Monday, July 31, 2006

An obvious miscalculation

(Sorry - No internet connection for a week or so. But, the problem is now solved and it shouldn't happen again.)

It seems clear, at this point, that Israel's invasion of southern Lebanon was a clear miscalculation. The stated goal of quickly neutralizing Hezbollah power in the area has failed and now the situation is growing more and more dangerous. Several developments in the last few days have shifted this "war" in dramatic ways.

First, Israel bombed a town called Qana, killing 55 innocent civilians, including numerous children. This was not the first incident of indiscriminate bombing by the IDF, but, to date, has garnered the greatest protests and inflamatory rhetoric. The images of rescue workers shifting through the rubble of smashed apartment buildings and finding little more than body parts of babies and children has seriously turned the usually pro-Israel world against this latest offensive and could have repercussions in the long run in terms of diplomatic or financial support (specifically from the EU).

Second, and perhaps more importantly, the Lebanese Prime Minister is, for what I believe is the first time, siding with the Hezbollah. This is particularly troublesome news because traditionally, the weak Lebanese government has been relatively neutral about Israel. Lebanon is a multi-ethnic and multi-religous country. This means that the government has had to walk a tightrope between placating both the Christian and the Muslim factions, as well as dealing with the continous inability to do anything substantive about the Hezbollah in the south. (It's not good when a non-state terrorist organization is stronger than the state military.)

Looking at this from a historical perspective, it's clear that the Middle East has been unraveling since Bush took office in January 2001. The last days of the Clinton administration brought the world as close to a final settlement to the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel as has been seen, but ultimately didn't conclude for a confluence of reasons (including an intransitory and probably dishonest Yasser Arafat). Since that highpoint, the Bush administration has paid little, if any, meaningful attention to the problem.

This is all very interesting to me, because it's very clear that the Palestinian problem is the root of much of the terrorism and violence in the region and the world (well, that whole Iraq thing doesn't help much either...). But, instead of actively addressing the root of the problem, the Bush Doctrine has been one of intervention and aggressively seeking to find and kill "the terrorists". Much like a doctor treating a gunshot wound with a bandage, treating the symptoms hasn't garnered much success. Terrorism is up, violence is widespread, and the Middle East has unraveled into a series of deadly and potentially escalating conflicts.

Even more troubling is that it appears there are some in the Bush administration (ahem Mr. Vice President) that actually welcome a widening of this conflict to Syria. This likely stems from the same philosophy that lead the US into the now obvious mistake that is Iraq. Shockingly, the Bush administration still believes that it's possible to blow up a country and rebuild it in your image. It's no surprise that Syria is a target on the list, just as it is no surprise that the US is now reluctant to expand it's own little war.

None of this is to suggest that hammering out a final peace deal in the West Bank would have completely eradicated terrorism. The world is more complicated than that. But, it clearly would have helped reduce terrorism, in addition to being a net good idea in itself. Radical regimes like the one found in Iran generate a great deal of support from their opposition to Israel and the West. Removing the linchpin of their inflamatory rhetoric, Israel's indignant occupation of the West Bank, would certainly have served to further isolate Iran and, to a lesser extent, Syria. But little, indiscriminate wars like the one currently underway in Lebanon, only give credence to the harshest of rhetoric spilling forth from Tehran.

In the big picture, it's clear that most of the world's violence originates in the Middle East. In the last 6 years of the Bush administration, an aggressive policy of intervention and "state-building" have caused an escalation of that violence and thus, made the world significantly more dangerous. Regardless of whatever minor successes might have occured in the last 6 years, it's clear that in any measure, the Bush Doctrine has been a total, abject failure that will go down in history as one of the darkest times in US foreign policy.

I shudder to think what might have happened if these guys had been in power during the Cold War.

What's really frustrating to me is that there is no easy solution to this problem when, and if, the Democrats regain control of the Presidency in 2008. Bush has dealt a serious blow to US foreign policy that won't easily be repaired. A doctrine of constructive engagement (like that of the Clinton administration vis-a-vis China) has proven effective in the past, but there are no cases similar to the problems embroiling the Middle East. I've been thinking about the long view and I have no more answers than anyone else. But, I do have an idea that is worth thinking about, at least.

