Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Back to Nobbery

Well, it was a busy week, thus the absence of posts. The short version is that preparing for my International Relations course takes a lot of time. It shouldn't, but we're not exactly dealing with an English language library here, so my resources are much more limited than they would be in the US. Plus, the first week with the English classes took a bit of prep as well, just until I got used to the book and the system at Javeriana.

At any rate, I have to say I'm enjoying the IR class. Teaching it is giving me a refresher, which is good since I've been out of grad school for over a year now and my Intro class was the first class that I took (August 2005, yo). Plus, while my MA program was pretty decent, the Intro class was by far the worst class. Which is generally the case. Intro classes always have the reputation of sucking cow testicles, but I think that's mostly because of unimaginative and/or bored professors.

Case in point. I showed the first 7 minutes of Fellowship of the Ring last week to demonstrate the basics of IR - nations, alliances, wars, race, industrialization, etc. It's a great metaphor (which is why that Tolkien guy was the shiznit) and especially for an English as a second language audience. My strategy in this course, as I don't want it to be boring and no one taking the course has ever taken an IR or PoliSci course, is to convey the key concepts and ideas in the least boring way possible. Film is one way to do that.

In fact, I think that's the challenge with teaching. And I think that challenge really revolves around the amount of work a teacher does. Lazy or disinterested or otherwise-too-busy-to-give-a-damn-about-some-lowly-undergrad-teachers (which there are more than a few of in the world) simply have a failure of effort, if not talent. For I know from my experience that if I spend the time preparing, I'll give an interesting and full class.

Of course, the flip side of this realization is that I've quickly learned the real lesson of teaching: the financial rewards will never come close to matching the effort required to be a good teacher. Not that I'm all hot and bothered about that at this point. But it would be nice to make a decent salary (I've estimated that my yearly earnings for 3 classes a week at $8000).

Fortunately we live in Colombia and my wife makes a really great salary for here, so we're not pinched for money or anything. But that could all change in a few years (or less).

Anyway, I'm definitely enjoying myself so far at Javeriana. I really like being in an University setting. There's more thought going on about the things I like there than in the "real" world. Not only that, I feel like the classroom experience is educative as well. My students may not be IR people, but they're bright and quick and they are really interested (something that can't always be said about Intro to IR students). Of course, I do teach at the top (or #2) University in Colombia, so that means have some of the best and brightest students...

As it looks like I'm not going to be having any other job offers anytime soon, it looks like I'll be designing additional courses (in English) for the next semester. One course will definitely be Humanitarian Issues with an emphasis on Genocide and Humanitarian Response. I've already started preparing materials for that class. The other course I'm not sure about. I was thinking about a variety of subjects, but then I thought about International Law. I have an excellent textbook for Int'l Law in the US that I could use as a basis for the course and I think I could make it interesting. But, on the other hand, I'm not a lawyer and I wouldn't consider myself totally expert on the subject (for IR purposes "expert" means "knowing just a bit more than your average day laborer). So, I have to keep thinking about that one.

The idea is to only teach English this semester. It's not that I hate it or anything (OK, I did hate my previous English job), it's more that it's just boring to me. Plus, I find it hard to spend real time preparing for something I'm SO completely uninterested in. So I don't feel like I'm the best English teacher.

If I can design two more courses and make connections with the IR department (which I've heard through rumor "isn't that good"), then perhaps I can fill up my academic calender. And, at the same time, I'm eligible to take free classes (not for grade), so I'm thinking of either studying Arabic or French. (There aren't any more Spanish classes that I can take.) We'll see. I may just cop out and take an IR class in Spanish instead. But it would be nice to get some of that French back. It is a UN language and all.

Of course, the drawback from my current work life is that it's only developing an academic profile. Which might be OK. In fact, it might be just what I'm after. But, any good plan has a Plan B (see Sudan, Darfur, uh, I mean...). And my Plan B was going to be in a think tank or NGO. But nothings happened on that front yet and I'm not sure if it will. Of course, this being Colombia, where things move slower than melting glaciers, I may actually get an internship/job offer in 2010. We'll see.

Other things.

We bought a bad ass printer/copier/scanner last week. It's one of those giant ass HP's that pretty much every business has. I'm happy with new technology, especially when it makes my life easier.

Over the weekend, we went out with some friends from London. They're Colombian but we both met them there (and one of them introduced us). That was a good time. But those guys drink so much it's incredible. I know that when you come back from London, as they did recently, you tend to drink fast and have a high tolerance, but still. I returned from London seeking detox. These guys came back looking to drink more.

One of these guys is teaching English at Javeriana this semester as well. He's a good guy to have around. Likes to joke, but is very clever and is someone I can have intelligent chats with (before he hits the 5th beer, that is). Last Wednesday we discovered (with our boss who is also a good guy) a very small and traditional Colombian Soup restaurant that serves up bucket sized bowls of Ajiaco (chicken based soup) for about $6,000 (CP) or $2.75. Not only is that dirt cheap, but the soup was Fing awesome (not sure how soup rates on the Tasty, Delicious and Succulent Scale) and it didn't give me the Hot Diarrhea, so I'll be headed back there again, probably each and every Wednesday. Now if they can only give me a shovel so I can eat more efficiently...

*Editorial Note*

I added two new links to the left. One is for Juan Cole who is a really smart dude who basically breaks down most of the news out of Iraq with what isn't reported. And by that I mean, he was the one who explained why the good sounding Bush plan is actually little more than rubbish. I highly recommend this site as I don't think it's overly partisan and his writing has an academic feel.

On the flip side, I've also linked a highly partisan, yet at times hilarious site called Sadly! No. They've been fighting a battle with Right Wing Nutjobs about an AP story from Thanksgiving that claimed 4 mosques had been burned and blown up. The RightWingNut-o-Sphere went nuts and claimed that AP made it up, etc. Well, Sadly! No has basically bludgeoned the Nut-O-Sphere like a baby seal and, while funny, it ain't pretty. Nothing like getting your "serious new reporter/nutwing" ass handed to you like a comedy site.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Work Update

Well, I decided to take some english classes at Javeriana. It wasn't something I really wanted to do and I highly doubt that I'll have a 2nd semester in me, but for now, it made sense. I'm only teaching 14 hours a week and 4 of those are Intro to International Relations. The 10 hours of English class are all scheduled for the mornings of Monday, Wednesday, and Friday meaning that I have the afternoons off to continue my job hunt, work part-time if I'm so lucky, or volunteer. I also have Tuesday's and Thursday's completely free.

