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, and Otis Redding. “Come mothers and fathers/ throughout the land/ and don’t criticize/what you can’t understand/your sons and your daughters/are beyond your command/your old road is rapidly agin,’” sung Dylan in “The Times They Are a Changin’.” Many American youth saw the world differently than their parents and proudly espoused a new set of progressive beliefs.

Both the Feminist and The Black Civil Rights Movements reared their heads and would become of increasing national importance. The patriarchal breadwinner complex and institutionalized racism would be challenged like never before. The post-war tranquility many Americans had become accustomed to would also be shaken by the events of the Cold War. With Kennedy’s aggressive cold-war rhetoric and increase in armaments, the Cuban Missile Crisis should have been all but expected. Narrowly avoiding a world-wide nuclear melt-down, Americans had for the first time been forced to confront the scary realities of nuclear war.

Thus, while wide agreement in the government allowed for an efficient political system, the “liberal consensus” of the 50′s would soon have to face up to the problems of basing a society on two incorrect assumptions. First, Americans were wrong to overestimate the threat of the Soviet Union. Truman’s polarizing language was a direct product of his desire to send foreign aid to Greece. Had he considered the implications of such rhetoric we probably wouldn’t have had to deal with the absurdity of McCarthyism. Nor would later officials have had strong ground on which to argue that billions of dollars were better spent developing the capacity to blow up the Soviets 10 times over than to be used to address domestic concerns. Second, Americans were wrong in believing that capitalism could eliminate class distinctions at home. The Civil Rights movement was a product of distinctions based on race and class. Blacks and other disenfranchised groups still had no seat at the table, and they insisted that it was time that white America recognized it.

America was changing quickly. To learn how it continued to change, be sure to check back for the next post on the issues covered in my class, HY233, taught by Doug Monroy.

The Finale…

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Photo Credit: Angela Kong

Waiting for my film to show up on the big screen was absolutely terrifying, and as I looked at the other students’ faces, I could tell they were doing a pretty awful job hiding their terror too.

I exported my film at about 6:00 for the 7:00 screening. That’t not okay. I told myself that I would finish the film at 4 pm, like we were supposed to do, but sure enough with titles and credits, I found myself sweating in my chair as my film became one of the last ones to export. I kept having flashbacks to my freshman experience of not being able to export my film in time for the screening because of technical errors. It’s an absolute nightmare to throw away weeks of work for no reward.

Instead of eating a nice dinner, showering, and dressing up hours before the screening, I left the editing room at about 6:40 to run back to my house, shower, throw on my jacket in a fury of sweat and run back to the editing room with my shaving cream and razor in pocket. With about 3 minutes until the screening, I ran into the bathroom, slapped some shaving cream on my face, and hurriedly cleaned myself up as I ran into the theater seeing a lot of the dancers there anxiously awaiting the screening. I couldn’t believe I made it, but the anxiety began to set in. The theater was packed, and worse, these were people I cared about who were seeing it. I said my hello’s and made my way to the front row to join the rest of the class.

So far, my diet that day consisted of two mini-powdered donuts, a cookie, and maybe some water. I didn’t sleep the night before, and napped for an hour outside the editing lab before beginning to edit again in the morning. I was surprised to be standing up, and my eyes were a little bit too wide open to seem normal. With each new film I cringed hoping it wasn’t mine, wondering where in the lineup I would fall. Multiple times I thought I was coming up only to see with relief it was my classmate’s.

When I saw my first dancer on screen it was actually okay. And even better, I liked my film. I should have been absolutely sick of it at that point, but hearing the audience laugh when they were supposed to, gasp when they were supposed to, and applaud at the end made me love it. Its a little ego trip, but I have been looking forward to that ego trip the whole class. It’s the little moment of glory that makes all the delusion worth it.

Having people approach me in congratulations at the end was exhilarating. I was having a little bit of a hard time focusing for sure; my eye-locking capability was sort of like I was staring into an indistinguishably deep black hole with no focus point. My composer and crew members all enjoyed it too, which was relieving; I felt such a responsibility to highlight their hard work. The food at the reception vanished by the time I finished talking, which was frustrating. I got in one brownie. But it was fantastic.

Each time I make a film, I start at square one. I know I will have moments where it is awful. Where it is amazing. Where it is mostly awful. But somehow I have fell in a strange love relationship with the pain of filmmaking, and thankfully have come out of each film with a new desire to make another one that’s better. There definitely is a necessary detox period due to lack of sleep and poor eating habits, but it’s all part of it. Soon I will be thinking of a new film, and I will have to forget how awful or how great my last film was and accept that this one will be totally different. At least I know that now.

The Prequel to the Finale

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Photo Credit: Chance Crail, who was on set with me as cinematographer. These are some pictures from my dance shoot in Cossitt that helped tie together all three of my film’s characters. Using the camera equipment we had was incredible.

We are finally finished with our blocks at this point, and get to enjoy a little bit of summer before we come back for the fall semester. Before I delve into what the final screening was like for us (that’s the next post), I just wanted to take a moment to share a little more of our assignments leading up to this screening.