I believe that it is time to seriously reconsider the US relationship with Israel. Every year, we give Isreal over $1 billion in financial and military aid. Not only has that assistance given Israel a huge military edge over it's neighbors, but also paints the US as "complicit" with Israeli aggression in the eyes of the world's terrorists. I'm not suggesting we slash the aid and abandon Israel. But, I am suggesting that the US should have inordinate influence over Israel and should be able to force them back to the negotiating table. It is inconscionable that our government consistently gives Israel a blank check to do whatever it wants in the Middle East when we pay the consequences of those actions. It is equally inconscionable that we have leverage that we are not using. The next administration must effectively leverage our aid and support to force Isreal back into peace talks and hammer out a final settlement.

I fully expect the next two years to be more of the same. Violence, war, terrorism. None of it is going to abate. It will only get worse. But in January 2009, we'll have a new President. That person will have the chance to alter the course of the Middle East in a profoundly different direction. I can only hope that they know it.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Just to continue an old argument...

...Rove lies about Stem Cell Research.

Remember back when I had a little mini-debate with myself about stem cell research? Adult vs. embryonic? Yeah, now that Bush is using the veto, he's explained he blocked the bill on moral and practical grounds.

Moral, sure. But practical? Nonsense. Apparently, any conclusions about the viability of adult or embryonic stem cell research are premature.

The Chicago Tribune has the scoop. (But it requires a log in, so here's the important part courtesy of AmericaBlog:)

When White House political adviser Karl Rove signaled last week that President Bush planned to veto the stem cell bill being considered by the Senate, the reasons he gave went beyond the president's moral qualms with research on human embryos.

In fact, Rove waded into deeply contentious scientific territory, telling the Denver Post's editorial board that researchers have found "far more promise from adult stem cells than from embryonic stem cells."....

But Rove's negative appraisal of embryonic stem cell research--echoed by many opponents of funding for such research--is inaccurate, according to most stem cell research scientists, including a dozen contacted for this story.

The field of stem cell medicine is too young and unproven to make such judgments, experts say. Many of those researchers either specialize in adult stem cells or share Bush's moral reservations about embryonic stem cells.

"[Rove's] statement is just not true," said Dr. Michael Clarke, associate director of the stem cell institute at Stanford University, who in 2003 published the first study showing how adult stem cells replenish themselves.

If opponents of embryonic stem cell research object on moral grounds, "I'm willing to live with that," Clarke said, though he disagrees. But, he said, "I'm not willing to live with statements that are misleading."

Dr. Markus Grompe, director of the stem cell center at the Oregon Health and Science University, is a Catholic who objects to research involving the destruction of embryos and is seeking alternative ways of making stem cells. But Grompe said there is "no factual basis to compare the promise" of adult stem cells and cells taken from embryos.

Grompe said, "I think it's a problem when [opponents of embryonic research] make a scientific argument as opposed to stating the real reason they are opposed--which is [that] it's a moral, ethical problem."

Monday, July 17, 2006


Well, the wife and I had the opportunity to go to Villavicencio over the weekend because of conference her company organized for a group of doctors on Saturday. Villavicencio is the capital of the Llanos department (state) and is about 86 kilometers southeast of Bogota. The Llanos are the Colombian "great plains", except, unlike in the US, are filled with trees. In parts of Kansas or Nebraska, for example, you drive for a whole day and see one tree. Not so in Los Llanos.

At any rate, it may be close, but the drive through the mountains takes a long time (4 hours with stops). Of course, it's an incredible drive - the mountains are huge and the road winds over, around, and through them. Partly, it reminds me of an area in Idaho where the road follows the Snake river - except that the Andes are enormous. Every twist of road brought new details and the longish drive seemed to go by very quickly.

Near the end of the drive, there is a very long tunnel, about 5km, that you have to drive through. It's the 3rd of 3 tunnels and by far the longest. When we came out, I had the sensation of what the Fellowship must have had exiting the Mines of Moria (to describe it in the geekiest of fashions). The vast plains that stretch out before you, the glowing sunlight, the experience of entering a new world - all of it was unique.