As classes start Monday, I now have a lot of work to do. In fact, it's a bit bizarre the way things were sort of just handed to me. They gave me the books and that's it. Now, there's a meeting this afternoon at 4pm, so I'm guessing there will be more info available about grading, tests, the semester calender, etc. But if there isn't, I've got some serious questions to ask. Because as is, I basically am going into this blind. Fortunately, teaching english isn't a particularly difficult thing once you get the hang of it. And, since I have 9 months of experience, I feel that I should be able to manage adequately.

The International Relations course is a bit different. If I were teaching in the US or the UK, I would immediately go to several key source books that I'm familiar with and start from there. However, those books appear to be unavailable. I will be receiving some materials this afternoon (journal articles mainly, I think) that have been used in previous classes, but the primary text that the previous professor used is in Spanish.

This is going to make my life more difficult. Fortunately, I have a good bit of notes from my MA program and that's given me a bit of a course outline. I have work to do to develop things more, but I basically have a good idea of what I want to focus on and how I want to organize the class. Plus, the previous professor gave me a good bit of his materials - course outline, previous exams, essays, etc. So I have some material to help me on my way. But, I have a lot of work to do between now and Wednesday if I want to make this course something special.

At any rate, while I'm happy for the opportunity to teach at Javeriana (and make more money in 14 hours/week than I was working 20 at my other English job), the job search continues. I met briefly with an HR rep from an international NGO yesterday and my wife is organizing a meeting with a doctor that she knows who works with Doctors Without Borders and has tie-ins to a variety of organizations in that sector. Hopefully something is going to come up.

Of course, if I am able to establish a relationship with the International Relations department at Javeriana, then perhaps I'll be able to teach and publish as a normal professor. That could be an enjoyable experience. We shall see.

Anyway, I'm thankful to have some work, even if the majority of it isn't what I'm really after. Sitting in the house all day, even if I'm "working" on my things, gets a bit boring and surely would have driven my wife mad (if it hadn't already). So this is going to help for a lot of reasons. But, absent a real opportunity to work in my field, I'm still pessimistic about our future here. I know that English teaching has run its course. And I'm worried that I'm not going to find a valuable opportunity.

Still no word from the company that offered me the job. They're totally annoying me right now. I called them twice this week, once reaching my contact only to be told that he was in a meeting and would call me back. Still waiting. At this point, I find it highly unlikely that I would say "yes" to any decision that they made. I'm not really interested in working for a company that's been jerking my chain for two months now. Who knows, maybe they'll surprise me, but I'm just not happy with them and I think that opportunity has been lost. Stupid government, stupid company.

Anyway, since it's almost the weekend. Here are my football picks:

New Orleans at Chicago

I've been struggling with this one all week but in the end, I'm taking the Saints. I know that the home field advantage is huge for Chicago. And I know that Chicago should have the dominant defense necessary to shut down the Saints. Except, the Bears haven't been the Bears of late and I just don't know how they're going to stop the Saints' playmakers. And that's really it in a nutshell. The Saints have playmakers (Brees, Bush, McAllister, and Joe Horn) while the Bears have solid, dependable, yet non-flashy players (Muhammed and Jones) and a QB that is accustomed to throwing the ball to the other team. The only way the Bears can win is if their defense scores points and I just don't see that happening this week.

Saints 30 - Bears 24

New England at Indianapolis

A lot of commentators are speaking to the legend of Tom Brady and Bill Bellichek after last weeks upset of the Chargers. And Brady's "brilliance" at the end should not be discounted. But I like what I read in a CNNSI article the other day. Brady's great play at the end masked his terrible play for 3 quarters. I don't think he can play that bad again and win. In fact, last week's win was a tribute to the utterly poor coaching of Marty Schottenheimer as well as a good dose of luck (throwing an INT and then having the Charger fumble, getting the ball back, and scoring).

Now, the pro-Patriots crowd retorts, the Colts haven't played that well either, which is certainly true. But you can't say they've won on luck and karma. Their defense, surprisingly, has played exceedingly well, while the offense has struggled to score points. In fact, I see a toughness in this Indy team that I haven't seen before. In the past, the Colts have been a finesse team. Everyone knew that if you popped them in the mouth enough times, they'd cave. Not this year. This team has taken its licks and fought back.

Ultimately, I don't see how the Patriots are going to control the Colts vertical passing game. The New England secondary isn't rock solid and they have a real weakness at both safety positions. That's bad news against Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, and Reggie Wayne.

Colts 24, Patriots 17

(And remember, I'm about as good at prognosticating football as neo-cons are at foreign policy.)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The History of Insurgency

There has been a lot of chatter amongst the policy, academic, and political world about whether Bush's "escalation" can have a positive effect. The general consensus seems to be a resounding "no", but that doesn't stop the Right from producing their own sort of "scholarship". Today, an article came to my attention that is just the Right sort of obfuscation. In fact, I'm a bit shocked that this article was printed in Foreign Policy as I had thought that the magazine had slightly higher standards of peer review.

The author, Professor Donald Stoker of the US Naval War College's Monterey Program, strongly argues that the history of insurgent success is decidedly negative. That is, insurgencies may create havoc for a period of time, but generally are unsuccessful, as long as the military forces remain for 8-11 years. He cites this "history" as evidence that if the US "stays the course" that we can defeat the insurgents and create a stable, democratic Iraq.

To support his contention that the US can "win", Professor Stoker cites the history of insurgencies in Malaysia, Greece, the Philippines, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Bolivia, South Africa, Angola, and Peru. Following with the conclusion, that:
If the current U.S. administration maintains its will, establishes security in Baghdad, and succeeds in building a functioning government and army, there is no reason that the Iraqi insurgency cannot be similarly destroyed, or at least reduced to the level of terrorist thugs.
It's a persuasive read until one realizes that he's comparing apples and oranges. Sadly, his list of failed insurgencies all have one thing in common: None of those examples included foreign occupying forces. All were domestic led political movements that used violence to achieve their goals. And yes, while failures, they have little in common with the case of Iraq. Quite simply, his "history" groups together two types of insurgencies: domestic led and foreign occupant. It also notably leaves out the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, although I think most analysts would consider that a draw.

