Wednesday, September 28, 2005


The lack of constant internet access at my fingertips is inhibiting my ability to post to the blog. This is annoying me and I feel like I'm living in the dark ages. Nonetheless, I'll try to do an update from the last couple days.


After two blessed weeks, my flat finally has tenants. An Aussie woman moved in on Friday and a Brit moved in on Saturday. The Brit is a nice guy, relatively new to London and if he suffers from anything its from being too nice and sociable, which, since I don't have much time for chatting with every hour away from work being devoted to my thesis or Ms. Colombia, caused me to shut him down. We get along well; but I just don't have time to waste.

The Aussie is a bit different. Actually, she's really just a ghost. Most people, when they move into a new flat, greet their flatmates and are generally friendly. A, "hi, how are you?" works well. Well, this particular woman decided that dropping a gigantic stinky poo in the toilet and then not flushing was the best way to introduce herself to the flat. Then, after flushing, you realize that she's stopped it up and it takes at least 5 more flushes to wash away her putresence. Later, when you actually see her in the hall, you get a "gooday mate" as she goes into her room and shuts and locks the door. Nothing like politeness these days is there. Since then, I've seen her exactly once, although she did delay my morning shower on Monday by 40 minutes as she was in the bathroom for an excessive amount of time. I don't even know her name.

So, what have we learned? Flatmates vary. Women apparently do take poos.

Funeral/Prayer Session

I didn't realize this, but my former colleague who passed away last week was Jewish. The only reason why that's relevant is that we didn't actually go to the funeral, we went to an afternoon and evening prayer in his home (which has a specific name that I've forgotten because it's in Hebrew). At any rate, the entire ceremony was in Hebrew, which, I'm sure was significant to some, but was less so to me. Not understanding a word leaves one's brain to wander toward analysis, so here's the play-by-play:

In the beginning, the men are called to the front of the room while the women stay in the back. This, I was told by Eurotrash (who is Jewish) is in the Orthodox tradition. Filed away in my brain as institutionalizing sexism in religion like the Catholics and their male-only priests. (Hey, just because they have some sexism going on don't mean that it isn't "Godly" or spiritual. Just men corrupting things as usual.)

Then, a long series of prayers began. These, I must say, were utterly bizarre. It sounded to me like the Rabbi would begin the prayer with all the men joining in for the first few lines of text. Then, all the voices would drone off and everyone read the prayer to themselves quietly with the Rabbi waiting until they all finished to proceed. What's true weird about that, however, is that this process caused the Rabbi to peer around the darkening room and look to each man to see if he was finished. So, I'm standing there, not reading anything, and just watching this guy crane his neck to ensure everyone was ready for the next step because, as everyone knows, we all read at our own pace.

After an indeterminate amount of time, there was a pause. The afternoon prayer was over and we had to wait for the sun to go down before beginning the evening prayer. At this point, the son and brother gave short speeches about the deceased which were quite poignant and meaningful. He was obviously a well loved man who lived life on his terms (lived in South Africa, Australia, London, Toronto, and the US).

Then, the evening prayer. Repeat the above. I was really quite uncomfortable as it was stifling hot and I was the only guy there that didn't understand a word. But, I needed to be respectful, so I did my own little Catholic repression prayer thing. It struck me in the middle that as much as we all respected Dennis, it was mutual. He respected us as thinkers. He expected much out of us, even if we had no idea what he was really talking about. He did that of everyone, I think. But it really speaks to his character that he could so easily grant respect to people that he didn't know very well.

Finally, the service was over. We paid our respects to the family and departed.


It's coming along. I have over 7,000 words now, so that's good. But, I realized over the weekend I'm trying to do too much and that's what's slowing me down. So, I've been narrowing my focus and trying to keep it within the scope of my proposal. I wasn't as productive over the weekend because I had errands to run (laundry!) and Ms. Colombia was sick (food poisoning, methinks) so I spent some time taking care of her as well. During the week, I'm trying to be productive, but it's difficult. Working 9 - 10 hours a day and then going home to put another 2 - 3 into a thesis is not what I call a good time. But, I carry on. I want to finish soon. I was hoping by this weekend I could be done and ready to send it to a printer/binder. But that may be optimistic. We'll see. I have to be clever in how I manage Ms. Colombia and the thesis because it has to get done no matter how much I want to spend time with her.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Sad News

We received word yesterday that one our former classmates has passed away. Dedicated readers of this site may recall me mentioning an older gentleman from South Africa that quit his accounting job to study International Relations. He was quite a story. Thirty odd years in accounting with his own business, gobs and gobs of money, but woke up and realized he was wasting his life on meaningless pursuits. So, he sold his business and started pursuing his dream - to study in the US. First came the MA and after that, he was going to law school (accepted at a law school in Atlanta).