If Bogota is modern, Villavicencio is a decade or so behind. In fact, that's one of the things that stands out when one travels in Colombia. While Bogota has it's share of modern advances, the rest of the country (excluding tourist haven Cartagena) is lagging behind. Well, I haven't visited Cali or Medellin yet and they're supposed to be nice, but outside of those cities, the environment is tangibly different. Income and social stratification are pronounced in the developing world.

Unlike Bogota, there were few modern offices or apartment buildings. There were plenty of buildings with broken windows, garbage lined streets, broken down cars, and abandoned buildings. Aside from a newist Exito (Walmart) and a new shopping mall, there was little to reflect the growing and developing Colombia that I have come to know. One is left with the distinct impression that while some may be doing well in Colombia, the vast majority are struggling with the meager surroundings they find themselves in. It's both saddening and enlightening to see that people who have few opportunities in the world manage to create lives for themselves that they enjoy and are mostly happy.

Another thing that I've noticed here in Colombia is that it is a very militarized country. The other day, on a major street in Bogota, I saw a tank roll by. In the freeways between cities there is a constant military presences - outposts and soldiers at regular intervals. It's common for the military to search vehicles and examine documents of any motorist they choose. And in Villavicencio and the Llanos, there are defensible outposts build from sandbags and concrete strategically placed around the area. Watchtowers, something rarely utilized in Bogota, were fully staffed in the Llanos and military exercises were ongoing even at 830 on Sunday morning. This "war" is no joke here. While Bogota is more or less safe, the country is fortified, prepared, and anticipating a return to violence.

All of that leaves one with the feeling that as much progress has been made down here, there is a lot of work left to do. Governments generally pursue development strategies through economic projects. Whether it's large scale infrastructure or micro-financing, the idea is that by providing sound jobs with good salaries, economics can conquor the depths of poverty, and in Colombia, the violence that follows.

I'm not convinced. Or, I should say, I think the picture is more complicated. While economic prosperity is absolutely necessary, I wonder about education. Just like in the US, money buys a good education and it is farcical to suggest that everyone has equal opportunities in achieving quality education. The poor of Bogota and the rest of the country have one level of (often) sub-standard education, while the rich (or well off) can afford to send their children to better schools. The end run effects are that the upper classes foster environments conducive to economically prosperous lives - quality education, language skills, opportunities to travel, and ultimately, access to the best jobs. The poor continue to be poor. While these trends are awfully pronounced in a country like Colombia, the same (if muted) dynamic exists in the US.

In the end, we (as a culture, society, species) have to decide that this system isn't fair and must change. But I suppose it's always been easier to build more jails, put more people in prison, and blame those with no options for opting for a life of crime. Until we recognize that a) all education isn't equal and b) that we should do something about it, we're going to have to deal with high levels of crime and corruption.

At any rate, I have to discuss a meal that I had on this trip. The Llanos is equivalent to "middle america" in at least one way - it's the source of beef for the country. There are many farms and the best beef in Colombia is found here. They have a traditional method of preparing cow that is downright tasty indeed.

First, they dig a hole in the ground. They fill that hole with salted meat and then build a fire above it. They slow cook the meat for a day (basically) which leaves it tender, moist, and ever so succulent. Each bite is bursting with a different mix of smokey and salty cow, slowly dissovling in the mouth. I have struggled to come up with a fair characterization of said cuisine, so I've decided to keep it simple and state for the record that:

THIS is why God invented cow.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Yo tengo reflujo (I have acid reflux)

Well, I will say that being married to my wife is totally awesome for many, many reasons and that I'm really happy about that. But one thing that marraige brings, aside from happiness, is that I have bonafide health and dental insurance for the first time in about 3 years (national health in the UK doesn't really count). That's definitely a good thing, generally, but is also quite negative in some ways seeing as how: a) I hate doctors, b) my wife loves them, and c) not going to a doctor for a problem in this family is non-negotiable.

So, after seeing that I have seriously common heartburn, my lovely little wife insisted that I go see a doctor. Not just any doctor, mind you, a doctor that she knows and works with (and whose son I'm now teaching English to). He's a very nice man with perfect English and is quite notable in the gastro-whatever field down here in Colombia, so at least I felt like I was going to the best (as if my wife would have had it any other way).

