8 secret perks of academic research jobs

[By “secret” I really mean “underappreciated” or “overlooked” but one must sacrifice perspicuity on the altar of catchy titles!]

I have now been in academia longer than I have been in any other professional setting. I’m sure this is common in many industries and organizations, but academics love to complain-brag (e.g. Omg I haven’t slept for 72 hours to finish this grant.. you all should be super impressed and feel super sorry for me!). We are especially apt to feel bitter that despite our 17,325 years of education, most of us don’t make *that* much money. And I won’t lie, I often add my voice to the belly-aching chorus… because who doesn’t enjoy a good-old fashion commiseration session?

BUT I must say that now that I am contemplating leaving academia, I am reminded how good the highly educated and underpaid nerdlesons have it compared to many many peoples.

How doth academia benefit thee? Let me count the ways…

  1. Working with smart, passionate people
    • Many careers are filled with overly ambitious, cut-throat peoples, but I would wager many fields are not filled with people who genuinely love what they’re doing and like their work for its own sake – not just the pay or the recognition. Most of the professors with the most prestige will tell you that at the end of the day, they just find their research neat-o. It is also really great to have undergraduates working for you – usually for free – that are highly motivated and probably smarter than you in so many ways. No crippling apathy here!
  2. Flexibility
    • This one is probably my favorite. I have almost always been able to make my own schedule. If I want to be in at 7:30 am and leave at 3:30 pm, that’s fine. If I want to be in at 10 am and leave at 630 pm, that’s fine too. If I want to work from home and do data analysis all day – no one blinks an eye. When it’s time for vacation, most people say just say “Yo, I’m not going to be in lab these 3 weeks because I need to find myself and connect with nature.” and your advisor says “Word.” Usually no one cares as long as you’re getting your work done. It is incredibly nice not to be viewed as a slimy little worm who is trying to get away with the least amount of work. At least in the academic jobs I’ve had, you are treated like an adult.
  3. Job security
    • It is difficult to get fired in academia. You can be a miserable failure and the most your advisor will really do is write a lackluster letter of recommendation for your next position. I think you would have to do something that was seriously unethical to get fired, but failing continuously is probably not enough. It doesn’t serve you well in the long run to be unproductive, of course.. but you will at least be paid while you figure out your next career move.
  4. Street cred
    • You know when you’re trying to make small talk at a party and you ask a stranger, “So what do you do?” and they say “I’m a technical writer,” and you say “Cool!” *chirp chirp* Not so with academic positions. People are usually interested in your thesis or research, and you can usually entertain them with sharing your interest in the field and what you hope to accomplish. It’s not usual to have a job that intrigues a lot of people and makes them automatically think you are super smart, even if your only other interaction with them was to praise the hummus.
  5. Inclusivity
    • Once you get past admissions, I really don’t think academia cares about your demographics that much (of course there are fellowships and grants for those who identify as a member of a group underrepresented in science, but it can only take you so far). There are no headshots to turn in with your manuscript when you submit for publication. You can identify as a banana or the be the ugliest person on earth, but academia doesn’t care. Just do good research, and a place will be prepared for you. It’s a meritocracy if there ever was one.
  6. Bad fashion sense highly tolerated
    • I’m not sure if I would go so far to say that being a snappy dresser will hurt you in academia, but it truly doesn’t help. If anything, some of the people wearing the most egregious – whether that be flamboyant or downright geeky – outfits are senior professors. Wearing a suit in lab is not only impractical, it will probably be seen as an ineffective attempt to cover your own incompetency. So throw on a pair of sweats and a ironic tee and get to pipetting.
  7. Mentoring
    • In no other field is there such a built in culture of the person in the highest position taking an invested interest in helping the people working for them reach their career goals — whatever those might be. That is truly extraordinary. My advisor gets no benefit – either financially or research-wise – in helping me secure a job outside of academia. Yet he is seriously committed to helping me get there if that’s what I decide to do. Imagine your manager taking responsibility to help give you the skills and experience you need to move on to a better job at a different company! Unheard of.
  8. Benefits
    • Usually the health insurance is pretty legit. At least at my University, the retirement plan is very generous. You get access to a huge online library of journals for every topic you could possibly be interested in (just for reference, most published journal articles that I see are $35 a pop). You usually get a free or highly discounted membership to a gym that’s at least adequate. There are tons of talks with free foods. Little things all together, but nice.

