Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Progress Perhaps

Before I continue, I'd like to establish for the record that:

A) I know it's the 700 Club, but they get a 200 point deduction for nobbery and for declining viewers; and
B) I know all they have in Biloxi is casinos, I just wondered why whenever there's a disaster, we always get the "casino cam". Let's show some 7-11's or White Castle or something.

Back to the stories of the day.

It appears, although I have not heard yet for sure, that I will be getting a month long temp job starting either Friday or Monday. I met with the senior Attorney, the litigation manager, and the paralegal on the case yesterday and at the end of the meeting I was informed to "operate on the assumption that [they're] going to bring me in." That's good news. That position would make me fully funded as the money isn't bad. Thus, I could afford to live, travel, and even save some money. Sadly, I won't be able to go to Spain in September, but I'll have sufficient funds to go elsewhere in October, so it's a fair tradeoff. I still haven't found a room to live in, although I'm looking at one place this evening and hopefully I'll hear back about a couple others today. So, that's progress.

The thesis is coming along. I'm almost done with the history/background chapter. It needs polishing, but it's sufficiently meaty to move on to the Kuwait War with confidence. The funny thing about the thesis is that there is a ton of stuff to write about for the Kuwait War, but not so much for Bush's little war he did with Iraq in 2003. A dozen or so UN Security Council Resolutions in 1990; one in 2002. Great.

Moving along, my plans for global domination seem to be progressing fluidly. It appears (and this isn't a firm conclusion, say, 80% firm), that I'll be making my return to the States around mid-November. Ms. Colombia, assuming we can swing the ticket change, will be coming with me for a week in Washington before we go to Chicago for a week. Then she goes to Colombia and I go back to Washington for a couple months with the intention of joining her there in February (my preference) or March (more feasible).

This was all planned out for December/January, but something changed recently that I have yet to talk about. I have mentioned, I believe, that prior to moving to London Ms. Colombia worked for a giant pharmaceutical company that has a division in Colombia. While she's been here, she's been working for their European subsidiary on a part-time basis. The President of the Colombian division told her when she left that he would hold her job for her for a year. So, when she called him and told her when she planned on returning she received some surprising news.

The bad news was that they needed her back by December 7th to prepare for a big conference in January. The good news was, she wasn't getting her old job back, she was getting a huge promotion and sizeable raise. Instead of just being on the marketing team, she's now going to be a product manager - essentially equivalent to a VP level position in the US (or just below VP, hard to tell). Either way, she's excited about it because not only does she get to manage a series of pre-existing product lines, but she's also going to be soley responsible for designing a marketing strategy and launching a new product that is likely to be the top selling product for this company. The amount of responsibility they're giving her is enormous and will require her to work very hard, but she's clearly ready for it and eager to get started.

I think it says a lot about her that her former boss who hasn't seen her in about 14 months would not only hold her job, but also give her this type of promotion. Ultimately, he told her that he's looking for a replacement and she's one of the top candidates. Now, she doesn't really want that type of position (for many reasons) and her plan is to go back to Colombia for 1 year (well, 13 months since she's going back a month early) before moving to the States, but that's her business. The point is, she's earned a high level of respect in her field because she's smart as a whip and she's very good at what she does.

As for me, my plans are still formulating. Teaching English is definitely an option, although I don't think it's the preferred option. I want to go to Colombia for three reasons: 1) learn Spanish, 2) Be with Ms. Colombia, and 3) Get a better understanding of Colombian politics. The first two are sorted. But number 3 doesn't really get achieved by teaching English. I will do that if I have to, but the goal is to get a position either in a company or the US embassy that continues my education process as well as earns me some bling-bling. Even better if it's a US company and they pay me in dollars. Now, I have some really great contacts and they think it's possible, so I have to utilize those contacts and see what can be.

Another area I have great contacts is in both the Colombian military/police, the US military, and the guerrillas. So, if I can manage my real ambition (to write about Colombian politics) and learn Spanish, then I should have great opportunities to interview people in the field with incredible stories. See, I have this theory that I'm building that argues that Plan Colombia and the "War on Drugs" is really a counter-insurgency program wrapped up in the jargon of drugs. The US interest is primarily to counter the narco-trade, but the Colombian interest is to eliminate the 40-year old insurgency. Anyway, I won't belabor that argument at this point. It's just sufficient to say that I've spent a great deal of time over the past year listening to Colombian people talk about their nation and the war, reading about it on my own, and studying the problem in a formal capacity to the point that it's something I want to not just be knowledgeable about, but write about as well. Maybe someone will pay me to do that someday.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

It's not "their Tsunami"...

...It's God's punishment for all them heathens. (I figure it's only a matter of time before Pat Robertson says something like that, right?)

Seriously, Hurricane Katrina was pretty devestating. People have lost lives. Property has been destroyed. The costs run into the billions. CNN is making millions on the coverage. It's a disaster of unmeasured proportion.

But it isn't the US Tsunami. The tsunami killed 250,000 people. Get back to me when 249,950 more bodies wash up. Of course, it's only the mayor of Biloxi who is calling it "our tsunami" and who is he but a relatively small town guy in a virtually irrelevant parish in a relatively insignificant southern state. So I don't blame him for saying that in the heat of the moment. Not only does he not know better, he also just sees Biloxi and it's pretty difficult to imagine that the death toll in Biloxi is about 0.02% of the death toll in the "Boxing Day Tsunami".

No, I blame CNN for posting that headline in bold across their webpage. Let's report the damn news, not sensationalize already important and big stories by attempting to equate them to things that they are clearly not. The tsunami was sudden, with no warning, and it killed a quarter of a million people in about a half-hour. The hurricane received days worth of warnings, was an extended storm that last like 12 hours, and has killed relatively few people, especially given the number of outright foolish jackasses that insisted on remaining in their homes after the total evacuation order was given. Of course, that doesn't surprise me. There's always some jackass who refuses to follow the authorities in these types of situations, so a callous side of me, at times, thinks they get their just desserts.

Anyway, it's not the Tsunami no matter how big the property damage and reconstruction costs because when it comes down to it, lives matter more than buildings. And American lives don't matter more than Indian, Sri Lankan, and Indonesian lives. A life is a life (no matter what the DOD thinks).

Of course, media won't portray it as such. Instead, they're going to hyper-sensationalize this story. There will be a Hollywood movie made out of some of the stories, either for TV or for the theater. They already have a 9/11 movie in production and I'm sure that they're making a Tsunami movie as well (probably with a "here's how it effected Johnny Appleseed" angle that ignores the 249,999 locals that were killed). So I'm sure this will be no different. Which is probably why I have no problem with this guy telling a Fox New "reporter" to f*ck off. Frankly, the media could do with a few more upright middle fingers and salty verbosity.

Plus, what's up with the casino footage? In the tsunami coverage, they kept going to casinos and resorts, primarily because there were a lot of them in the effected areas of India. But why show them in Biloxi? Seriously, I've watched maybe six clips from CNN and in about half, they showed a casino in Biloxi. Is that to remind people that there are casinos there? Or is it because public opinion surveys show that American audiences love seeing pictures of gutted casinos?

Anyway, it looks like New Orleans is still there. I'm almost sad about, but that's probably because I have a morbid fascination with nature's wrath. A little more foresight and they may have been able to prevent two city blocks worth of levee's from breaking, saving some part of the city from up to 25 feet of water, but sadly, the mayor and the city council were at a live S&M sex show sipping Hurricanes on disaster planning day.

Of course, what do you expect from one of the most corrupt cities in the US? Perhaps now, in the reconstruction era that is sure to last years, they'll be a bit more thoughtful about how to prepare the city for future environmental difficulties. It seems sometimes, that Americans only learn the hard way.

Monday, August 29, 2005

KYAG Kagan

Kiss Your Ass Goodbye New Orleans.

I had a friend that visited New Orleans in December 1999 when there was a series of torrential rainstorms that flooded the city. She was there for work and got stranded at the hotel with no way to leave the city. All of her clothes were soaked as she was on the ground floor and they moved her up several floors. It was explained to her that New Orleans is an environmental disaster waiting to happen as it's located below sea level with only a 10-foot and a 14-foot levee to protect the city. Sooner or later, a major hurricane is going to come through and destroy the city.

