Thursday, September 30, 2004

Debate Diary

It’s 1:55 AM GMT and I’m ready for the 1st Presidential debate. BBC has been kind enough from switching from a truly riveting discussion of Tony Blair’s heart surgery to show the entire debate. I’m equipped with a banana, an apple, half an orange, a bottle of water, and my trusty laptop. Let’s get debatin.

2 AM

Ok, I’m officially bored. I ate the apple and orange while the talking heads said really meaningless stuff about format. Let’s get this damn thing going.

David Frum just said that Bush has a “real temper”. I guess that explains that whole Iraq thing.


Bush and Kerry are on stage. Bush blinks a lot. Must be bright out there.

[Insert debate]

My comments – 3:50 AM (GMT)

I thought Kerry hit Bush squaw in the jaw on North Korea and Afghanistan. He came across strong with lines like, “I will hunt down and kill terrorists wherever they are,” and that Bush “outsourced the pursuit of Bin Laden” to Afghan warlords.

Bush came back with flip-flop and talking points. Not a whole lot of depth to Bush’s arguments. His one liners:

He says we can’t tell the world it’s “wrong war, wrong way, wrong time” which is what Kerry stands for.

Kerry has a “pre-September 10th mentality”.

“Hard Work”

“Iraq will be a powerful example to the world”

I was VERY disappointed that Kerry did not ask (rhetorically of course), “If inspections in Iraq failed, then where are the WMDs?” He had one clear opportunity to do so at 2:55 AM (GMT).

But I thought Kerry did a very good job of answering the flip flop charge. Not only did he explain that when he learns new information that changes circumstances that he does change his position because it’s the right thing to do – it’s the mark of a good leader. But, not only that, he had great offense by saying that the problem with being “certain” is that when you’re “certainly wrong” about something, you keep going on the wrong path.

But, I was COMPLETELY disappointed that Kerry didn’t hit Bush on the National Missile Defense (NMD) issue. Bush stated that as something that was key to lowering the risks of Nuke prolif, RIGHT AFTER he had said that nukes in the hands of TERRORISTS was the GREATEST threat to national security. Kerry had a golden opportunity to take Bush to the mat on that one because terrorists don’t get missiles – they carry their nukes in trucks and drive ‘em into stadiums and blow shit up.

Overall, I’d have to say that Kerry just housed Bush. There were two things that Kerry did that Bush had no answer to. First, Kerry had “plans”. He offered specific, concrete proposals of actions he would take to lower prolif, resolve Iraq, and prosecute the war on terror. Bush had nothing. No plan, no offense to the Kerry plan (excluding the bilateral talks with North Korea issue) and basically just said, “America must have resolve and be strong.”

Second, Kerry was much more specific with his criticism of Bush’s policies. He had great offense to the way Bush prosecuted the war in Afghanistan and about how shifting focus to Iraq led the President to “take his eyes off the ball” in Iran and North Korea. Bush has nothing to come back from on North Korea. He’s the one that said WMDs is the greatest threat to National Security and North Korea got them on his watch. That’s policy failure and Kerry made sure that everyone knew it.

Kerry pretty much shredded W. tonight.

1-0 Kerry

      Mr. Jiff, Mr. Skippy, get your asses over here!

      I realized I had not had any peanut butter since I left the States, so I went out and got some today. Now, I didn't go to the megastore because I didn't have the time, so I ended up getting some generic UK brand. It was a little odd, so say the least. It definately tasted like peanut butter, but not a delightful as the American brands I'm used to. I'm going to have to hunt out the good stuff.

      Last night I was up really late, not because I had to finish my paper, however. In fact, in the recorded history of my life, this is the first time I've ever finished two papers a week before they were due. Now, I must confess, I did delete one word from my Intro paper this morning, but that's not exactly what I'd call a major revision. Anyway, back to the story, I was up really late last night because I was reading Billy Clint's book. It got really interesting at about 1 AM because he started talking about Monica Lewinsky. Riviting stuff. I couldn't put it down until almost 5, which wouldn't have been a great problem since I could sleep in to 12. BUT, the law firm I interviewed at on Monday called at 10 am to schedule a 2nd interview. So, good news on that front, but it ruined my sleep schedule.

      Therefore, since I am very tired, I think after class (about 830) I'm going to head to bed and then get up at 2 to watch or listen to the Presidential debate. My sleep schedule is screwed up right now anyway and I'm desperate to hear what Kerry has to say to Mr. Bush.

      At any rate, I gotta run. Somehow I lost my student ID on Monday night (which is an extreme rarity for me - I never lose important stuff), so I have to go get another one and then go to class.

      Wednesday, September 29, 2004

      More school blah...Prepare for the Rant

      I hope I wasn't too harsh yesterday. The whole thing just pisses me off, and not entirely for selfish reasons. I mean, really, when it comes down to it, it's to my advantage to have my classmates be poor writers because it makes me look better. But, it's also the reason why my grad program is only a regionally rated program and has no national recognition at all (let's just ignore the fact that "my program" is based in St. Louis - the international border issue is just too confusing). I mean, I have to wonder, would other, potentially stronger programs be dominated by people who have difficulty writing in complete sentences?

      Well, no matter. I'm fairly happy with my papers. I have several, very minor changes to make this afternoon and then I'm done. They're longer than they had to be, but I wanted to be thorough and it was difficult to pare down the text without leaving out relevant details.

      I ended up reading another classmate's paper yesterday and, while it was better than the first one, it was still not very good. This girl, however, is not what I would term a "poor writer". She just had no organization. In fact, it was clear that she didn't have a mastery of the content of her paper topic, which is why the organization didn't make sense. I gave her some extensive comments and I hope she has time to incorporate them (she had not started her 2nd paper and it's due Friday).