And then the other shoe dropped. Cancer. Diagnosed in April or May. Stomach cancer that had already spread to the spine. The prognosis, as most people familiar with cancer know, was not good. Dennis, always having a great sense of humor, joked that he'd be back for the Fall orientation before heading to the US for law school. Later, he said, via email, that "it didn't make any sense. [He] was healthy all [his] life. Never sick and then suddenly, this." We never got a chance to share a laugh with him after that.

None of us really knew Dennis that well. He was older and had his own life and his own family. But we all shared a mutual respect. He was warm, friendly, generous, and smart as a whip. But more than that, even when he used to wax poetic about extremely complicated International Economic stuff that no one could keep up with and there was absolutely no expectation that we would have any idea what he was talking about, he always treated us like equals. He always expected us to follow him intellectually and then, he always wanted to know what we thought because he valued and respected our opinion. He was a rare inspiration.

Dennis Shore, rest in peace.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Temp-cation, Thesis, Eurotrash, and Ms. Colombia

Temp-Cation (n): Training received in the art of Temping for a living.

I got my Temp-cation at GDC. My tutor was Sensei; my classmates were Broadway, Metro, and (since I've forgotten) Mouth 1 and Mouth 2. There are a number of lessons learned when you get a temp-cation. Here are the most important ones:

1. Look like you're busy at all times - You could be doing nothing, spacing off, whatever. That's not the point. The point is, always look like you're busy, you know what you're doing, and it would be trouble for anyone to interrupt your effort. Keys to this include: walking fast, focusing intently on your computer screen, and walking with a pencil or pen in your hand (as if you were so busy you didn't even have time to put it down). Benefits of this include: less bother from people looking to give you worthless tasks and impressing those that sign your timesheets.

2. Pace yourself - This one is critical for two reasons: mental stability and financial gain. Temp paralegal work, in short, is enough to drive the most stable, totally Real World. (Love how she's being suddenly used as an adjective.) Therefore, you need frequent breaks to maintain a sense of coherence. Firms (mostly) understand this and won't have a problem with you taking breaks as long as they are not too long and the work gets done. The best firms will tell you to take breaks and will pay you for them. Other firms will not say anything about breaks, but will sign your timesheets knowing that you took breaks and they're paying for it. You're not working the system. One is just open; the other is just a "wink wink, nudge nudge," kind of arrangement.

The other aspect of pacing is that you never want to finish up a project too soon. That means you'll be out on the street. As a temp, you are a mercenary. There is no other way around it. So, if you work too diligently, you'll be out of a job. Prolong the work, prolong the pay. That's the system, that's the game. Now, of course if there is a deadline, work your tail off. If you can't get the work done on time, then you're of no use to anyone and you'll be on the street. But first and foremost, your mind must be set on maximizing your benefits while in the Temp System, which means taking things slow, being productive, working diligently, but always keeping an eye out on how much money you can make.

3. Make a good impression early - If you bank a good reputation, you get away with more later. So, make yourself as indispensable as a temp can be (limited at best or you wouldn't be a temp anymore). That means that you have to be "Johnny on the spot" at a good moment when someone who's been there longer than you (and is dumber than you) is uncertain about something, you make the decisions. Hopefully, you make the right call, otherwise you'll look like a moron. But, as this type of work is not overly complicated, odds are, unless you're a total re-re, you'll be fine. After that, you'll be known as "the guy that sorted out that problem that a trained chimpanzee could have fixed but we were fresh out of monkey butlers so we had to depend on a temp".

Anyway, I work at one of the world's biggest law firms. They earned almost a billion dollars in revenue last year. It's giant and I'm in their head office here in London. That means that not only can I get lost in the anoniminity of it all, but there's lots of places to go on "legitimate" business (storerooms, copy rooms, bathrooms, lunchrooms, etc). Plus, I'm good at implementing the basic Temp Rules (there are more, that's just the quick and dirty survival keys) and I'm good at the work because I have high attention to detail. That makes me just a bit more talented than your average monkey butler (at least I don't throw feces at the walls and the partners). Fortunately, I got an A in my Temp-Cation.