Fast forward to the present. A class 4 hurricane is now barreling down on the City of Sin (or is that Vegas?) and the future of the city is much in doubt. They're predicting that much of the city could be under 25 feet of water. Not only that, the property damage will be massive. They expect vast amounts of pollution from "Cancer Alley" which is located nearby. Benzene and other nasty things are likely to flood the city adding toxic waste to a city alternatively underwater and on fire. The damage is likely to run into the billions if not more.

And here's the rub. If the city had the foresight and the political will to prepare for this event, they may have been able to minimize or at least limit the damage. But, as is ever present in the US, all politics is, "what have you done for me lately" and expensive, long term protection plans are never popular before disaster strikes. Someday, I hope that the US can synchronize politics with the rest of the developed world and actually be a little more proactive (and I don't mean by launching pre-emptive wars on dodgy footing)...

...I read something quite interesting last night for my thesis. It was an article that attempted to explain the divide on 1441 and a potential second Security Council resolution authorizing force against Iraq in 2003 as a symptom of a growing divide between the United States and Europe. The author cited a man named Robert Kagan, a very well known foreign policy hawk who is tangentially related to someone who reads this blog and is someone I have read fairly extensively. Kagan's argument is that the Europe-US divide actually has roots in history. He sees the US as a strong power with military primacy and thus is committed to using that military might in foreign policy. Europe, characteristically divided and made up of waning powers at best, seeks non-military solutions to foreign policy problems as they have more limited military might and "soft" options are more suited to their capabilities. Kagan cites Kosovo and Europe's inability to respond to war in its neighborhood in Bosnia as examples.

Additionally, he makes a broader point, although I'm not sure if he was aware of it at the time, that multilateralism is the province of the weak. Historically, prior to the US becoming the military superpower it is today (42nd strongest military in the world on December 6, 1941), US foreign policy sought diplomatic solutions to problems. Military might was never stressed by the US, but was by the European powers. To Kagan, World War II turned the tables. The US became the world's military superpower and turned to force and military maneuvers to address crisis while Europe turned to diplomacy as European military power waned and became increasingly dependent upon US strength.

It's a fine narrative that appears persuasive and raises questions for further study. The bigger point about the nature of multilateralism is interesting and not something I've thought of much or studied. But, just as Kagan is entirely clever in his narrative, he's also cleverly deploying an argument that explains the divide over Iraq not on the merits, but because Europe was going to object anyway - it was in their nature. And see, this is part of the George W. Bush strategy for selling the war at home. He argued that "Old Europe" objected and was becoming irrelevant. And the legions of Bush supporters have argued, just like Kagan, that the opposition to the war was not because of the issues at hand, but because there is a larger power struggle ongoing between the US and the other permanent member of the Security Council.

The reason they're dangerous is that they're right, in part. There is an ongoing power struggle. But, where I think that people like Kagan are entirely wrong is in how and why this power struggle is playing out. Iraq was not objected to because of power. Iraq was objected to because there were very dubious reasons for going to war and because the European public was virtually 100% against the war (as was the rest of the world). To gloss over the legitimate arguments, both pragmatic, ethical, and legal, to not go to war is to reveal the corruption of academic inquiry with politicization.

More importantly, however, it's my proposition (and I'm writing about this) that the non-US bloc on the Security Council is attempting to counter-balance US hegemony and leadership by banding together. Apart, France, Germany, Russia, and China are unlikely to be able to counter US military and economic strength. (And I don't buy the China arguments for a lot of reasons, but primarily because they won't sustain their growth rates inevitably because it gets harder to grow fast when the economy is "developed".) However, by forming coalitions and working together, they can frustrate the US. This process is fueled by the US decision to do a war with Iraq. China, for example, looks at the US willingness to invade a country for dubious reasons, in violation of their sovereignty, and enforce "regime change" and wonder what that means for their ongoing dispute with Taiwan. Russia has the same concern for its war in Chechnya. Neither country thinks the US is going to invade, but the US willingness to pursue a policy of pre-emption does potentially complicate Chinese and Russian interests.

Anyway, the point is, the Bush administration has fueled the drive to counterbalance because of its unilateral stance in all areas of foreign policy: the International Criminal Court, the UN, Iraq, etc. Each and every step the Bush administration has made internationally has signaled the world's powers that the primary power in the world is increasingly using its leadership capabilities to serve its own interests. Call it a lack of responsibility if you will; I'll prefer to see it as short-sighted. History is rife with examples of waning empires being counterbalanced by weaker powers. From an American perspective, from someone who is constantly filled with optimism about what America can do for the world, I think it's a terrible idea to pursue foreign policy completely driven by self-interest. There are so many good things we could do in the world, but pragmatically, we could sustain our empire virtually forever if only we engaged in "responsible" leadership. But once you alienate allies and enemies alike, well, you pretty much write the memo on the gravestone of your empire. Good one, George.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Now they've done it

For some reason, I have had this idea that perhaps the Bush administration would have learned something from the Iraq debacle. Apparently, my unending sense of optimism is unfounded. Today, the Washington Post reported that the US has submitted 750 amendments to a 29-paged UN draft agreement on UN reform and poverty reduction. Never mind that this agreement has long been in negotiation (6 months) and this is a very late wrench to throw, it is repugnant for many other reasons.

What exactly does the US have a problem with? Well, for starters, the neo-cons, ahem Bolton, don't like foreign aid very much. They look at statistical studies of foreign aid from the 1950's to the present (like this one) that basically add up the total expenditures, plot that data versus the "dollar per day" that the world's poor live on, and conclude summarily that all foreign aid is a waste. These studies have significant methodological errors (they ignore the role of Cold War politics on aid from 1950-1987, for example, and they set the benchmark at dollar/day which ignores other successes like the eradication of diseases), but also seem to be completely blind to the simple reality that just because aid has not worked previously, does not mean it won't work in the future. There's more than one way to distribute funds, for example. One of the problems that past aid grants had was that the money was given, in bulk, to 3rd world dictators who more often than not pocketed it in an exclusive Swiss bank. Now, we rarely give fungible aid dollars and instead use 3rd parties (private contractors) to distribute services that we pay for and whatnot. Instead of looking to scrap the entire concept, we ought to look at how we can improve the effectiveness of aid. Here's a guy with some good ideas.

Anyway, this is not intended to be a lengthy discussion about foreign aid. That's a piece of the debate. The US amendments also ask for the elimination any reference to arresting global climate change and calls to reduce the arsenals of the nuclear armed states (our treaty obligation under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty). They also wish to strengthen provisions about combating terrorism, the spread of WMD, and democracy and human rights promotion.

The US also takes issue with the 2000 Millennium Development Goals, wishing to strike any mention of them from the agreement, as well as pare down the section on reducing poverty. There are other tidbits as well that are flatly offensive (like the one about Genocide), but that's not the crux of my issue at this point. No, the crux of my complaint is two-fold.

First, in June, George Bush stood shoulder to shoulder with Tony Blair and agreed to eliminate debt and attempt to fight poverty as part of the Millennium Development Goals. The G-8 summit focused largely on Africa (an unfortunate occurrence if you ask me), but there can be no doubt that Bush smiled and tacitly went along with the proceedings. Apparently, he has no problem lying to his closest ally as well as the American and international public. (Just where are Saddam's WMDs, Mr. President? Mobile CBW facilities my ass.) And, lest you think that the Millennium Development Goals are controversial, think again. There isn't too much about aiming to reduce global poverty, increase education and gender equality, and eliminate HIV and Malaria. The MDGs are pretty non-controversial primarily because they're relatively unspecific. To oppose them is essentially to oppose the prevention of 10,000 deaths a day in Africa, prolonged suffering across the globe, and pretty much sits you at the table with Osama, Hitler, and Satan. (Now that's over the top, Pat Robertson/500 Club lovers!)

Second, the entire issue is so incredibly frustrating primarily because this administration once again can't see the forest from the trees. Poverty is the root cause of extremism and fundamentalism. People with money, a stake in their community, a good education, and possibilities for a good life, on the whole, don't go strapping bombs to themselves and blow sh*t up. The longer the less advantaged world is allowed to languish unaided in poverty and disease, the longer the politics of hate and extremism will fester, grow, and impact the lives of those of us lucky enough to be born in the West. It is fundamentally in the US national interest to arrest poverty, eliminate disease, and give a helping hand to the millions of people across Africa, Asia, and South America that are in desperate need of help. Sadly, the Bush administration does not view aiding the needy as part of a core national interest.