      For the last fourteen months, most of you know that I have been the editor for We receive article submissions from all over the place, so, as editor, I have to decide what to publish (often in consultation with Dave) and when to ask for resubmission. What I've learned is that a lot of people with college degrees are just not very good writers. In fact, in my opinion, the question of whether you have a college degree or not is almost entirely irrelevant. Some of the best articles we've published have been from people that barely smelled college, not to mention finished. The point, I think, is that with my limited cross-section sampling of American writing ability, there's a clear dearth of excellence on average and that's a tragedy. How are people expected to understand relatively complex debates like the War in Iraq if they can't express their thoughts, feelings, or arguments in a straight forward fashion?

      I'm wondering if the inability for young people to communicate with the written word is because the American education system stresses things that I'll term "appearance" over substance. By this I refer to spelling and form. For example, I was told the other day by the girl that critiqued my paper that every paragraph should contain a minimum of 4 sentences. What a bunch of bullshit. I asked her where she came up with that one, and she explained that she was taught that by one of her college professors. And when I reflect on my own education, primary education was dominated by spelling concerns, not grammar or substance. In the modern era of computers, spell checks, and, spelling is a worthless endeavor (even though it bothers me to no end when people misspell stuff - me included).

      I have to say, in my opinion, America has an education crisis. Not only that, we've had an education crisis for as long as I can remember. Those of you who have had this argument with me know that I believe that US education system doesn't challenge its students enough. For example, when my Mother was growing up, she was forced to diagram sentences as part of her grammar lessons. It sounds like a total pain in the ass, but she knows her grammar better than anyone I know. I never had to do that. In fact, even though I have worked as an editor for over a year, I probably couldn't explain most of the "rules" of English grammar (although I was smart enough to buy the AP styleguide so that I don't have to know them, I can just look them up).

      When I went to Emory in the Fall of 93, I had no idea how to write a research paper, how to study, or even what to be challenged in the classroom meant. My performance suffered greatly because I just slid by as I had throughout high school, expecting that I would just pull out some grades at the end of the term. It was a lot harder than I expected and I was forced to learn how to study on my own. I did, however, have a very good writing symposium as a Freshman that helped tremendously. To this, I'll give credit to Emory for stressing the right stuff. We had to write three or four essays over the course of the semester, each of which required rough drafts that were read and discussed on a one-to-one basis with the instructor (a grad student). It helped a lot, and it's a tra-sham-ockery that other colleges don't do this.

      The national response to the education problem in America is to incorporate things like standardized testing, school choice, and head start. To me, that's pretty much worthless. If we're not going to have a national curriculum (which is a complicated issue since the federal government traditionally plays little role in education), then perhaps the Fed Gov should push States to strengthen curriculum locally. But even beyond that, we need to invest in teachers. It's absurd that one of the most important professions pays so little. I mean, aside from doctors, who else is as important as teachers? Low pay and a relatively low entrance requirements is a race to the bottom. That's why there are so many bad teachers (Bowden). It simply isn't hard enough to become a teacher for those who need it to be hard and it simply doesn't pay enough for those that might be gifted teachers but choose other, more financially rewarding careers. Until the country addresses the teacher and curriculum issue, I expect education in America to be widely disparate.

      Ok, I'm done ranting.

      Tuesday, September 28, 2004

      I stepped in it...

      So I have this friend at school. She's very nice and we get along quite well, but, and I'm putting this charitably, she's not the brightest bulb in the box. She's the one that prompted my earlier rant about the Santa Claus episode and frankly, I've learned to go to my "special place" (like Happy Gilmore) every time she opens her mouth in class. And I'm not joking here. Last week, she literally talked for at least 5 minutes and NO ONE, not even the professor had any fucking idea what she just said. This is no exaggeration. She also continually complains that she just doesn't get "this International Relations" (and yes, she's prone to poor grammar). I've been extremely patient with her, tried to explain things that go on in class or the reading, and generally just coach up her confidence a bit.

      So, exactly what did I step in? Well, I agreed to swap papers with her before we hand them in so that we can get some feedback. Big mistake. I have to confess I don't like bragging about myself. I've never been one to take compliments well and I don't like talking about how great I am. That being said, there's a clear difference between my education and hers. Her paper was a DISASTER. I mean, she's writing to explain why the EU-US relationship is strained - it's not rocket science. Functionally, there were 4 problems with her paper:

      1. Grammar - She continually leaves out words like "the", "as", "a", etc. I found myself editing every single sentence. I think there was 1 sentence in the middle of the paper that I didn't edit, but that might be reconstructive history.

      2. Structure - Her paper was so disorganized it was nearly impossible to follow the events that she was describing, not to mention get a sense of what her "argument" was. For example, she was discussing the war in Iraq in this context, then switched to the EU creating its own military, and then was back to another point of disagreement between the EU and US over Iraq. Now, maybe she's trying to follow a chronology. I'm not sure. But as it was, I didn't have a clue as to what she was trying to say.

      3. Transitions - Further compounding the problem was that she had no transition sentences whatsoever. She literally would be making a really intricate point about Iraq, for example, and then there would be a new paragraph and she's introducing an entirely separate dispute (steel, for example).

      4. Theory - This was a problem on the meta level. These papers are not supposed to be a 20 page description of events. The events are relevant, but we have had some very detailed conversations in class about using theory in our papers. So, when 18 pages of a 19 page paper is on events and 1 page is on theory, we have a problem. Political science and International Relations is about the understanding the bigger picture. The minutiae is important, but we are being trained to see the causes behind the minutiae. Unfortunately, my friend missed the whole point of her MA.

      So, why am I telling you this? Because it's so incredible to me that someone with a COLLEGE DEGREE can't even write a complete sentence, not to mention have a coherent thought. I mean, how did she graduate? I have known 10th graders that could have completed this paper.

