Friday, July 29, 2005

Saying goodbye to some, hello to others

Sigh. Another day, another friend returns to their place of origin for good. Within the next two months, virtually all of the people I've spent the majority of time with here will be out in the world, away from London. On the one hand, it's great to have friends and contacts in places like Acapulco, Miami, Bogota...well, if you're a coke dealer that is. But on the other hand, it's sadly depressing that I will rarely, if ever, see some of these people again. I keep asking myself, why can't it be Real World that's leaving forever?

Speaking of which, I was talking to this guy last night who is the Resident Director (RD) at the dorm on campus. I met him very briefly once before but last night was the first time we chatted. Good guy. But, the point is, Real World texted me and wanted to come out last night. I wasn't having that because it was a party for my Mexican friend and she wasn't going to spoil the mood by crashing it. Good party + insanity + stir = bad scene.

At any rate, I swore loudly and profusely when she texted me. Strong drink does not mix with civility, at least when Real World is concerned. The RD asked me what the deal was. I mentioned Real World. Ten minutes later, when he paused in his rant about how she's essentially the most dishonest, ignorant, and obnoxious woman he's ever met for a breath of oxygen, I was able to get a concurrence in. To me, this is just stunning. He met her less than a month ago and he's already an expert. Someone completely untainted with Real World came to the identical conclusion that I and many others have. Not only that, he said that in a work capacity, if things don't go her way, she plays the race card. I am at a loss for words as to how to further describe her except to say that of all the people I've met in London, she is by far the one I respect the least.

Ok, enough of that. Something's been on my mind re: London Terror for awhile now, so here goes.

The 7/7 bombings, as I've said before, make no sense. The ones at King's Cross and Liverpool Street do make sense. They're major transit points in the system with both tourists and residents being effected. The bus one, well, I think that makes sense in that it was packed and they wanted to hit a bus. The location of the bus probably wasn't terribly important. The one at Edgware Road, however, make no sense at all. And I mean zero.

First and foremost, Edgware Road is known as one of the Muslim corridors in London. So, even though the bomb was targeted at the various commuters going through that station, the long term effect is a grave inconvenience for Muslims that live in that area and would normally commute by Tube.

But even beyond that, Edgware Road has no symbolic value. The true target, the one that I'm utterly shocked was not attacked, is Westminster. Not only is it the seat of government here, but it's a massive tourist destination, probably number 1 in London. The effect of shutting down Westminster would have been tremendous both in terms of tourist money (tourist figures are trending downward already, as in 2 billion pounds lost), but would also have had a greater symbolic effect than Edgware Road. So, for all the extensive planning, we're still dealing with a bunch of nimwits.

Other News

So I quit my job. Wednesday was my last day. I'm pleased about that, I must say. One of the partners took me to a very expensive lunch on Tuesday, which was much appreciated. But, even though everyone asked why I was leaving (and received the "company line"), only the Roving Alcoholic truly knows how much I hated that job - or hate the law in general. It is unfortunate that we won't be working at the same office anymore. For whatever it's worth, he's a good mate and having a friend to chat with can make the time pass easier. But in the end, I needed to put that job (and industry) behind me. So, the plan now is to spend all of next week in various libraries researching my thesis. Assuming that goes as plans, then I will look to begin temping the week after that. I don't desperately need to temp, but having some extra money will be nice.

The bigger picture plan, as it stands at the moment, is to use August to do the thesis and job hunt. I'm moving out of this craphole that I call a residence on the 14th. Eurotrash has kindly offered me his flat for about a month as he's going back to the States and doesn't want it burgled if it's empty. I'm paying him some rent, but not a lot. It's the least I could do since it's truly a win-win.

In September, assuming I don't have a job, I will most likely move into a hostel type setting for a couple weeks. That way I could continue to generate capital, not have to be tied down to a lease, and could ready to bolt at a moments notice. If I'm forced to leave the country, then I'll make travel plans and roll around Europe for a month on my own. There's a ton of places I want to go and see that I haven't made it to yet.

IF (and that's a big if) I get a job and a visa, then obviously all the plans change. I've spent considerable time thinking and talking about this and I really don't think I want to leave here just yet. I'm not so interested in staying forever or anything, but there's just something irreplaceably magical about living in a foreign country in general and the UK in particular. The law partner that took me to lunch asked me what I liked the most about living here in the UK and I really couldn't put my finger on one thing. There are just so many great things about living here (the people, the culture, the diversity, the humor, the reckless partying attitude, the proximity to Europe proper, the politics, etc.) that it's just tough to single out one thing. Plus, not only is it a place I've come to love, I think professionally, it would look quite good to have legit work experience on that resume. Because as of now, the closest I have to International Relations work experience is...uh, yeah, nothing.

At any rate, demonstrating true planning flexibility, I have a standing offer to move to Acapulco and teach English with free accommodation thrown in. I have virtually the same offer for Bogota. And of course, I have the States always there for the taking. It's ultimately up to me to make decisions about what I want. In time, decisions will be made.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Why the Valerie Wilson/Karl Rove story matters...aka...Why is there a pink elephant in my living room?

More details are emerging about the leak of Valerie Wilson's covert role in the CIA, most notably in this article in today's Washington Post. It is now clear, at the least, regardless of criminal charges, that the Bush administration, seeking to cover its losses on the Niger WMD claims, targeted both Valerie Wilson (to discredit the highly vocal Joe Wilson who went public with his role after the State of the Union speech mentioned the now clearly absurd claim the Iraq was pursuing "yellow cake" uranium from Niger) and the CIA, whom the White House claimed had provided the false Niger information.

At this point, we don't know if any charges will ever be fired. And, as much as I would love to see Karl Rove summarily tossed out of the administration (or perhaps jailed or fined), his sins of yesterday have no bearing on his potential sins of today. In other words, he may not be guilty of committing any crime, even if his flexible ethics are personally revolting. But really, the question of filing charges is probably not even the point anymore. The point is:


Of course, I'm referring to the fabled WMDs that Iraq obviously never had. The whole premise of doing a war with Iraq was that they represented a "clear" and "present" danger to US national security due to their quest for nuclear weapons. The Wilson affair just shows the truly cutthroat and insidious nature of the Bush administration. Not only would they out a CIA operative merely because her husband happens to be a vocal critic of the WMD claim (adding the clearly untrue allegation that he only went to Niger because she authorized it), but the Bush crew also forced the CIA to apologize (take the blame) on the Niger issue after the CIA specifically told the political leadership that there was no substance to the Niger claim.

That's right. As in previous conflicts and previous administrations, the political leadership made a decision about what it wanted to do and told the military and intelligence units to make it happen. They never cared if Iraq had WMDs or not. They never approached the issue with a discerning eye. The decision was made to invade Iraq - the only thing that remained was to loosely justify it so that they could sell it to an uninformed, trusting public. We know this is true from the Guardian article that documented how the US and British governments fixed the intel to justify the war. We also know that the US used a variety of dirty tricks to garner the votes on the Security Council in passing Resolution 1441. And we know, most importantly, that Iraq didn't have any WMDs.

What truly bothers me, however, is that Kerry didn't ask at any point during the Presidential debates, "Mr. President, where are Iraq's WMDs?" For some reason, the left has allowed the right to get away with the "shifting goalposts" justifications for Iraq. It is no longer WMDs. It's now that Saddam Hussein was a genocidal dictator who would have gone after WMDs inevitably and needed to be taken out so that the West could build a democracy in the Middle East that would serve as a shining example for the rest of the regions despotic regimes (you know, allies like Saudi Arabia). By tightly controlling the message, the Bush admin has gotten away with shifty justifications and the public has bought into it. I blame the Democrats for not skewering him on it in the first place, as well as voting for the war. In fact, I'm particularly disappointed that Josh Marshall has not made a bigger stink about this, even going as far to almost repeat the Bush line that this is "old news".

What will be the long term effects of this war? It's hard to say. But let me mention two examples. One of the side effects of the war in Vietnam was that the US ended up extensively bombing Cambodia as some VC insurgency was operating there. (We also sent troops in.) The bombing was blanket and indiscriminate. Innocent civilians were killed and the country was left with tons of unexploded ordinances that ended up maiming or killing thousands of Cambodians (mostly children) in the years after the war. As if that human impact wasn't enough, the US bombing campaign gave fuel to a Marxist insurgency movement called the Khmer Rouge. A struggling insurgency became a successful insurgency mostly because of its ability to portray the US as an imperial power that cared not for the Cambodian people. The non-democratic Cambodian government, which just happened to be a US ally, ultimately took a hit and lost the civil war because of its relationship with the "imperial" US. The result? Only about 1,000,000 Cambodians killed in less than four years in something that was a clear genocide and clearly ignored.

The US did nothing.

Another case is equally telling. The US surprise at the Iranian Revolution sent policymakers scurrying. We had been allies with Iran, but immediately switched and allied ourselves with Saddam Hussein's Iraq. While there were clear geostrategic interests in play, the 1980's saw one of the bloodiest conflicts between nations as Iran and Iraq fought to a standstill. Iraq, led by the maniac Saddam Hussein, deployed and used chemical weapons against Iran - both on the battlefield and against innocent civilians.