However, the prescription for "gastritis" is an endoscopy. For those of you unfamiliar with this nasty little procedure, it's basically where they slap a camera on the end of a long fiber optic cable, shove it down your throat into your stomach, and have a look around. Not exactly the most sophisticated concept, but effective, I suppose.

My dear wife, who came with me, took special glee in not just watching the TV monitor and seeing the inside of my esophagus and stomach, but also thoroughly enjoyed the detailed explanation that the doctor gave - in spanish - and of which I understood the general point. Inflamation, redness, and something, something...

At any rate, they start the process by spraying your throat with some nasty sort of liquid that Jenna Jamison probably uses when she shoots her gang bang videos. It tastes like ass, but it also numbs your throat so that you can accept...ahem...large objects with little trouble. Not that it feels good exactly. In fact, it's one the least comfortable 5 minutes (or so) that I've had in recent memory.

At the end, the diagnosis was pretty straightforward. I have chronic reflux disease, for which there is no cure, and a bit of my stomach has migrated northward, for which I do not need surgery because it's very minor indeed. We have to wait on the results from the samples they took to see if the cause is bacteriological. If it is, then there is a relatively easy cure involving pharmaceuticals. Either way, my wife is pleased as pudding because the "most appropriate medicine" for my condition is produced by Johnson & Johnson and she happens to be the product manager for that medicine (as well as a dozen other medicines). Anything to make the wife happy.

I'm also sure that this means in the very near future I will be going to a different specialist to have an MRI for my migraine's. I get them about twice a month and my sweet wife has already laid the groundwork for such a venture. Apparently that procedure involves injecting the patient with an eerie blue rave-like substance so that the MRI can reveal if there is any "leakage" in the brain that could be causing the migraine's. I can't wait.

And to top that all off, I went to the dentist the other day for the first time in about 4 years and I have 4 cavities. Three of them are very small, but one is "grande", so I'm going to have to get those sorted out on Tuesday. At least my teenage jaw surgery severed enough nerves to dull a significant portion of the pain in my mouth/face area. Because I can't imagine that getting some cavities dug out with a sharp and pointy drill is any fun at all - no matter how much novocaine they use.

Marriage. Who said it wasn't good for you?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Why we can't leave Iraq...and why we have to leave Iraq

I'm going to diverge from the larger democratic blogocracy here for a moment, something's that's not altogether uncommon, I suppose. Just about now, the "Left" is advocating a faster pullout from Iraq and, as of yet, I have not heard anything that would resemble what I would refer to as a "detailed" plan. Instead, I perceive this call to withdraw as tapping into a groundswell of opposition to the Iraq war, a belief that staying can't stop the insurgency, and a sense of helplessness in it all.

I understand that because I feel it too. However, I don't think pulling out is a solution at all, in fact, I believe it's probably the worst possible decision to make. Like most decisions, it's a bad idea to pull the trigger based on a rather emotional reaction to a set of circumstances, as this post seems to suggest. Instead, dispassionate analysis is best and that's what I strive for. This doesn't mean I disagree with the abject horror of some of the artrocities that are ongoing in Iraq nor does it mean I "support the war". In fact, I have utter contempt for the way politicians and the media characterize the war as a black/white dualism - as if it was impossible to see shades of gray in complex issues.

No, instead, I see the "war" as something of our own making - and something that we have to try to fix. Don't get me wrong - I'm all for politicians scoring political points against the GOP/Neo-Con "invasion as democracy promotion" people. Ideologically, those people made the same mistakes that the Wilsonians made with the League of Nations - i.e. seeing the world as they want to see it, not as it truly is. Instead, my point is, this is the hand we're dealt and we have to find a solution to an impossible problem. And, ultimately, pushing for an early withdrawal is, in my best analysis, counterproductive.

One thing seems very clear from afar about Iraq: US forces are the only buffer between gross bloodshed and outright genocide. It doesn't take a genious to realize that when two racially, ethnically, or religiously different groups are vieing for power, genocide soon follows. Sudan, Rwanda, Bosnia, the Khmer Rouge, Turkey, etc. are all shining examples from the 2oth Century that when domestic factions are unchecked, the grossest and most inhumane violations of human rights follow AND the world does nothing. In fact, the only action that can be said to have "stopped genocide" occured between 1942-1945 and that was because of larger national interests, namely Germany's threat to the world.