The history of revolutions, or domestic led insurgencies, is ripe with successes and failures and there is a vast body of literature speaking to why they succeed or fail. But that history should not be mixed with the history of anti-occupation insurgencies. Those types of insurgencies are overwhelmingly successful primarily because the occupying power is unwilling to absorb the costs, the insurgent forces have ideology that allows them to absorb "unreasonable" costs, and military strategies without political solutions never solve the motivations for insurgencies.

The French experience in Algiers is one of the great examples of how insurgencies can effectively resist a foreign power, even with extremely primitive weapons. The Algerians used a variety of tactics, including the international media, to push the French out and in 1962 they "won" and the French booked it out of there. The costs to the French government was much lower than the costs to the US government in Iraq, but the reality was the same. As the insurgency dragged on, two things became clear: pacification was the only type of "victory" the French could hope to have, and the French public wasn't willing to suffer the long term costs (budgetary, perceptual, and of lives lost).

Some may see this example as demonstrating that the longer you stay, the better chance you have of "winning" against an insurgency. That may be true, depending on how you define, "winning". If winning is establishing a virtual police state that responds swiftly and forcefully to hostile insurgents and demands a permanent foreign military presence, then yes, we can "win" in Iraq. But if winning implies Bush's vision of a peaceful, integrated, and democratic Iraq as Professor Stoker describes, then the history is clear. We'll not have that as long as we occupy the nation.

Perhaps Professor Stoker should have consulted David Edelstein's excellent 2004 International Security article entitled, "Occupational Hazards: Why Military Occupations Succeed or Fail" (Vol 29, No 1, Summer). Sadly I no longer have a copy of this article on my hard drive, nor do I have the access required to re-read it. However, from memory, the basic conclusion is that in the post-WW2 era, the experience of foreign based occupations has been extremely negative for the occupiers. The US had Vietnam, the Soviets had Afghanistan, the French had Algiers, the Israelis have Palestine, the UK had India, etc, etc, etc. In all cases, occupations have failed. I see no reason why Iraq is different.

(Edelstein has since expanded his article to a full length book study which will be published in 2007.)

Further, Professor Stoker uses his selective version of history to justify Bush's escalation strategy in Iraq stating that "the strategy of “surging” troops could offer a rare chance for success". He believes that securing Baghdad is critical to beating the insurgency as long as the US military doesn't allow the insurgents back into "secure" areas. But this premise fails the lessons of history. Insurgent or guerrilla forces don't have territory, nor do they need it. Instead, they see to wreak havoc on the occupiers in whatever way they can.

Nor is it likely that "security" can stop an insurgency. The French had incredible security measures in Algiers including physical checkpoints (pat down searches), but the "insurgents" were still able to smuggle bombs into the French quarter and blow up civilians. The Colombians have military checkpoints all across the country, which, while improving the security situation in big cities, still can't stop the violence, as September's bombing of the Universidad Militar here in Bogota demonstrated. The Israeli's have perhaps the most extensive anti-terrorism security infrastructure in the world and they're no better at stopping the violence than anyone else. The history of insurgent violence leads most anti-terrorism experts to universally agree that security alone is not a remedy for terrorism.

In conclusion, I find Professor Stoker's article to be poor scholarship and poorly argued. A magazine like Foreign Policy should have higher standards of peer review if it wants to be taken credibly. Any thorough examination of the history of insurgency is sure to lead one to conclude that there is absolutely no hope in Iraq as long as the US remains an occupying force.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Latin America's turn to the Left

A lot has been made of Latin America's recent turn to the left. Between Silva in Brazil, Morales in Bolivia, Kirchner in Argentina, Ortega of Nicaragua, Correa of Ecuador, and everyone's favorite whipping boy, Chavez of Venezuela, there are six countries with definitive leftist slants.

In some ways, this is just another swing of the pendelum in Latin America. I don't get the sense through my readings or conversations that Latin America has any particular allegiance to the Left or the Right (although perhaps Colombia is different), but instead, are basically willing to try anything to make things better. A lot of people don't know this with all the attention paid to Africa, but Latin America is the only region in the world to actually have gotten poorer over the last 50 years. Now there is wealth here, but on a comparative basis, the economic situations in Africa and Asia have been steadily improving while the vast majority of the poor in Latin America have either struggled to match inflation or consistently fallen behind.

This, at least for now, is my theory as to why leftist politics are increasingly popular across South America. Chavez, for example, built domestic support by basically buying off the public with dirt cheap gas prices. And in other countries, leftism (read: socialism) holds the appeal of bringing government attention to the poorest of the poor.

However, just because there is a turn to the left, doesn't mean that neo-cons and other hacks should be quaking in their boots right now. One interesting thing is the diversity of Latin American leftism. As this article explains, there are a variety of different approaches with only Venezuela's being of the Cuba/North Korea dictatorship variety. More often than not, Latin American "socialism" follows the Chinese model. What this means is that these countries (read: all previously mentioned except Venezuela) welcome foreign investment, as long as the terms are economically favorable. For all the hub-hub about Bolivia's nationalization of the energy sector, foreign interests weren't lost, they were just renegotiated at more favorable terms for the Bolivian government.

Venezuela, however, is a different case. Chavez is clearly a power hungry savant who cares about his people only to the extent that they keep reelecting him. The streets of Caracas are now the most dangerous of South America. Corruption runs deep in the government. The vast majority of talented and experienced administrators have been purged and replaced with Chavez loyalists. And now, Chavez is eliminating the free press and nationalizing telephone and electricity services (to the detriment of foreign owners of those companies), with more radical policies likely forthcoming.

But, before anyone buys into a risk of "red spread" (or "Chavez spread") across Latin America, realize that Chavez is incredibly unpopular among the rest of the continent, with only George Bush matching his pathetic marks. It's not just uncouth to suggest that there is a danger from the spread of leftism in South America, it's also just plain ignorant.

Job developments and other thoughts

Before I get to the subject of today's post, I wanted to link an article from the Guardian that clears up one great mystery: Why do the French hate the British?

Apparently, it's because the French asked to join the Kingdom in the 1950's and were rebuffed. Damn I love the Brits.