The US did nothing.

Later, Hussein launched a campaign against the Kurdish minority in northern Iraq. This campaign included forcibly moving the Kurds as well as mass executions. Up to 180,000 Kurds were executed in 1988 alone, with estimates reaching as high as 800,000 in a three year span. (One Iraqi official famously retorted, "There's no way 180,000 were killed. It couldn't have been more than 100,000.) The nickname 'Chemical Ali' was born during this period as the man sent to the region to "do the job" used chemical weapons against the civilian population again and again and again.

The US did nothing.

The point of these two short narratives is that foreign policy mistakes often have grave, unintended consequences that don't become clear until years later. The Reagan and first Bush administrations clearly had ideological blinders on when it came to Iraq. All they saw was a perceived threat from Iran and that perspective colored any other view they had. Even today, the key players are reluctant to accept that the offensive against the Kurds constituted genocide, probably because they are ignorant as to what genocide is (former Sec State James Baker never even read the Genocide Convention) and because it's a tough pill to swallow to admit that your actions directly contributed to the death of hundreds of thousands of innocents.

In the end, once again, the people in power that make decisions that lead America down a tough road aren't going to be the ones that sort out the mess they've made. This means, much to Tony Blair's consternation, that US and British presence in Iraq will continue to make us vulnerable to terrorism both at home and abroad. The new rallying cry for Al queda an their ilk is to point to Iraq as an example of how the West wants to dominate the Middle East and Islam in general. Make no mistake, more innocents are going to die because a cadre of politicians decided to launch into an unnecessary and dangerous war.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Coming Assault on Islam

You know you're in trouble when liberal hackola's like myself say something like this:

"I'm just going to do what everyone else is doing - be observant, look for dark skinned men with rucksacks, and get ready to tackle someone if they look like they're going to set off a bomb (or wear trainers and ready myself to run screaming). And yeah, it's dark skinned men with rucksacks. I'll broker no PC on this one because we know who's trying to blow sh*t up and it ain't a bunch of Irishmen."

Of course, I am the guy who was amused by a classmates argument that Islam is in crisis because it annoys Westerners and thusly, needs to change. So take my comments with a grain of salt. Seriousness is seriously difficult.

But now that I've had a chance to let the fiery passions of discontent over the latest L'episode de terrore wane, I'd have to say that Islam is facing probably the gravest challenge of the last hundred years (or longer, I don't know jack about the history of Islam). There is a growing perception that the minority (terrorists) are speaking for the majority. Who has this perception? Well, unscientifically, I'd say the public at large. But also, I think the UK media and political machine's aggressive stance that the terrorists were A) Muslims and B) Not all Muslims are stark raving lunatics that want to blow up innocent civilians, suggests that the undercurrent of bias and presumption of guilt is flowing just under the surface of the public eye. The recent increase in "hate crimes" against Muslims and mosques correlates this trend. On top of that, I've been hearing the argument that "terrorists live within your midst, if you don't give them up, then you're complicit with the violence."

I, for one, believe that the problem is rooted in the constant contest between traditionalism and Westernization. Muslims, like it or not, are here to stay in the UK. And it's not just the "traditional" Brits that the "like it or not" part applies to. In fact, that statement is more apt when applied to Muslims because they have long withheld the type of assimilation necessary to integrate themselves into a culture because they fear the dilution of their traditions, religion, and family units. Muslims, in general, have self-isolated themselves from their British or international neighbors, self-segregated themselves into schools and burroughs, and in some cases, have resisted simple things like modern Western conveniences.

The result of the ongoing "challenge" to traditional Islam is that many Muslims in the UK are sent to "religious schools" for what I'll term "reeducation". It is no great surprise that several of the terrorists from the 7th went to a religious school in Pakistan. Usually, the family sends the younger generation who has grown up in a Western culture because they feel that they need to understand the Muslim tradition more accurately. This, while totally anecdotal, happened to one of my prof's neighbors. Tellingly, they were buddies before the guy was sent to Pakistan. They'd lived side-by-side for almost 10 years. Their kids went to the same school and were good friends. The family, however, decided that this guy was becoming too westernized and sent him to a school in Pakistan for 3 months (mind you, he's in his 30's). When he came back, his daughter was placed in a different school, he ceased communication with my professor, and he's apparently a completely different person. Re-educated.

All of this background has come to the fore now that British Muslims have conducted suicide attacks in London. It is now no longer a social problem in that the effects are no longer just interpersonal relations, but are now mass violence and extreme radicalism. While I don't buy into the Clash of Civilizations hypothesis, I do believe there is now a direct confrontation between Islam and the West, even if that confrontation is being led by the extreme minority elements of the faith. The number of extremists isn't the relevant issue. What is relevant is that Islam is now under assault because, like it or not, the modern wave of terror is led by what we once termed "Islamic Fundamentalists" before the PC crew got a hold of the phrase.

Of course not all Muslims are bloodthirsty nutjobs seeking to inflict harm. But the danger, however, is that people are beginning to see Islam as a threat - not just the extremists, but the every day rank and file of the faith. The Islamic community in Britain needs to confront this problem head on, but unfortunately, I think it's a lion in their midst that they are way late in identifying and vastly unable to counter. The radicalization of Islam in the UK is not something that happened overnight. It's something that has festered and grown that the established leadership has done nothing to counteract. Claims of shock and surprise from the Muslim community are disingenuous. The writing has been on the wall for quite some time, yet the leadership has been unable or unwilling to address the danger.

What does this all mean for Muslims in the UK? I really don't have a good feel for the direction this country is headed, but I can't imagine this is good news. The more information that becomes available for public consumption, the greater calls for regulation and containment of "terror inciting speech". State regulation of religion is a bad and desperate idea, but I think we're getting awfully close to generating momentum for that sort of thing. People want answers and they want action. Just like the American public, they're not going to be overly concerned with civil rights and other pleasantries when they feel threatened on the way to work.

In the end, it falls on the Muslim community of the world to contain the radical elements within their midst. Terrorism is largely generated from these elements and no amount of flowery speeches or adamant statements is going to change that. It may not be an easy task, but the alternative, wars across the globe or war on Islam is untenable.

All of this makes one thing clear: Reform Islam or suffer the consequences.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Random Bits and Pieces

I'm sitting here at work, the last week at the firm, in my $1000 hand tailored, Italian suit that I purchased last week for $300. Yeah, it's good to be in the suit Mafia. I had no reason to wear this suit today, but in Britain, you never need a reason to wear a suit. My mate the Roving Alcoholic and I both bought expensive suits on the cheap last week and I may buy another one this week. Not that I have a lot of money, mind you, I just think it's a good idea to have a couple suits (for interviews and whatnot) and now that my grand total is up to 1, I should probably supplement gray with another color. Of course, none of this has to do with anything aside from the fact that I'm pleased that I a) managed to get in good with the suit Mafia and worked that to my advantage and b) I look damn posh in my new suit. Plus, I'm quite well rested for a change so I'm in high spirits today.

Anyway, someone asked what a neo-liberal was. Good question. I was hesitant to use the label because just like "democrat" or "republican", labels imply a whole host of crap that I ain't a party to (well, I'm not a party to much of the Republican label these days, but that's neither here nor there). I will refrain from a lengthy opus of what a neo-liberal is or where it came from. Instead, I'll offer a brief summary, just realize it's a bit more complicated than what I'm offering.
The liberal tradition originates from President Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations proposition in the sense that there was a belief that international institutions have a strong role to play in the maintenance of international order. The League of Nations was seen as critical to strengthening linkages between states to minimize conflict, foster economic growth and prosperity, and address critical problems like poverty, disease, and famine. In short, the liberal tradition is exactly what failed in the Inter-War period between 1919 and 1939.

The reformation of liberalism led to neo-liberalism. In fact, neo-liberalism was a direct response to the realist critique that looked at WW2 and decided that the policies of appeasement and the naive belief that nations could be contained by an institution like the League of Nations was what enabled the war in the first place. Realists argued that nations always act in their own self-interests, thus, hard (military) power politics is necessary to preserve order. The US strategy during the Cold War was greatly influenced by this critique, for better or worse.

The neo-liberal tradition, however, combines some elements of both the liberal tradition (free trade and international institutions) with some of the tenets of the realist critique. For example, you'd be hard pressed to find a neo-liberal who would suggest rolling over to the Chinese on Taiwan. Instead, a policy of carrots and sticks is likely - we give you One China Policy, you open markets for US products. In sum, neo-liberalism is rooted in a belief in market economics and free trade which should be combined with effective international regimes and institutions aimed as promoting peace and prosperity for all. A tall order with a questionable legacy indeed.