So, as I see it, if we pullout now, the violence will not only get worse, but large segments of the Sunni population will simply be killed for being Sunni, the UN would do nothing, and that blood would be on our hands. Thus, when I hear democrat types pushing for fast and complete withdrawal, I cringe, because, while serving US domestic interests, withdrawal is a death sentence for hundreds of thousands of people.

Ultimately, the question comes down to this: As a people or nation, whose lives do we value more, Iraqi or American? Sadly, the answer to that questions is generally American, but Iraq is different. This is a war of our making, sold on both security and altruistic grounds, and we have a responsibility to ourselves and the Iraqi population to do whatever is necessary to restore order and prevent further bloodshed. Sunday's "escalation of sectarian violence" should be all the warning we need about the future of Iraq sans US forces. Ducking and running, isn't going to lead to peace. Just ask the Somalies.

The flip side, of course, is that staying won't work. I actually believe that to be true. I'm fairly convinced that US presence as an "occupier" of Iraq is fueling terrorist recruitment and acts of violence. The longer the US is perceived as an "occupying" force, the easier it is for undemocratic, pseudo-religious warlords to justify their campaign as "impelling foreign heathens" instead of warring for control of an oil rich nation. However, in the long run, if the US stays, we'll suffer sufficient casualties that the President won't be able to sell the war to the people and we'll scram out of there as fast as possible (especially after Bush leaves and it becomes some else's war).

In occupying a country, there's a negative feedback as well. Mentally, emotionally, and physically, the US military is not designed or trained to be a passifying or peacekeeping force. After years of war, occupation, brutal injuries and fatalities, the morale of US forces appears to be waning. The alleged rape of a Iraqi girl by US soldiers in March coupled with this week's retaliation on two US soldiers, for example, demostrates that an occupying force can behave in atypical, illegal, and gross fashion. This latest incident isn't the first and if we stay, it won't be the last. These types of human rights violations perpetrated by our troops are merely mimicking those which happened in Vietnam (Mai Lai, for example). If history is any guide, this will get worse over time.

So, if we can't leave and we can't stay, what can we do? Well, I think there's only one solution and that's to tuck our tails between our legs and go to the UN, NATO, or any other organization with peacekeeping and nation building experience. The only way for us to get out is if something else goes in afterwards. If that means we have to pay for it or sign the International Criminal Court or something else the GOP majority finds untasteful, so be it. We have a collective moral and ethical responsibility to the people of Iraq to do whatever it takes to ensure that our departure doesn't result in instanteanous genocide.

I don't know if such a scheme could work. I don't know if the UN, NATO, or any other organization could play a productive roll in establishing and keeping the peace in Iraq. But at least an internationally approved peacekeeping force would have independent legitimacy with no vested interests other than preventing genocide.

I doubt we'll have the opportunity with the Bush administration. I believe he has burned too many international bridges and the internal, ideological power struggle between the Cheneyites and the realists isn't going to end. Instead, I think our first opportunity will come with the next President - Democrat or Republican. If we're still in Iraq at the point, I fully expect that withdrawal will be imminent. In fact, I expect it to be an election issue. Thus, I truly hope and pray that the next administration will have the testicular fortitude to swallow their pride and turn to the international community for solutions. The alternative is the next greatest genocide of the 21st Century.

Friday, July 07, 2006


Today is July 7th, one year after the Underground bombings in London. The Brits are did memorial services throughout the day and many people are reliving the moment and grieving in their own way. Oddly, President Bush is nowhere to be seen (except for laughing it up at his first ever "outside of Washington" news conference in Chicago this morning - yeah, Fox News!). I would have expected Bush to be standing next to his good buddy Tony Blair, but since Blair is pretty unpopular and Bush is an ananthema in the UK, it was probably best that he stay away.

At any rate, I was reflecting on the last year and thought I would share some thoughts. A year ago, I was on a train on the way to work when the bombs went off. I was nowhere near the actual violence, so I was merely inconvienanced into walking home and skipping the day at work. Many others were not so lucky. It was certainly a shocking day, but for me, an American that experienced 9/11 (like so many others) and actually saw the Pentagon on fire, well, my reaction was tempered. My British neighbor was not so calm. If memory serves, he was at first shocked and then angry, finally ending in raving (a common feature of his personality). I think that was a fairly typical reaction.