Here is a link to one of the student’s projects for our interview assignment: Dan Levitt. The assignment was to interview somebody for about ten minutes prompting them for a story; beginning, middle, end. We then edited that ten minutes down to two minutes, including illustrative footage or pictures to help visually share their story. Here it is.

And now onto the final screening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hell Week

IMG_8567  Image by Mackenzie Ross

I was going to title this post something cute like “The 12 Days of Editing”, but I think this is a more deserving title.

The editing room resembles my room more so than my actual room. I think I have more food around the desktop computer than I do in my fridge, and I definitely have spent more time in the editing room than I have in my house or sleeping combined. My files are encoding now from some last minute shooting today, so I have a little time to catch up. It’s kind of like I’m Neo when he touches the sticky, mirror like material in The Matrix and can’t get undone. It’s consuming and relentless.

I don’t think there are many other ways to describe the editing process than to give you a Sports Center esque play by play of my psychological state over the past week.

Monday: I just finished shooting, and I am tired from finishing shooting, but need to sleep a little more than I did during shooting week so I can spend time editing. Encoding all of my files to just begin editing took 2 days, and my compressed video files ballooned to fill my 1 TB hard drive, so I needed to switch everything to a bigger drive before I could even begin to edit. We meet as a class to discuss our selects, or our best footage we shot. I go through hours of footage to find the best 20 minutes. And it’s garbage.

Tuesday: We try to put our best footage together into a timeline, basically an assembly of seemingly important things that may be in our final films. At this point I have my selects, but they are incoherent and redundant. I don’t even remember if I showed anything, but if I did, clearly it wasn’t memorable. I’m beginning to doubt if I can pull this off, but don’t want to start staying up late yet.

Wednesday: I have no film. At least that is what is going on in my head. Tuesday night I reached the beginning of my mild freak out stage. If you have ever seen Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, my freak out is similar to when Cameron goes catatonic in the back of his Dad’s convertible. We have rough cuts due today, and I have barely anything. I can’t even comprehend what this is. And one of my film’s main characters all of a sudden doesn’t fit into the film. It was so sudden, but I am beginning to understand it needs to happen.

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Thursday: Re-shoot day. I realized I am missing the most obvious sound bytes in my film, like where are we? Who are these people? It’s amazing how quickly I jumped into the deep emotional stuff without giving anyone any reason to care. Through transcribing, note cards on the wall, sugar, and caffeine I think I leave the editing lab Thursday night slightly hopeful I have something worth watching. The screenings with the class really help to get some fresh eyes on my project.

Friday: Fine cuts are due, which means one step before the final cut of the film. For me, that means a rough cut. After staying up until like 2 the night before, I come into the lab giving myself about 2 hours to throw something together. The less time I give myself, the easier it is not to be a perfectionist. I have been watching my film for about a week and a half now, so I am not sick of it, but I don’t know what to watch for anymore. I forget that the more I watch it, the more I take out that the audience needs because it’s their first time watching it. Clay and Dylan really help me see the good things in it and to focus on bringing that out more.

Saturday: I realize I need to shoot more. I blew out the sound on half of one of my character’s interviews, so I have to tread carefully around the trouble spots. I am beginning to become overwhelmed because a crucial dance shoot that I need for my film is tomorrow, and I am beginning to stress about how to control light in the room when there is a massive window in the studio. I stay up until 3 trying to find music for my dancers to listen to as I shoot.

Sunday: Sometimes I wake up and forget I am making a film. It comes rushing back pretty quickly. I grab a 7/11 water coffee and donut and try to pull myself together as I incoherently ask for campus safety to open the studio space. Directing seems daunting. With a little sugar I am functioning enough to begin the shooting day. Chance Crail, a rising sophomore who co-directed the short film Elevator Crush, which was actually on the home page, handled a lot of the technical hard stuff that was freaking me out, and just having him in the room was fantastic. Don’t need to figure out cameras and people at the same time, which is hard. And my god we got some great footage. I think there is some potential after all.

Until I finish this film, it won’t seem that good. But that’s the process. We suck it up and hope that in the end we hear everyone clapping and it’s worth it. I cannot wait until I hear that relief from and audience, when all the time I put in to savor and build to the most emotional moments becomes worth it. A month for 8-10 minutes. Until then it’s just delirium and praying.

Focusing On What Goes Right

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I feel that this quotation sums up shooting week very well. This post was actually from before this week began.

I really love having an audience, but I hate getting on stage.