What is clear, however, is that neo-liberals do not propose invading sovereign nations, taking over their governments, and rebuilding the country from the ground up. Not even the true realists (like Kagan) advocate that because even they know that the costs of such a strategy are extremely high and the rewards are extremely low. No, the neo-cons are their own unique brand of insanity that unfortunately (for realists) have drawn the Republican foreign policy establishment down a dangerous and ultimately untenable path. That's one of the reasons why the mainstream GOP defense of Iraq is so weak - a lot of those people would never have opened up pandora's box had they been in charge but party loyalty demands they support the administration, thus Iraq. And, yeah, I know people like Kagan are "independent" from the party. It's not one grand conspiratorial group. It's just easier to lump it together to make my point.

At any rate, the grand neo-con experiment seems to be spectacularly failing, so one can only hope that the end of "invasion politics" is nigh. That doesn't mean that the neo-liberals (think Clinton) are going to win the day in the IR debate, but recent history has not only discredited the neo-cons, it has also sparked considerable scholarship as to the nature of occupations and invasions (last summer's International Security, for example, had a fantastic article about why occupations fail). At the end of the day, all politics is process, so one can hope that the establishment can learn from the latest failure and move forward.

Government, however, is notoriously slow to change and I remain pessimistic. I'm in the process of reading a lengthy tome called A Problem From Hell which is written by Harvard professor Samantha Power and is about America's relationship to Genocide in the 20th century. It's a fantastic book, well written, incredibly informative. But one thing stands out - the US has consistently sacrificed the moral high ground for geostrategic (realist) reasons. From the Ottoman Turks, to the Nazis, to Pol Pot, and Saddam Hussein's gassing of the Kurds, US policy is noted mostly for ignoring, belittling, and doubting genocide. If that's any guide, I fully expect that at some point in the future, we'll have another Iraq on our hands. As one of my professor's said, "there's no ethics in foreign policy".

And that's about enough depressing sh*te for a rainy Monday morning.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Iraqi Occupation

I originally wrote this post on July 6 with the intention of finishing it up and posting it on the 7th, but obviously circumstance intervened. Not surprisingly, the recent spate of violence in Bagdad means this post is still topical, so it goes up today. At any rate, this doesn't reflect scholarship; it's merely the observations and thoughts of someone who is looking for a way forward from the calamity that is Iraq.

We are totally screwed in Iraq right now, but I recently read something very interesting. The argument was that right now, we're primarily only focusing on security. To win the "hearts and minds" of the people - the most difficult proposition in any occupation - we need to shift to include developing the social capital of the country. People are quite easy to recruit for terrorism/insurgency when they don't have the basic needs of civilization - housing, water, food, etc. This much seems self-evident

If you look at W's speech from the other night (early July), he identified the need for both a security track and a political track and then proceeded to talk virtually exclusively about the security track while paying only lip service to the political track. There are a litany of errors on the political track, but the gravest one at the moment appears to be that there is essentially no political track. What the people need is education, health care, sanitation, etc. "Winning" insurgency is ultimately about spin and sympathy. Past and present occupations (Algiers, Palestine) have turned on the PR war. The first Intifada, for example, is widely viewed as a success because the Palestinians did not use car bombs and the like - they used stones and things of that nature. When the Israeli's responded with rubber bullets and water cannons (and ended up killing a number of people), they lost sympathy while the Palestinians gained. That got the PLO to the table in 92 which was a monumental achievement, even if it didn't lead to a peace deal. Yet, ten years later when the Palestinians turned to violence in the second intifada, graphic images of Israeli civilian deaths turned world opinion against the Palestinians and they "lost" the second intifada. Israel has gotten away with a Berlin style security wall, ever encroaching settlements in the West Bank, and essentially carte blanche from the US.

If the US has any hope of finding a reasonable solution to Iraq, they have to capitalize on the fact that the insurgents are using the most violent means possible to stall the country. To continue on the Bush path is to acknowledge that 5 or 10 years from now, Iraq is going to be a violent, brutal, and underdeveloped place that is controlled by a tyrannical minority. But, if we can shift away from simply "winning" the insurgency and actually attempt to build viable, sustainable institutions, then we have a chance to get out of there in a relatively good situation. I'm not so optimistic that Bush is going to get this right. The fact that he still has Rummy in his employ is tremendous. Rummy pretty much single-handedly created the situation we have today, a situation that is universally seen as abject policy failure. (I'm not going to delve into this too deeply as others have done a far better job than I could. But the short of it is, just like in Vietnam, a civilian military authority refused to listen to his Generals who strongly argued that the 'Coalition' would need upwards of 500,000 troops to control the border. Rummy said 'poppycot' and now, after upwards of 100,000 would be terrorists have flooded Iraq from neighboring countries, we have an insurgency that is largely foreign in nature. Somebody give the man a raise.)

In the end, I'm not optimistic that things are going to get better, but I do think there's a chance it could get better with better leadership and policy. Sadly, Kerry was completely unable to articulate this message (or even think about it) prior to the election and we're stuck with a befuddled president who thinks the key to winning the war is to present a good face and be confident that "America is winning".

(And I'm not joking about that. In a true miscarriage of social science, the Bushies have employed a political scientist from Duke, I think, who identified the key factor in the US inability to "win" in Vietnam as a failure of Nixon, et. al. to present a positive face to the war. Forgot where I read that, but it's a scandalous thing, really. We lost Vietnam because of what happened in Vietnam, not because the American public turned against a dubious war effort. But, Bush has always surrounded himself with Yes men, hasn't he?)

Anyway, in IR, I know I'll never get away from Iraq, so I'm trying to stay on top of it while acknowledging that it's one bad situation in a world full of bad situations. The truly odd thing about that is that neo-liberals like myself find themselves embroiled in a neo-con world that was not of our making but that we're ultimately going to have to sort out. Nothing like stacking the deck and then trying to beat the odds with 21. (And by "we" I mean people in IR that actually have jobs and stuff.)

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Back online

After an incredibly annoying series of days with no internet access, I'm back online. The house people decided it would be prudent to cut the internet room in half, using the other half as a storage area. Every day this week it's been, "you'll have access again tomorrow". Typically, we had to wait until Saturday to get it back. I'm withholding my rent just to piss them off in response.

Anyway, Thursday saw yet another attempt to inflict mass murder on innocent civilians here in London. Fortunately, this attempt was a total failure. I was pretty shocked that they are so bold as to try again, especially with the heightened security. Of course, they did it around midday, which has less security, and they did it in less strategically valuable areas this time. I mean, no offense to the people that live in the effected areas, but they're not exactly the nicest or the most vital for London transport as a whole.

I was having lunch with Eurotrash when all the nonsense went down. We got a call from the Roving Alcoholic who told me all about it. So, since the Tube was closed, we did some shopping for a couple hours (£15 jeans!) and enjoyed a lazy afternoon. I ended up walking all the way home (very long and tiring) while Eurotrash walked, took twoseparatee taxis, and walked some more. He lives in Oval, which is one of the stations that was targeted.

The thing I really find surprising is that no one decked the bastard as he fled the station. There were some people after him, but I imagine confusion and the sparcity of mid-day commuters allowed him to escape. Try that at the rush hour and I expect some burly British bloke will not only deck the guy, but beat the crap out of him as well. When we were trying to find information on our very long walks home, we asked a Tube lady what the story was. She briefed us and then said, "I hope they catch them alive so we can beat the sh*t out of them." The average Englander is not going to be overly concerned with human rights in this particular manhunt. In fact, I fully expect that Dragnet "balls in the desk drawer" style treatment is forthcoming. I sure as hell wouldn't want to be one of the suspects.

At any rate, there are two reactions that I had after this latest event, well, aside from surprise. About an hour before it happened, Eurotrash and I were commenting that we didn't think they would try to strike transport again because there are tons of other targets and the idea behind terrorism is to instill fear and vulnerability. Attacking transport does instill that vulnerability, but traditionally (Israel, IRA, etc) terrorists have struck a variety of targets to instill fear in the average citizen everywhere they go. So, it's nice to eat our words so quickly and all.

Back to my thoughts on this. First, I'm not about to stop taking the Tube and buses simply because some jackasses are on the prowl to blow sh*t up. This is the message from the government here, "go about your lives," yada yada. What I would say to Tony Blair is, easy for you to say with your bulletproof cars, high tech flying machines, and world class security. The rest of us commoners have little choice but to use the Tube. It's either that or get a bike and I'm not so inclined to get a bike and ride on these streets. That seems more dangerous than the risk of terror. But even beyond that, it's a city of 7 million people and 55 (0.07%) or so died in a terrorist event. Tragic, yes, but not shaking to the point that you feel the urge to bolt the city. Instead, I'm just going to do what everyone else is doing - be observant, look for dark skinned men with rucksacks, and get ready to tackle someone if they look like they're going to set off a bomb (or wear trainers and ready myself to run screaming). And yeah, it's dark skinned men with rucksacks. I'll broker no PC on this one because we know who's trying to blow sh*t up and it ain't a bunch of Irishmen.

The second thought thatoccurredd to me is that I'm not packing up and leaving this town just because it appears to be on the terror hit list. That would be ultimately very silly. Instead, I'm going to stick to my plan of working on my thesis, getting some temp work, and looking for a job. It would be lovely to stay here (I waver back and forth every day it seems) so if I can get a job, I'll stick around for a bit. If I can't, then I'll be happy to do some traveling and then head back to the States. But I sure as hell ain't going to let a bunch of f*ckbags make that decision for me. I'll decide on circumstance and opportunity.