Of course, all of this should come as no surprise. The US has opted out of the International Criminal Court, Kyoto, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and a handful of other treaties aimed at improving the world we live in. Continually shirking our responsibilities as the world's most powerful nation is repugnant and only further reduces the chances of the US shaping the world in favorable terms to our interests. Power balancing against the US is already underway in important settings (the UN Security Council is one) and the longer the US continues to go it alone in the least diplomatic fashion possible, the greater the risk that our interests will be further constrained and limited.

I'm sure everyone's heard the expression similar to this, "you win more friends with honey." Apparently, Bush never has or he doesn't care. This is the problem with empire. This is why empires fail. Arrogance takes hold and the leaders fail to see that they could maintain dominance and direct the world efficiently if only they were a bit more clever. But, at the end of the day, empires always fail and the US empire will fail inevitably. Our leadership is self-serving, entirely devoid of cleverness, and full of arrogant pride for their "accomplishments" to the point that they can't even sniff failure, not to mention colossal mistakes. Three years and counting...

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Random tidbits from the Temp

I have my first temp assignment this afternoon. As usual, the temp life has thrown the proverbial wrench into my plans. But, money must be made and this temp firm must be shown that I am available at a moments notice, so I'll be heading out soon to put in a long day of copy checking. Fun.

Anyway, not to rankle the Pro-lifers too much as I'm not really in favor of abortion, just a woman's right to make decisions for herself, there's a new study out that slays one of the central sympathy arguments put forth by the Right to Lifers. This study, which is a review of studies on the subject, indicts the idea that fetuses feel pain in the first two trimesters. Instead, they argue that the data indicates it's unlikely that a fetus could feel pain until the third trimester. This is tough news for the anti-abortion crowd as they rely on "fetal pain" to build sympathy for unwanted, unborn babies. Of course, in the day this article has been up on CNN, about 10,000 children have died in Africa from famine, disease, and violence, so at the end of the day, I'll shed a tear for an aborted baby after we sort out all the real, live, breathing children that are losing their lives simply because the world cares less about them than it does about embryos and feti...

...Pat Robertson, formerly fundamentalist Christian weirdo, now fundamentalist Christian wacked out nut job, has gone on TV and advocated the execution of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. In a moment that most of his followers would applaud as representative of a "true Christian", Robertson accused Chavez of establishing Venezuela as a "launching pad" for Islamic extremism into North America. Apparently, Robertson thinks anyone who is not a fundamentalist Christian is a Muslim, you know, like those Roman Catholics. Chavez, not to be entirely excused in this incident, has attained jackass status as well for mimicking the Fidel Castro style of leadership: Demonize the US and maintain power no matter the costs to your population. Still, none of this would have been possible without George Bush's policy of assassination that puts the US in bed with such outstanding democracies like Libya, Sudan, and Yemen. What an internationalist...

...And last, I'm happy to report that Donald Rumsfeld has eased all of our fears about the potential for an Iraqi civil war. See, that Rummy is so smart. He totally was right when he said we'd have a quick war and the people of Iraq would rejoice at being liberated from Saddam Hussein and would welcome the US with open arms. And he was totally right that we didn't need any body armor for our troops or our Hummers. And he was totally right that we could secure the country with 200,000 troops. And he was totally right that border security wasn't much of an issue. And he was totally right that after Iraq we could roll into Iran and Syria and bring democracy there too. So it's with a high level of confidence that I must say, Rummy has to be totally right that there will be no civil war in Iraq over the new constitution even if the Sunnis and Shiites on the ground are warning that it's possible. I just don't know what America would do without that Donald Rumsfeld...

...Ok, off to shower. This moment of cynicism is now concluded.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Not Bad, Abominations, and The Stinking French

One of the joys of dating a non-native English speaker is that there are tons of expressions that we "Americans" (gringo's) use that simply don't make sense when translated; they only make sense in context. One of these expressions, one that I use frequently, is "not bad". "Not bad" can have many uses. For example, when you feel like the dog's ass and someone asks you how you feel, you can say "not bad" to mean well, I don't feel like a dirty dog's ass, but I don't feel great either. Alternatively, you can use "not bad" to mean, "pretty good". It's a multi-directional phrase that fundamentally relies on context, not meaning.

Anyway, Ms. Colombia and I have frequent interactions where she asks me about words and phrases like that and I've begun to realize just how difficult learning English must be. A really cool development is that I know her well enough at this point to know when she gets it and when she doesn't. So, in conversation, which can be quite animating for me depending on the topic, I have to pay close attention to her reactions and I have to talk a bit slower and clearer than normal - things I need to do anyway. So really, this is just a big win-win for many reasons and I'm just pleased as pudding about the whole thing.

At any rate, I stumbled upon a music station on the TV this morning. It offended me to such an extent that I was forced to turn it off and blast Dr. Dre though my laptop. See, the Brits, like many cultures, are attempting to replicate Rap Music. Sadly, the Brit version is...well, it's scary how silly it sounds. For example, here's a choice set of lyrics that filtered through my ears earlier:

"Talk behind ma back but to ma face they say nuffin/
Stand up in the dark keep a firm steady stance/
Keep the beanys tushin, keep the beanys hot flushin./
Flushing mc's down the loo/
If ya dont beileve me bring your possy bring your crew/
Feel free to hate i aint tryna be your mate"

I'm sorry. From the bottom of my heart I apologize. You simply can't rhyme "loo" with "crew". And I won't even attempt to decipher the line about "beanys". Later, he rhymed "chump" with "Forrest Gump". All of this wouldn't be so bad except for one factor: the accent. It just sounds silly. Part of the whole "mean ass rapper" sound is that the audience takes them seriously. You wouldn't want to run across Dr. Dre or Xhibit in a dark alley somewhere. Sadly, there's just no way to use the word "loo" and sound tough.

Part of this attitude I have is reflective of my origin. It's a virtual certainty that people from the States will never come to like Brit Rap because of the accents. But part of it is also reflective of British culture. "Hard" here is just not as "hard" as it is in East LA, for example. The gangsta's here just don't have the guns, the violence isn't as pronounced, and crime, while still a factor, is much more in the "petty" category than the "drive by" category. Thus, it's unlikely that the Brits will ever produce a 50 Cent or an Eminem. Some may see that as a net good for the world and I won't argue the point. What it means for the purposes of this discussion, however, is that Brit rap is likely to continue to be extremely silly. I don't think I'll ever take it seriously.

Finally, the dirty French. I've not held much of a grudge against the French. I have yet to visit the country and I'll reserve final judgement until I do. Also, I'm told that Parisians are vastly different from the rest of the country, so that's another factor. However, I'm acutely aware of French politics on the international stage and I have little respect for them. Well, no, that's not entirely accurate. I have respect for them in the Machiavellian sense. The French, for better or worse, are ultimately realists. They couch their foreign policy stance as one of multilateralism - everyone should work together to help the poor, minimize conflicts, etc. At least, that's the party line. The French are notoriously reluctant to act in real situations. Rwanda is a good example. A former French colony, the genocidal conflict of 1994 can be directly linked to the French exodus in the 50's. Yet, when push came to shove, the French, while acknowledging their obligations, engaged in extremely cursory activities in Southern Rwanda at the tail end of the conflict, ultimately helping very few people yet garnering some international respect for "acting". Anyway, they're realists because their entire multilateral stance is predicated on the notion that if they can draw the US into binding multilateral institutions, it will restrict US power and bring it closer into balance with French "power" (a true oxymoron).

But, that's not what this rant is about. This rant is about visa policies. Visa's and immigration restrictions exist primarily for one reason: to prevent an unknown number of immigrants from permanently inhabiting a country. More recently, terrorism and security concerns (drugs) have seized some of the motivation, but fundamentally, immigration restrictions are about preserving the integrity of one's country. This is especially true for the French. They have an official French language (and an agency that seeks to preserve it), they have cultural restrictions for immigrants and tons of silly policies aimed at preserving the essence of "French" (you know, things like not allowing the sale of deoderant).