In toto— If you are in academia, put a pause on your belly aching and take time to appreciate the fun little perks of your position. If you are outside academia, maybe ponder the positive aspects of your job.. and if there aren’t any… come over to the dark side of academia!

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Stuffz Gallo Likes: How Tim Keller encouraged me to be a Christian with wild abandon

Let’s take a journey back a few years ago. I was neck-deep in my dissertation data collection, and the only people I interacted with on the reg were soccer moms at my church (who I liked, but had a hard time connecting with) or highly-educated, young, single agnostic/athetists/spiritual-but-not-religious peers at my university.

I still went to church, and I remember for a while every Sunday I would tear up during worship because it felt so amazing to actually be with other believers. But still, there was a large disconnect between my daily academic grind and and my faith, my brains and my heart. The two worlds felt so completely different that it was hard to reconcile “Christian Gallo” with “PhD student Gallo.” I started to wonder if I went to church for the sake of nostalgia, and/or to maintain a connection with my pre-PhD student, super-Crish, conservative, southern culture life. I also had a lot of doubts.

Some were intellectual – neuroscience is very material, in the sense that all the complexity of human thought, emotion, and even spirituality is reduced down to electrical and chemical communication between cells. Did I really believe that a supernatural world existed? It was easy to believe when I was with other Christians, but when I looked at it through the lens of science it seemed pretty ridiculous.

Some were emotional – even though I had planned to get my PhD ever since I was 16 years old, my early 20s were *not* what I had imagined them to be. I think in my heart I actually believed I would take my University by storm and ride the wave of success all the way to the cure for Alzheimer’s disease. I also always envisioned myself as being very suave and sophisticated as I got older (lolz). Needless to say… that is not what happened. I failed.. a lot. Both in research, but also in matters of character. I kind of lost respect for myself, and I was mad that God wasn’t letting me hit scientific home runs and point to the sky in acknowledgement of Him as I accepted all my awards, Tim Tebow style.

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I thought this would be me *eye roll*

Then one summer, the Christian fellowship I was a part of started a book discussion on Tim Keller’s The Reason for God. The book blew me away because it was so clear and straightforward. TK didn’t act like it was evil or preposterous to question Christianity , but he also “pushed back,” so to speak, on some of the common assumptions that non-believers take as “givens.” The Reason for God opened my eyes to the possibility of being a Christian, who – although still needing faith for some particular issues – wasn’t judged for having doubts, and wasn’t asked to forsake their intelligence as a prerequisite for faith.

Then I started reading his other books.. and trust me there are a lot of them. Not all are so “apologetical” as The Reason for God.. nor are his sermons. More than any pastor I have ever read / listened to, Tim Keller shines a huge spotlight on Jesus – pointing out how Jesus is threaded through the entire bible – not just the New Testament. He tackles weird, slightly off-putting Old Testament stories and points out how those stories are purposefully driving us toward an understand of the absolute necessity of Jesus. Adam, Moses, Noah, Jacob, David, Hosea — all of them! They were all used by God, but not enough. Their failures used to frustrate and confuse me, now they encourage me to rejoice that where these biblical figures failed, Jesus succeeded.
He also talks about how Jesus fits into work, marriage, money, sex, rest … every single aspect of life now.

Timmy K doesn’t need a grammy-award winning worship team to whip his congregation into an emotional frenzy before he preaches. He doesn’t need to soften the crowd with his hilarious hijinks. He doesn’t need to put visitors at ease with his trendy ripped up jeans. TK is not particularly attractive or charismatic, and that is why I love him all the more. Because to me it shows that his appeal is not really in him – (he’s like a slightly stuffy Dad)it’s the freedom and joy he points to, in Jesus!

Thank you, Tim! YOU ARE AMAZING I LOVE YOU FOREVER!!!!!!!!!!

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These are for you, Tim!!!!!!