Anyway, the joke going around London now is that they used to have penalty fares on the Tube if you didn't have a ticket. Now they hunt you down, put a gun to your head, and bang bang bang bang bang. Pay the fare or die.

PS - Did anyone else think Condi Rice's trip to Sudan was entirely bizarre? I mean I know that this administration is run by the cold hard reality of geopolitics to the detriment of all other concerns (i.e. our fabled ally Pakistan), but what could they be thinking? They've already labeled the ongoing conflict in Darfur genocide, how could they possibly think it was a good idea to rub elbows with a genocidal dictator? Unless, of course, the leader there is "democratically" elected. For shame. You'd think we learned our lesson by cozying up to Saddam Hussein in the 80's because we wanted to counter Iran's influence in the Middle East. But, shockingly, we haven't. Smart people like Condi Rice continue to make the mistakes that smart people before her made. Fun.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Simmering on some things

I have many thoughts going on that I feel I need to write about at some point but now is not that point. Over the weekend I was Harry'ed by a teenage Potter and as I am a dork, I wanted to comment in hopefully more authoritative ways than the average Washington Post review (which I found to be decent but sort of missing the point).

The latest Potter book is, in my opinion, by far the best. For a long time, I refused to read the Potter books because I knew what they were from the start - a dumbed down kids take on the genre. As a lifelong Tolkien fan, I have a pretty high threshold for what I consider excellence in that genre and I knew that Potter could never add up. Still, I picked up the first book at my mother's house one time when I was visiting (it was either that or a James Beard novel or A-C of the 1962 Encyclopedia Brittanica and not even my thirst for knowledge extends to reading an encyclopedia).

My suspicions were confirmed relatively quickly. Rowling is not in Tolkien's league. But, that doesn't mean that she's not a very good author and that the books aren't entertaining. In fact, they are enjoyable, they appeal to a diverse audience, and they're easy to read. After reading all six books, a couple things are clear. First, Rowling's talent lies in forging a relationship between the main characters and the reader. She's not a descriptive author at heart. Book 6 is especially telling. There are several points where you read a lovely, flowery description of scenery or events and, while quite well done, almost stands out of place amongst the text simply because it is so unusual. No, her strength is in the dialogue and the development of characters. And, second, the series is, as expected, ultimately little more than a simple tale of how love conquers evil. (And I'm not giving anything away here.) I know that this is a lovely message to give to children and since children are the target audience, I have no real problem with it. But I will always be a bit perturbed that the books lack the complexity of Tolkien or Robert Jordan.

At any rate, back to the issue at hand. Book 6 is quite good mostly because it's essentially the Empire Strikes Back of the series. By that, I mean that it's much darker than the previous five to the point that some media outlets are warning parents to be a bit more observant and involved in discussing the book with their kids. As an adult, I find that laughable given everything else that I've read, but hey, it's a fair point for a 10-year old. But really, this is exactly what the series needed - a dark book with some twists that leave readers either gasping, smugly nodding, or both.

One thing that you really notice, however, is that Rowling has taken a decidely political turn in this novel. There are several points where she is making clear statements about a certain political figure here in the UK, points that have essentially no role in the story and stand out as biting social commentary more than anything. But, for the most part, that type of stuff is muted. So don't worry, she hasn't gone Tom Clancy on us or anything.

The criticism I have with the books, and the series as a whole, is that for those really paying attention, it's starkly apparent what is going to happen next. The foreshadowing is ultimately not very sophisticated and the reader finds himself awaiting for events to occur that are almost predestined early in the series. While that makes nice for the kiddies, as an adult reader, it dilutes the quality of unfolding story. Of course, I'm not really complaining. She didn't write this for me, she wrote it for an 11-year old.

The other big criticism I have is that after living in London for almost a year now, the book has lost some of its luster. Maybe it's because I have the UK version and the language is a bit less refined. But judging from the review I read in the Post, I think that they used similar or the same language choices in the US. Tolkien, for example, sure as hell didn't use UK slang in his books and I imagine he's rolling in his grave over Rowling's use of the word "snog", just to mention one example. I guess in the end, knowning the UK like I do, the series has lost a little of its luster.

After finishing book six (and it's utterly shocking conclusion), I'm convinced that book 7 will be the best of the series. Every reader knows what has to happen for the series to conclude, but there are a lot of subplots that have to be tied up as well which means book 7 promises to be action packed and enjoyable. Since I don't want to give anything away, some of the truly annoying parts of the first 6 books are clearly not going to be a problem any more.

I'll conclude this little mini-review with this: Rowling is a model in how to write fiction. She started with a basic premise (love conquers evil), built a storyline around that premise, developed characters to meet that storyline, and made a billion dollars. Most importantly, she played to her strengths, didn't worry about critics like me who feel her story is overly simplistic, and focused on her target audience at all times. People say "talented writer" a lot, but I'd say that there are tons of "talented writers". It's the ones that can put it together the way Rowling has that are authors. So I'd say her story gives hope to us all (although I won't hold my breath for a billion dollars any time soon.)

Monday, July 18, 2005

A tale of two nights

So we had the big night out on Thursday. About a dozen of us got together for a last hurrah. It's quite sad, really. Several of my friends here I'm not likely to see again, even if we do keep in touch via email.

The night kicked off at our uni pub. The drinks are cheap and it was an easy location to gather prior to going out after that. Around 9 or so, we headed out to this place called Soho Bar, shockingly, in Soho. It's a relatively small place, but it's cheap, cheap, cheap which suited our interests. Of course, the downside was that it was so hot that everyone was drenched in sweat within minutes. The place should have been called Dante's or something more appropriate. At any rate, we weren't complaining. There were loads of young, single women there.

At one point, after dancing for a bit, I was overheating and decided to take a breather at the bar. There were two Spanish girls that had taken their shirts off (yes, bra's on) and were dancing right in front of me. I was certainly not complaining. Nor was I complaining when one of them grabbed me from my resting place, started dancing with me, kissed me, and sent me on my way. It was both amusing and shocking. That sort of thing just doesn't happen to me.

Anyway, we decided we couldn't stay at that club for long as we were likely to either expire or spontaneously combust, so we went next door to a club called Barcelona. I liked this one immediately because it was about 1000 degrees cooler. It didn't take long before I found myself embroiled in conversation with strange British women. But the one I was talking with didn't interest me so I changed gears and got to chatting with her friend. Now, to be honest, I can't be sure if the friend was oh so attractive or anything like that, but she was more suited to my tastes. Long story short (as work looks like it will be really busy for the first time in about 6 months), we ended up snogging for about 45 minutes until her friends were leaving and yelling, "let the yank go!"

Eleven months to the day and I pulled a British girl. Who would have thought it could be so hard. I don't know if it was just dumb luck or if I figured something out. I honestly can't remember how I got to talking to this woman. I remember chatting with her friend, but don't remember the switch. Of course, when we meet up (later this week), I may be disappointed and realize that she's not actually that cute or something. But that's not really the point. The point is, I've been in England for 11 months, always wanting to meet British girls, and rarely, if ever, actually meeting one in a club or a pub, and never previously actually drawing interest. If I do nothing else while I remain here, I hope to understand why it's so damn hard to meet a Brit.

Saturday was a contrast in styles. I had not planned on going out, instead opting for a night at a pub with some mates. One of those, my Canadian friend (or "America Junior" as we like to call him) knows people at a club near where I live. He lives in the same neighborhood. It was a fairly easy sell. We won't pay at the door; if it's no good, we leave. The club, Opal, was kind of cool. The inside was designed to look like the inside of a cave, so all the walls were sloped and molded like caverns and what not. Of course, it should have been called "O - my it's effing hot in here - pal" but I guess that's nothing new really.

We were there for a while when my friend Eurotrash essentially dared me to go talk to this nice looking woman who was dancing with her friend. At this point, the only woman I had talked to turned out to be an American from Athens, GA, which of course caused a mental "For F*ck's Sake!" in my head as no matter how hard I try, I always seem to run into Americans. So I was game. Plus, I was pretty sure that Eurotrash thought I a) wouldn't do it and b) would totally strike out. But for whatever it's worth, the last year or so has taught me how to talk to a girl in a club, when to know when to stick around, and when to bail on a sinking ship, so to speak.

To I go up to this girl, we get chatting (she was Spanish), dancing and whatnot. Eurotrash can't believe it. The Canadian sends me a text, "nice pull". Everything is going great. Only one problem, this woman doesn't want to give me her number. She wants to "enjoy the night". At about 2:45 in the morning, after all my friends have left, I finally tell her that I think I'm going to go as it is quite late. She grabs her stuff to come with me. Now, maybe I'm completely insane (likely) but the last thing I want to do is shag some girl I just met at a club. It's creepy, it's degrading, and it just isn't me. So, when she goes off to check on her friend, telling me she'll be right back, I bail.