As I am dating one the most organized people on the planet, I have been forced to quantify my completion percentage. I figure that I'm about 35% written. That's about 5500 words so far. It could be above 15,000, but I don't really know. I don't have much time to work on it during the week, so the weekends are the money zone. I'm dedicating this weekend to getting a draft completed. That's a lot of work, but I've reached the stage where the writing comes easy. It's just a matter of time put in. The sooner I'm done, the better.


As long predicted, Eurotrash and his girlfriend The Immature Sophisticate, are no more. I am saddened by this because I saw it coming and there was nothing that could be done. He committed himself to this course and even though there were tons of warning signs, he was blinded by love and couldn't see it. (I think we've all been there.) He's quite sad about it all and since the way it ended was very, very bad (her cheating then phoning and breaking up on the phone), it's going to take him awhile to get over it. Fortunately, he's a sensible bloke and he is in the process of reclaiming himself (dying his hair, getting a tattoo - things he's wanted to do but didn't because of her). Still, I feel sad for him. He deserves better.

Ms. Colombia

I haven't written a ton about Ms. Colombia in this space, but I haven't written much in this space for awhile either. In short, she's such an amusing little woman. She's so organized. She has budgets for a year in advance. Everything she does is on time, on schedule, and carefully regulated. She gets up early and goes to bed late. Houston, we have a problem.

Actually, it's not much of a problem. I get up very early on weekdays now (that's Temp-Cation) so that I can get to work early. Weekends, I like to sleep in a bit, but when you're usually waking at 7, sleeping to 9 feels like a holiday. So we're managing that one. I just have to be a little more organized with the belongings. I like to put things down, even if they're cluttered. That's not Ms. Colombia's way. No, no, no. Things need to be neat and orderly and things need to have proper places. Precariously perching a book on top of a stack of papers on top of a stool isn't good planning - even if it works for me.

Anyway, the more time I've spent with her, the more inseparable we've become. We've had mini-fights, we've had tender moments - the point is, we're growing and I can't tell you how great that feels. I spent most of the last year dating random women here and there and never having a genuine growth opportunity that included someone else. Sure, there was solo growth, but I'd had my fill. Then, without warning, I found myself a Colombiana who just so happens to be very well suited to my interests and vice versa.

Of course, the side effect of now being happily committed is that there are numerous opportunities presenting themselves every day. That's the system, but it doesn't make it any better. Where were all these available women when I was single? Why is it that now that I'm distinctly not single (and not interested in being single) that I have a wealth of possibilities at my disposal? I'm not complaining - well, I am a bit, but not for my circumstances. It's just another example of why the system is silly.

Ok, rambling on, cutting to the chase: We're going to Venice in October, maybe traveling in November (dodgy visa issues for her), Chicago in mid-November (to meet her Mother and step-Dad), Washington, DC at Thanksgiving. Then, she goes back to Bogota, I stay in DC until March. I earn enough money to live in Colombia and move there. We stay no longer than December 2006, although if I get into a PhD program, I'll be headed back to the States in August 06. Life's getting planned and sorted.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Islam and Democracy

I attended a speech at my university on Wednesday night that was quite thought provoking. The lecture was by a Saudi woman, an academic, who works at the Royal Institute for International Affairs and is one of their Middle East experts. Her name escapes me, but in the field, she's very well known and is especially famous here in the UK and in the Middle East. Well, 'famous' is a bit strong. She's a big name in the IR field and she's seen as a dangerous and destabilizing voice in Saudi Arabia. She is not allowed to return to her country of origin because of things she's said and written.

The topic of the lecture was something on the lines of "Can Islam and Democracy co-exist?" That's a misnomer of a title, however, as the talk was much more philosophical than that. Instead, her question was, are Western values (Judeo-Christian) that are implicit in Western democracy and human rights compatible with Islam in the Arabic world. Her knowledge base is quite deep having grown up in a male dominated culture of Saudi Arabia, studied in the UK and the US as well as taught in both the US and UK as well as Saudi Arabia, and having worked in a political aspect at the RIAA (think tanks are political by nature).

To answer her question, she proposed that Islam had to change, primarily because of the exclusion of women from politics, business, and social life. Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, nor are they allowed to leave the country without a male 'guardian'. It's an incredibly repressive place - a place where women who commit adultery are stoned to death, thieves get their hands chopped off, and other criminals (homosexuals) get beheaded publicly. She focused a great deal of attention on the cultural and societal impact of these traditions, rightly labeling them "barbaric", "medieval", and "ossified". All of which, it should be noted, is essentially sacriledge to large sections of the Muslim world as those practices are lifted straight from the Koran. There was a considerable amount of palpable anger in the room from the male Arabic Muslims. I was not the only one who felt it. My colleagues felt it as well. It left us with the sense that violence was only a stones throw away.