 

— EDITORIAL NOTES —

Tim Keller resources – http://www.timothykeller.com/ , https://gospelinlife.com/

My favorite books, in no particular order: The Meaning of Marriage, Encounters with Jesus, Jesus the King, The Reason for God

Some lit sermons of his: God’s Plans, Your Plans , How Sin Makes Us Addicts

 

Conservatives/Christians: Please stop demonizing higher education

I recently took to the Twitter, and in less than one day I was subject to more insulting condescension than I have encountered IRL in the past year. What did I do to incur such rabidly hostile feedback?

I had the gaul to respectfully disagree with Matt Walsh’s* sentiment that conservatives / Christians should stop sending their kiddos to college because colleges are so liberal / secular. 

Here is my inflammatory tweet:  

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A grammar Nazi pointed out that I should have said “… not fewer!” Just trying to keep you guys on your toes! I also feel like I should have clarified I haven’t been through the highest ranks of academia per se – I’m not a dean or something – I just meant I had attained the highest degree possible. That’s all. #humble #truthful #sorry #twitterbrain

 

I thought my tweet was pretty docile. But apparently, Matt himself found this offensive, and replied  — 

 

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Then I started getting all these snarky replies, like “can you honestly say you have never compromised your faith in that environment?” and “academia attracts lazy, entitled, meal tickets lefties …”

It seemed that the vast majority of tweeters on this thread considered academia to be the pit of darkness, was intrinsically flawed, and something we should shield the precious minds of our little ones from.

I want to talk about this carefully, because I don’t want to condescend parents or over-generalize my own experience. But, I do think I may have some useful insight into this prominent trend of conservatives/Christians demonizing academia. Look y’all – I was homeschooled from grades 1-12, and went to a Southern Baptist church twice on Sunday AND Wednesday night, too! I know conservative Christian culture. This will enrage some, but I love a lot of things about conservative Christian culture. But also, on my way to attaining my PhD at a state and then at a private almost-kinda-maybe-might-as-well-be Ivy League school, I was surrounded by far-left and/or non-Christian ideologies. It made me .. uncomfortable at the least, sometimes angry, sometimes a little confuzzled. It made me re-think my values and beliefs -did I only believe them because I was brain-washed by my family, church, and safe little suburban town — or were they actually true?

Was this process pleasant? No. It was stressful. Do I have the exact same values and beliefs that I did when I was a 17 year old freshman**? No. My political views have become more moderate, for sure, although the average leftist would still gasp in horror at my voting record. My faith has been through the ringer. But it seems that every time I dig deeper into whatever issue instigated the latest round of doubts, I come out the other side with stronger faith.

The point of me telling you all this isn’t to emphasize what a dynamo faith I have, but to urge Christians and/or conservatives – whether you are thinking about going to college or sending your kids to college or whatever – to not shrink back from environments where your beliefs will be poked a little.*** It’s not the end of the world. It may actually increase your ability to talk to other people about your faith, because you have a better understanding of their doubts, questions, baseline assumptions. etc.

 

Okay. I’m going to do this blog French new wave style, and grossly violate the blogging/writing norms because I’m FRENCH****

 

After that way-too-long preamble, here are a few common misconceptions / ideers that many conservatives / Christians seem to push about academia, and my brilliant responses.

  1. Academia as a whole is an irredeemable den of sinister liberalism and secularity 

You guys, come on now. Let’s look at the states purpose and goals of some of the top academic institutions —

Harvard University is devoted to excellence in teaching, learning, and research, and to developing leaders in many disciplines who make a difference globally.

Since its founding in 1701, Yale has been dedicated to expanding and sharing knowledge, inspiring innovation, and preserving cultural and scientific information for future generations.

Knowledge for the greater good | We [at Cornell] have taken to heart the revolutionary spirit that founded our university and encourage each other to pursue unpredicted lines of thinking in order to effect change on local and international scales.

Oh yes… Excellence, learning in order to change the world for the better, encouraging creativity and individualism, preserving culture… What evil …. NOT! Honestly, what great goals, some of them directly biblical, and I will go even farther to say ALL of them are indirectly biblical. So we may not agree with how some academics want to change the world, but please stop acting and talking as if academia itself is inherently corrupt and irredeemable, and something to flee from.