When I told my friends the next day they couldn't believe it. But the funny thing is, I think they would have done the same thing. They talk big game, but they have girlfriend's. They don't have to go out to clubs and try to meet nice girls (diamond's in the rough). Especially Eurotrash. He's said enough in private conversations with me that I get the idea that he would hate the club life for many of the same reasons that I hate it.

Anyway, this is truly a comparative tale. Funnily enough, I was talking Eurotrash earlier in the night (when it was just the two of us) and he made a quite insightful point. We were discussing why I was still single since I've obviously met a sufficient number of women to have found someone likeable enough. I argued that I hadn't found anyone that really did something for me. His point: I have met enough, it's time to chose one and see what can happen. I don't totally agree with him, but I think he has a point. I bailed on the Asian girl fast. I've bailed on the Italian girl even faster. There have been a dozen others that I've had chances with that I've turned away for a variety of legitimate or semi-legitimate reasons. It's not that I'm not meeting women, it's that I'm not allowing things to progress beyond a certain point. In fact, I think I have met someone who fits well into my criteria. It's someone that I initially discounted as young and immature and annoying. It's someone that I've gotten to know better since then and just realized last week that she's someone I'd like to spend time with, someone I think I could connect with. I'm talking about the Cliché.

I'd say it's time to toss the dice and see where they land.

Oh, and the other funny thing from Thursday. Real World got really drunk and (once again) started telling people she wanted to f*ck me. I thought we were past that phase. But apparently not. I hope her boyfriend doesn't find out. Fortunately, my strict policy of staying away from her when she's drinking paid dividends as I didn't have to deal with that for the 745th time.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Scattered Thoughts

I have several themes I want to mention today, none of which are intricately tied together.


I believe I understated something yesterday when I argued that the Rove leak represented a threat to national security. I took that for granted, but now that I have read a little more, I've come to understand just how grave a breach this was.

Don't believe the claim that Valerie Wilson was a "low level functionary". Not only does in not square with the facts (how can she be low level and still authorize her husband to be sent on a trip to Niger?), but it's wide of the target. Ms. Valerie was what the CIA refer to as "off-cover", i.e. she did not have a diplomatic passport, if she had been found spying in a foreign country, she would not have received immunity, and very well could have been imprisoned or executed for espionage. Given the countries that are involved in WMD proliferation, it's not a stretch to believe she would have been executed.

But even beyond that, her cover was established in a CIA front company that appears like a legitimate business. Releasing her name exposed the entire company as a front for the CIA meaning that dozens, if not hundreds, of CIA operatives were exposed at the same time. It's not so hard to connect the dots. Not only that, these agents were prosecuting the war on terror. The Bush regime's intentional (or unintentional) assault on Wilson meant that with one stroke, they impaired and endangered the effectiveness of the CIA to pursue leads on the gravest national security threat of the last 20 years. Good on you, Rove.

That warrants a firing, don't you think?

Suicide Bombing

The revelation that the bombers in London were suicides puts a whole new spin on civil society's role in fighting the war on terror. For years, the message has been, "look for abandoned packages". Well, guess what, that's not going to cut it. In fact, suicide bombing is a new source of vulnerability for us in the West as there is ultimately no defense. Richard Reid was subdued after relatively heroic action by a few passengers. But does anyone really think that you are likely to stop a suicide bombing? Ask the Israeli's about that one.

Anyway, my point is, there is ultimately no defense against suicide bombing other than to find them and arrest them prior to the attempt. As much as we would like to make our trains and buses safe, there's really nothing that can be done aside from regular police patrols, bomb sniffing dogs, and things of that nature. That's why the "war on terror" must be a law enforcement strategy. Simply prosecuting it as if we are attacking states is never going to succeed. In fact, if recent history is any guide, attacking and occupying states is the best way to fuel recruitment of motivated terrorists. Ergo, George Bush's strategy is not only doomed to failure, but it's also being undercut by his political generals for petty reasons.

I won't give myself away

So I met a girl last Saturday at the club. I didn't mention it because it's become fairly routine to meet a girl when I go out. Equally routine is the inevitable process of not actually making a meaningful connection or being disappointed in who that person when you truly meet them the 2nd time. Therefore, my new policy is to not blab about it in the blog unless it's a woman who I'm actually into from the start - a rarity at best.

I went out with her last night. When I met her, she told me she lived in Surrey, but I didn't really know where the hell that was, so I just asked if she liked it and things like that without revealing my geographical ignorance. Well, I found out yesterday when I went down there. It's southwest of London - a good 30-40 minute train ride. It's not a bad little town that she lives in; sort of has a more European feel than London does at the least. But that's not really the point.

The point is, once again, I find myself not so interested in someone who is clearly very interested in me. Part of that equation can be attributed to my focus on job and location - it does not behoove me to meet someone that I really would want to be with since I don't know if I'll even be in this country in 6 weeks (although I feel quite strongly that if I did meet someone with the right makeup, no amount of logic or reason could prevent me from getting involved). But part of it is also that meeting people is ultimately a dodgy game at best. This particular woman is very nice, very conservative, and very un-British (which makes sense because she's Italian even though she was born and raised here). All of that is the problem. See, I like a woman who is nice, thoughtful, properly dressed, not overly made up, etc. But at the same time, she can't be too conservative or too reserved. It just doesn't work for me. That has no bearing on who they are - it's not personal - it's just I know what I like and that isn't it.

So, "what to do, don't have a clue". (Famous drunk quote from Real World.) She wants to see me again and to be fair, I will see her again. But knowing her as I do on a limited basis, it's very clear that I don't want to get involved because a) she doesn't do it for me and b) I really don't want to hurt her as she's so obviously been hurt before. Given those two realities, I think it's best that I let her know where I'm coming from early on so that she doesn't get the wrong idea.

And while I was running an errand for work just a bit ago, I realized that I've stumbled upon something important that has not been in my heart and mind for quite some time - or at least not quite so visibly. There is a tendency that we all share at times to be overly eager to get involved with someone. The motives can be diverse - some just want shags, some want companionship, etc - but the enduring reality is that just like U2 said, people give themselves away far too easily. I'm not goin' out like that. It's the old cliché that you'd rather be alone than be with the wrong person, but a year of the "single" life here in London has me utterly convinced that every now and then a cliché has validity. This is one of those times.

So, as I'm living in Britain and when in Rome...there's only one thing to do. I must go out and engage in the ancient British tradition of getting pissed and worrying about it tomorrow. Ok, I totally stole that line from a book, but the truth is about a dozen of the school crew are going out tonight to celebrate the end of the program and we're going to live it up properly. Some of these people I may very well never see again, a saddening thought. So hopefully tonight will be memorable.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Politics revealed

I've been reading quite closely the last week or so the growing imbroglio that is enveloping President Bush's top political advisor Karl Rove. For those of you who are unfamiliar (or not intimately acquainted) Rove is undoubtedly the dirtiest political operative in recent memory. Nixon and his cronies had nothing on Rove. Among his offenses, Rove has been linked to a variety of scandals including several highly illegal election fraud actions in Texas that were never prosecuted. Included in previous allegations:

- Taping election eve messages that were faked to sound like the opposition candidate, were offensive, and called election voters repeatedly all night long;
- The old dirty trick of printing and handing out fliers for the opposition that are offensive and outright lies; and,
- Egregiously, winning a Court election battle in Alabama by spreading false rumors that the opposing candidate was a pedophile.

I'm only mentioning three because from what I've read, those are the three most frequent (illegal) weapons in his arsenal. This is not a good man. In fact, regardless of affiliation, Rove pretty much represents the worst that politics has to offer and he's due several lengthy jail terms that will never happen because of his position, a lack of evidence, and the fact that all the prosecutors in the states he worked in are Republicans.

The latest scandal, however, has actually been brewing since 2003. Essentially, in the drive to talk up the case for doing a war with Iraq, the Bush team sent former Ambassador Joe Wilson IV to Niger to verify the claim that Iraq attempted to purchase "yellow cake" uranium in 1999. Wilson's report was that the claim was false. Later, when the admin used the Niger argument, Wilson wrote a scathing response in the New York Times based on the report he had written for the Department of State that indicted the claim. The administration response was to "out" his wife, Valerie Plame/Wilson, as being a CIA undercover operative. For two years, it's been pretty clear that Rove was the one who leaked that information. It fits his style but also the multiple stories that outed her used the term "senior administration officials" and there were only a few people it could have been.

At any rate, now, two years later, details and facts are starting to come out. Rove, in a moment of stunning brilliance, apparently sent one of the reporters an email that referred to Wilson's wife as a CIA agent. That's what we know right now. Interestingly, columnist Robert Novak, who is a subject of an ongoing investigation, used the word "operative" in his article about this in 2003, a distinction that clearly implies that he was told that she was not just in the CIA, but was also in a covert position. Releasing that information, although difficult to prove, is a felony meaning that the guilty party could be jailed.

That's the legal side. But I'm not so fascinated by that because as of right now, there isn't much more than speculation. The grand jury proceedings are obviously sealed and the legal case will develop in time. I prefer not to speculate about that as many other places are and I'll just be repeating someone else's position.