I'm usually not so bothered by all that. I mean, it's a free country; they can do whatever they want really even if it is a net drain on their resources and a losing battle. But, I'm quite angry at the moment because of the absolute hassle they gave Ms. Colombia on Thurday. See, Colombian's don't have the luxury that we North Americano's do. We can go to virtually any country in the world for a limited time on a tourist visa. Colombian's, along with several other countries, have to acquire something called a Schengen Visa. This visa is a pre-approved document that allows the applicant to travel thoughout the EU for a limited period of time.

Ms. Colombia had to apply for one because she is going to Europe in September for work. To acquire one of these visas, she had to purchase a plane ticket, reserve a hotel, prove that she had enough money to afford the trip (bank statements), provide identification documents in addition to her passport, and generally scrape knee. And, if you don't get it approved, there goes that plane ticket. There are no guarantees in the Schengen process.

She tried the French consulate since she has a cousin in Paris. While she did get it at the end of the day, it was a traumatic process in which she was pretty much harassed by the woman at the consulate. While everyone else was going through quickly with few questions (including several other Colombians), this woman asked Ms. Colombia badgering questions about every step. She even went to her supervisor on at least 3 different occassions to see if she could "allow" Ms. Colombia's documents - the supervisor of course said "Oui oui" and brushed her off for wasting his time. Then, after a lengthy session of harassment, the French woman begrudgingly agreed to issue the visa but told Ms. Colombia that if she did not stay at the hotel she booked, the consulate was going to put her on the blacklist, meaning that she wouldn't be able to get another EU tourist visa for 6 months. Last, and as a final insult, the French consulate only issued the visa for 2 months, when it's supposed to be a 3-month minimum visa. As if Ms. Colombia would want to go back after dealing with all that.

Ms. Colombia, to her credit, was much more reasonable in response than I was. She just accepts that she was born into a country that doesn't have as many advantages as other countries and this is what you have to do from time to time. But, I'm not so c'est la vie about it all. F*ck that. The French should be BEGGING foriegners to come visit. They NEED our dollars, pounds, pesos, etc. Instead, to cop an attitude about it all and act like it's a grand priveledge to visit France if we are lucky enough to be bestowed with the honor, well, they can piss off as far as I'm concerned. I will be visiting Paris and Nice at some point, but there's pretty much zero chance that Ms. Colombia will ever go back to France unless she's forced to for business. And I don't blame her. She works for a Fortune 500 company, for f*ck's sake. It's not like she's a criminal, looking for permanent residence, or trafficking drugs (ok, it's a pharmaceutical company, so maybe she is trafficking...). But, the French can't see past the ends of their long noses to realize that Ms. Colombia is exactly the kind of tourist they want visiting their country: not interested in staying and well financed.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Research Methods

All studies are not created equal. That much is self-evident. We frequently hear things reported in the media that pass before our eyes as uncontested bits of "wisdom" and "truth". We accept these things because we expect reporting to be accurate, studies to be honest, and "science" to be unequivocal. Sadly, this is rarely the case. Research methods are one of the most important measures available to evaluate politically motivated studies. My professor would be so proud.

How do we go about testing the viability of a study? Most importantly, a studies findings, for it to be sound, has to be reproducible. Someone else has to be able to take the same data, crunch the numbers, and come up with the same results. This is what they mean when they say, "peer review". For most of us, however, that's simply impossible. Not only do we not have the time, we also don't have access to all of the data or the understanding and expertise required to reproduce a result. Instead, we leave that up to the experts.

That does not mean, however, that we are hopelessly futile and mindless automatons that are forced to absorb information as it appears before us. Instead, we must be critical of studies and data that is produced always wondering: What is the angle? Who benefits? What are the politics? Sometimes, good scientists can be corrupted by political processes that are ongoing around them.

Why am I talking about this? Well, it's quite simple. See, one thing about my mother is that she has a habit of cutting interesting articles out of the paper or magazines and slipping them to the appropriate child that would be interested. As she reads this blog and she's sitting firmly on the other side of the aisle when it comes to things like abortion, stem cell research, and birth control in Africa, she selected two such articles from a gloriously obfuscating publication called Citizen Magazine. It's a publication produced by which just happens to be founded and operated by Neo-conservative Christian fundamentalist nutjob James Dobson. In my view, he's the worst kind of *sshole: dangerous ideas combined with an extensive media empire that he uses to proliferate his curmudgeony ways.

At any rate, the first article I read was about condoms in Africa. It's essentially a long story about how a Harvard professor crunched data from Uganda and concluded that, in that country, condoms didn't slow AIDS, abstinence and faithfulness did. The results of this study, however, have been squashed by the US Agency for International Development - a curious result indeed from a President who firmly believes in abstinence. That's a story right there. But, that's not enough for a political rag like Citizen. Instead, they have to go further and make the argument that the author of the story CLEARLY DOES NOT, which is that if abstinence works in Uganda, it could work all across Africa, ergo, we don't need to kill unborn babies by preventing sperms from invading uteri and invading those helpless eggs. Reading the article, one gets the distinct impression that USAID is intentionally hiding the results of the study because they're concerned about just that. From the authors view, either USAID is made up of a bunch of horny bastards who want the world to go on and continue f*cking each other silly, or they're trying to protect the business interests of the legion of companies that sell condoms to AID for distribution in Africa. One such company even makes sex toys and pornography! Scandalous, I know.

At any rate, being of sound mind and having an anti-moron microchip firmly attached to my frontal lobe, I waited and waited as I read the article until I reached the money quote. Finally, it came, "...Uganda is the one country...that did not rely primarily on condoms." (Elipse is theirs, not mine.) I already knew this to be true. I wrote a paper earlier in the year about population rates which included a brief review on the effectiveness of condoms, so I was fully aware of the wild successes that condoms had played in slowing population growth in Africa. At the same time, no one was saying, "give them condoms, problem solved." There were issues of gender and poverty directly tied to population growth and HIV spread in Africa (and elsewhere) that no on was ignoring, even if the right thinks they are. So, when I found the quote buried in that article, I thought, at least the author hasn't checked all of his scruples at the door. And see, here's the rub. This is why research methods matters. This is why I'm ranting:

Just because abstinence was the critical variable in Uganda for slowing the spread of AIDS, DOES NOT mean it will be the critical variable elsewhere.

In short, the results of the study are not likely to be reproducible elsewhere because of a unique confluence of variables that exist only in Uganda. Fidelity was a "time honored cultural practice" in Uganda that had somehow been lost. They were, in short, preconditioned to accept messages about abstinence and faithfulness. The same can not be said about other sub-Saharan African countries. Egregiously, the Harvard scientist gives Citizen a money quote that supports their anti-sex fascism and is completely without merit (since his study did not look at all of Africa, only Uganda): "You cannot show that more condoms have led to less AIDS in Africa." Funny since he didn't study "Africa".

(As an aside, there is another problem with his data as well. He only looked at condoms provided via Western donors. Since Uganda was poor and could not afford to buy condoms and did not receive much aid in the 80s, it appears that there were few condoms available. That appearance, however, is incorrect. Condoms were available and it's likely that people used them. Unless one is foolhardy enough to believe that the global tradition of marriage infidelity suddenly ceased in one part of the world, then people started protecting themselves.)

At any rate, I found the whole enterprise and exercise in dishonest journalism. Of course there is politics at play on both sides. That's not this issue. But Citizen appears to have the same journalistic standards as Fox News.

I'm not going to go into full details about the stem cell article because this post is already long enough. So here's the synopsis: The cultural right wants to only conduct research with adult stem cells because they don't kill babies. They back up their claim by pointing to the research successes of adult stem cells. The scientific community says, yeah, great, but embryonic stem cells offer greater potential, even if it's much harder to research. Oh, and we're not killing babies because embryo's aren't babies, jackass. (Excuse the flippancy, but the cultural right piss me off with their oh so Christian dishonesty.) Anyway, the article is a one-off that basically does what the right always does: it stacks up a series of successes from adult stem cell research, points to the few successes from embryonic stem cells, and claims the moral high ground, all the while couching it as a vast left wing conspiracy that keeps the public from knowing the truty. In short, it's barely resembles journalism. But what do you expect from a Dobson rag?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Anniversary and Continuing Authority

It's been one year since I moved to London. Unbelievable. Time passes fast when you're having fun. Today is much like the first week I arrived - sunny, warm, slightly breezing. In short, outstanding. I had some lunch with the Roving Alcoholic and then spent some time in Regents Park. I'm now at school doing some work, but I'm going back outside to read in the sun in a few. First, I wanted to discuss a topic tangentially related to my thesis.