Anyway, my pursuit of employment continues. All signs indicate that the job I have been offered is never going to be mine. Not only does it appear that they are not going to file the paperwork necessary to secure my visa status, but I'm not so inclined to wait 8 months or longer without a firm salary offer and start date. It looks like they're not going to offer that, which I find totally unreasonable and has definitely turned me off to this company.

Now, there is a possibility that I could work for them on a consultant basis for a short period of time. They are reluctant to use me in this capacity as consultants can only work for a maximum of 120 days and they need someone to permanently fill this position. However, as they will have difficulty finding someone who fits their criteria, perhaps I have a chance to get some experience and earn some money along the way. I should know more sometime between now and the next millenium.

That being said, it looks like I will be teaching Introduction to International Relations and one section of an English class at Universidad Javeriana, starting next week. I'll receive final confirmation this afternoon. I think this is a good development. Assuming things go well, the University wants me to design a second course to teach in English and wants me to actually work in the Political Science department as well (I would initially be a part of the language department). So, if nothing else, I should be able to continue developing my academic profile and get some experience teaching at the university level, which will be great as it will influence my PhD decisionmaking process.

At the same time, I'm approaching various NGO's for other opportunities. I have a meeting with an HR person at an international NGO this Thursday and I hope to find other opportunities. Whether these organizations can hire me or not is an open question. But I'm sure I'll have the opportunity to volunteer for a while, absent actual employment.

As to our long term plans, we still expect to be here for another year. We'll get confirmation in June or July, but it looks like Diana's company is going to send her abroad for a 2-year "training" or development experience. We don't know where that will be or if it's even certain. But we should know for sure by July and then we can make some decisions.

I would prefer that we move with the company as they would pay for it and it would give us the opportunity to stay here in Colombia for a longer period of time. Assuming my job situation improves, that is. If I continue with basically no job, then it's just not workable for us to stay here. I have to continue to develop my professional profile.

I'm still considering PhD options. I feel that I'm really missing the academic environment that I crafted for myself in London. I really miss talking to smart, informed people about the important and relevant international issues of the day and I feel that my writing and analytical abilities are suffering in my non-academic environment. I guess I'm just the type that needs to toss ideas around a room with other like minded people to sort out the various arguments in my head.

Tangential to this is the sudden realization that I graduated with honors from my MA program. I had never been told about that and just assumed that I was outside the range (I was 0.005 points below what the documentation stated was required). So I'm pleasantly pleased to find that I'm smarter today than I was yesterday.

At any rate, as things continue to develop here, I will continue to comment on my career situation. It's been a long time in the coming getting to where I am now and when I get frustrated, I just remember the words of a very good friend, "Sometime the journey is just as important as the destination."

Monday, January 15, 2007

Happy MLK, jr Day

Well, it's not a holiday here in Bogota. We're still waiting for a Colombian MLK. Someone who can step up say enough is enough with the corruption, violence, and deceit. Then again, maybe they've had hundreds of those over the years and they've all be killed off before they became to big.

Speaking of Bogota, I'm a bit peeved at Blogger because my displayed profile says "Bogota, CO" instead of Colombia. As far as I can tell, there's no way I can resolve this error. Only the godless masters at Google can. It's annoying because it's important that the random reader realize that I live in Colombia, not Colorado. Although, there isn't a Bogota, Colorado. According to mapquest.com, there is a Bogota, NJ, Bogota, IL, and Bogota, TN.

Anyway, I got to watch some playoff games over the weekend and that was nice. Of course, all things being even, I prefer the Spanish broadcast. They might say stupid stuff (although mostly they just call the game), but they don't even fall within seven circles of the Hell that is Dan Dierdof, et al. What I don't get is why the announcing is so consistently bad in the US. A lot of people have written on the subject, the fans are almost universally laughing their asses off or cringing every time one of these fools butchers the English language, and it's clearly an overall net negative. Yet, some braintrust keeps employing the same fools, year in, year out. Lovely.

I have to say, the Ravens-Colts game shocked me. Absolutely shocked me. The Colts are looking like a team of destiny. The Patriots win didn't shock me, but it was disappointing. I guess I just forgot about the Martyball factor. Worst playoff coach.

For next weekend, I like the Saints and Colts. Well, part of me does. For my Bears loving friends sake, I hope Chicago makes it to the Super Bowl. But the true sports fan in me knows that the Bears just aren't that good. I'd rather watch the Saints every time. And, if both teams play like they did last weekend, well, the Saints will win by 30.

In the AFC, I'm rooting for the Colts for two reasons. One, I'm tired of the Belichek is a genius and Brady is unstoppable hype. Dude's a football coach. A good one and a smart one. But let's save the genius label for the Stephen Hawking types. Plus, I'm just tired of the Patriots. It was cute when they won once, but now after three championships, I just want them to go away.

But more than that, the Peyton Manning storyline ("can't win the big one") has got to die off. There's nothing more boring in sports than a non-story that gets made into a story and refuses to die. The only thing that kills the Manning legacy story is if he wins the Super Bowl. Do it already and maybe we can move on to something else.


In this space, I often talk about Iraq and politics. I do this because the politics of the Bush administration are flagrantly in violation of sensibility and because international politics are my primary interests. That being said, I don't want to get overly focused on some of these things because I know for some of the reading audience it's a bit boring, but also because the more I read about the politics of the Bush administration, the more depressed I get.

Wherever you stand politically, the current state of our nation was not the vision of Jefferson and Franklin. I feel that the American experiment has gone terribly wrong. Part of that is the result of crazy bastards who build "biblically correct history museums" and part of it is a result of a public that is too often uninformed or uncaring about the actions of their money and power hungry leaders. We need truth in politics laws, election reform, and a public that will stand up and demand changes from our leadership when they engage in torture, trash the bill of rights, and launch expensive and dangerous foreign wars for their own gratification. Sadly, we're not there and I'm not sure if we will get there in my lifetime.

In that element, I wanted to post three articles today. First, is an excellent article that basically shreds the President's "story" of how things are going in Iraq by reporting, shockingly, that the Bush admin is intentionally leaving out a variety of facts that, if not distort the truth, totally reshape the truth into what one can only call a lie. This report is important because for so long the mainstream media has just passively accepted so much of the BS emanating out of the White House and their crew. Hopefully, from now on, it won't just be the international press reporting the actual situation on the ground.