  1. Academics are actively trying to lure innocent undergrad Christians away from their faith 

I won’t be so bold as to claim that I know the hearts and minds of all professors. But I will speak on my experience with interacting with many, many professors first as their underling, then their minion, and now more of their colleague —- many of them are kind. Practically all of them are nerds. Many of them are so wrapped up in their own little agnostic atheist bubbles they probably have no idea how inflammatory or upsetting their course content may be to a conservative &/or Christian. I would also say most of them don’t care what you believe in your heart of hearts, but they do want you to understand what they are presenting — and not reject it simply because you don’t like it. So for example, a sociology professor may ask you to offer a Marxist solution to a social problem –  even if your little capitalist soul burns in fury as you write out your answer – to show that you even understand what Marxism is, and not just say “that won’t work because it’s communism and communism doesn’t work! Uncle Harry died to defend our country from communism!”

  1. Anyone who wants to go into academia is an anti-capitalist, pretentious snoot 

Again, let me reiterate – almost everyone in the highest ranks of academia is nothing more than a focused nerd. I didn’t get my PhD because I revel in being indirectly paid by taxpayers – I did it because I wanted to do good research that would help bring us closer to understanding (and ultimately preventing and treating) the most devastating, pervasive neurodegenerative disease in the world. I imagine most of my colleagues had similar motives. And I can honestly say that at my University, almost all of the faculty I encounter display a remarkable amount of humility and down-to-earthedness. Obviously there is pretension in academia, just like there is in corporate world and.. the fashion industry?! But it’s silly and simple untrue to tack these negative features to all academics.

  1. The only way for Christians and conservatives to succeed in academia is to disengage and hide their true beliefs in the classroom 

A lot of tweeters seemed to have watched a few too many God’s not Dead’s and think that professors will kick a conservative/Christian out of their class, fail them, or set them on fire in the library if they express their beliefs in class. I don’t think that’s true. I got pretty sassy in my senior year of college. BUT it was more of the nature of asking obnoxious questions about the research methods used to generate a figure, not just blustering in anger at each and every provocation. It’s also wise to pick your battles and show humility. It’s not compromising your faith to respect the authority and expertise of your professor. This is their class. You are paying them to tell you what the current consensus of a field of knowledge is. You can strongly disagree with that consensus, but maybe that’s best to tackle as say.. a faculty member who has demonstrated expertise on the subject and, dare I say it, has credentials. Let’s not pressure Christian / conservative youths to roll out of high school with the ability to take down centuries worth of knowledge in a particular field of study.

Okay.. that’s all the pretentiousness I can muster for today. Geez Gallo, term limits?! Try WORD limits! hahaha #lame

C. Gallo, PhD.,  out!

— EDITORIAL NOTES —

*An uber-conservative, catholic Christian blogger. 75% of what he has to say is golden, the other 25% I either strongly disagree with or strongly disagree with the way he says it. #blogtisticdifferences

**What can I say.. #homeschooled #childprodigy #humble #jk #octoberbday #notthatimpressive #maybealittle

***I say this carefully, lest I be accused of hypocrisy. There are some times when our emotional and spiritual health are not fit for inquiry — when you are hurting, you need something to hold on to, not something to pick on. So while I encourage you to explore questions and allow yourself to be challenged, I also urge you to not let other people bully you into a never-ending bout of doubt. #myrhymesareacrime I touched on this idea in this post a few months ago — BREAKING: It’s okay to take a break from constantly questioning your faith!

****Jk. The French wish they had this hot piece of swag! ‘Murica!

Unsolved mysteries in ***** Research Building, Level 3

I recently started a new position at my university. It always takes a little time to assimilate to a new work culture, but this department is especially bewildering. It’s not just that I went from a department with entire colloquiums about pair-bonding to a department that’s more interested in base pairs. Nay… nay! It’s more than that.

The very halls of this department are saturated in mystery.

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First, there is the Vanishing Succulent Enthusiast. In the break room, the perverted remains of a misguided Pinterest project pervade the counter space. Cacti in a cass dish– why didn’t I think of that?! Oh, bc it’s creepy and nonsensical that’s why. Who put them here? No one knows.. supposedly. Yet they haven’t died, which means **someone** is tending them. Who could this be?

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Especially strange is the Spoon of Encouragement embedded within the cacti. Have you ever been feeling down, and just longed for a spoon to come out of nowhere and  lift your spirits? Then this break-room is for you! Look no further than within the prickly beasts taking up 40% of the viable counterspace! This utensil of cheer has taught me a simple but profound truth: it’s not the food on the inside of your spoon that’s important, it’s the message on the outside of your spoon! Selah But.. what is the source of this spoon’s sapiency??