Anyway, when the topic finally turned political (although I'd have to say any discussion of religion is necessarily political but that's just my personal cynicism I suppose), I found her argument weakened to the point of naivete. See, this woman, brilliant and brave (I likened her to the Saudi Susan Faludi) is an anthropologist. She's not a political science. And that became very clear when she answered questions that were political and economic in nature.

Case in point: she strongly argued that if the Arab world does not begin to grant rights to women and the underprivileged, there will be an uprising and eventual revolution against the dictatorships that currently run the Arab world. That argument, to me, is indicative of a fundamental lack of understanding of what causes revolutions. Classical revolution theory suggests that revolts occur for economic reasons, or that economic motivations are the strongest motivations. It's my argument that the Arab oil regimes have actually been quite clever in how they control and dominate their societies. Not only do they appeal to an outdated, medieval view of Islam for cultural and societal roles, but they buy out opposition with free everything - health care, housing, education, etc. Not only that, the economic disparity that exists in places like Saudi Arabia is primarily present with imported labor. Saudis generally have it pretty good. The government takes care of them, gets them decent services, ensures they have a fairly good lifestyle. It's the Filipinos, Indonesians, and Malaysians that have it the worst and they have no political rights or interests in Saudi Arabia because they're not citizens.

Here's my point: When the middle classes are mostly contented economically, it's exceedingly difficult, if not impossible to generate momentum for political violence aimed at changing the system of government. What is much more likely is a slow, long term transition from repression to openness and inclusion of women in various aspects of public life. In fact, it's my hypothesis that the transition will occur for economic reasons. It's a simple fact that oil will not last forever and that the world is slowly (like the heroin addict) shifting away from its reliance on fossil fuels. The Arab world is pretty much reliant on oil as its only source of industry meaning that they have strong incentives to diversify their economies if they want to maintain long-term growth. They can't do it without women. In Saudi Arabia alone, 95% of women university graduates are unemployed. As the economic necessity grows, the country will be forced to include that burgeoning sector of intellectuals in economic, social, and political spheres just to compete in the global economy. It's a long process, but in the end, Islam changes or the Middle East becomes irrelevant economically.

Ok, that's Stage 1 of rant mode. Stage 2 is on a very different level. Also discussed, although briefly, was the role of Islam in democracy. But I want to generalize. It's not just Islam, it's religion. The central question, as I see it, is one of secularism. Is it possible for non-secular democracies to survive? Can religion and the democratic process be combined successfully?

It's my presumption that secular democracy is the strongest, most effective form but that's not an unconditional position. Israel, for example, appears to be an effective, functioning democracy that has clearly integrated its theocratic position into its constitution and political processes. In ethnically homogeneous states, I believe it can be done.

But it shouldn't be done in Islamic states. I base this conclusion on two factors: the success of Turkey and the Iraqi constitution.

Turkey is the only Islamic country in the world with a secular democracy. Islam is fundamentally important to the people and the country, but it is not formally integrated with the government. And, not surprisingly, Turkey is one of the most stable democracies of the "developing" world. While not yet a fully first world country, political stability in Turkey has vastly aided the country's long term development to the point that there is talk of Turkey joining the EU. This example just proves that it can be done.

Iraq is the flip side. Obviously, we won't know the long-term situation there for 10 or 20 years, but I have almost no optimism about it. The constitution, which I read most of the other day, is fundamentally flawed to the point that I'm actively hoping that it gets rejected. Democracy, at a basic level, is ordered by the rule of law. Things have to be firmly established in constitutions to ensure basic rights and responsibilities. Sadly, the Iraqi constitution starts off wrong and only gets worse.

Case in point, the constitution clearly states at the beginning that "Islam is a source of law" and that "no law can be passed that violates Islam". Question: What's Islam? Last I checked there were a variety of different types of Islam. Writing that in a constitution is akin to writing "Christianity is a source of law..." From the start, I think the effort is doomed because it doesn't specify which interpretation or sect of Islam and there is no global voice for Islam like there is for the Catholic Church. Instead, it's likely that those phrases will be used depending on who actually has power in the country. Radical fundamentalists could realistically use the constitution to institute a Taliban style society claiming it's a democratically supported proposition.