Second is an article from the Guardian that helps to show just how complicated the situation is in Iraq. This is not a simple insurgency (if there is such a thing). This article is shocking and leaves one with the impression that not only does our leadership not have the foggiest idea, but also that even if they did, it wouldn't matter. I see things getting much, much worse in Iraq, no matter what the US does.

The last bit is a very interesting comparison to the Vietnam war by a Washington Post reporter who covered the Vietnam war in 1969-1970. It's a good read because it shows the similarities between the US political leadership in a very detailed fashion. It's frightening to think that the arrogance of power could be replicated so identically 30 years later.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Random Bits

I'm really a bit peeved that Nintendo's Wii has outpaced Playstation 3 sales. This is partially explained by Sony's production problems; they simply didn't have enough units available for sale, but another part is the assinine stupidity of the American consumer. The demand for Wii is easily greater than for the Playstation 3. Analysts have all sorts of stupid ass measures for why this is true and I'll not buck their bits, but I will say, as someone who has played many different types of consoles in my life, the Wii is clearly a waste of money.

First and foremost, the adult gaming industry is headed toward more and more realism. Nintendo hasn't ever been on the realism boat. Their cartoonish graffics and ridiculous adherence to the Mario line set their course towards the kids market some time ago. Wii hasn't changed that. In contrast, PS3 and XBox 360 are both a whole 'nuther generation of realism. The graffics advancements and game play improvements, from what I've read, are excellent.

At any rate, there are basically two things I find ridiculous about the Wii demand.

1. It's a stupid ass idea. Who really wants to play a game where you have to swing your arm to "use" a sword? Or move your arm in any way to play any video game. The Wii flies in the face of a simple video game rule: video games are, by nature, lazy ass fun. I don't want to stand up and swing my arm and all sorts of other nonsense when I play a video game. I want to sit on my ass and shoot 'em up.

2. Games make the console. I get why people want XBox 360 or Playstation 3. I don't have one, but I get it. Great systems plus great games make for long term enjoyment potential. But, I would never by a Wii, or any other Nintendo system for that matter, primarily because their history of cool ass game support stinks.

But hey, at least it's only like $200, right?

I don't know why this Wii phenomenon pisses me off so much. Maybe it's because CNN international had an excess of coverage touting the "new way to play video games". Or maybe it's general antagonism I feel toward Nintendo. Or maybe I'm just an ornary little b*tch who laments the lack of video gameage in my house. No matter. I hope the Wii dies a sudden and painful death. Because I certainly don't want to see the video game world suddenly become a quasi-active activity.


Football Weekend. Looks like I'll be able to get two of the four games this weekend. One game each day, which isn't too bad since I'm sure my sweet wife actually wants to spend some time with me. So, I'm excited about the chance to see two of the four.

Today, I get the early game, which is Colts-Ravens. Now, I've never been a Manning fan. He's an excellent player, but I don't think I've ever seen him play and said to myself, wow, he really enjoys the game of football. Instead, he comes across as an arrogant ass. So, I've pretty much always rooted against him. Which is too bad really. Because I like some of the Colts.

At any rate, fan preferences aside, there's no way the Colts are going to beat the Ravens in Baltimore. Defensively, the Colts just doesn't have a lot to offer. This season, they were historically bad against the run. Nothing has changed there. They basically have to keep scoring to win and this week is no different.

That's a great strategy against my lowly Redskins, but against the Ravens? Good luck. Baltimore had the league's best defense and it's a physical one. Just the type that Manning and the Colts always struggle against (see Patriots, New England). After three quarters of getting beaten up, blitzed from all angles, and bashed at the line of scrimmage, just who is going to step up and make plays for the Colts?

Ravens 28, Colts 17

In the nightcap, we have the Saints hosting the Eagles. Not a whole lot to say here. The Saints have NFC MVP Drew Brees, Reggie Bush and the Duece, a slew of talented receivers, and a stout defense. The Eagles have Jeff Garcia and Brian Westbrook.

Saints 35, Eagles 14

Tomorrow, the early game is Seattle at Chicago. I already spoke about this earlier in the week and I'm not inclined to go against prophetic dreams. So I'll stick with that prediction.

Bears 26, Seahawks 6

The last game of the weekend is New England at Seattle. This is, reputedly, the "hardest game to call". I don't know if I agree with that. Let's face up to the fact that over the course of the season New England hasn't exactly been a dominant football team, at least not against good football teams. In fact, the Patriots have the look of a team that simply knows how to beat the crap out of terrible teams, but can't make up for the talent shortage against the top shelf. Losses to Denver and Indy, the only two top teams they played all season, pretty much bear out that theory. And it's not exactly like their four game NFC Central swing was too challenging either. In the end, the Patriots had a pretty weak schedule, which is why they won 12 games.

Tomorrow, they're playing the most consistently dominant and excellent football team in the NFL this year, in their house. A team that suffered only two losses, both on the road, by a combined 6 points all season. A team with a virtually unstoppable offense with the league MVP and best running back of our time, LaDanian Tomlinson and a dominant defense.

The talent gap is just too great. Aside from Tom Brady, who's going to make plays for New England? Reche Caldwell? Maroney or Dillon? I just don't see it. The lack of offensive playmakers will bite them in the end

Chargers 30, Patriots 17


Friday, January 12, 2007

Are we really preparing to attack Iran?

The big news in the aftermath of the President's speech is the direct threats he made toward Syria and Iraq. It's no shocker that the President is considering military action against either country. In his world view, those two countries are dangerous states that can only be met with military force. Diplomacy and negotiation is out of the question. Some have even suggested that the US "invasion" of the Iranian consulate in Iraq the other day was a provocative act aimed at forcing Iran to respond. Others are troubled by Condi Rice's refusal to directly answer questions about the President's authority to launch military action in Iran without Congressional approval. And other people are suggesting that this "expanding chaos" strategy is the core of neoconservatism.

Yet, no one seems to be asking the big questions, which, to me, is: How? Why? Or, with what military?

We're already stretched thin between Iraq and Afghanistan and I just don't see how we can fight yet another war (or two). In fact, the thought occurs to me that King George's "Iran Gambit" might just be the "out" he's looking for in Iraq. Think about this for a second.