      No only is it extremely frustrating to see that at least one of my classmates is basically incompetent, I also feel like letting her read my paper completely undercut her confidence. I didn't want that. Now my paper is not exactly Hemmingway, but it's polished and pretty solid. I've spent a lot of time on it. So, most of her comments were not comments really - she was just writing stuff on the paper because she saw me marking up her draft and wanted to compete. (To her credit, however, she did make two very valuable observations, which was essentially that I needed two transition sentences.) But you could see the look on her face and later at the pub that she sees there's a huge difference between our two papers.

      It's a difficult situation. She's the type of person that struggles with self-confidence anyway, so I've tried to use nothing positive reinforcement. And to my credit, I didn't break her paper down harshly. I was extremely nice and complemented her on the depth of her research and analysis. But the truth is, if she turns in that paper and gets anything higher than a C, it's a fucking travesty.

      At any rate, I mentioned last week I wanted information about why the Bush-Kerry polling data is so skewed. Well, via my friend Kim, here's an answer:

      1. They poll "likely voters", i.e. people that voted in previous elections. That cuts out young people that vote for the first time or others who are not always motivated to vote, but may well be this time.

      2. They only call house phones, not mobiles. That skews the results as well in some instances because young people are more prone to not be available, meaning they'll never be polled. People in their 30's and 40's are also more on the go these days meaning that the cross-section actually reached in these polls are latch-key losers who never leave the house (ok, I added that extra in there).

      3. Worst of all, most of the polls are overweighted with registered Republicans as John Zogby apparently confessed a week ago (he's the guy who runs the Zogby poll, obviously).

      So, the tally of registered, "likely" voters, is really a compilation of stay at home republicans that have nothing better to do than talk on the phone with complete strangers about who they're going to vote for in November. Now that's science.

      Friday, September 24, 2004

      Quick update

      Been busy the last couple days, so I'm not going to put a marathon post together today. One amusing story and that's it.

      Ok, so I met Kenya for lunch on Wednesday. We hadn't hung out in awhile and she has an hour lunch break at her job, which happens to be on my way to school. So, we select a place at random: Thai Buffet, just south of Oxford Street. We sit down, get some food, dig in. The food tasted...weird. It was rubbery. There wasn't much flavor, but that was expected at a buffet. It's just the chicken tasted really strange. It was so odd, I suggested that maybe it was Tofu, mock chicken. Guess what? We had walked into a VEGAN Thai restaurant. That's right, it WAS mock chicken. Score one for my palate.

      At any rate, I went to school afterwards and Kenya and a couple others met up with me for dinner. I suggested we go to The Hobgoblin, which I had been to the last time I was in London and serves good, cheap, REAL meat Thai food. Memory served. Finding the Hobgoblin was no problem, the food was still 5 pounds/plate, and it was delicious. I also had their trademark Hobgoblin Ale, which was pretty good.

      So, the lesson is, if you're a meat eater, Vegan food tastes like ass, spicy real meat Thai food is delicious, and always, always try the home brew.

      Tuesday, September 21, 2004


      Well, yesterday was an entirely productive day. I rose with the idea that I would finish my Japan paper and I was successful. It took a lot of work, but I have only a few modest modifications to make before it's ready to be turned in. Today, I'm focusing on the Intro paper, which I have done the research for, but have not really written anything. I'm a little behind my personal deadlines (I had hoped to have Japan finished on Sunday), but with some good work today, I should be able to catch up.

      Reading the political news from the States I'm still surprised no one has a really good explanation for why some polling companies have Bush with a 12% lead and some have the race dead even. I did read an interesting argument a couple weeks ago that the methodologies were different, but I don't remember the specifics of the argument. If anyone out there has a good read on the issue, I'd love to hear it.

      There has been a call from one particularly testy reader for a report on the food here in the UK. Fair enough. I'm neglecting my duty in that regard, especially since I'm a total foodie. Here goes:

      British food stinks. As this Italian guy who used to live in my house said, "Brits don't know dick about cooking." It's true. You can take any cross-section of traditional British food and you will find it bland and flavorless. It's almost like the Brits just didn't understand that those frilly green herb things could make food taste good.

      That being said, the Brits know this. That's why you can go into almost any pub and get decent food that is NOT British. For example, one of the big pub chains here sells inexpensive and quite decent Indian food. It won't be as spicey as an Indian restaurant would make it, but it is good. Other pubs might have Thai or other varieties of Asian.

      But outside of the pub, there are plenty of delicious food options. Right down the street from where I live (to the South), there is an excellent italian restaurant that I discovered totally by accident. Very good pizza, although not that similar to the American standards (and that's a good thing). In the other direction is my British Chipolte - Star Kabob. This is a persian restaurant that also serves Indian food. But I've never tried the Indian food, I only get the kabobs. Basically, they are open from 10 am to 5 or 6 am and they always have cheap, tasty kabobs. Now this isn't just meat on a stick. No, no, no. This is meat that been roasted slowly and spiced nicely, chopped, and then put into a pita that they grill before stuffing. Then they put hot sauce (or sweet and sour or mayo/garlic - but the hot sauce is the best) and a cabbage type salad on top. It's great, as long as you don't think about the quality of the meat. All that costs like 3 pounds - which is less than 6 dollars. Not too bad.

      There's also Wagamama, which I believe I mentioned before. It is quite delicious Japanese food, if you order the right stuff (stay away from the Yaki Soba - not even close to the real thing).

      Really, though, I haven't eaten out that much because it's damn expensive. I have had some nice Indian food, and I had a fantastic creme puff type thing at a bakery yesterday, but I haven't really had too many sit down meals. I have some places on my list that I want to go to, so I'll report on those when the time comes. A friend of mine has ranted and raved about this late night place near campus that sells what he calls, "the best shwarma in town", so I'm eager to try that soon. For those of you who don't know, shwarma is lebanese and totally delicious.