As I may or may not have mentioned, my thesis is an investigation into the effectiveness of the UN Security Council to fulfill it's mandate to, as I term it, regulate the use of force internationally. In this effort, I'm comparing one situation in which the Security Council worked as it should (Kuwait, 1990-1991) and one in which it essentially failed to operate effectively (Iraq 2002-2003). This isn't the sort of thesis that requires genius level analysis. The short of it is, Kuwait worked because Iraq invaded, Iraq failed because only the US and the UK thought Iraq was an "immanent threat" and even that is dubious. I'll suspend the details and get to my point of the day.

One of the US/UK justifications for going to war was that they had "continuing authority" to use force against Iraq in fulfillment of UNSC Resolutions 678 (November 29, 1990), 687 (April 3, 1991), 707 (August 15, 1991), 1205 (November 5, 1998), and finally 1441 (November 8, 2002). Essentially, after Iraq invaded Kuwait, the UN Security Council authorized a coalition of member states led by the United States "to restore international peace and security in the area" (678). Pursuant to the Kuwait war, the terms of the cease fire agreement specified that Iraq had to, among other things, "renounce unconditionally any biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons programs" including allowing authentic and genuine inspections of said facilities by a recognized international agency established by the UN. The series of resolutions that followed (707, 1205, and 1441) all found Iraq in "material breach" of 678 and 687 because Saddam Hussein violated the terms in several important ways, most notably in playing hopscotch with the inspection and verification regime.

The big argument from Europeans is that Resolution 1441, the one that warned Iraq of "grave and serious consequences" was insufficient to endorse an invasion of Iraq by a US led coalition. Thus, the war, from a European perspective, was an illegal war and should not have occurred. President Bush and crew argued vehemently that they did not need a "second resolution" to authorize force as they already had standing in that regard. Therefore, the war would not be illegal.

For quite some time, I have bought into the European position on this issue. It indeed appeared to be an illegal war, especially after no WMDs were found. However, as I realized last night, I was dead wrong (ergo, so is Europe). See, from a legal perspective, you can't evaluate 1441 in a vacuum. It is not a stand alone Resolution like 661 (August 6, 1990). The first resolution dealing with Iraq (661) was a stand alone resolution that reaffirmed the "right to self-defense" vis-a-vis Iraq. In other words, Kuwait had a right to kick Iraqi ass if it could because of Hussein's war of aggression. However, 1441 was the last important resolution in a series of resolutions. And here's the rub. The international legal community has to accept the "continuing authority" granted by 678 because, like domestic law, there was no statute of limitations on the authority convened by the original Resolution. To overturn that authority, the SC would have had to pass a subsequent Resolution stating that the US coalition no longer had legal standing to enforce 678 and 687, something the SC wasn't going to do because the US would have vetoed and because it would have been a free pass to Saddam Hussein. Not only that, the series of Resolutions mentioned above continually used the term "seized of the matter", i.e. the UNSC remained invested in the fulfillment of the original goal: a peaceful Iraq. The extensive "case law" backing up the use of force was all the legal justification that the US needed.

Still not buying it? Here's the cincher. Continuing Authority has to exist because the alternative is worse. "If the Security Council authorizes certain member states to undertake a task, but is then unable to agree on follow-up action, does the original authorization still stand?" Think about it like this. If Washington, DC passes a law that outlaws politicians from having sexual relations with interns but then acknowledges that it can't enforce the ban, is that law now void? Of course not. It's much the same in international law. The law doesn't void simply because the winds of political change blow in a different direction or because one international organization is unable or unwilling to act. It voids when politicians act.

None of this, however, should be taken to mean that the war against Iraq was justified. There are many reasons why the war was bad politics, bad planning, and bad taste. The simple point, however, is that it is not accurate to state that the US led war was per se illegal. The UNSC had routinely found Iraq in "material breach" of its obligations under 687 and the US, as the authorized enforcer of those resolutions, was well within its rights to step up and roll the tanks. From a strictly legal perspective, the war was legit. (One caveat: There was no timetable established for invasion in 2002-2003 like there was in 90-91 and that complicates things a bit for the US, but not terminally.)

That being said, my thesis doesn't really focus on the legal arguments; I just find them quite interesting. Instead, I focus on the political aspect. There are a myriad of things that went wrong for the US in 2002-2003 in the SC and it's an interesting case study. In fact, as much as I try to stay away from the Middle East, Iraq has essentially become the test case for the neo-conservative movement, a test case that is bound to scuttle the strength of their ideology. While the war will never be justified in my eyes (25,000 Iraqi civilians dead and counting), a lot of excellent scholarship has surfaced in reaction to a pre-emptive war that aimed to remake the Middle East in the Bush vision. I imagine, 30 years from now, the Bush Doctrine will be relegated to the dustbin of history as precisely how not to conduct foreign policy.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Install This

As I was rudely awoken at 9 am this morning for some "mirror installation", I'm awake (for the moment) and thought that I would use this moment for the greater good. See, since I moved in here, I've been watching a lot of movies. Partly because I've been a bit ill and partly because Eurotrash has a ton of movies. But, as is clear, not all movies are created equal and here's my bit to spare the three people that read this post the suffering I've endured at the hands of mindless Hollywood masters:

Solaris, starring George Clooney: If your kind of film is one that routinely makes you yawn, then this movie is for you. If your kind of film is one that has you ask actively, "I wonder how much longer this is going to go on," or "If this finishes in the the next 10 minutes I can still catch the last half hour of Miami Vice," then this movie is for you. If your kind of film is one that has plot "twists" so idiotic that you don't even care to work out the logic behind them, then this is your kind of film. For me, however, I'm just going to put the whole thing behind me and act like it never happened.

Paycheck, starring Ben Affleck and Uma Thurman: Any movie based off of a Philip Dick short story can't be too bad and this is no exception. Sadly, Ben Affleck is the star. Here's wishing that we return to the Ben Affleck in Dogma and Rounders era. You know, the co-star one, not the leading man one. It's not that Affleck is bad in this film, it's that no matter what happens in his life, he's still going to be the guy that was engaged to Jenny from the Block before she went back to insano Marc Anthony. Even beyond that, Paycheck is just a little...unrefined. Unlike Minority Report, it's rough around the edges and it involves Affleck. Watchable, especially after viewing Solaris, but not really what I'd term a good film.

Spiderman 2, starring Toby Maguire: After all the good will generated with the first film, I had high hopes for this one. Sadly, this movie licks a dog's ass. In fact, there's no way to describe it without being truly crass. Anytime you have a superhero: a) losing his powers, b) getting all mushy and sappy about his love interest, and c) getting his powers back instantly through the simple power of his mind, you have a problem. Let's just get this straight: people watch Comic Book movies because they LIKE SUPERPOWERS. I thought we learned that lesson with Superman 4 (I think that's the one), but apparently not. Also, it doesn't help that the "bad guy", in yet another idea that seemed good on paper ala the Penguin in Batman 2, came across as a little more than a bad joke who should have posed little, if any threat to the real Spiderman. Of course, since Maguire is a lilly white, skinny ass, fool....

Anyway, this brings up an important point about superhero movies - the sequels always suck. I have a theory about this one and it's predicated on an argument that I will hear no dissent with: the greatest superhero movies of the last two decades if not all time have been X-man and X2. X2 is probably the only superhero movie (with the exception of Superman 2 and that's only because the original Superman blew chunks) that was better than the original. My theory is that individual superhero movies (Batman, Spiderman, Blade) are usually great because everything is new. You learn how they got their powers, they have their first use of their powers, and they knock heads for the first time. By the second movie, producers think flinging webs and whatnot are droll and the only new source of power is from the bad guys which often turn out to be great ideas on paper but horrible on the screen.

X2 was totally different, however, because it introduced a series of new characters with totally new powers. The series could really continue for two more movies with success because of that simple fact. Of course, there's also that little known Hollywood law that states: every subsequent film in a series has an exponential chances of sucking worse than the original. See the Star Wars movies after Empire for evidence of that.