Beyond that however, most of the rights outlined in the constitution are conditional. Free speech, press, etc. are all conditioned on "morality" yet another term not defined in the constitution. And this is the specter of integrating religion into democracy or Islam into Western civilization. One thing we know is that our rights (as Americans) are inviolable. They are not conditional rights. That's a central premise of the American experiment and it's not being replicated in the Muslim world. To condition those rights on something as indefinable as 'morality' essentially means those rights don't exist unless you're speaking praise for the governing coalition.

Even still, some people could argue that conditional rights is just the Arab view and that my ideas are just neo-colonialism wrapped in sheep's clothing. I say bollocks. To answer the question, is it possible to successfully integrate Islam and democracy, one has to define 'success'. My argument is that pseudo-democracies are not 'successes' no matter how much George Bush wants them to be.

What does all this mean? Well, for Iraq, not too much. It doesn't look like the constitution is going to pass anyway, so it's likely that violence will continue with the prospect of all out civil war looming larger. For the greater Arab world, I think we'll see greater economic integration and opening of their countries to the West out of economic necessity. This will bring greater freedom and prosperity for the underprivileged (women, homosexuals, etc) but I am not optimistic that we'll see sweeping changes across those countries. This is a topic for a later discussion, but the great gamble of the West over the last 30+ years was that economic integration with repressive governments could liberalize those governments and result in improved human rights records. I'd say the jury is still out on that one.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Get a job, lose a job

Well, I moved in (mostly) to my new room on Saturday and Sunday. Now I'm suffering through a lack of broadband access, but the room is ok. Plus, Ms. Colombia came back a day early from Barcelona which was most pleasing. Of course, she's going to Madrid tomorrow for the rest of the week (work), but I'll take what I can get.

However, I went to work today and they've pulled the plug on the project I'm working on. So, instead of getting 4 weeks of work, I get 2. At least it's enough money to survive and since we did such a bang up job, they said they'd put a good word in for us at the staffing agency. Hopefully I'll get some work soon. In the meantime, if I'm not working next week, at least I'll be able to work on my thesis.

Today, I was continually assaulted with a great abomination of sporting travesty known as Cricket. As I'm sure 99.9% of the world is unaware, the English and Australians have been playing a 5-day cricket match called the "Ashes Test". We would call it a match or something like that, but in the antiquated language of cricket, it's a test. Apparently, all 3 English cricket fans work with me. They had the live scoring updates on the computer, the radio on at one point, a lengthy discussion about England's chances, and even buggered off early to go watch the end of Day 5 at the local pub. These people love cricket and I can't understand why.

As best I can tell, cricket is a combination of the worst parts of baseball and golf (as in, all parts of baseball and golf). It's slow. It's boring. Fans cheer excessively for extremely limited pieces of action. The rules are indecipherable...probably because there are so many variations of the game that no one is really sure which set of rules are being used at any given "test". And, it's an incredibly soft sport. They stop play if it gets too cloudy, if it rains, if it's getting dark, or for any other reason that they can come up with. As the Roving Alcoholic quipped, "haven't they heard of the modern invention called lighting?" Not only that, they start playing at 10 AM and play until 7 PM with breaks for lunch and, fittingly, tea. You can't get any more soft or sissified than cricket. In fact, owning up to be a cricket player is pretty much a sure way to get your ass kicked in a pub. (Ok, I made that last bit up.)

But, even given all those circumstances, the English are going nuts over cricket right now. My view is that it's sort of like when the US played to success in the World Cup (soccer) a few years ago. There was national pride on the line, people who didn't even know the game came out of nowhere just to cheer on the US team, and the sport seemed to be on the rise. Then, as soon as the US was done, cheering resided, fans returned to the NFL, and soccer was relegated to it's enshrined place in American sports (somewhere distantly behind hockey, aka, nowhere). I fully expect that once the whole cricket business finally concludes (England won), that with the new season of Football (soccer) just starting, that cricket will be relegated to irrelevance in this country, as it should be.

Not really understanding why cricket was still "popular", I asked one of my co-workers. He, in all honesty as an aspiring lawyer, equated knowing cricket in the UK as akin to knowing golf in the US. He lived in the US for a year where he did his LLM, so he's not totally clueless in this regard. At any rate, he explained that people who are aspiring to be posh or to fit into the legal world (big firm legal world) in the UK find cricket very useful as its essentially an old man's game and they have to hobnob with old men in the legal profession (partners, judges, etc). I found his explanation had the ring of truth because, put simply, how could any young person actually find the game interesting compared to the host of alternatives available. I mean, I don't even like tennis, and it's much more entertaining than cricket.