Iraq is basically a hopeless situation. For a variety of reasons, the US botched the initial invasion by not securing the borders which allowed anti-US factions to infiltrate Iraq and jump start an insurgency. Since then, the US has been hamstrung by essentially three factors, none of which have been fixed:

1. The Iraqi government/military - The government is divided and basically a complete failure. We allowed this to happen when we permitted religious language to be built in the Iraqi Constitution, among other problems. The whole idea that there is a fledgling Iraqi "democracy" in fact, is a complete farce. This post explains why the central crux of the Bush proposal is a fantasy. Read the post. Things are much, much worse than I previously understood.

2. We're fighting an insurgent war with WW2 tactics. Not a lot has been made of this, but I take back everything positive I said about the Bush plan. The post I cited above explains the problem in succinct detail, but I'll summarize briefly. The "clear and hold" strategy is great if you're fighting Nazis in a conventional state-state war. But insurgents/guerillas, by nature, don't have "territory" and, moreover, don't need it. All it takes is a symbolic act to spark a new wave of insurgent violence. This is one of the reasons why the generals on the ground don't support new troops. What's the point if we just continue with the same strategy. Absent a political solution, Iraq will be more/same.

3. Our Middle Eastern "allies", namely Saudi Arabia and Jordan are the biggest funders of the insurgency. One way to attack an insurgency is to cut their feet out from under them, i.e. if they can't get funding, they can't get arms. This doesn't work well in Colombia, for example, because the FARC is heavily involved in narcotics trade which the government can't control anyway. Nor does it world in the West Bank primarily because Iran is a big funder of Hezbollah and other Palestinian "terrorist" groups.

But in Iraq, cracking down on funding and arms could make a difference. But, we basically can't do anything about it because, just like 9/11, most of the support for the insurgency is funnelled through Saudi Arabia and we made our bed with them in the 70's.

All of this, and other factors too complicated for me to fully understand at this point, not to mention explain (the religious side is just nuts), basically ensures that Iraq is going to be a huge foreign policy failure and embarrassment for the US. This is bigger than Vietnam. Losing in Vietnam didn't, no matter how much the fear mongers believed, lead to a "Red Spread" across all of Southeast Asia. But losing in Iraq could lead to a "Radical Islamic Spread" across the Middle East.

The people running things behind the scenes in the White House know this. As much as their sound bytes sound moronic, they're not stupid. They have a philosophy that is fundamentally bankrupt and warrentless, but they're not dumb.

And thats why I think that an invasion of Iran is their "exit" strategy from Iraq. The thing I have to constantly remind myself is that Iraq was never about helping the people. Powerful states don't go to war and spend billions out of altruism. They go to war when it serves their interests and our interest was secure oil. Anyone who says otherwise has a gross misunderstanding of international politics. (Seriously, would the Middle East even be on the map without the oil reserves?)

Therefore, there's no reason why this administration would give a damn about the firestorm that would engulf Iraq if the US left. Sure, they'd lament the loss of human life and it would make them look bad, but at a core, it's not about the people. It's about oil and security. A hostile and strong Iraq and Iran, hell bent on WMD proliferation were grave threats to US national interests either directly (terror, attack) or indirectly (holding oil hostage, risking US economic power in the long run). A weak and incoherent Iraq (and Iran) effectively alleviate those risks (except terror).

Now, politically, Bush can't just pull out of Iraq. He's said too many times that victory is a must and that we have to see this through. Plus, the fallout from "losing" a war of his own making would be too huge. But, if he was "provoked" by another regional and hostile power, then he would have no choice but to respond with the strongest force possible.

And that's my theory. Bush is looking for an out. The war on terror is failing, mostly due to his own failings as Commander in Chief. A hostile and "dangerous" Iran is his only chance to resurrect his legacy. It wouldn't surprise me if they intentionally try to provoke Iran just to generate sufficient reason to go in with the planes and tanks.

Let's hope that Iran doesn't respond.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

King George Speaks

I thought last night's speach from the President was very, very interesting. From a purely observational angle, he started off wooden, cold, and frankly, mechanic. He was delivering lines about terrorists and deaths as if he were talking about the latest Chicago Bear first down. I've never seen the President that bad in a public forum before. He came pretty close in the 2004 debate with Kerry that I blogged about, but even then, he still had his trademark arrogance and self-righteousness. But last night, I was shocked. He looked like a beaten man who was out of options. He warmed up after about 10 minutes and became a bit more typical Bush, but the strongest impression I had was that he looked done.

Strategically, I thought last night's speech was brilliant. The people that work for the King are truly crackerjack smart and they cleverly worded his speech to make it sound like the President's plan was carefully thought out and based on the recommendations of his generals, the Iraq Study Group Report, academics, and diplomats. Of course, his plan clearly isn't based on any of that, in fact, increasing troop numbers is in direct conflict with pretty much the consensus of all of those people, but hey, good job in spinning something outright false to make it sound true.

I also thought it was very clever in how the speech constrasted two conditions: the great benefits from a peaceful, American friendly and democratic Iraq versus the great dangers of a failed, hostile, militant Iraq. Of course, they had to go with this strategy because they're short on details in the middle. It's debate 101. Talk about the great risks of failure as a mechanism to build support for a future that would be extremely palatable, if achievable.

Finally, I totally disagree with many on the left about this speech being "nothing new". In fact, the lefty blogosphere is kind of being a bit disingenous if you ask me. Their criticisms essentially fall into two categories: the speech was a pack of lies (true, but hardly unsurprising, it's politics) and there was nothing new here. Then they proceed to trumpet the lines of the various democrats who spoke on the issue last night (the only one of which that made competent and intelligent arguments was Barak Obama...don't get me started on John Edwards, that dude is a tool).

I find the current lefty approach totally uninspiring. The universal message is "troop redeployment" (apparently, everyone got the same memo). But I'm not convinced that's the best idea in the world. Not at this point. The bottom line is, Bush is right. We've got a serious problem in Iraq and if we don't deal with it, it's going to make things that much worse for US interests and the interests of all the arab nations in the Middle East. (Never mind that this is a problem of his own creation. The time for blame is election season. This is the time for finding a solution and getting it done.)