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Let us now consider the Powder Room du Femme Greenhouse. Gone are the days in which we all had to muster up the courage to poo sans the comfort of nature. It’s so simple— all that unused counterspace is perfect for a full plant display to delight the senses of all restroom patrons. Just breathe it in.*

What remains to be determined is if and how the same VSE is responsible for these potty plants.** Stay tuned!!

 

 

The intrigue of the plants was only recently surpassed by the Sock of the Survivor. This laundry enigma debuted on December 19, 2017, tossed carelessly on the floor. Despite some diligent sleuthing,  I was never able to identify a Unisocker among my colleagues. Thus, I can only conclude that the sock came from an extra-departmental source. Was it a message from the humanities that was too symbolic for us hard scientists to grasp? Did a frustrated lab tech rip it off in a fit of rage after a botched PCR attempt??

 

 

One week later, someone – exactly who was never determined – relocated the sock from the floor to the bench outside of my lab. It remained there for several weeks, generating a buzz of speculation amongst my labmates and I. We considered taking turns wearing it, as a symbol of the post-modern absurdism that permeates our daily lives.

But alas, not even two days ago, the sock was gone. Did the original sock-wearer find it and go away rejoicing? Did the sock creep away to another department floor, desperately seeking a new adventure?

So many questions, very few answers. But that’s why I’m a scientist I suppose – the mysteries, the unknowns, they thrill me!

What a department! What a LIFE!

— EDITORIAL NOTES —

* As deep as you dare, given the environment.

** Get it?? I’m so hilarious.

A smart jerk is still a jerk

Okay, so you’re a rocket scientist… that don’t impress me much. – Shania Twain

As dangerous as a little knowledge is, even more dangerous is much knowledge without a strong, principled character.  – Ghandi

And if I … understand all mysteries and all knowledge, … but have not love, I am nothing. – 1 Corinthians 13:2*

This year I graduated 22nd grade. You heard me – a full decade of post-high-school education! Yowza. I’ve been deep in the dark recesses of academia for a while, surrounded by all the smartie-pants.

They are many fab things about working around and being friends with smarties. They sharpen you. They don’t let you get away with lazy thinking, or holding too tightly to untested assumptions. Even my lunches have been subject to the critical appraisal of my labmates, no lolz. So, I highly recommend having at least a few hard-core smarties in your life.

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Shania gets it, y’all.

**BUT** please don’t romanticize the intelligentsia. Being smart and/or educated (trust me, these are not mutually inclusive!) just means that .. you’re smart and educated. It doesn’t make you a good friend, it doesn’t give you good character, it doesn’t give you wisdom. It doesn’t even necessarily mean that you live out what you know. Seriously – people accuse Christians of being hypocritical, but great googly moogly! I know so many academics who – in stubborn refusal to acknowledge decades of nutrition research  – rebelliously guzzle diet cokes and stuff pizza in their faces as they listen to a talk on the risk factors of Alzheimer’s disease.**

Smarties can also be arrogant and dismissive, especially to those who are not as intellectually gifted. #dumblivesmatter

Smarties can also apply their knowledge in a destructive way. I hate to play the Nazi card, but I’m going to play the Nazi card. Germans were highly educated. They weren’t in-bred rednecks who got super drunk one night and decided to go on a killing spree. There is a horrifying logic to eugenics, actually.

So what’s my point — not that being intelligent makes you evil. It’s just.. one – and only one –  feature that’s pretty coolio. But please, please don’t over-glorify it. Being loving, kind, joyful, a peacemaker, humble, good, faithful, gentle, having self-control*** those are the qualities that are truly unique and praiseworthy. Maybe being intelligent will help you live some of these out more fully, but being smart is not sufficient, and probably not even necessary to have this kind of character.

So sure – let’s all give up a golf clap for smart people, but let’s not go into standing ovation territory. And if you happen to be brilliant, get over yourself – and make sure you seek out the mentorship of people who will help corral your smarts for good and not evil.

 

— EDITORIAL NOTES —

*edited for conciseness, but it’s a beautiful chapter so read the whole caboodle!