      At any rate, the reason this post is title Insomnia is because I couldn't sleep last night. I tossed and turned most of the night. But, all was not lost, at about 4 am I had a very coherent thought about the conclusion of my Japan paper that I was wise enough to write down (about 3 sentences worth). I ended up passing out some time after that. Of course, sound sleeping was not possible because at 930 this firm called me about a job interview. I went back to sleep after, but still, it was not the most restful sleep. However, when I looked at what I wrote at 4 am, it makes me think I should always write my papers at 4 am. I really nailed it rhetorically and argumentatively.

      Monday, September 20, 2004

      Just Desserts

      Well, all the partying caught up to me, finally. I came down with quite a cold Saturday - sore throat, cough, and headache. Yum. Even worse, I had my first occasion of laryngitis - I could barely talk Saturday. But, after a lot of rest, water, juice, and fruits, I'm feeling much better. Of course, I didn't get much accomplished for two days (and that pisses me off to no end!), but at least I'm getting healthy. Eating a whole pineapple probably helped.

      At any rate, I read something very interesting in The Independent yesterday. There was an article arguing that Americans don't really understand what's going on in Iraq because it's too dangerous for American TV crews so most of the reporting is done in print. Since Americans mostly get their news from the TV and most of what they hear on TV is George Bush saying "we're winning", that's what they go with. It makes a lot of sense - because by no objective measure could anyone conclude that "we're winning". Another incredibly interesting and truly disturbing revelation is that apparently, Bush has told his staff that on November 3 (i.e. the day after the election), he will call up more reserves to go to Iraq. Even if it's only 2,000 - 2,500 troops, that still is counter to Bush's claim that we don't need more troops and that he'll begin rotating troops out of Iraq.

      The reality is, however, that call up or not, the US is nowhere close to winning this "war". Iraq is descending into a civil war and there's little that the US, or the UN for that matter, can do about it. It was hoped that after the power handover in June, the violence would decrease. That has not been the case. Instead, violence has increased. The US is learning the Israeli lesson the hard way. Our response to suicide bombings is much like the Israel's. Launch helicopters, send in the tanks, blow stuff up. Thirty plus years of history prove that it doesn't work and it only breeds new terrorists.

      And for those of you under the false illusion that "nation building" worked in Afghanistan, you probably think that because the US media isn't reporting much about it. The truth, however, is that Afghanistan is dominated by regional warlords which are likely to require a massive increase in US and UK troops shortly. But don't take my word for it. The Independent has the scoop.

      In other news, the UN has once again proven its irrelevance with the latest vote to not take action in Darfur, Sudan. For those of you not on top of this one, Sudan is undergoing an active genocide, as labeled by Secretary of State Powell several weeks ago. Officially calling something "genocide" is a huge step because under the UN Charter and the Geneva Convention, the nations of the world have an obligation to act. The UN, however, has once again decided that issuing resolutions is more important than troops on the ground.

      Finally, the situation in Iran is getting worse. Iran is currently processing nuclear fuel to create weapons grade uranium. The IAEA process is incredibly slow, however, so by the time they meet again to decide on inspections (November), it's likely that Iran will already have enough nuclear material to produce several bombs. Unfortunately, while the US is complaining about the time table, there's little we can do about it because we're overwhelmed with the Iraq situation, as well as completely alienated from the UN. Gotta love that GW Bush.

      Saturday, September 18, 2004

      Catching Up

      It's been a busy couple of days and I haven't been around the computer much, so I'll try to catch up.

      Thursday marked 1 month - not that it's significant in any meaningful way, but I realized that when I paid rent.

      After class, I met up with Justin and Laurie (who I met for the first time that night) at a pub 2 blocks from my house. We stayed until 11 at which point, Justin, who has an Appetite for Destruction, wanted to go to a club nearby and Laurie went home. Now, I should declare, for I may have omitted this before, that Justin is gay. So, when he says, "I know a club nearby - it has great music and the drinks are cheap", he's really saying, "There's a gay club I'm comfortable in and even though you're straight, you would probably be comfortable there too". (I learned this the hard way once when he took a group of us to a "mixed" club that was really just a gay club with some "fag hags" as he likes to say - women that think gays are hot.) Since I'm the equal opportunity type (he goes to straight clubs with us), I agreed to go.

      He was right, the drinks were cheap, the music was good and for the most part my straight vibe deterred any acts of gay aggression (much like Saddam was deterred by US military might prior to Gulf War II). Of course, I didn't much like it when some Irish guy hit on me, but I deployed my most genuine apology when I told him I was straight, said something like, "we all have our flaws", had a good laugh and that was that.

      At any rate, what Justin did not tell me (he always does this - great guy, but pure evil), is that Thursday night is Cabaret night. So, at like 1230, a drag queen rolls out onto stage and starts singing and has a general comedy routine. It was pretty funny. Near the conclusion of the "show", she's interacting with the audience and Justin yells to her, "We have a straight guy over here!". She looks at me and tells me to come up on stage. So, up I go. I get up there, she takes one look at me and says something like, "You're of no use to me - there's absolutely nothing gay about you." Then she points to the one straight girl in the joint and says, "If you want to get laid tonight, you'd better go talk to Betty." Then she kicked me off stage did her last song and left. It was funny as shit.

      The other thing Justin does (I mean every single time - and I know he's not doing it because he's trying to seduce me by getting me trashed - it's just what he does), is he escalates from beer to something harder (Red Bull and Vodka). So at some point, he was like, I'm gonna get us some beer, he leaves and comes back with two double Red Bull and Vodka's. After that's gone, he keeps buying them, even when I'm like "I'm good". The point of this little narrative is that I got very very drunk (and broke one of my golden rules in the process which is NEVER get drunk the night before class).