Of course, don't mention any of this to the Indian's or Sri Lankan's. They've taken England's old man sport and made it a national pastime, in the process reducing the UK to a marginal competitor in the cricket world.

And that's the most that I ever thought I would write about cricket, so let's leave it at that.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Moving Day

Well, I finally found a place. I've been quite stressed of late due to not having a residence, not having a job, and not having a thesis. As of today, the residence is sorted and as of last week, so is the job. I landed a month long contract position at a big international law firm here. It's just boring paralegal work, but the pay isn't bad and it's full time. I started on Monday.

I have been looking for a room to live in for awhile now with little luck. But I finally found a place in West Hampstead. The area is quite trendy and posh. Historically, West Hampstead was where all the servants of the rich lived. Hampstead is the spot for the rich and famous, so their butlers, maids, etc lived nearby. Little has changed. All the rich and famous have houses in Hampstead and West Hampstead is still part of that scene. I don't know if servants live there, but it wouldn't surprise me.

My house is located down an ally behind a row of shops. It's a single room in a 6 bedroom "house". There are two floors, three rooms on each floor. Each floor has it's own kitchen and bathroom, so I only share with two other people. The other tenants are all Americans, Canadians, or Aussies...or so I'm told. It's not a great room, but it will do. It's located in a nice area, just above some shops. I have the front room, so I have a big window that looks down upon the street. It's only for 7 weeks, so if it isn't a great situation, at least it's temporary.

The room is more money than I wanted to pay, but not by a huge amount. It's more that I'm just easily offended that someone could charge that much for a single room. Of course, that's the real estate market here. But, at the end of the day, I took the place for the following reasons:

1) It was available immediately and I could stay until the end of October. I wanted a place this weekend (tired of sleeping on the couch), so as long as it wasn't too dodgy, I was going to take it.
2) It's very convenient to work and school.
3) It's two tube stops away from Ms. Colombia.
4) I'm unlikely to get punched in the face.

Of course, the flip side is that I now work 2 blocks from Real World and live about 4 blocks from her, so that needs to be managed. I've been slowly minimizing my contact with her over the past few months and now that I have a girlfriend, it's that much easier. Still, she's going to want to hang out a lot more, which really means I'll just hear from her on the phone more than usual.

At any rate, the real downside is that there is no internet at the house. I'm used to having the internet at my disposal and that is no good. I don't even have internet access at work. So, I"ll have to go to school more frequently. If there is a paucity of posts, now you know why.

On a totally unrelated subject, I've heard about this guy at school who just started who is apparently my twin. I have yet to see him, but I've heard from several people about him. Not only that, however, yesterday, a total stranger came up to me at school and acted like he knew me. When I didn't respond, he asked, "you speak French, right?" I think it was more shocking to him that I was not who he thought I was. So, that confirms it. I have an evil twin and he's roaming my school.

Monday, September 05, 2005

From Disaster to Blame: Katrina is a Case Study in how NOT to run the Federal Government

I'm not going to harp on the ridiculous events of Sunday too much. Bottom line, people get victimized by violent crime all the time and our number was up. It won't taint my view of London. Every city has bad areas or street thugs that invade reasonably good areas; London is not unique in that way. Instead, I'll count my blessings that we escaped with little more than a few bruises and a strong lesson of wariness. Hopefully, those goons will get theirs eventually.

Anyway, there were some comments to the post about the hurricane the other day that were well thought out, even if I ultimately disagree on a couple of main points.


1. Jurisdiction: FEMA has the statutory authority under Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, PL 100-707, signed into law on November 23, 1988 to coordinate the federal response to "national emergencies". Katrina constitutes a "national emergency" for a variety of reasons including the size, scope, and economic impact of the hurricane. In that situation, FEMA has jurisdiction to coordinate the emergency response. Unfortunately, the process of folding FEMA into the Department of Homeland Security has emasculated the Agency to the point that it's almost impossible for it to perform its mission, as we all saw so graphically.

2. Spinning Legal Hurdles: The Bush administration has claimed (as reported by the Washington Post and Newsweek) that Louisiana never requested federal assistance which is why the response took so long. Aside from the fact that the FedGov doesn't actually need a request to offer assistance and perhaps even to provide it in crisis situations (I don't know the law on that one), the Bush claim is factually inaccurate. The Bush admin's claim that the Governor of Louisiana's reluctance to declare a State of Emergency and request Federal help which explains the slow response is frustrated to the point of total collapse by the simple fact that Governor Blanco declared a State of Emergency and requested Federal assistance before Katrina struck in this letter that she sent to Bush on August 28 (who happened not to get it because he was on vacation, again). I'm sure the Washington Post "correction" issued the following day stung just a bit.