Blade Trinity, starring Wesley Snipes: Case in point. Blade was awesome. Blade 2 was pathetic and just barely good enough to watch once in a while. It's certainly not worth showing 9 times in a weekend as one such network is famous for doing. (What was TNT thinking? Did they just want to ensure that the entire adult population of the US had to sit through that battle scene at the end?) I was saddened by Blade 2, but I'm putting Blade 3 into the "does not really exist" category. I'm fairly sure that Snipes mailed this in before he even read the script. There's not one moment in the film where he tries to act. He gets a mulligan, however, as you can't blame him. Everyone else, however, has no excuses. Here's hoping no one from that movie ever stars in anything else, aside from Jessica Biel who clearly needs to go straight to Cinemax and stay there. The only exception is Ryan Reynolds who was hysterical, most likely because compared to how bad this movie was, any comic relief was going to look hysterical.

In the end, I'll never understand how the writers thought this was a good idea: In the first two, the vampires are strong and fast. There's a scene in Blade where the human woman is trying to shoot a vampire with a shotgun but it moves so fast that she keeps missing. Now, suddenly, a band of humans equipped with little more than a few gadgets, some kung fu, and bad language are able to kick vampire ass. Huh?

Ocean's Twelve, ensemble cast: Just watch the first one again.

Head of State, Chris Rock and Bernie Mac: Any movie that features Chris Rock running for President is worth a watch, but I wish this one wasn't so stupid. I can deal with some level of stupidity, but really, at the least, let's try to get one thing straight: if JFK couldn't pick his brother to be the VP, then Rock can't take Mac to be his VP. Aside from that (and a few other nitpicky things), this movie was highly watchable, occasionally hysterical, and mostly unobjectionable. Don't expect a Bullworth, though. Rock just ain't got the juice anymore and his rants about poverty ring hollow.

For those of you that made it this far, I saved the best for last.

The Incredibles: If you haven't seen the Incredibles, you must. It's an amazing movie. The characters are awesome, the plot is great, and it has genuine "rooting for the characters" moments where your heart quickens, you smile when they do good things, and you worry when they're in trouble. Oh yeah, and did I mention that it's little more than a cartoon on steroids? I seriously enjoyed this movie. It's clearly one of the best films out of Hollywood in years and once again is proving Pixar's dominance over the bloated Disney empire. I would suggest that they make a sequel except for the rule discussed above, so I'll just enjoy this one and hope that Pixar continues to be a pioneer.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Losing my voice

Well, it's official, I'm losing my voice. Having to talk loudly, inhaling tons of second hand smoke, and being out way too late in the cold London summer air due to absurd night buses have left me struggling to speak. Well, I can speak, but it's not so pleasant. Fortunately, I have a Colombian girlfriend who knows the magical Colombian cure. I took her to La Bougadita (the Colombian restaurant I frequent) for lunch today. There is a little shop associated with the restaurant which sells Colombian goods. She bought this sugary concoction - it's essentially processed, tightly packed sugar - maybe akin to brown sugar - that you melt in hot water and then add lemon to. It's supposed to help. She swears by it and says her grandmother has been using it for years and it never fails. I'm giving it a go. At the least, it's very tasty.

Anyway, last night was a good time except that I was feeling sort of assilicious. When we arrived at the place, after a very long and confusing walk from the Tube station, Smooth Like Butta' was pretty much trashed. He'd been out with a British woman that he really likes but never hit it off with since about 3 pm and we got to the bar at about 10 pm. A gaggle of people arrived shortly thereafter. Colombians, gringo's, Europeans - it was quite a mix. What was really funny was the number of women that he's hooked up with that were all meeting each other for the first time, none of them knowing that they all shared something in common.

Real World managed to make it as well. I was fairly accurate with my prediction. Instead of inviting an ex, she came with her personal trainer from her gym. He's pretty much a total jackass - within about 10 minutes of meeting me, he offered me "some cocaine". Not only is that bad form (who the hell offers cocaine around like that?), but he seriously could have gotten his ass kicked by a couple of people in our group. One thing my Colombian friends feel very strongly about (justifiably) is that cocaine is the root of all the problems in Colombia and the people that use it are scum. They have no issue with kicking the crap out of someone or turning them into the police.

I find it hard to argue with them. I've written a bit about this before I believe. I have no problem with drug consumption in the abstract - as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else, I feel people should be free to make their own choices about how they conduct their personal affairs. But, when that sphere of personal conduct effects other people, then that's where I draw the line. The war on drugs in Colombia (Plan Colombia), sponsored and paid for by the US, has created a wealth of violence, injury, and death in Colombia. Consuming Colombian cocaine directly contributes to the cycle. Not only that, however, the distinction between "drug kingpin" and "revolutionary" is now blurred to the point of irrelevance. FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), a marxist revolutionary movement that is known for terrorism and kidnappings, now controls the drug trade in and out of Colombia. Purchasing Colombian cocaine means that FARC can by explosives, firearms, and other weapons that they use to attack innocent civilians to prosecute their own political aims. This is a topic I've been investigating for some time (wrote a paper about it) and one of the reasons I want to go to Colombia. I have excellent contacts in the Colombian police/military, so it would not be difficult for me to get access to the people with "on the ground" knowledge and experience from which I can build a story and argument from. Hopefully, those plans will come to fruition.

Anyway, back to the story (enough ranting for the moment). We left shortly after 1 am. I was exhausted from this cold and Ms. Colombia is just not a late night person and wanted to get out of there. The place was closing anyway, so we opted out of the post-bar clubbing and headed home. The night bus situation here in London is not so stellar, but we had hopes of a speedy journey as we were not going that far. No such luck. We ended up taking a bus to London Bridge which seemed like a good idea at the time, except that it was cold as ice (it's right on the Thames and the wind of the water was frigid), and the signs we followed to our connecting bus were totally wrong, thus we waited for about 30 minutes in the wrong place. That pissed me off, for sure. After we realized that, we ended up missing our connection by about 10 seconds, so we decided to take a cab the rest of the way. It was almost 3 in the morning at this point and I was fading fast. Fortunately, the cab was not too pricey as we were relatively close to home.

I went back over to Earl's Court today to gather up the remainder of my belongings. I couldn't turn in my key though, so I'm going back over there tomorrow. I left a blanket and a few kitchen items as well, so I'll grab those tomorrow. There are a couple places in that area I may be able to stay at in September and I talked to a few people about them while I was there. Essentially hostels, but they do short term stays and they're not as hostile and rule driven as the student house I was at. Tonight, I'm going to work on my thesis and relax. I have a lot of reading to do, but fortunately, I've made fairly good progress overall. I haven't written anything yet, which is always the competition with Real World - or at least it is for her. Our methodologies totally differ, though. I don't rush to get words on paper so that I can feel good about "progress". Instead, I take my time reading, digesting, and planning arguments, so that when I do put words on paper, they make sense and they appear almost effortlessly. Tomorrow, I start a series of harassing phone calls in pursuit of a job. Ms. Colombia and I are going to Spain in September, so I need to make some money. Plus, I'll need to pay rent and stuff as well.

Highlight of the night:

Real World: "So, are you learning to speak Colombian?"
Me: "It's called Spanish."
Real World: "Oh, yeah. Hehe. That language."

She never ceases to impress with utter nobbery.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

The Talk

There's this phenomena that often occurs between two people that are dating that I have previously referred to as "the talk". Many times in the last year (mostly involving Real World), I have had to ask, "have you had the talk yet?" For some reason, when people are just starting to date, there needs to be an official and formal agreement between the two parties that marks the progression from "just dating" to "a couple". There are many stages of development between two people. I've heard it described as this type of progression: Going Out, Seeing Each Other, Dating, A Couple, etc. Going Out could refer to simply one or two dates - certainly nothing serious. Seeing Each Other is a step advanced, but not yet serious enough that the two people will not see anyone else. They're still free to see whoever they want, but there is some implicit understanding or connection between the two parties that they are more than just normal. My personal theory is that people who are "Seeing Each Other" either don't really like each other past the physical part or are too chicken to move to a more serious stage. That stage is "A Couple" - boy/girl/animal/inanimate object/what have you-friend.