I fail to see how troop redeployment could further the goal of bringing peace and security to Baghdad or eliminating the insurgency. It is certainly true that US presence in Iraq fuels the insurgency, but stating the converse, that removing US troops would reduce the insurgency, it a failure of basic logic.

That's why I think the only person who made much sense last night was Barak Obama. He was the only one to coherently say that the failure with the President's approach is that it is a military strategy to a political problem. And he's right. Fundamentally, Bush's plan is fatally flawed because it doesn't acknowledge that failing a political solution, the insurgency will continue indefinitely, just ask any Colombian about that. (And this is why we gotta get that Obama fellow into the White House with General Clark as his VP. We need smart people that can see the forest from the trees, something the current administration can't do.)

At any rate, I think that part of the President's plan actually makes some sense and that's the part about imbedding US troops with Iraqi divisions. I don't know if this is going to work, but I do think it's a good shot. From what I've read, the Iraqi troops are extremely divided. The old guard don't trust the US forces and the new guard don't trust the old guard. Putting the US in the middle might just help resolve some of those differences. Being shot at certainly helps to solidify loose alliance. So, I don't know if this step is going to help, but I think it's a good step toward progress.

That being said, the 21,500 additional troops that King George is sending to Iraq are going to come from Afghanistan and that's terrible news. More than anything, this is why I oppose sending more troops. If we had 21,500 troops sitting at home, trained, armed, and ready to go, then I'd say give it a shot (as long as the strategy combined elements of a political solution as well). But we don't have that. We're already stretched thin as it is. To redeploy troops fighting the Taliban, The Organization that was behind 9/11 is just pure madness to me. If we lose in Afghanistan, a country where real progress has been made, and in Iraq, I think we're in for big trouble. So, I'm very concerned about this latest development.

The next few weeks will see some clever politicking on both sides of the aisle. The Dems are most likely to attach conditions ("benchmarks") to the President's funding requests, while the Pres is likely to go around the country giving variations of last night's speech to drum up support. All of that is fascinating (in a "look at the accident on the side of the road as you drive by" sort of way), but I'm more focused at this point on what's actually happening on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. The politics of all of this are just too dirty.


Side note: I dreamed last night that the Bears beat the Seahawks 26-6 in this weekend's playoff matchup. Bear's defense destroyed Hasselback and Alexander, while their running game at up yards and accounted for two scores. Grossman didn't play well, got benched, then got sent back in again in the 4th quarter and got a score. Hester had a long return, but fumbled out of bounds at the 5, leading to a Bears FG.

I dream in detail.

Go Bears.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Sometimes I get quite nostalgic for London. (Does one get nostalgic for something or of something? Ah, never mind!) I can see a movie based in London, a photo, an interesting news story, BBC news, or none of the above and I become overwhelmed with a longing to return. Today, I happened to click and read some archives from my time in London and I just can't help but realize just how magical my time there really was. I mean, damn, I really enjoyed that experience.

Not only that, I feel that my blog writing was just so much more dynamic there. There's a lot that goes into that (single, new friends, Real World, travel, etc) but more than anything, I feel the difference here in Colombia is that I feel continuously disconnected from the culture because, while my Spanish is managable, there is a clear language barrier and cultural barrier. If the cultural differences were hard to understand in London, they're that much more problematic in a developing country.

I believe that my feelings of loss vis-a-vis London have been heightened recently due to the rather Londonesque weather we've been having here in Bogota, as well as my very uncertain job situation. I am making good use of my unemployed time, mainly pursuing job prospects and writing (non blog projects), but the fact remains, this situation is a ticking timebomb for us. We may be forced to leave Colombia sooner rather than later and, to be completely frank, I think we're both a bit less than excited to go to the US.

It's not that I don't like the US. Of course I do. It's my country and there are many things that I love about it. But, at this point in my life, I find the prospect of returning to Washington, for example, rather uninteresting, if not boring. I rather liked living in London because, while being full of Brits, it was also a huge city with warrens of cultural attractions and entertainment and the Thames and the parks and the Underground and the eurotrash and...all of it. London is just a great, great city, climate included. It's a city where one feels that opportunity is just around the corner and anything is possible on any given day.

That doesn't mean life there is easy. It's expensive, apartments are smallish, and it has its problems, just like every other large city in the world. But, for a time, it felt like home in a way that only Atlanta has been for me previously. I also know that the word "home" is one that is bound up in not just your physical residence or the ambience of a city or neighborhood, but also of the people you know and associate with. And some of those people that were most dear to me during my time in England have gone their seperate ways in the world. So I know that a possible return to London would not be the same experience. But I guess in the end, I wouldn't want it to be. Instead, I would want new, more powerful opportunities for growth. And maybe that's the key. Maybe that's what I feel I'm lacking, in part, here in Colombia, and that's what I would lack in the US as well. I don't know.

This topic has come up between my wife and I fairly frequently. The argument always seems to hinge on the, "London isn't a good place to raise children" point. I'm not totally sold because I'm not planning on living in London for the rest of my life (at this point, hehe). Instead, my thoughts are that if we could swing it, it would be great to go there for 4 or 5 years before going to the US. Having a baby in London would be more difficult (absence of family) but would also grant our prodigy the rare tri-nationality. And, since we wouldn't be planning on staying there forever, we wouldn't have to school our child in the British system or put her at risk from the "unpleasant" influences of London.

Then again, this topic was really shelved between the two of us months ago because it didn't seem timely. What's the point in always considering and discussing possible future options when you have the opportunity to enjoy and grow in the present, after all. But, now that our future here in Colombia is radically uncertain, this topic has to come back. Do we try to go to London again? Is it worth it in money, time, and effort? Or do we just go back to the US and call it a day?

I don't know. We haven't had any real answers to our situation so far. I have talked with my potential future boss and it sounds like the visa process could take 8-9 months. I'm not jazzed about that. But, I've also reconnected with the opportunity at Javeriana University and it looks like that's a go. At the very least, it's likely that I'll teach one semester of Intro to International Relations in English. So I'm looking forward to that as I think it will be a helpful experience for my PhD decisionmaking process.