3. This is what happens when you de-fund disaster preparedness measures: This is an easy point to make because there's plenty of documentation. Instead of belaboring it, I'll sum up the basics. Louisiana, and New Orleans in particular, have continually requested Federal Pre-Disaster Mitigation funds. Prior to this administration, they usually got them. That's why they had a levee system that could withstand Category 3 storms. But, the funds targeted for the region were gutted because it wasn't deemed a significant risk by the money people. The Chicago Tribune has more. As does the Clarion-Ledger (2002). Readers of those articles will notice that a Republican who was appointed as Assistant Secretary of the Army was sacked by Bush for speaking out against for the budget cuts that left New Orleans defenseless. And just for fun, here's one about how Bush gutted FEMA creating a bureaucratic nightmare leaving America defenseless. (The Chicago Tribune one is probably the best for those with limited time.)

Of course, major hurricanes were a significant risk and everyone knew about it, including FEMA who specifically game planned for this possibility. Readers of the National Geographic article will notice the lengthy debate about this whole issue that I prefer not to go into.

4. How, exactly, is a 1500 person police force supposed to forcibly evacuate 20,000 people that either refused to flee New Orleans or were unable to flee? Don't blame the city. They got the vast majority of people out. No matter how tragic the story, they did what they could.

Here's the bottom line: Long before this disaster ever crept into the equation, the Federal Government abandoned New Orleans with a minimum amount of protection from severe storms because they judged that a Category 5 Storm was unlikely and too expensive to justify. Later, when the doomsday scenario unfolded, our Federal Government was asleep on a couch somewhere in Texas. The response trickled out of Washington, people suffered and died, and the ruling political party circled the wagons and blamed everyone else for a situation that they contributed to. That's not just negligence, it's gross incompetence.

In 2001 people seemed willing to forgive Prez Bush for listening to that story about the goat (probably because it was so fascinating) because 9/11 was so shocking, it unfolded with no warning, and people seemed willing to believe that the President would be effected by it just like we all were. However, in 2005, there were only about 14 days of warning, no preparation from the FedGov (or even pre-positioning of troops, ships, supplies, etc), and a bureaucratic nightmare that could have been avoided had FEMA been run properly and kept separate as an independent organization.

I'll end this little rant with a poignant thought from my brother-in-law: What if this had been a terrorist attack?

Sunday, September 04, 2005


I got assaulted tonight. Eurotrash and I both. We met a friend and went to a pub at Stockwell which is about a 15 minute walk. We didn't have too many drinks, but on the way home, we ended up on the wrong street. So, we decided to take a cut through a neighborhood to get back to where we needed to be. On the way through a neighborhood, a couple black guys started following us and started harassing us. They went away for a minute and then came back. Then they told us to give them our wallets, phones, and jewelry or things would get "rough". We declined. Then, one of them punched me in the face. My glasses went flying. I found them, said, "what the fuck?", then realized that things were worse than I thought. Instead of 2 black guys (which is what it looked like at first) there were 5 or 6. I took off running. I left Eurotrash behind, but I did tell him to "get the fuck out of there". I dialed 999 (the emergency number) and got put on hold. I got up to a main street and found some police. Eurotrash came behind me a few minutes later. We gave descriptions and drove around in the police vans looking for the guys but didn't see them.

We're both ok. We can take a punch or two to the face and survive. And frankly, I'm just happy nothing was stolen and we didn't have a life threatening situation. But I'm so angry. This should not happen. I know there is crime everywhere, but this seemed to be a nice neighborhood.

Anyway, when I was driving around with the police, I found myself in a unique situation. They were asking me to identify black males that I barely got a good look at in the first place. We saw several black males along the way, but there was no way I could guarantee that the ones I saw were the ones that assaulted us. Well, they really didn't look similar at all, but the point is, I could have easily said, "that's the guy," accusing the wrong person, ruining someone's life, and been totally wrong. Instead, I told myself that I would only point someone out if I was sure that it was the person I saw. Since I didn't see anyone that matched up, I didn't ID anyone.

Nice way to start a new job, huh? Roll in with a swollen face from a sucker punch. At least I can get a bit of sympathy. Note to self: Move out of south London. ASAP.