Instead, I want to focus on two things. First, regardless of whether there is evidence of a conspiracy or obstruction of justice (two areas that Rove is being investigated), it seems completely clear at this point that a man with a Top Secret security clearance leaked confidential information that endangered the lives of US intelligence assets around the globe. I don't know much about security clearances, but it seems evident to me that his should be revoked. Whether it's on purpose or not, leaking that information represented a threat to America's national security and I can't imagine John CIA doing the same and escaping with his clearance intact, not to mention his job. Rove's clearance must be revoked. That won't happen (unless charges are filed) because that would essentially make his job in the White House impossible and whatever one thinks of George Bush, he's loyal to a fault. He doesn't want to oust Rove after all the man did to help him get elected.

The other point is that this investigation is the result of a Special Prosecutor. We all remember the Whitewater non-scandal and it's decade long aftermath. Clinton, in his book, says one of the gravest mistakes of his presidency was to authorize creation of the Special Prosecutor position. Now I don't know if a DOJ "Special Prosecutor" is the same as Clinton's "Independent Prosecutor", but it ultimately doesn't matter. The point is, the current administration finds itself embroiled in a high level controversy that actually has substance. It's nice to see the tables turned, for once.

The GOP strategy to deal with this is to claim that the Democrats are trying to "smear" Rove, a laughable claim, and to essentially wait it out until a Supreme Court nomination is made that will create a cacophony of opposition likely to drown out the significance of the Rove debacle. The RNC issued a talking points memo to that effect yesterday. Since that appears to be the big strategy, I'm going on the record now and predicting that the nominee is likely to be much more conservative and controversial than one might expect. Not only does appointing a radical conservative to the Court serve the special interest groups the are dominating the GOP at the moment, it helps drown out the Rove scandal, and, at the same time, complicates things for Democrats politically as the only way to stop it is to filibuster which is a whole 'nuther political hand grenade.

At any rate, this whole ongoing saga reveals just how dirty politics is and how dodgy the game is played. Not only is the Rove crew a depraved bunch (who goes after an opponents wife, for f*cks sake?), but the whole GOP response strategy is yet another lesson that politics is ultimately about power and not policy or even voter interests. It will be interesting to see how this plays out...interesting in the way we all look at gory car accidents as we roll past on the freeway. But this is ultimately what America voted for, so this is what they're getting. Just desserts, I suppose.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Officially done with class

No, the marathon is not over yet. I still have to write a shortish essay and my thesis, but class is officially over. Yesterday marked a 7+ hour class session (to make up for the missed class on Thursday in addition to the regularly scheduled program) and it finished on a spectacularly typical note - morons giving presentations. Yes, my language is harsh, but instead of sugar coating it, I'm going to tell it like it is. "Morons" is the apt term.

One such moron previously featured in this space and clearly setting new benchmarks with every master stroke, Real World, really capped off her MA with a prototypical performance for the ages. In fact, her last presentation should have been recorded and put in a Pantheon or a Great Hall or at least The Wall of Shame.

The Setting: Regent's College, Regent's Park, London
The Topic: Globalization
The Presentation: "Globalized Theories of AIDS"
The Verdict: Classically Incomprehensible

Indeed, Real World wasn't the only person in the class to give a presentation that was essentially "X" + the word "globalized" and stir, but her's was by far the most unintelligible. Even the Danish/Lebanese guy who went on for about 25 minutes about why Islam is annoying to Westerners and needs to change was more coherent (and freaking hilarious - I've heard many criticisms of Islam before, but "annoying" is perhaps the most amusing especially from a guy who's first words spoken in class were "It's because they're vampires."). Anyway, Real World decided that in a class about Globalization, she was just going to rehash her AIDS paper and presentation from two terms ago. Bully for her. Another girl gave a presentation about Kosovo that just happened to be the identical presentation that she gave in February and equally had nothing to do with Globalization (leading my professor to exasperate profusely).

So, expecting something like "globalization made the transmission of AIDS easier for the following reasons..." I was ultimately not surprised when the resident brain trust rolled out the various theories about what caused AIDS in the first place. There was the generally accepted ("globalized") view that AIDS is caused by HIV etc. Then there was the crackpot ("regional") view that AIDS doesn't exist in the first place. And then there was the offensive ("localized") view ala Farrakan that AIDS was a plot by white Jews to corrupt and destroy the black man with a little Pat Buchanan in there somewhere (and some "sinny sin sin").

Only Real World could take an entire class on the topic of Globalization and never get past the "global" part of the word. In fact, only Real World could take an entire MA program and never understand the simplest of assignments and the simplest of concepts. This was not a hard course. In fact, I read about a 6 year old genius here in the UK that speaks Mandarin who would have cried rivers of tears if he saw how easy this class was. The little tike probably could have "learned" everything there was to learn in this class in about 3...3.5 minutes. If that long.

Real World, however, is such a rare breed of ignorance, dishonesty, tactlessness, shoddiness, and outright stupidity that even after 8 weeks and 30+ hours of class time, she understood little more than the "global" part of the word. I'm sure glad I have that diploma, ya know? It really means a lot compared to some of the finest. (And no, she didn't get that job at Amnesty International. The international community cheers.) Not only is it clear that she didn't learn a single thing in this MA program, it's also quite clear that she's going to graduate and be a Master of Arts. I'm ashamed for many reasons.

Of course, in all of this, I blame my professor. I've been quite sympathetic about him because on a personal basis, I feel that he's a good guy. He's just a crap-tacular teacher. It's not entirely his fault (it's like teaching to a room of half adults and half toddlers), but I still blame him. An MA program should be rigorous. It should be demanding. It should be a challenge. In some of my classes, that was the case. But in this professor's classes, it was never much of a challenge. He always taught to the worst students, never to the top of the class. To me, that's a philosophically bankrupt proposition for many fine reasons. For example, on principle ("there's principalities in this"), if a poor student fails out because they can't keep up with the program, that's not the professor's fault and he shouldn't feel bad about it. Not every person is meant to go through an MA. But even beyond that, I've always felt quite strongly that the problem in education is that when dealing with poor students, systems and teachers tend to talk down to them which means nobody wins. Teaching to the top is more likely to bring the lowest up instead of the highest down.

At any rate, screw all that philosophy, what I really want to rant about is how much of a jackass my professor is. He really pissed me off on Friday and class couldn't be over fast enough. I'm a pretty opinionated guy and after a few classes of dealing with utter nobbery (both from classmates and the prof) I was emboldened to run the show. Frankly, as Eurotrash and I agreed, we had to run the show or die from utter boredom and excessive nobbery, an exceptionally brutal fate indeed. (This only applies to classes with this one particular prof, by the way.) Well, somewhere along the way, I obviously annoyed my prof. It may have been when I came to the conclusion that he's a dogmatic tool masked as an "academic", but I don't think he ever really understood the level of disrespect that I had for him because I hide it pretty well.

But, the point is, on Friday, in class, he said in response to something I said, "Yes Stephen, I know because you know everything." The gloves came off then. I really don't think I said anything that was extraordinary or out of line. I don't even recall the "conversation" that was occurring at the time, but it was undoubtedly a situation where he went off on a wild tangent that had nothing to do with the class material and said some really silly shite (par). I was both angry and shocked. If you want to tell me to tone it down because I'm crowding out other "voices" in the class, so be it. Do it in private. I won't agree with it, but I'll respect it because ultimately he's the prof and I respect his position. But to say something like that in class is totally unacceptable and unwarranted, especially from a guy who is generally a nice guy. So, the result was that as compared to previous situations where I would just let him say things that were dogmatic, unscientific, and baseless, the last class featured me calling him out. Every. Single. Time. I couldn't help myself really.

Here's the rub. He's never respected the voices or views of his students in the first place. There is a strong contingent of students that absolutely refuse to take classes with this guy because of all of what I've discussed, but ultimately it comes down to the fact that he expects (demands) respect from his students but it's never been a two-way street. So, being the somewhat patient guy I am and ultimately being political (and not having much of a choice), I kept taking his classes because I always hoped at some point things would get better. When it became apparent on Friday that he fundamentally disrespects his brightest students, well, I wasn't exactly going to be charitable on Monday. Ultimately, the test of wills had no bearing on most of the class because most of the class is either A) moronic, B) too timid to speak up, or C) asleep. But for me, at least I got to make my point.

He's the director of the program, by the way.

There's a saying that goes something like, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions" and that sort of sums up how I feel about this professor. Nice guy. Good for some jokes in the pub. Does good work for the Royal Institute on International Affairs. Terrible professor whe clearly has little to no clue about how to teach or run a program. I found myself several times over the course of the year thinking, "I can do this better than him," and that's not an arrogant statement. I just don't think it would be hard for most people to do better than him if they were equipped with the knowledge.

At any rate, I still have to work with this guy because he's my thesis advisor (the only thesis advisor) and we're definitely on good relations on a one to one setting. He wants to take Eurotrash and me out to a pub next week to celebrate the conclusion of our coursework, for example. So I haven't burned any bridges or anything silly like that. I've just completely lost respect for him as a teacher and mentor.

