Friday, November 25, 2005

The Thanksgiving Report

Yesterday was probably the most memorable Thanksgiving I will have ever had (don't you love the future perfect). Throughout the day I took time to state loudly: "this is so much fun!" I was fully aware that this Thanksgiving would set a new standard for what these meals should be like and be about.

If you read my brief message from yesterday on what was served and the major themes, you get an idea of what was in store. 18 people and two babies sat around two tables spilling over with amazing food: marinated and bbq'd Duck, Pot Roast, Turkey filled with Cornbread Stuffing, fresh Cranberry relish, two kinds of gravy, mash potatoes, sweet potatoe pie, green beans with almonds, pear and walnut salad. I don't think I am remembering everything. We had lots and lots of wine and 5 different pies to choose from.

While the food was amazing, the company and conversation was outstanding. Among us were 4 Ph.D.'s in Philosophy, a developmental biologist, a first year biology student from NYU, two ABD's in Philosophy, who both left Tulane to attend Georgetown Law. The latter couple now live in DC: the husband works for Federal Defense in Maryland and the wife is a litigator at a big firm (having left a year at Public Citizen). We had a Law Professor and his wife (Za's sister) works for the Department of Social Services in Louisiana. We had two brillant economics students and their equally brillant professor, Emma, whose beau is a Radiologist at the Univ of Maryland. My mom, the SEIU organizer hung out with Za's mom, who is a writer. Two adorable babies and my worldy grandmother who had 85 years of perspective on all our debates.

Many of our guests had lived or continues to live in Baton Rouge/New Orleans. Almost everyone had an interest in philosophical debate. And, what I loved above all, is that no one at the table defended the Iraq war, the Bush Administration, or called any of us looney liberals. We ate in grand style and carried on great debates ranging from Intelligent Design, the Coase Theorem, Due Process on College campuses, the failed Federal response to Katrina, and how to think through difficult ethical dilemmas.

At the end of the evening, I spoke to Emma's students. One was from Bulgaria and the other was from China. Both of them were working hard on their final projects for the Senior Seminar in Economics. Our friend from Bulgaria was evaulating how TANF (and AFDC) has impacted children. I asked him what his hunch was, and he said "not very good." Then, I asked him what we should do instead. "Education," he said. "How are we going to ensure that everyone will get a quality education in this country? Should we spend more for our educational system? Should we establish a national curriculum?," I asked. "I don't know," he said.

At that point, I made my usual point that economics is amoral. I think that anyone who studies economics should take philosophy, or at least ethics. Economics is a powerful tool for policy and for influencing legislation. However, if you have no idea what should exist instead of TANF and you give reasons to the conservatives to abolish it without any other viable policy for helping the poor, well, that is really bad for the poor.

This is the report from small town USA. Thanksgiving was a pleasure and I credit, in part, the kind of interactions that are possible when you teach at small liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere to bring together really interesting people.