Anyway, I think these various levels are all sorts of silly. In life, if you really like someone, you go after them like the hunter pursues the deer. You don't attempt to position yourself in some intermediary role or any silliness like that primarily because all pursuits of excellence should be genuine efforts and relationships are no exception. I, of course, have had to engage in such silliness in the past for reasons that were not entirely my own and that I did not fully appreciate at the time, but now, with greater perspective and experience, am fully cognizant of how fruitless that whole system really is.

The point I'm trying to get at is that Ms. Colombia and I effortlessly transitioned from a couple dates to a full on couple in no time at all with really little discussion. We didn't have "the talk". Frankly the whole "talk" thing sounds ominous, foreboding, and way too serious. Dating, or establishing a legitimate connection, should be something that naturally develops between two people. It is when the attempt is forced that one finds themselves intertwined in silly games of position and strategy. Thankfully, I have not had to do that with Ms. Colombia. For whatever reason, our ability to connect and grow has happened naturally and without planning or thought. Perhaps it's because she's genuine and honest and compassionate in ways that many women are either not or are too afraid to demonstrate. No matter the reason, I have a rare level of comfort with her and it's obvious. As I said previously, I have no idea how far this will go, but I'm going to pursue her relentlessly because I know with certainty how rare it is for me to feel like this about anyone and I'm not too dense to let a genuine opportunity to slip through my fingers.

Anyway, Smooth Like Butta' is leaving London on Monday. We went out with him and Real World and her Polish friend last night. It was fun. Of course, I have a bit of a cold which is taxing, but I enjoyed myself. Real World finally got to meet Ms. Colombia. She was surprised yet pleased. We didn't get much time to talk about it so I don't know if she was surprised with how Ms. Colombia looks or how we interacted. Later, Real World pulled the prototypical insecurity action. Smooth Like Butta' and the Polish Girl were clearly going to get it on and were involved in conversation. Ms. Colombia and I were obviously very couplish. Real World felt out of place. She was the only one "without someone". So, she just up and left at one point. She eventually came back, but it was yet another sad moment in my friendship with her. She has a complete inability to be genuinely happy for anyone else unless she is also genuinely happy. It's really too bad. I've said a lot of harsh things about her before but really, when it comes down to it, I have great compassion for her because all things being even, she struggles with happiness more than anyone I've ever met and it's quite sad.

We're all going out with Smooth Like Butta' tonight as well, so I'll try to be more sympathetic to Real World's condition. I'm probably not going to drink tonight either (the cold), so I'll be a bit more on the ball in terms of being sensitive to her insecurity and frustration with her always single life. Of course, knowing her as I do, she'll probably show up with an ex-boyfriend and act like she's in love with him. She's nothing if not incredibly transparent and predictable.

Still no job. I've been making the calls and sending out the CV's, but temp firms just work slower in this country. I need employment soon.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Still Moving

It's amazing how much junk one can accumulate in a year. Somehow, I have much more stuff than I thought. I've been moving for three days now (one large bag at a time via the and I still have one more load to go. This is of course going to make my second move in a month oh so much fun, but I think next time I'll just get a cab and skip the multiple Tube rides.

I often make fun of Eurotrash referring to him as the laziest man in the UK. Well, now I know that there is truth to the joke. The area he lives in and that I now live in, Oval, is basically devoid of civilization. Well, ok, that's a bit too harsh, but it's certainly not Earl's Court. There are no late night eating options, no bistros or cafe's, and no hustle and bustle. It's a dead area, not too nice, safe enough, but still not the kind of place you want to really live.

At any rate, he's been complaining for weeks now that there are no grocery stores in the area, so he's been eating at a place called Cottage Chicken. Think KFC reject. The first night I was here, I thought there might be something to his claim. The area does not appear to have a worthy grocer, instead it's littered with dodgy "off-licenses" which are like ghetto convenience stores. So, I hopped online and to look for the closest Tesco. I know this will come as a truly shocking revelation, but there's a Tesco superstore about 10 minutes walking from Eurotrash's flat.

So I went down there today and picked up some groceries. It's a good store and the area is a little nicer than Oval proper. It's on the other side of the Oval Cricket Grounds which is a giant stadium in which they play all the important Cricket games. When I was walking home, I saw some "athletes" practicing for an upcoming match. I was sure I'd seen a few of those in the pub once before. Ok, maybe not really, but clearly to be a Cricket player, you don't have to be an athlete in the sense that you do for most competitive sports. I'll never understand that game. More boring than baseball, yet probably just as popular worldwide. Go figure.

I'm feeling a bit fatigued today. I was out with my neighbors last night. They wanted to take me to their local pub for a farewell drink. After, we went back to their flat and ended up chatting until 2 am. Politics, of course. I'll miss those guys, even if my body will thank me (no more late night drinking sessions with the neighbors). This morning, I had hoped to sleep in a bit, but they're doing construction at the house and there was a series of loud drilling and wood cutting noises being made continually. So, I didn't get enough rest. Then, moving the latest bag of stuff really took it's toll as it was mostly books and heavy items. I think Ms. Colombia is coming over soon for dinner and a movie. A relaxing evening is needed.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Moving Along

I've mostly moved myself into Eurotrash's apartment. He left this morning for New York. So, for the next month, I'll have continuous high speed internet, a civilized living area, and my own personal space. How nice. I almost feel normal. Of course, I have to look for another place to stay after I move out here and that's sure to be a dodgy little hole, but hey, I'll enjoy the Miami Vice now that I have cable (there's nothing like Tubbs running around with a sawed-off).

Last night I met Eurotrash, Real World, and Crazy Ivan for some pints. Crazy Ivan is heading back to the States within the next hour, so last night was our last chance to hang out. Many pints of lager were consumed; many rounds of laughter were shared. It was very nice to see my friend from home, even if it was a brief respite. He got a kick out of meeting some of the characters of this blog (and can verify they actually exist). It's sort of a grand social experiment to introduce readers of the blog to people featured in the blog. I believe that Crazy Ivan can substantiate my characterization of Real World.

Smooth Like Butta' is going to the States next week. He lived in Miami for a couple years before coming to London, so he's headed back there. I was hoping he would stay here in London for a time, but he's ready to get out of here. He can't deal with the weather and he loves Miami, so I understand. Sadly, another friend is leaving. I have business to discuss with him before he goes, so I'm meeting him shortly. He has extensive contacts in Colombia and I'm in the process of investigating what opportunities there are there for me. I'm greatly interested in learning Spanish and if I have my choice, I'd prefer to learn it in Colombia than in Mexico (where I have a standing offer).

One thing that has not received much attention in the last week is my thesis. I did spend a day in a library, but I haven't read the articles that I gathered yet. I really need to get on that as my own personal deadlines are going to be here fast. Of course, I've had less time than I expected as I have had social obligations and I've been spending quite a bit of time with Miss Colombia. Plus, I'm working on getting a job, so that's taking a bit of time as well. However, it's time to get serious and get back on the grindstone.

I spent some time over at my neighbor's Sunday night. I hadn't seen them for a week, so it was nice to go over and talk politics. They're like the Odd Couple in that they're totally adversarial and diametrically opposed philosophically. One thing that has manifested itself over the last year is that when the British guy loses an argument (which happens all the time since he's a George Bush loving Tory supporter and thusly makes extremely bad arguments), he turns very personal toward his partner (the Irish guy). He also yells and shouts and turns red and generally acts the jackass. It's been quite uncomfortable from time to time because even if I try to place the peacemaker, it doesn't really work out that well. I can be quite mischievous at times - I like to throw the verbal hand grenade into conversation and watch the fireworks - but not with these guys. Civil conversation becomes impossible about certain issues after they're heavily debated. Oh, and it's not all the Brit's fault. The Irish guy is equally guilty of being dogmatic and not listening which only fuels the fight. Anyway, after Sunday, I'm certain that they're going to break up. It became so personal that the Irish guy was threatening to leave right there. Over the course of the last year, I've watched their relationship wax and wane but always assumed that they would stick it out. It's not done yet, but I think the writings on the wall.