I guess the sad thing is, I came in with such high expectations, expectations that have been so tragically and utterly deflated. Some of my classmates are very bright. Some of the classes were very challenging. And I definitely learned a lot. But, much like college (when I had horrid grades), I don't think I was ever challenged properly. The only activity that I've ever been challenged properly was debate, but it shouldn't be that way. Sigh. Maybe I'll get a PhD and feel the same way. Right now, I'm just happy to be done with the coursework so that I can truly begin my task of researching and writing my thesis.

(This is probably the harshest post I've written. One year of frustration is now vented.)

Friday, July 08, 2005

It's not 9/11

First and foremost, a warm thank you to all the people that send emails or other means to make sure that I was ok. I don't know a thousand people, but it sure felt like it yesterday and I appreciate the concern. I even got a text message from Colorado, which was cool.

I was on my way to work when the bombings started. At least, I was at my tube station. There were delays due to a "power outage", which didn't give one cause for concern because the Underground always has problems like that. Once I got a train, we began the long, slow ride to the East. I was on a District Line train headed to Upminster. I got as far as Sloan Square, which is exactly three stops from Earl's Court where I live. Meaning, of course, that I was no where near the bombings. When the train stopped at Sloan Square, we were told to leave the train and the station, but never given a reason. More than anything, we were utterly confused. Not once did I stop and think, "terrorism" because we were never informed of explosions or anything like that.

I looked for a bus at Sloan Square thinking that I could find my way across the city to work. That wasn't happening. Every bus that came was packed to capacity. That's when it dawned on me that it wasn't just the District Line or Sloan Square that was closed - the entire Underground was closed. Still, I didn't think terrorism.

So I called work, left a message saying it would basically be impossible to get in (I was only on for a half day anyway) and began the longish walk home. Along the way, I kept expecting to reach a tube station, see it open, and then kick myself for bailing so early on the Tube. Yet, each station was closed. Finally arriving home after about 40 minutes, I went into the TV room. That's when I saw it was a bombing; it was terrorism.

This marks the second time I've been relatively close to terrorism yet really been unaffected by it directly as well. I'll count my blessings. Two of the bombings hit close to home. The one at Liverpool Street and Moorgate is essentially where I work. I was at Moorgate Station on Wednesday. Still, it's hard to see how that one could have effected me since I rarely go there. The one at Edgeware Road, however, is entirely different. For about six months, I took the Piccadilly Line to the Baker Loo Line to get to school. But I tired of that route because it's all underground, there's nothing to see, and it's ultimately a longer distance to travel, even if it's sometimes quicker. So, I had switched to taking the District Line from where I live to Edgeware Road and then another train one stop to Baker Street. If yesterday had been a school day, I very well could have been hit.

Still, this event, as terrible and as tragic as it was, was not another 9/11 simply because it didn't have the shock value of 9/11. There was no footage of the bus blowing up or a train blowing up. There was no footage of a building collapsing. In fact, there was very little to watch and read because there was little information at all.

London's had terrorism before and sadly, will most likely have terrorism again. That does nothing to diminish the pain and suffering of the victims and their families, but it does help explain why the people in this city did not panic. There was not hysteria. Instead, there was quiet, grim determination. If a terrorists interest is to create panic, hysteria, and mayhem, then they failed in London. Instead, you had a city respond exactly how they should have responded. The bus the blew up, for example, just happened to go off outside the British Medical Association, which, of course, led to a phalanx of highly skilled doctors rushing out into the streets and providing immediate treatment before ambulances arrived. In other areas, you had doctors, nurses, and EMT's vacationing in London who just dropped everything and did what they could. Lives were saved yesterday because the people in this city responded with calm professionalism.

Ultimately though, it's not 9/11 because there can never be another 9/11. This was shocking and tragic, but it was also expected and understood as inevitable. 9/11 blew the cover off of our collective sense of security. Now, we are aware that we live in a constant state of insecurity. Culturally, we're more prepared to deal with the side effect of our way of life. Maybe I would think differently if I was directly involved, but my fairly dispassionate analysis is a luxury of not being involved.

In the end, setting aside all the cliches, there's no way the terrorists are ever going to win. They may think they can because after the Madrid bombing, Spain pulled out of Iraq. After the Bali bombing, Indonesia pulled out of Iraq. But the British and Americans are different. We're not about to stop doing something because of a couple of bombs, or a hundred bombs. Winning the war is ultimately about sympathy and the terrorists lose sympathy to whatever their causes are when they blow up innocent working class citizens. No, this new breed of terrorism, while highly skilled, heavily armed, and well financed, is not the terrorism of old. They don't have political causes that they want remedied. Instead, they want vengeance against the West for slights and offenses that we don't even begin to understand, not to mention comprehend. In my view, the individuals who engage in terrorism are not rational. They're not sitting around planning a strategy to win some claim or accomplish some goal. No, now the only goal is mass slaughter. And for that, they'll burn in hell if the US and British troops don't get them first.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Terrorism in London

Bombs going off in trains and buses. Will write more when I know more. But for now, I'm staying in and watching the news.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

There's nothing like frustrating the French

It's official - London won the 2012 Olympic bid. I was in a pub with the Roving Alcoholic. The place was packed. When they announced it, people went nuts. Jumping up and down, cheering, shouting, ordering more pints, and hugging each other. London wanted this bad and they're ecstatic now that they have it. Me, being somewhat of a detached observer, even if I do gleefully enjoy sticking it to the French, have undertaken a rudimentary task of pure speculation as to why Paris lost the bid. I think there are a variety of reasons:

1. The French were, shockingly, extremely arrogant about their chances of winning. They even went as far as to place placards and billboards around Paris that essentially said, "We've already won." That's never a good sign. Modesty is critical to winning the votes and the French never even came close to that. All the while, the London committee did what they were supposed to do. They sold London as a great site, generally refrained from criticizing other sites, and certainly never acted like it was a done deal.

2. Politics. The French have been on the receiving end of a series of abysmal failures. They lost the first vote on the EU Constitution, something that French President Chirac had staked his "reputation" on.

Then, they refused to even begin to negotiate over the Common Agricultural Policy (EU subsidies on farming) even going as far as to say that the "CAP is the future of the EU." I can't understate how significant that is. In terms of development, it's trade not aid that matter most. One of the primary, if not the primary reason why the world's developing countries can't get out of the poverty trap is because they never compete fairly against developed economies in agriculture. Agriculture is always the first rung on the ladder to development. Countries in Africa and Asia absolutely require sustainable agriculture industries if they hope to progress economically and without removal of first world subsidies, it's impossible. I'm sure that played a role in the vote as many of the voters are from less developed countries.

(Oversimplified primer on subsidies: Country A produces grain and sells it on the open market. Country B produces grain and sells it on the open market. Because country B can grow it cheaper due to low labor costs, country B has an advantage and reaps more profits. Country A, being from the developed world, doesn't like that, thus gives farmers in country A money to offset the costs of lowering prices so that their grain products are now suddenly competitive. A is EU/US, B is Ghana, et. al. End result: our tax dollars sustain uncompetitive agricultural industries at the expense of millions, if not billions, of lives in Africa and Asia.)

3. Poor statesmanship. Chirac is in the death throes of his presidency and has reverted to an old tactic. "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel," or something like that, and Chirac is no exception. Earlier this week, he was caught on tape saying extremely derogatory things about British and Scottish food. Now, I'm not a huge fare of the cuisine here and I've been heard making similar comments, but I'm not a leader of an important nation either. The fact that Chirac would say those things is no surprise, but the fact that he would be caught on tape doing so to other foreign leaders is shocking. I imagine that the latest event further tarnished the French image which ultimately is important.

4. I believe Chirac's final statement to the voters says it all: "You can put your trust and faith in France, you can trust the French, you can trust us."

At any rate, good for London, good for England. At the least, it will subject the French to more of that fine British cuisine in 7 years.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005


I think, and this is extremely tentative, but I think that I'm leaning toward returning to the States sooner rather than later. I have been thinking on this for quite some time and I keep coming back to one simple issue - I have no compelling reason to stay and I have every reason to return (family, friends, burritos).

I guess, ultimately, I'm different from a lot of Americans that come over here. They start, from day one, looking for any way to stay. It doesn't matter what their job is, they'll do anything because staying is the goal. One of my friends, for example, has just landed a job in admissions at a college here in London. It's not what he's really after with an MBA and an MA in management, but he's willing to sacrifice salary and his desired field (IT) for the opportunity to remain here in London. I'm happy for him, but that's not me. I'm not that person. There are only two things that could make me stay, a woman or a job, and right now I have neither.

I've lived horrible jobs. I've gone through the doldrums where you will do anything to deaden the pain of simply getting up the next day to go to a job you hate. I've sacrificed enjoyment on the alter of higher salaries. I'm not doing that again. Central to my pursuit of a MA in London was the ambition that I would never have to live that type of lifestyle again. Rich or poor, I just want to be happy with my work life, no matter where that work is located. We spend too much of our lives at work, doing things we can't stand or things that bore us to tears. It makes us miserable, deadens our weekly outlook, and leaves us with little more than dire cravings for the weekend. I don't want that again. Ever.