** FYI artificial sweeteners and diets high in saturated fat can increase your risk of AD #thatonewasforfree #yourewelcome #shamelessselfpromotion

*** You good church folks are probably noticing I’m getting a little FRUITY!!

You can not speak good and still be right

I recently watched the Jimmy Kimmel interview with George W. Bush, and I recalled how everyone used to talk about what an idiot George W. was when he was president. That always annoyed me – I mean, the dude went to Yale and he became President of the free world – obviously there’s something going on up in there. Plus, anyone with that good of a sense of humor has to be intelligent in at least some capacity. Yet because he’s not very articulate, a lot of people consider him to be stupid.*

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Confession: I have a celebrity crush on the W. JUDGE ALL YOU WANT! (pic from youtube screenshot – hopefully no copyright issues there??)

Now, put this together with people’s snobbery in general towards Southerners, &/or people who don’t use perfect grammar. If you see a fb argument and someone accidentally uses “their” instead of “there,” the argument is over. That person is destroyed and must fall on their cyber sword. I’m not hating against using standard English or talkin’ fancy, especially in writing (some people’s writing is so bad that I seriously don’t even know what they’re trying to say). But there are two points here I want to make –

1) You can be a terrible speaker/writer and still be really smart, and you can be a great speaker/writer and still be fairly basic.

I don’t think this needs much explanation, but if I stuttered through my dissertation defense – wouldn’t the quality of my dissertation itself be the same? Yet if an 8 year old child memorized my presentation, took acting and diction lessons, and rattled through my defense presentation perfectly… would that kid be smarter than me, or have a superior understanding of my dissertation topic? Nope-ity dope-ity.

Okay, second point is kinda sorta loosely related to the first.

2) Using good logic or extrapolating from known data doesn’t guarantee you will come to the right conclusions, and being illogical and subjective doesn’t necessarily make you come to the wrong conclusions.

Example 1: “It’s okay for people to force inferior beings to work for you without pay. Black people are inferior to white people. Therefore, it’s okay to force black people to work for white people without pay.”

I intentionally chose something super inflammatory to make the point that the argument above isn’t illogical, but it has a very flawed assumption – that black people are inferior to white people. At the time, though, there was “science” that people used to “prove” that white people were superior. If you argued against them at that time, they could have accused you of ignoring the data, or being anti-science, or being illogical. And maybe they weren’t even trying to be sinister — I’m sure there were people who believed in the scientific racism at the time and thought it was high quality science. And truly, if you accept their interpretation of the data, then the statement above is logical. But as (I hope!) you would agree, it was an evil, wrong conclusion.

Example 2: “It’s not okay to use black people to do work for you without pay, because I like black people and I just don’t feel right about forcing them to work for free.”

The example 2 argument is not a good argument. It draws on subjective feels and intuition. At one time, it would have gone against the “scientific data.” But as (I hope!) you would agree, it’s the right conclusion.

So my point: this is not an “anti-science” post. I love science. I am a scientist. But at the same time, I just want to caution academics and other members of the intelligentsia to not be intellectually arrogant, and to at least consider the possibility that the intuitive, subjective conclusions that the uneducated masses from Podunkville have made could be right. The same applies if you’re an outsider evaluating the merit of different choices or options. It’s important to use logic and good data to draw conclusions and make assumptions, for sure. But 1) think critically about all the assumptions behind the logic and 2) at least consider the possibility that the data is incomplete, limited, or even just wrong.

Finally, also consider what incentive people have to either agree or disagree with the data. For example, if someone presented data that strongly implicated that my Dad was an ax murderer, I would be *WAY* more critical of that data than some random person in Moscow would be. And being more critical of that data wouldn’t make me less intelligent, it would just mean my life history gives me a very different threshold for convincing. In fact, rando in Moscow would probably be less qualified than me to look at the data, because this person has no personal experience with my Dad. Yes? *anyway*

Main point: don’t be a snooty-pants. ❤

— EDITORIAL NOTES —

*all politics aside – I’m not talking about stupid policies. That’s a whole ‘nother can o’ worms.

FOR THE LOVE OF GEORGE W. BUSH, LIKE, COMMENT, OR SHARE! (even if you didn’t like it, I want to know! Please and thank you 🙂 )