      So Friday morning, I have class at 1130 and I was going. There was no way around it. I'm paying like 915 pounds to take that class, so there's no way I was going to miss it. Easier said than done. I have a new golden rule and that is: NEVER take the bus when you're nauseous from a hangover. The swaying of the bus was nearly enough for me to lose it and puke everywhere - but I made it through. By the time I got to class, I was mostly recovered and even managed to stay awake for the entire class and even participate in meaningful ways.

      I was dead tired and wanted to go home and pass out, but while I was in class, Justin had organized a group of 15 people or so to go to a pub near our neighborhood (Justin lives like 5 minutes from me). So I took my classmates David, Kenya, and Nicole - but not right away. They went to the pub at 3 - which is incredibly early to go to a pub in my book, but we didn't roll in until almost 6. My Spanish friend Adrianna called me at 8ish and invited me over to her house for drinks, so at 11 I went to her house (about 2 blocks from my house). Some of my Columbian friends were there, as well as some new Columbian friends that go to my university but I did not know them until last night. We hung out there drinking and dancing to Spanish and Latin music until 3, at which point I went home and collapsed in a heap.

      Tonight, I am going to a party being thrown by some Africans I know. They're from Sierra Leone and have fascinating stories. Fortunately, I didn't get drunk last night because I regulated my consumption. Otherwise I think my liver might protest.

      And this is London. Even when you're trying to go home and sleep off a hangover, you're out until 3 in the morning.

      Wednesday, September 15, 2004

      Sports Cafe blows

      Much to my surprise (sarcasm), Sports Cafe is a crap hole. It's not a crap hole in the jungles of Vietnam sense, it's actually quite nicely designed. No, it's a crap hole in the "American student meet market" sense. Tuesday night is "student night" where it costs 1 pound a pint or a shot. So of course, being the financially deprived sort, I went out with some fellow students to do some drinking and dancing. Well, it was packed, lots of US meatheads knocking peoples beers out of their hands (I was fortunate and only had some slight spills), and generally sucked ass. Sure, the dancing was fun, and the drinks were nicely priced, but it just raises the question: Why go to the UK to hang out with Americans? I don't think I'll go back.

      At any rate, I've been extremely unproductive today and I need to get cracking. I've been invited to a party celebrating Mexico's independence tonight, but I'm not sure if I'm going to go. I haven't gotten any school work done today and I feel like I need to. Of course, I also need to meet nice girls, so I guess I'm undecided.

      In other news, it looks like the election is tilting toward the Prez. I have to say, i'm not surprised. But you know who I blame for this? The media. Over here, even in "conservative" newspapers like The Guardian, there are pages of coverage of what's going on in Iraq. Case in point, today's lead story states quite clearly that Iraq is descending into civil war. Check the Washington Post today, an alleged "liberal" news source. The lead story is about Marion Barry, and while there is a story about the dangers of Tall Afar, it's nowhere close to the bigger picture - which is, that the US is in a full blown quagmire with no end in sight. The questions John Kerry needs to be asking is, "Is Iraq a better place now that Saddam is gone?", "Is the US safer now that there are hundreds of thousands of new terrorist gunning for US targets?", and "When are you bringing the troops home, Mr. President?" I think the answers to each of these questions is evident.

      When you add it all up, we have a regime in power that has:

      - Launched a preemptive war on a regional power that posed minimal threat
      - Dispered the known terrorists of the world from one country to dozens
      - Sparked a new breeding ground for terror against the United States
      - Created a civil war in the country we invaded
      - Willingly ignored the growing nuclear threat from North Korea
      - And willinging and openly engaged in torture tactics that clearly violate the Geneva Convention, a treaty that we tried to opt out of until the Brits shamed us into going along with it in 2002.

      I'd say that warrents regime change at home.

      Monday, September 13, 2004

      Busy busy

      Not a whole lot to report tonight. I spent most of the day at school reading and researching for one of my papers. It's taking a lot of work just to figure out what I'm writing about, but I think I have an argument - now I just have to prove it. Writing the damn thing is going to be the easy part.

      This morning I woke up at 6 am with sudden inspiration. So I grabbed my laptop and pecked out 2000 words on this essay i'm writing (not for school). I sort of fancy myself as an aspiring author, so when stuff like that happens I don't try to go back to sleep - I get to work. Consequently, two hours later I went back to sleep, so I didn't get to school until 1.

      While I was there I had coffee with Anna from Moscow and chatted with Evan from Bogota. There's always someone around. Overall a pretty good day. I've been working pretty hard the last couple days and since I'm going out tomorrow night, I'll probably do the same tomorrow. And then on Wednesday, I think I'm going to do some sightseeing with Evan, Maria (also from Columbia), and Meredith (from New Hampshire). None of us have class and it may be the last good chance for awhile.

      The weather has turned very cool in the last two days. I didn't wear a jacket to school today but should have. It's like all of a sudden it's fall. It's been cool and windy the last two days. There's no predicting the English weather. I will say, that the rumor of rain seems to be vastly overstated, at least as my short stay is concerned. It does rain, but it seems to very rarely rain all day like you get in DC. The jet stream is so strong over England that storms blow through pretty quickly. Today is a good example. It rained early this morning, was gray and windy when I went to school, rained shortly in the afternoon, and then just started raining again at about 1130 tonight. At any rate, I'm curious to see what the winter is like because they say that it rains a lot.