I know that every job has its ups and downs. I know this. But if you are at the least on the path that is right for you, a path that will lead somewhere tangible and positive, then you can deal with the day to day ups and downs. Sadly, most of us seem not to be on that path. Yet, it's critically important that we get on that path and stay on that path.

I guess, the goal of staying in London is akin to the goal of earning X amount of dollars. Both are diversionary from what's most important. People do things for strange reasons in this world. Instead of focusing on a profession, a hobby, or a passion for the sake of itself, they think "what is this going to get me?" That is error replication in its finest form. We need to live each and every day in the moment. We need to enjoy that which we have and not lament that which we do not or that which is illusive. In that end, I can't allow myself to be diverted by romantic visions of living in a foreign city unless that is the right thing for me to do.

I feel like I'm rambling right now (most likely yes). But these thoughts are flowing forth in a way that my paper that is due tomorrow is not. Stream of consciousness suggests that I'm close to the heart of what I want - it's stimulus-response, not long thought out feelings and emotions.

Anyway, my point is, I have a lot of reasons to return to the US, one of which, is that I'm tired of living a transient life. I want to set some roots somewhere and not feel like I'm two seconds away from bolting this life for another. I lived in DC for four years prior to moving to London and it rarely, if ever, felt like home. I understand now that without a stable career that is taking me places I want to go, where my passions lie, I'm not going to feel comfortable in any place.

I think back to when I was in Atlanta for undergrad. I was completely comfortable there. It was home. I was happy. For a time. But after I graduated and I started working in a career that just didn't do it for me, I got the itch. I knew I needed something else and when the opportunity came to move North, I jumped at it. Similarily, when my life crumbled into fine bits of powder in DC, I also knew that I needed something else. I knew, in my heart, that grad school was what I needed to do. There are many reasons for that, but one central one that I rarely discuss is that after years of working horrid jobs, doing a horrible job at said horrid jobs, my ego, my self-confidence, was shaken by what I saw as continual failure in the workforce. Yes, I could adequately perform the tasks given to me, but that was never enough for me, even if it was enough to get by, earn raises, and even promotions. See, what I lost along the way, and it took me a long time to realize, was that I have ambition. I don't want to be a mindless cog in some machine. I want to be a star in whatever capacity that I can find it. That doesn't mean that I have to be rich and famous (although I wouldn't say no to a little bling-bling), but I do have to put myself in situations where I can excel and meet the high expectations that I have for myself.

Graduate school, in some ways, was more about rehabilitating that ego, that self-confidence, than the actual credentials earned. I've worked damn hard at this program and my grades and what I've learned reflect that. But more than that, the hard work I've put in is evidence to myself that I can do whatever I set myself to do. It's an old cliché that always annoyed me. "Be like Mike," and things like that are total bollocks if you can't jump out of the gym, or what have you. But life, ultimately is about the pursuit of excellence in whatever you happen to be excellently interested in. I've sufficiently demonstrated to myself that no matter the pursuit in my chosen profession (whatever "international relations" is), I will succeed because I have the knowledge, passion, and compassion to succeed.

Sigh. This wasn't intended to be a pat on the back session. In fact, I've been quite moody the last couple days and this post is a product of that. I guess my point is, I want things to start happening. I don't want to be in limbo. "Will I stay or will I go now?" I don't want to live in shoddy environs with people that I barely know, not to mention like. I want to be in a comfortable place, doing what I love to do, knowing that I'm on the path that's right for me.

Life's a dodgy game. Paraphrasing, "Strange thing about the road is, once you put your feet on it, you never know where it might lead." Or, if you like, "two roads diverged and I took the less traveled one." (Yes, this is me brutalizing classic poetry for my own ends.) There is certainly something entirely uncomfortable in not knowing what is next on that road. At the same time I acknowledge that, I have to temper that uncomfortability with the realization that I can't allow the great unknown to cause me to prematurely jump back into a situation that is comfortable. Thus, my expression that my thoughts on all this are extremely tentative.

Really, if I had my drothers, I'd secure a TV camera, a contract, my best friend, and record a show called, "788 UNESCO World Heritage Sites," and keep going until we saw them all or we killed each other. But since that isn't forthcoming, instead I think I'll finish this post and head to bed.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Oh where is my holiday?

Unlike the vast majority of Americans, I'm not spending today grilling up tasty bits of meat and golden ears of corn, instead, I'm sitting at a computer pretending to work hard. I would much prefer to be grill-side, sipping cold beer with family and friends eagerly awaiting the ribs on the fire, but alas, no can do. I did, if it's any consolation, enjoy a hamburger for lunch, which is about as close to Americana as I'm going to get at the moment.

The last few days have been amusing and droll at the same time. I went out on Thursday night and had a blast. We went to this club/pub thing (I don't know what you really call it) near where we work called Abacus. It's a giant expanse of bar and dance floor with reasonably priced drinks, lots of attractive people that aren't too snobbish, and music that is loud, but not unbearable. Good times. I even met some British girl, who, of course, I won't see again as she did not respond to my call the other day, but that's the norm, so screw it. She wasn't that nice anyway.

Friday, I had class. I was a bit fatigued, but made it through ok. We had a final exam on Saturday, so I didn't go out on Friday night or do anything at all after class. I was intending to study some, but then I realized that would just be a pointless exercise. That class was as close to frivolous as you could get. Seriously, how do you study for an exam that is essentially watching a movie and analyzing it in essay form after? Well, being the creative genius that I am, I found a simple answer - watch Pirahna's II on the TV. For those of you who aren't aware, Pirahna's II is one of James Cameron's finest, not to mention the inspiration for The Abyss. Well, at least the underwater footage. As you can imagine from the title, the movie was, shall we say, the worst movie of all time. In fact, the plot was so utterly confused that it was virtually impossible to keep track. The way these types of films try to operate is that you establish a core set of characters, make the audience like them, then start killing them off. It doesn't work if your "core" set of characters reaches double digits.

However, as I am now fully trained to look for the hidden messages in films (or not so hidden), I found myself analyzing the film as it unfolded. As I saw it, there were at least two central messages. First, the virtuous are the ones that survive flying Pirahna attacks. If you're arrogant, rude, or a thief and the Pirahna's strike, you're screwed. Second, and perhaps more...poignantly, if you have a broken marriage and the Pirahna's attack AND you happen to survive, that bodes well for your marriage.

Anyway, after the exam (which was effortlessly easy with all my hard studying), a group of us went to Hard Rock Cafe at Green Park. Now, I've never even been to a Hard Rock in the US, so I certainly wasn't too enthusiastic, but one of our group desperately wanted to go pay too much money for an American tourist attraction in London. Go figure. After lunch, we headed to a pub. But that pub was ass-tastic so we went to another one. The 2nd pub became our spot for the rest of the day. As most people who read this are not ostrich's, you should be aware of something called Live 8. I tried to get tickets, but failed. The next best thing was to go somewhere and watch it on TV. That's what we did.

Oddly, the pub we were at had a strip club attached to it which made the whole, "stay to the left when you go in" thing a whole lot more of a serious proposition. At any rate, it was quite loud in there and as I had a few drinks, I was in full rant mode, so my voice was carrying to the point that I obviously bothered an English bloke. He kept glaring at me and then finally "shushed" me. I was shocked. I've never been shushed and sure as hell not in a pub, for f*ck's sake. So, I followed one of my friend's advice and just glared at him until he looked away. That tactic, apparently, had three possible responses: 1. Fight, 2. He leaves, 3. He feels uncomfortable for the rest of the night. Since my friend is a very large ex-marine, option number 1 was clearly out. Since, the bloke was there with his wife, option 2 was out. Thusly, he turned away embarrassed. Not only that, he tried to buy me a drink later when my marine friend went to the bar. The offer was declined.

The topping on the cake, however, was seeing Pink Floyd play. Saturday was the first time in 24 years that they had played together with Roger Waters and the only disappointing thing was that they only got a quick three songs. They could go on tour right now and make a billion dollars.

Later, I met up the Roving Alcoholic and The Nurse, who he is sort of seeing (and by that I mean "shagging"). I won't belabor the story. After about 90 minutes of looking, we found the place and stayed until 3 or so. The Nurse sucks at giving directions and that aspect of the night was more annoying than anything. For awhile now, it's seemed like my friend and The Nurse were happy to just be shag-buddies, but after seeing them interact on Saturday night, it's clear she wants something he's never going to give. I told him today how I feel about it and that I think he should let her go, but he doesn't see it that way. I don't have much of a problem if both people are on the same page - it's a mutually use-use relationship. But that's not what this is anymore so I just can't agree with it. Maybe that's just me, but I think it's wrong to keep going with her simply because he's getting something out of it in the short term (or until he finds something better, as he puts it).

Yesterday, I did absolutely nothing. I should have finished this paper that's due this week, but I was tired and lazy. I should be able to finish it up this afternoon or tonight. Of course, that depends on having energy after work, which is no set conclusion. Weekends are supposed to be re-energizing yet I feel more tired today than I did on Friday.

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