At any rate, London, the US, Haiti, Baghdad, or China, it's all the same to me if I get to be with my wife and do interesting work. Of course, if I ever manage to become that published author I'm so fervently trying to be, then I guess we'll have a whole host of additional options.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Welcome, 2007

Well, we're back. Actually, we returned from holiday on Sunday evening, but we spent yesterday doing various tasks that needed doing. That, combined with my need to catch up on the international and sports news (El Tiempo isn't a great newspaper), meant that I didn't get around to the blog until today. At any rate, the following is a brief description of our holidays:

We left Bogota about 1:30 pm, a bit later than planned but not too bad. I picked up the Grandparents and then Diana from work and we headed out. As we hadn't had lunch, we stopped at a fairly rustic, llanero restaurant. A llanero restaurant serves food typical of the Llanos (or plains) to the east of Bogota, or, in other words, slow grilled/smoked meat. It's delicious. We ate something called chiguido (spell that one for me) which is essentially like a big hampster and another form of meat that I really don't remember the name or have any idea what it was. This reminded me of another experience I had a few months ago with one of my wife's uncles. We were ordering lunch and he asked me if I wanted "ubre". I had no idea what it was and just agreed without thinking. Turns out "ubre" is "udder" and tastes like ass biscuits. Fortunately, I had a combo platter with some real meat and was able to nourish myself suficiently with the rest of my lunch. Ubre is officially off the list of things to eat.

At any rate, while a little nervous about what we were ordering, I ended up quite pleased with the food. It was delicious. So even if I ate oversized rat, it was damn tasty rat.

The ride to Girardot was mostly uneventful. We passed the time talking and counting various things we saw on the road, like burros and Ano Viejos (note: that's ano with an nenye). Ano Viejos are large oversized scarecrow type dolls that are filled with fireworks. It's custom here in Colombia to explode them on New Year's Eve in a symbolic Adios to the previous year. It's also obviously quite dangerous as even the Colombian government is cracking down on them. So we didn't see that many. Our hotel had one, sin (or sans for those frenchies out there) fireworks.

Girardot was hot. Probably in the 90's the entire time we were there. The resort was nice, but not in the Las Americas 5-star on the beach in Cartagena sort of way. Of course, it was a lot cheaper too. We enjoyed our time there swimming, playing games like pool, and relaxing. I spent a good deal of time with my brothers-in-law and Azul (Diana's godson), as well as with Diana. The grandparents spent most of the time sitting in the shade, drinking cool drinks, and sleeping.

On New Year's Eve, the hotel had a party with a live 14-member orchestra (band). It was awesome. You have to have one that size to be able to play Salsa at the least, so we were really fortunate. They played for several hours and we danced as much as we could in the heat and humidity. Overall, it was a blast. Maybe I'll post some photos.

Operation "Keep the hot Colombian sun from scalding my lilly white ass" was mostly successful. I used a lot of sunscreen and only had slightly reddish shoulders when we left. Of course, my wife is now black. She enjoys the sun.

In the hall of assininity, I practically kicked my little toe on my right foot into oblivion one morning. I was playing X-Box with Azul while everyone else was sleeping and somehow managed to stub my toe badly when I got up to go to the bathroom. It was severely bruised and made walking difficult for days. It's mostly better now, although still slightly swollen and sensitive. Most people have accidents like that when they're drunk. But I'm so talented I don't need alcohol to do something that stupid.

We left Girardot on Tuesday and drove to Anapoima. It took about 45 minutes or so as there was no traffic and the two towns are fairly close. If Girardot was in the 90's, Anapoima was in the upper-80's. Cooler, but by not much. Of course, the club in Anapoima is where grandparents feel the most comfortable as it's like Cheers: everyone knows their name. So they were extremely happy to arrive.

The club there is nice. It has a lot of activities for kids and the food is probably better than what we had a Girardot. But, and this is my only real complaint, it has the feel of a previous generation. It's an old club with old buildings and an elderly feel to it. That doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it, it just has a different feel to it. I guess I just don't need people to know my name to feel comfortable on holiday.

More of the family were in Anapoima as well. There were some aunts and uncles and cousins, so we were a bigger group. I did a lot of Sodukos and Diana did a lot of reading and sunbathing. And we enjoyed the time with the family the best we could (there's still a language barrier and they're all basically alcoholics).

On Thursday, 4 of us went into the town to play a truly Colombian game called 'tejo'. Tejo is, essentially, like horseshoes on steroids. There are target "boards" at each end of a track and players have to throw a round metal object at the target to score points. The board is filled with clay so that the metal discus' will stick. There are various rules, not all of which I understand, but the basic goal is to land your throwing peice in the middle of the target. That, however, is extremely difficult, so you end up scoring in other ways. The reason this game is great fun, however, is that there are 4 smallish explosives on the target. And if you hit those and cause an explosion, you get more points and the "heule de victoria" or "smell of victory". Add beer and mix.

We had a great time playing tejo. Diana's uncle referred to the tejo hall as a "Colombian pub". It was an extremely rustic place with a corragated steel roof, a dirt floor, and bathrooms only for men. Women, typically, don't play tejo.

The playing court is free, you just pay for your consumption. Which, the enterprising man that ran the place, made sure we never had a shortage of beers. I believe that our total was 32 beers in 3 hours. Ouch.

At any rate, on my very first toss, hobbled with a painful toe injury, I pulled my left ass. I've never pulled an ass before, but let me tell you, pulling your ass makes everything more difficult. You just don't realize how vital your ass is for walking and sitting until you've pulled it. Of course I didn't stop playing, but it surely didn't make it any easier for me. I'm still not 100%, but at least now I can pretty much walk completely normally. For a few days there I was just hobbling around with the double handicap of a practically broken toe and a pulled ass cheek.

We came back to Bogota Sunday afternoon and that turned out to be a good decision. There was virtually no traffic and the ride was quick. When we got to Bogota the city was empty. Practically a ghost town. I'm sure it would have been terrible on Monday.

All in all it was a good vacation. We relaxed and rested and enjoyed our time together. I pulled an ass and bruised a toe, but those were fairly minor grievances. We did have to fend off the alcoholic side of the family with frequency, but that was also a bit of a minor annoyance. Of course, the mosquitos bit us pretty badly, but it wasn't exactly like vacationing in a swamp (hello Chincoteague). In the end, we really enjoyed it and I know it was great for Diana to have that break before starting the new year at work. Now we're back to our usual routine and I'm trying to sort out my job situation.

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