      Sunday, September 12, 2004

      All Hail

      Hail to the Redskins!
      Hail Vic-tor-y!
      Braves on the Warpath!
      Fight for old

      Run or pass and score — we want a lot more!
      Beat 'em, Swamp 'em,
      Touchdown! — let the points soar!
      Fight on, fight on 'til you have won
      Sons of Wash-ing-ton. Rah!, Rah!, Rah!
      Hail to the Redskins!
      Hail Vic-tor-y!
      Braves on the Warpath!
      Fight for old D.C.!

      Saturday, September 11, 2004

      Guess what I've been up to?

      Yep, clubbing again. I went out Friday and Saturday night - with two different groups of friends. I had fun both nights but I'm a little tired of clubbing. Fortunately, tonight was a relatively early night (left the club at 12 or so).

      Warning: Following Section is Me patting myself on my back

      I had my Japan class on Friday and I totally kicked ass. I had to present an explanation of why Japan turned to militarism prior to World War II (a really fascinating case actually) and I did an excellent job. I was very pleased because I was extremely prepared and I went above and beyond the requirement (although I didn't think I did - the assignment called for an accurate explanation and that's not something that can be summed up in a mere 15 minutes). My professor was so impressed that she stated that I had done "an oral disseration" on the subject. She warned the rest of the class to not be intimidated by the depth of my presentation.

      Unfortunately for the woman that went after me, she was not really prepared at all. I was a little surprised because I came into this with an expectation of what "graduate" level work would entail. So when I was assigned this task, I went all out. Apparently, some people in my class don't have the same expectation.

      Ok - Self-congratulatory moment is over.

      At any rate, I spent most of today studying. I have a lot of reading to do and I had not really gotten ahead in my Intro class. So today I spent about 6 hours reading. It's something I force myself to do because the subject material (the origin and history of the different theories to explain inter-state interactions, for example) is not really that fascinating. That's one of the differences between an undergraduate and a graduate class, however. In the undergrad, you only learn the basics - what the theories are and how they are used. At the graduate level, you learn about how and why they came into being.

      Tomorrow I have to get started on my research papers. I have two papers due at the end of the month and I haven't really started them. Well, I know what I'm writing about and I've done some cursory research for one of them, but not what I would deem a workman effort.

      I have to say, I have found a grudging new respect for my Intro professor. Our class this week was bumped to Tuesday but only 4 people found out about it. So instead of having class, the five of us sat around and talked about some different things. He's a very knowledgeable guy. In fact, his philosophy, the reason why he's teaching at Webster and not Imperial (which is where he started - and is MUCH more prestigious), is that most higher learning facilities are centered around authorship and research and not teaching. He felt that he could satisfy his research/scholarship interests by working at the Royal Instititute for International Affairs and give back to students in more meaningful ways by teaching at Webster. Most PhD's would never turn down a tenured position at Imperial. But he did because he didn't want to be part of the research factory where advancement and salary are solely based on your ability to produce scholarship and have no relation to the quality of your teaching.

      Because Webster is a small school with a small program, he's able to do a lot of things that they simply don't do at other British universities. For example, he's secured an impressive list of speakers to come every Wednesday to campus and present information to anyone who wants to learn about different aspects of International Relations. Thus, the investment banker that came on Wednesday to talk about Development in Africa. (I know that this type of stuff is fairly typical at major US universities - but it's not even on the radar in the UK, or so I'm told). He also secured us "student" memberships to the Royal Institute - something no other university in the UK has.

      The point is, the education I'm getting here is different than I would get at a Westminster or Imperial (I was rejected at both). But that difference is exceedingly important to me. One of the reasons I feel comfortable is because I know that there is an infrastructure set up to help me achieve the highest of goals. They want me to succeed and they're giving me every opportunity to do so - the rest is up to me. My professor has made it one his missions to ensure that the academic environment is warmer and friendlier than his experience at Imperial (he got his PhD there). And I appreciate the hell out of that.

      Thursday, September 09, 2004

      Oh NASA

      1,125 days of spaceflight...
      884 days of solar wind collection...
      0.4 milligrams of sample collected...
      1 failed parachute...
      $250 million spent...

      Another NASA failure...


      Wednesday, September 08, 2004


      Today was a pretty productive day. I didn't get as much school work done as I had hoped, but I did get to run a bunch of errands as well as go to a truly interesting and voluntary lecture on development in Africa. I'm very interested in Africa and I may have to do some work on that subject. Who knows, maybe i'll move there or something someday.

      At any rate, I'm a bit more coherent tonight, so I want to reconfigure my comments from yesterday. Basically, many people I have met here describe living here as "transformative". I don't think it's anything unique about London - I think it's more related to the process of moving to a totally new place, meeting new people, and especially learning and interacting with people from different cultures. This university (or "uni" as they say here), is a great place for that because I already have more friends (associates) from different places in the world than I did in the States. So, if I want to talk about the political process and the Zapatistas in Mexico, I can talk to Victor and learn his perspective. Or if I want to know about Palestine from the perspective of someone who was born and grew up there, I can have coffee with Azar. Etc.

      You get the idea. Growth opportunites abound here in ways the States could never do. I am challenged every single day here in one way or another and it's a great thing. Much of my time in the States the last couple of years was spent in rank boredom. But I'm not bored here. Quite the contrary - I'm overwhelmed with things to do because there is always someone who wants to do something and you want to do that with them because it's a bonding experience as well as a learning experience.

      Is this unque to London? I don't know. But I never encountered such a thing in the good ole US of A.

      Of course, all of this raises the question: Does this mean I want to stay?

      I can't answer that yet - it's a complicated issue. Not only is it not easy for Americans to stay in London, I haven't yet reached a point where I really miss America. I certainly miss family and friends, but I don't miss the US. (Ok, maybe the ready supply of burritos.) If that point never comes, if I don't reach a point where I miss the US, then I suppose that is my answer. But at the risk of breaking the heart of the most adorable 2-year old ever, I do have to consider not returning once my program is up.