This whole week we have been preparing and revising our pitches for Rocky Mountain PBS last Wednesday. I should have written last Wednesday, I apologize. I have been re-watching The Wolf of Wall Street for about two weeks, so with enough of watching Jordan Belfort, I think I gave myself the confidence to walk into my pitch knowing that if I sold the film, PBS would eat it up. I really wanted to put a picture of Lio Dicaprio screaming or something, but it didn’t seem to fit, and the DVD box is a bit inappropriate too. I am not saying I hustled PBS, I am not saying I bribed PBS, but a little performance went a long way. Ultimately, our pitches are not our final films. And, in order to make your film sound interesting, it helps to be a performer. I exaggerated a little bit, I made the film sound better than it ultimately will be, but the pitch should be the most perfect vision of the film. It’s what I hope to capture. It is odd that the film only gets less perfect; if I come close to the pitch, I have made an amazing film. My film is going to focus on a dancer’s recovery from a car accident that exiled her from dance for three years. PBS liked it. I really think it will be an emotional story, and it felt great having an audience affirm my film idea.

Now I actually have to do it. We all looked over each other’s production schedule, and Clay gave our group almost unanimous feedback; be more emotional in your interview questions. Documentary isn’t journalism. We aren’t “documenting” anything, we are crafting emotion. We met with a CC alum named Daniel Junge, who won an Academy Award for Saving Face, an HBO doc exploring acid attacks in Pakistan. He said he thinks it’s actually rather insulting to call a filmmaker a “documentarian” for exactly that reason. It’s art, not reality. So, when we interview our subjects, we aren;t looking for facts. We are, but second to emotion. Instead of saying, “tell me about your car accident,” I give the subject permission to express more emotion when I say, “You’re in your car, and you hit the barrier. You try to overcorrect, but you can’t control the car, and it begins to roll. What was that moment like for you?”

Angela said it pretty well that we have to forget perfection. Nothing ever happens when I wait to make the perfect choice. I sat on my couch today practically catatonic for an hour thinking about shooting and what might go wrong. It doesn’t help. I just have to get myself behind the camera and it should be okay. And hope.

Archival Footage

One of our class projects involved using archival footage in order to create an engaging story about a subject. Some examples include using footage from Charlie Chaplin films in order to tell the story of a scandal he had with someone in the past, another one involved telling a family story with mining.

Here is one example of a film using archival footage that Dylan and Clay (our professors) found great:

My archival footage was about abortion and I used most of my media from stock footage from the site Pond5. Looking back on it, I wish that I had utilized more archival footage of people telling their experiences and stories involving abortion and of the movement itself. The serious subject matter should have been paired with some serious footage and the footage I used made me feel like I delegitimized the subject matter in a way that didn’t convey the story as well as it could have been remembered. Oh well, a good lesson to learn in filmmaking early on! That’s one of my favorite and dreaded aspects of the class – through your mistakes you learn how not to make them in the future or how to improve in such a way as to make your filmmaking better. It’s wonderful learning better ways to do things, but then it’s awful making the mistakes. I’ve especially been learning that this week through shooting for my film – “Oh shoot I forgot to film something!”, “Dang I forgot to ask that question!”, “Augh, I should have framed that better!” – are all statements that I am glad but frustrated to have learned the hard way.

Right now, I have the strangest feeling of carrying gold waiting to be edited but knowing that there’s so much more work to do in order to make it shine. It’s an angst-y stressful time, but I know that this process will be paid off far too soon, but far too away from this moment.

In terms of externship, Friday was my last day at InsideOut. UrbanPeak, a homeless shelter for youth in Colorado Springs from ages 15-20, and InsideOut recently collaborated and decided that the UrbanPeak kids would have drop in hours from 12:30-3pm at InsideOut. The most exciting activity of the day was from 5:30-7pm – Glitter Wars. Eric split the youth into two groups and they would compete for each of them to receive a kaleidoscope at the end. We played Charades and Musical Chairs and in order to make Charades more interesting, Eric printed out the list of the “Gayest Cartoons” that people voted on online (see the list here: http://www.newnownext.com/bracket/gayest_cartoon_tournament/). The list was very diverse – from Daria to Elsa from Frozen, it seemed as though anyone could be seen as a “gay” character. I felt quite disappointed with my younger self for not seeing many of the cartoons on the list, such as ”The Smurfs” or “Peanuts”. Oh well, at least I have more TV shows I can watch in the future!

After the 10 days working with the organization, I think that I’ve decided on my film being about LGBT homelessness. Eric pulled in some people that he thought would have good stories for the documentary and one of them felt unsure on whether they wanted to participate and mentioned how UrbanPeak was doing a similar project, in which they are also filming homeless youth and making a video out of it. Initially, I thought that my idea would be great since I thought that it would be different, but I guess not now. I decided that I still wanted to go with my original idea, and when I was finishing up my proposal earlier today, I came up with a better idea. I have tentatively called my film Identity, aiming to show how the homeless youth are more than just their sexuality or gender identity and status in life. However, why didn’t I just decide to make a film about identity? Maybe I can play with that idea more as I propose my idea, but I can still show their identities through this film and I don’t need to sacrifice one over the other.

It’s really strange to be at this stage for the documentary. When you have the vision of what your film will look like but you haven’t started filming and you don’t know what exactly to anticipate for the future of the shooting and editing process. Where everything seems like it’ll work out, and you have to trust the process. It’s scary, but exciting. I’m really excited to get the ball rolling and see what happens, but I know I have to let go of the perfection I have expected out of myself.