At any rate, my focus was more on finishing my Master's degree and making decisions for my next step. Returning to Washington wasn't exactly a thrilling proposition (still isn't) and I was considering Mexico or another Latin American country since staying in the UK looked like an extreme long shot. Little did I know that my life was on the cusp of radical change - little did I know that I was about to meet my wife.

As time passed in that July, London returned to normal fairly quickly. The defiant, "we won't let them win" slowly became, "oh, yeah, it isn't about winning, we really don't have another way to get to work" and people pretty much did what they always did. I imagine it's much the same today.

I left London four months later with a fiancee, a new country in mind, and a world of options. It's just wild when I think about how rapidly all that happened. Damn glad it did.


Ok, just wanted to make some comment about the press conference today. I managed to watch some of it because I came home early from Spanish class with a migraine (woke up with it). Bush was engaging, funny, on message, and so, so wrong at so many places. It's sad really because I think Bush pretty much shoots from the hip without a great deal of information. He doesn't strike me as the type of guy that would sit around reading reports about what's happening in Iraq - he pretty much just trusts the people around him - a dangerous type of leadership, but doesn't really make him a bad guy, just a bad President.

Well, as proud as he is of "providing electricity", maybe he ought to actually talk to some people in the field or just read this Foreign Policy article. According to the journalist interviewed, things are A LOT worse in Iraq than what the media is able to report (although I'm a bit fatigued with the phrase "on the brink of a civil war". I mean, how long can one be "on the brink". It's akin to calling the North Korea situation a "crisis" since crises are mostly characterized by sudden suprise. An ongoing (14 year) foreign policy challenge shouldn't be a "surprise".)

Ahem, my point is, Iraq was such a colossal mistake and has been such a disaster for the people, even when the President of the United States grasps for some element of "success", he whiffs. That's not good. But I don't want to get partisan (or overly simplistic).

The real reason Iraq was a mistake is that the biggest danger wasn't Iraq - it was North Korea. Iraq was manageable under the UN Sanctions regime. Sure, it certainly wasn't ideal and continued defiance by Hussein certainly wasn't doing any good for UN Security Council credibility, but it was manageable. North Korea, by comparison, has been completely ignored and is, by most reports, much closer to the bomb than Iraq ever was. It's a concerning situation as well because, even though Saddam was a tyrant, dictator, genocidal leader, and pretty much an evil human being, it's tough to argue that things are better in North Korea. In fact, they're worse. The Iraqi's weren't dying of starvation - they didn't have a famine. NK did. So the claim that Saddam was a bad man that should have been removed doesn't really make any sense compared to North Korea.

Of course, there is no such thing as consistency in politics. Out of one corner of Bush's mouth he said that diplomacy went on too long with Saddam and wasn't going to work. Yet, with the very next breath he urged patience with North Korea saying, "diplomacy takes awhile."

It's nonsensical, and, I think it's because the issue isn't nuclear weapons. The issue is the strategic interests of the United States. The neo-conservatives want a democratic Middle East. They care more about that than North Korea because the ME has oil and NK doesn't. It's that simple. The fundamental defining characteristics of a nation's foreign policy goals are self-interest. The President isn't going to say it outright, but he can come close, as he did today when he stated that the goal was a democratic Middle East. Asia's pretty stable, doesn't have much interest aside from manufacturing cheap products, and it's really at risk from a beligerent North Korea. Simply, US interests are more involved and endangered in the Middle East and Bush tried to change that.

Of course, democratizing the Middle East carries risks, something to be addressed in a future post.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Where's Waldo?

We'll, I'm back. A lot's happened since I last posted, so I'll try to give the short version. The good news is, I should be able to post more regularly from here on. We're in our new apartment, my desk arrives on Saturday, and for the first time since moving to Colombia, I'll have an ideal set up for writing, researching, or surfing the web. You might think that a good environment doesn't matter, but trust me, it does.