      Of course, all of these thoughts have to be put into a certain context. Professionally, it may make more sense for me to stay in Europe anyway. Or, if not Europe, some other area of the world. I know that so far I'm extremely interested in development and the role that government can play in creating the conditions for economic investment and how that helps to stabilize nations. So, I am starting to look at organizations that do that type of work, either non-profits or businesses (obviously, business means more money for me). But this is all cursory, 3 weeks into my life here type analysis.

      The point is, I like it here. I like my school, I like my new friends, and I just like my life - more so than I did at any point in the last 16 months.

      Oh, and I like that I will get to see the Redskins take on the Bucs via satellite this Sunday at Sports Cafe.

      Tuesday, September 07, 2004

      So tired

      They say that going to London changes you (or least that's what I was told when I got here). And they may be right. It's not London, per se, that has a great effect on people. It's just that when you move to any new place, you grow and change. I see now (and I knew it then) how profoundly I had stopped growing in the States. That's why this is the best decision I could have made. No one likes stagnation and I'm a much happier person these days primarily because I'm growing and evolving as a person. It's an important lesson for life.

      Anyway, I went clubbing again last night! Some people may have the constitution for this, but I certainly don't. We started at the school pub and went from there. I got in about 430 this morning and was very hung-over for most of the day (and had to go to the bank to finalize my account details and class because he can't be there on Thursday). It was a rough day. Lesson learned, I suppose.

      One anecdote about the evening.

      We ended up at Cheers, which is an abomination in itself, but it was Monday and it was open. I had come straight from school, so I had my backpack with me. I checked it at the coat room when I got there. Well, went I went to claim it, guess what? No bag. Thus began a saga that involved me going into the coat room and digging through all the bags there, the assistant manager coming over searching for it, and finally being told that it wasn't there and I could try in the morning and hopefully it would turn up.

      This was unacceptable.

      My friend Justin, seeing that the assistant manager was Spanish, told me to just act naive about the whole thing and "let him do the talking". All of a sudden, Justin is talking rapid-fire in Spanish and things are happening. The real manager comes over, he buys us some drinks and tells us to just have a drink and we'll see what happens. They go off to do something.

      Justin tells me that he told the guy in Spanish that I'm some rich VIP who was his "charge" for the night and that we didn't want to keep the "car" waiting much longer. He also told them that we would need to file a police report and contact the embassy. Apparently, I look young enough to pull off the whole "son of a VIP" role.

      Finally, the manager comes back and is very apologetic, explains its not there, takes my number, gives me his card and is extremely accommodating. But, in the nick of time, someone returns to the bar with my bag. They had given it to the wrong person, but he was the honorable sort. Lesson learned. Don't go to a club/bar with a backpack.

      I have to say, I'm enjoying clubbing, but it's not really a place to meet people. It's somewhat frustrating to be a single guy, in a city of available attractive women, and yet continue to have difficulty finding a nice girl. And when I do meet a nice girl, she's either married, engaged, or moving to Paris in 5 days.

      Ok, I'm done whining. Good night folks.

      Sunday, September 05, 2004

      Clubbing 3.0

      Went clubbing again! I love it, but no more for a week at least! Yesterday I did a bunch of mundane tasks like laundry for most of the day, then I met up with Dave and Evan for drinks. Dave had to go out with his girlfriend and her mother, so Evan and I rolled out to a club called Tiger Tiger in Picadilly Circus (free to get in!). We met up with some of his friends, but they couldn't get in (it's very exclusive and they weren't dressed right), so we went to another club.

      There, we met up with some more of their friends (all Spanish/Columbian), and we danced until like 3 in the morning. AND, contrary to popular opinion - this white boy DOES have moves. One of the girls that I danced with said I was an "excellent" dancer. It was clear that we were the best two in the group. That may surprise some (and who knows what it says about our groups collective skill), but it is what it is. I also met a girl named Adriana, who is definately into me but I'm not sure if I'm into her. She's from Spain but lived in the States for two years. We exchanged numbers (and it turns out that she lives like two blocks from me), so we'll see what happens there.

      Anyway, I finally got home at like 330. Today, I got up around noon and had lunch with a bunch of people at the house. This really pretty and very cool Romanian girl asked what I was doing today and I told her that I was studying. So she asked if I wanted to study in Kensington Gardens with her. Hmmm. Took about .5 seconds for me to agree. In short, we spent the whole day together and ended up going into Kensington Palace and doing some touristy stuff as well as having dinner and coffee after. It was a great day.

      I do, however, have to confess to a Seinfeld moment. I spent most of the day not remembering her name. When she paid to get into the Palace, I tried to sneak a peek at her credit card to see her name. No luck. It finally occurred to me that her name is Elana, or so I believe.

      Either way, she's totally awesome and I wish she wasn't moving back to Paris in 1 week to finish her MA in Business. D'oh! Story of my life.

      Friday, September 03, 2004

      Dancing King 2.0

      Guess what? I went clubbing again last night! This time, it was free to get in (but I did spend some money on drinks!). Six of us went this time. It was Kenya, Albert, LJ (all from San Fran - and just met Albert & LJ), a cute American girl from Boston named Katie, Evan (from Columbia) and myself. I know what you're all thinking - cute American girl. Hmm.

      Well, she was very pretty. And I was interested. But then I learned 3 things. She's an undergrad, she's 20 (and has a boyfriend 'back home'). I think i'll pass on the cute college girl this time.

      At any rate, we ended up at this club called O'Rielly's or something like that. We had struck out at the other two clubs (both closed), so we thought we were just going to a pub. Turned out we lucked out and found a 3-story club. We danced like crazy until almost 2. I headed home (and ended up walking like 30 minutes to get to "my" bus, when I could have walked 10 steps and caught a bus home).