Friday, September 02, 2005


I'm shocked and amazed by the developments down in Louisiana and Mississippi. Not only is this the worst natural disaster in US history, it's showing that there truly is a fine line between "civilized" and "uncivilized". The fact that armed thugs are running through the streets (I guess there are some places you can walk) looting, assaulting, and raping is just not something you expect in the US. That's the sort of thing out of The Lord of the Flies or some post-Apoptalyptic sci-fi film. All the responsible parties should be rounded up, imprisoned, and forgotten. The human race should be better than that.

But even beyond that, two things are very clear: 1) The Federal Government failed to provide adequate funds to prepare for this type of emergency, both for the region and in general; and, 2) It's shocking that there was not an immediate Federal response.

I'll start with the second one as it requires less research. We've all seen the footage of Bush listening to a teacher read a children's book for 7 long minutes after it was clear that the US was under attack on 9/11. Some of us may have forgiven him because 9/11 was so unprecedented and it was the first crisis of his presidency. Now, however, we have a situation where the Federal government was needed immediately, and has a codified legislative duty to be the primary responder in these types of situations, but has very slowly mobilized to aid the rescue and relief operations. There are a lot of reasons for this, some of which I'll detail later, but it's utterly shocking to me that the FedGov didn't immediately swoop in and provide supplies, airlifts, communication and coordination, and shelters. This, of all crises, is certainly a prototypical case where the Feds are 100% necessary.

The other, perhaps more informative, point is that the FedGov deprioritized disaster relief in two critical ways. First, they defunded the levee and pump projects in New Orleans. Since I'm too lazy to look up the actual articles with the full financials, I'll summarize from memory. Basically, for the past five years, the Army Corps of Engineers budget has been reduced to the point that the majority of the 05 budget was spent paying for services that were performed in 04. The last figure I saw was that of the requested $25 million (roughly), only $2.5 million was actually allocated. There are surely a lot of reasons for this type of budget slashing (the perceived low risk of a category 5 storm, for example), but the bottom line is that they could have prepared for this event and saved some portions of the city and they didn't.

The other, more risky and pervasive factor is that the Bush administration has slowly been working to eliminate the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for quite some time. This is partially because the response to 9/11 prioritized terrorism preparedness at an extremely high cost. Dollars can only be stretched so thin and FEMA took the hit. I think they envisioned that FEMA's tasks would ultimately be folded into a yet unnamed replacement organization under the umbrella of Homeland Security, but they just haven't gotten there yet. Instead, they've slowly reduced FEMA's budget and mission, critically impacting the agency's ability to respond to this latest crisis.

The other factor, more subtle, is that the Bush admin and conservatives generally believe in the power of private contributions and assistance to those that need it. The FedGov shouldn't have to provide services because charitable orgs can do the job, is the claim. This type of argument is rife throughout the Libertarian literature and has some standing in the Bush ideology. Sadly, this is not a case that can be remedied by charity orgs like the American Red Cross. Certainly those groups can provide long term support in terms of resettlement and they can provide short term support like medical supplies, blood, food, and temporary shelter. But they have little, if any, ability to get people out of a flooded region, establish the necessary security against hoodlums and fools, or provide the communication infrastructure necessary to coordinate such a wide-scale and devastating disaster relief effort. Only the FedGov (military) can provide that type of assistance.

Some people are using this disaster to score political points. That's not my effort here. I'm not a vested political force. I don't "win" jack sh*t by pointing out the failures of funding, prioritization, and response. No, my point is, that at some point, questions are going to be asked and we, as a nation, have a responsibility to not allow the incredibly gifted political taskmasters that run the White House to sweep this under the rug. The President should be made to answer the really tough questions, not to skewer him, but to understand why FEMA was gutted, to understand what his intent is for future disaster relief missions, and to prevent these types of situations from getting out of hand. We need to ask why it was decided that budgets couldn't support upgrading the levee's in New Orleans. We need to ask why the FedGov didn't respond immediately to this disaster. All of this, from my perspective, is to improve policy and to prevent massive loss of life in future situations.

Of course, I'm not such a blind policy wonk to ignore that there are clear political implications to the answers to those questions. That goes with the job. So don't accuse me or anyone else of "trying to score political points" because our motives (for the most part) are pure. It's just impossible to ask those questions without a political impact. That's the nature of presidential politics and any more statements from that total jackass of a press secretary accusing the media of "politicizing" the issue should be summarily ignored. In fact, the media should continue to harass him ceaselessly just for fun (since we all know that Fleischer isn't going to answer any questions).

FYI: The White House response up to this point has been to use the old "don't politicize the issue while people are dying in the streets" tactic. That's an explicit realization that they're looking at the political side and are worried.

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