Moving is a pain in the ass, especially after one drink too many the night before.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Catching up

The last couple days have been quite busy and I have thusly, barely been online. On Wednesday, I was feeling like the dog's ass, so I pretty much slept the whole day. I don't really know why I was feeling bad. It could have been the frequent weather changes of the last week or so. Or, it could have just been something going around. My neighbor is sick, for example, so I know it's not just me. Fortunately, one day of sleeping sorted me out and I was good to go on Thursday. That was quite good actually because on Thursday I spent the day at the Royal Institute for International Affairs. They have a library there that is about 100 times better than my college library, so it was absolutely necessary that I go there and mine it for information for my thesis.

I went to see Ms. Colombia on Thursday night. She wasn't feeling very well, so we ended up just watching a movie at her flat. Needless to say, things have been going exceptionally well. Of course, I am really playing my cards right. On Friday, she was so sick that she needed to go to the hospital. She does not have a GP (general practitioner) which meant the hospital was the only way to see a doctor. Of course I took her. She was so miserable - in pain, fever, sore throat - I couldn't help myself but to take care of her. She ended up getting some antibiotics and is now feeling much, much better. After the hospital visit, I took her home and we had a nice lunch.

Yesterday, one of my best friend's in the world came to London. For convenience sake, we'll call him Crazy Ivan. I kind of goofed on when he was supposed to arrive. I thought it was next weekend. But, once I figured that out, we coordinated and engaged in the time honored British tradition of going to a pub. Ms. Colombia happened to be in the neighborhood, so that worked out quite well when she joined us. Of course, being the sensible woman that she is, she had orange juice. It does not due to mix antibiotics and a recovering immune system with booze. Later, Eurotrash even met up with us for a drink.

Getting increasingly hungry, we headed out toward Edgeware Road to forage for food. Well, first we went to this giant department store called Selfridges. Crazy Ivan, who is in town for four days on business, accidentally left his suit at home so he had to purchase a new one and get it tailored. So, after we picked up his suit, we headed to Edgeware Road. This is the Muslim or Arab quarter of London and the food is excellent. We ended up at a nice restaurant with good to very good Shwarma (lamb roasted with herbs and spices served with Mediterranean salad and rice). It was a raucous time. A sea of uniformed wait staff scurried through warrens of tables hastily laid out to accommodate as many people as possible. Dozens of tall silver hookas laden with flavored tobacco and hot coals sat precariously around the room in the Arab tradition known as sheesha. A series of small miracles were performed every few minutes as the wait staff miraculously never sent hooka's or hot embers flying about the room. The food, once delivered was a piping hot platter of deliciousness - more than sufficient for our empty, rumbling stomachs. Later, fully satiated, we ambled to Crazy Ivan's hotel room and enjoyed a beer before making our various ways home for the evening. All in all, a good day of friendship, laughter, and consumption.

Today, Ms. Colombia and I met Crazy Ivan and took him to lunch in Covent Garden. It's one of the touristy areas in London that has still not lost its charm. There are overpriced shops flanked by cheap market stalls with second story pubs overlooking all the foolishness of street shows and cheap entertainment. In addition to the hostile magician who found it best to berate his audience repeatedly, there was an opera singer, and a guy who, as far as we could tell, had an audience of about 100 watch him do a poor man's Michael Jackson imitation involving a chair. Good times. We settled on Mexican food as Ms. Colombia was familiar with this place and vouched for its qualities. It was sufficient. It did not have a never ending bucket of coca-cola (£2.40 per glass thank you very much), nor did it have a never ending bucket of chips and salsa (first one complementary, £2 for another), but it did have satisfactory enchiladas, although, after seeing them on someone else's table, I clearly should have ordered the fajitas. Either way, a tastMexicanan meal served up in London by a pair of Australian waitresses. Now that's London.

After lunch, we took Crazy Ivan down to see Trafalgar Square. Seeing as how Westminster was quite close, and clearly a more important tourist attraction, we took him down there next. Of course, we stopped at the Red Lion on the way, a pub I've now gone to with three different sets of friends. Ok, it's really the only pub open to the public within a stone's throw of Parliament, but it's still nice enough and feels a bit more British than some of the newer, modern pubs. The weather was glorious, but quite chilly on the Thames and, as Crazy Ivan had to get back to do some actual work, we called it a night fairly early. I took him back to his hotel, sent Ms. Colombia on her way, and came back home to crash. I was exhausted.

On Tuesday, I'm moving into Eurotrash's apartment. As I think I mentioned, he's going back to the States for a month and I'm occupying his flat. That means tomorrow I have to pack up and start moving. Well, I'll take one bag down there tomorrow. The rest can wait. I'm not out of this infernal hellhole that I live in until the 15th, so I'm not exactly pressed to get all my stuff together just yet. I don't relish the idea of moving again as it is, so I certainly won't move everything at once. I just have too much junk for that.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

New Beginnings

I don't think I really believe in serendipity or anything relatively naive like that. But I do believe that in life, many things simply come down to good or bad timing. I've had my share of sweet success and sad disappointment that can ultimately be connected to timing over any other factor. However, sometimes, when you least expect it, something grand happens. Last week was one of those times.

A month ago, I was at a birthday party for a friend. There were many people there, the majority of which were Colombian. I met some new people but didn't think much of it. I couldn't stay late as my Mother was in town and we were going sightseeing the next day fairly early. I met a Colombian woman there that I probably wouldn't have really remembered if I had never seen her again. Well, last week, I saw her again. It was at the going away party for my Mexican friend. We were at O'Neil's, a pub-club that plays the London standard 80's and 90's music. Mentally and emotionally I was spent on the whole "meet a new girl a week" phenomenon that had been a central feature of my existence over the last couple months. The usual was, I meet a girl, maybe hook up a little at the club, exchange numbers, and go out with her the next week. The result was always the same. She would not be what I expected, would bore me, or just wouldn't be interesting. The single life had become a chore.

Thursday night, with all that going through my head and heart, I was committed to just enjoying myself and celebrating my friend and his immanent departure. Around 9 or 10, the Colombian girl showed up. She's friends with some of the people in that group and they had invited her. Even though she was not feeling that interested in going out that night (as I found out later), she came because they cajoled her into coming. We ended up chatting for about 3 or 4 hours. It was good. We ended up exchanging numbers and I walked her to her bus.

[Interlude. One of the reasons I was committed to chatting her up all night was that one of her friend's, a largish Colombian dude that I know, obviously was interested in her as well. She clearly was not into him. So I had a little bit of competition, but it really kicked off when he got pissed drunk and intentionally spilled his beer on my in a weak attempt to get me away from her. He apologized profusely when he realized that was a really stupid thing to do, especially since, in the immortal words of Seargant Al Powell, "You couldn't drag me away." So yeah, I felt pretty happy about the whole thing and not just because I connected with someone cool, but also because I had frustrated a guy who acted a fool.]

Friday, I was moving very slowly. I got up late and just couldn't get motivated to do anything. I had planned on calling her, but apparently, she got impatient and decided to call me first. That was sweet. I invited her to a party on Saturday which she eagerly accepted.

Saturday, we went to this party. It was a bizarre sort of time, really. It was a birthday party for a woman that Smooth Like Butta used to date (shag). She's a very nice (and gorgeous) Spanish woman and we got along well, so she made sure to invite me. The other attendees at the party, however, were quite odd. Her flatmate (a young Richard Branson) has this "girlfriend" which, after several hours of observation and debate, a consensus was reached, was actually a man. There was another clear transvestite as well (blonde wig, 5 o'clock shadow). Part of London's undercurrent, I suppose.

Anyway, Ms. Colombia and I didn't really have too many cares at that point. We just really bonded in a short period of time, which of course had all my friends making fun of us relentlessly. Bring it on, I say. I went out with her again on Sunday (movie's at hers) and I really can't wait until I get to see her again (probably Thursday).

This one is just entirely different from every woman I've gone out with here. She's smart, well educated (getting a master's in marketing), she's 30, knows what she wants in life, and isn't afraid to go after it. In short (she barely pushes 5 feet), she's got a package deal going on that appeals to me that I haven't found elsewhere in a long time.

I started this post talking about serendipity and timing and I'll finish it that way. I have no idea what the future holds, but our meeting and connection was not planned or sought after by either one of us. We both were in a foul relationship mood, although in good spirits about the rest of life. We both went with the idea that we would celebrate our mutual friend. And, at the end of the day, we both found something that had been elusive.

This is something I'm going to relentlessly pursue.

(It only took a year for me to get a foothold in the Colombian Mafia, right?)

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