      Now, I should back up a second. I had my 2nd intro class yesterday and I'm a little...perturbed by it. I've already mentioned that I think we're reading the wrong stuff, but it's more than that. I try to be respectful but there's an awful lot of really stupid shit being said in class by both the students and the professor. For example, a student who shall remain nameless actually asserted that the problem with the US 'democracy' is that when you vote for president, the electors in your state can vote for whomever they want to - regardless of the popular vote. Not only is that incredibly stupid, it diverted the conversation away from things that were based on fact to things that were based on speculation (but what did the Prof. expect when he asked why the US population doesn't participate in elections?).

      My professor also asserted that Saddam Hussein and Kim Il-Song (and Il-Jung) of North Korea were irrational leaders (something I challenged him on and he backed off of - i mean, we had just finished talking about leaders that make miscalculations...).

      But it's problematic. I don't want to be disrespectful and I know my professor is highly respected in his field and at his regular job, but I really feel like he's doing a horrible job with this class. I had the same problem at Emory at times and I'm still not sure how to deal with it. I feel like I have a more extensive background in this material and most of my classmates don't understand what they're missing so I'm not getting any feedback from them when I air these issues. But it should be telling that after spending 4 hours in class, I have less than a page of useful notes.

      At any rate, my Japan class is completely unlike that. It kicks ass and I kicked major ass in it today. I was super ready, probably more prepared for that class than I've ever been for any class. Not to toot my own horn too much (I've always believed in modesty), but when most of the class is completely unprepared, the 2 other students who did some of the reading shoot wide of the mark when they participate, and I'm the only one who is on point and specific and accurate, well it makes me look damn good. (Yes, I'm that guy, but I don't give a fuck. This isn't some big game, this is my life.)

      The professor is a quientessential English woman, probably in her 60's who's been studying war and politics all her life. For example, she interviewed former POWs from WW2 prison camps, as well as concentration camps. Very knowledgeable and very interesting. I think it will be a great class.

      So the short of it is that I have two very distinct classes and professors. One does not establish much credibility, while the other does. I'm positive I can get an A in Japan, but I'm going to have to work hard to get an A in the Intro class - and I'm not just worried about studying (I can handle that). It's the politics of the Intro class that are potentially troubling. If previous experience is any guide, I really need to restrain myself during class sessions.

      Once in college, in a Southeast Asia class the Prof. asked about some of the differences between Thailand and the US and a student said "Santa Claus", I smirked as did several others. It showed up at the end of the semester when he lowered my participation grade for a bad attitude. It was total bullshit (I mean - Santa Claus? Fucking Santa Claus? You're seriously spending $28,000/year on your 'education' and the best you can up with is a jolly fucking fat man in a giant red suit that doesn't even exist?) - but the lesson is: be respectful of total fucking dumbasses even when, by rights, they should be ridiculed back from whence they came. "All the world's a stage" said Shakespeare. And "All the world's politics" say I.

      Thursday, September 02, 2004

      Et. al.

      Yesterday was a pretty busy day. I went to school relatively early and finished my group project in my non-credit research class. Yeah baby. After that, I went to the Post Office and mailed some things that I had literally not been able to afford to mail out given my cash crunch.

      In the afternoon, I spent about 5 hours studying in the library. Two of my classmates showed up so we all sat around a table reading various parts of the course books. I'm actually really perturbed with my Intro class.

      First, it's a survey course, which by definition totally suck ass. You end up having lengthy, yet meaningless conversations about how states came into being and if there is a status quo.

      But more problematic is that I think my professor is out of it on what we need to be studying. A survey course in International Relations, at a minimum, should cover all the basic theoretical underpinnings of how nation states interact (Realism, Liberalism, et. al.). Instead, we're reading sections from books that describe the historical development of those theories, skipping the chapters that explain those theories, and then reading chapters that explain how those theories are used. I'm sure you can see how that is problematic.

      For me, it's not a huge deal. I had Intro to International Relations in college and I remember the basics, and I'm aware enough of what I need to know to do the extra reading to ensure i'm on top of all the derivative theories (neo-liberalism, neo-realism, etc). But after talking to two of my classmates yesterday, well, they didn't take any IR classes in undergrad so this is all new to them. They need the theory more than I do. Which, of course, leaves me in a precarious situation. I don't want to suggest to the Prof that we're missing out on some important reading because I don't want to offend him and I don't want to get more reading assigned to the class. It's very delicate, but I may just end up showing him what he's assigned and then asking if there is other reading we can do about the theoretical background.

      At any rate, after many hours of studying and discussing this with my two classmates, we decided it would be prudent to go to the school pub and have a few beers. Kenya and Nicole are their names and they're pretty cool. It didn't take long for Kenya to utter the words "You're more black than I am!". My life is now complete.

      Kenya is someone who I think is really going to annoy me in class but is a good person overall. She just has that whole, "I've already started on my research paper, want to see?" thing going on. Normally my reaction is, yeah I have too, bitch. But instead I bite my tongue (as I have been taught to do) and applaud her effort. I guess I'm just past the stage in my life where I feel it necessary to get affirmation about things like that. Actually, I don't know if I ever had that stage.

      Nicole is very quiet and I worry about her. I think she may be in over her head with this MA program. It's not that it's oh so difficult. But it does take a lot of work and commitment and I'm not convinced she's really into the work that much. I don't really know her that well yet, but she seems to be coasting (and as someone who has coasted for virtually my entire undergraduate academic career I know what that looks like and what types of grades that brings). I am also trying to get her out of her shell a bit.

      At any rate, we had a good time at the pub. They have a happy hour there that's pretty cheap. Afterwards, I took the bus home, had some dinner, and taught my Spanish friend how to curse like an American. It's important lessons like that that he's just not getting in his English school.

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