Anyway, Cartagena was nice. I definitely enjoyed myself, but we both agreed, the Hilton totally sucks. It wasn't our choice to stay there, the conference organizers chose the site, but we don't ever want to go back. The fact that it has 5 stars just demonstrates the faults in the "star" system. It's an old, poorly situated, gringo hotel in the middle of a caribbean resort town. In short, that hotel deserves no more than 3 stars (except that they obviously reward hotels with stars based on the prices, not the quality).

The one shining thing about the Hilton is the pool, or should I say, pools. It definitely has a great pool area. Of course, shockingly, the pool bar doesn't have stools to sit in (when you're in the water), so that's a bit odd and unacceptable, but I really can't find room to complain. There's a water slide, 3 diferent levels of poolage, and several hot tubs (that weren't hot since it was about a trillion degrees outside and they didn't want to kill anyone).

But that's where the qualities of the Hilton start and stop. The beach...iy, yi, yi...where to begin. Well, it's small, that's for sure. In fact, given the number of guests, there's no way that the beach could come close to accomodating the capacity of the hotel. Not by a long shot. But also, the Hotel is situated at the very end of the beach (western end) and on the cusp of an inlet. So, the reality is, even if the beach was nice, it's in a terrible place - it's not scenic, the water isn't the best, and you can't go out very far.

Equally surprising was the restaurant. I say "restaurant" because I never could find the pizza joint and the only other restaurant was an insanely overpriced steak place - which just boggles the mind. Who the hell goes to the caribbean to eat a giant steak? Costeno food is awesome - coconut rice, whole fried fish, ceviches, etc. Why would I ever think of eating steak, unless I'd so gorged myself on seafood that I needed a change. Apparently, everyone else thought that as well, since the fancy restaurant had nary a soul every time I walked by.

At any rate, the restaurant we frequented wasn't bad, it just didn't have much in the way of Colombian food or Costeno food. I guess it shouldn't surprise since it's the Hilton, but still. Gringo food is great, when prepared by gringos. But a restaurant should play to it's strengths and serve food appropriate to the region. Especially since I could count the number of gringos in the hotel on no more than 2 hands.

Finally, the hotel quite far from the Old City (Ciudad Antigua) meaning that it's quite inconvienant to go back and forth. This is ok if you're staying at a truly 5-star resort like Las Americas, but it's terrible if you're at the Hilton.

Of course, the solution to these problems was found in eating outside of the hotel. We had dinner one night a nice restaurant set up within a weak stone throw from the hotel's private "beach". It obviously caters to dissatisfied Hilton guests as the food was classicly costal, incredibly delicious (garlic fish, mmm), and Fing cheap. On another night, we went into the Old City and had a lovely meal in one of the main plazas, whilst (I teach the Queen's English, for F's sake) being regailed by various types of indigenous dance and music. Now that was a quality experience.

So in the end, Cartagena was just as nice as it was the first time, but the hotel left a lot to be desired. I think the clear lesson here is, when going to Cartagena, either stay inside the Old City (Santa Clara) or stay at Las Americas. All other options are not worth considering.

Anyway, after coming back from Cartagena, we had a busy week of preparing to move, capped off with Diana taking a 1-night trip to Cali for a meeting with some doctors. Last Saturday we moved to the 116 (the hotel that my wedding guests stayed at was at the 100 and the 15 - not far from where we live now). It was the easiest and most pleasurable move I've ever made. Part of that was because we really didn't have that much stuff. All of our furniture is being delivered this Saturday, so aside from clothes and wedding gifts, we really only had a bed, two small tables, a TV, and a fridge.

But, the move was really easy as well because Colombia is a service country, so we just hired people to help us. Our empleada (maid) packed up our kitchen stuff (some dishes and food), her son helped us disassemble the bed, and the movers came and moved everything for us. So you really can't ask for much better.

We spent the rest of the 3rd 3-day weekend in a row cleaning, shopping, and organizing. It was a grand old time and we'll be totally happy when our new furniture arrives. I'll be sure to take pictures of the apartment and post them in this space. From our windows, on a good day, you can see Mount Serrate.

Ok, that's about it from this end for the moment. I have future posts planned about driving in Bogota, teaching english, listening to the radio, and, of course, politics. But those will have to wait. I have to do some studying.

Political Favorites
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My Global Position