31 December 2006

Happy new year from Buster

Buster wants everyone to know that he's already drunk and being sexually inappropriate with other bunnies. He expects you to do the same with preferred members of your own species.

Buster opening a gift.

Buster in his party hat.

Buster on the dance floor.

Happy new year to all!

Taking in a State Funeral

I headed down to the Capitol tonight to see Gerald Ford lying in state. He seemed harmless enough, and probably wasn't a half bad leader, not that I remember or know a lot about the 1970s. I'm fascinated by his role in healing the nation and restoring public confidence in institutions after Watergate though, so perhaps I'll explore that a little, as I have recently taken a shine to issues of national reconciliation.

The whole thing was a touch surreal though. The line was long, but it wasn't too cold out. The thing opened late, of course, but that was fine. The views off the Capitol portico were incredible at night, but I didn't bring a camera with me. Inside the rotunda was incredibly quiet, and even more so when the guard changed just a minute or so after I got in. That was pretty impressive. Six servicemembers walking in as quietly as possible. The whole thing was just so... silent. After the retiring guard marched out, I walked around for another minute or so, then headed out. Again, the views outside were gorgeous. Seems so somber and fitting. I guess that's why they do it though.

Forgive the lack of snark in this post up to this point. I leave you with a conversation I had with a friend following my telling him about going through what I dubbed the "security hut."

chris: do you know when they're going to finish that whole ...billion dollar underground visitors center?
me: oh probably
me: what else would they waste the money on?
chris: well, i mean
chris: they're working on it
chris: have been for years now
chris: but i'm not sure when its going to finish
chris: like, you know the whole east side of the capitol has been "under construction" for them to do it
me: well, i doubt pelosi will allow the continuation of the cheney bunker section
chris: lol
chris: indeed
chris: or the "ronald reagan worship center"
me: and they'll probably take out the "dry ass fucking by the executive branch" exhibit with the change in power
chris: aww. i'm gunna miss that one
me: won't we all
me: i'm sure they'll add a statue commemorating the checks and balances
chris: oh, those were the good old days
me: mmhmm
chris: although seriously, they need to erect a memorial to habeus corpus
me: only if it goes on the ellipse
me: or in front of the justice department
chris: or up bush's ass
me: well, no one would enjoy it that way

20 December 2006

NoVa and RoVa: not so different after all

A few months back, the Post published a glaringly offensive piece comparing the alleged differences between Northern Virginia (NoVa) and the rest of Virginia (RoVa). Aside from being painfully classist, smug, and elitist, the piece is generally not deserving of comment because it's so grossly exaggerated. Nonetheless, the point was that NoVa was this bastion of liberal modernity while RoVa was full of dirt eating hicks who do math on their fingers and can't really spell. In a season of particularly intense political campaigning in the state, the point of the piece seemed to be that NoVa really is superior, even if its political desires (electing liberal Democrats) somehow were to be drowned out by RoVa's clamor for conservatism. One particular gem including this line:
In RoVa, they hope the South will rise again. In NoVa, they hope the souffle will.
After the election, there was even talk of NoVa seceding from RoVa because it was so liberal, unique, and incredibly different. The accusation was that the legislature in Richmond was just using NoVa for its hordes of tax revenue, while denying it an appropriately elitist, holier than thou voice in state affairs.

Why do I bring this up now? Because this past Sunday, NoVa sent word that it's not so different from RoVa after all. Seven parishes of the Episcopal Church, most of them located in NoVa, voted to leave the Episcopal Church of the United States of America and instead place themselves under the jurisdiction of a radical social conservative archbishop in Nigeria, who opposes the rights of gay people to even eat together in public, among other virtues. Two of those congregations are among the oldest and largest in the United States, and none other than George Washington was a member of one.

What does this mean about the NoVa/RoVa dichotomy? Simply put, social conservatives are all over the state of Virginia (and a lot of other "blue" states/counties/cities) and thus maybe NoVa should stop being so damn smug. Just because your cars, houses and incomes are bigger than those of your compatriots further south doesn't make you special. I should also remind you that Virginia's recent bizarro anti-gay marriage amendment passed with some 57% of ballots cast. Therefore even if you do deserve some credit for electing left-leaning types like Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, and Jim Webb, don't construe this as making you somehow better than other people. If anything, voting in this country should be the great equalizer, not the great specializer.

You would think that I would be more bothered by other, more obvious aspects of this little saga. For instance, I grew up gay in a part of Tennessee not all that different from RoVa. Yet I maintain that people have the right to believe and vote as they please, even if I disagree with it and/or think some of their decisions will bear disastrous fruits. Though I'm one of those much beguiled bleeding heart liberals, I believe that conservatives are basically good people (as all people are), they just think differently from me, and that's ok. I believe that one of these days, various social issues will be worked out in ways amenable to the rights of all Americans.

In short: NoVa should get off its high horse, especially in light of these recent events. In the meantime, if NoVa wants some sort of voting in the state legislature based upon dollars contributed, they should consult the World Bank, and remember how well that's worked out for poor people.

18 December 2006

Holiday war on animals

Unbeknownst to me, the adorable PBS children's show Postcards from Buster (which is, of course, based upon my own pet bunny Buster's world travels and not some Arthur spin-off) was the victim of a malicious assault by none other than Secretary of Education Margaret "No poor, majority person of color public school left open" Spellings. The totally adorable show (did I say that already? It's really precious.) features the cute bunny Buster as he visits kids in various places and finds out about their lives. In so doing, PBS watching kids are exposed to different types of families, lifestyles, traditions, and thus have their points of view broadened. However, Buster had the audacity to visit a family in Vermont (figures) that had children collecting maple syrup. These horrible sinning children of course had two mommies. This led Spellings and various "family" organizations to protest Postcards from Buster, and it lost funding for its second season. Finally, after over a year of delay, the show is back into production, though for many fewer episodes than the first season.

Spellings, however, must have forgotten that animals secretly plot against people all the time. In this year's White House Barney Cam holiday extravaganza (a taxpayer funded glorified webcam that follows the First Dog), good ole Margaret failed to make Barney's cut. Honestly, if a dog decides that Karl Rove is a better dancer than you, there must be something up.

As a side note, Barney Cam is totally worth watching, as it's effing hilarious. Even more so than the spoof version. Also, what's with Laura Bush and her black cat?

16 December 2006

Liveblogging madness: DC Police search car

It's a Friday night and I'm bored out of my skull, with no real desire to do anything. Allow me the chance to share some neighborhood dirt.

Last night, sitting at this very desk, which faces a window looking out onto Harvard Street NW, a maroon Ford Taurus pulled up, and a black/grey SUV parked illegally behind it. The Ford parked on the street, the SUV pulled up beside it, and the driver of the car hopped into the SUV. Off they went, tires squealing. Not a big deal, right?

Further observation noticed that the Taurus was only about halfway in a legal parking zone. Whatever, that's like a $30 ticket. Then at about 8:00 tonight, a silver Taurus pulled up, and some dudes started mulling about the first car, also looking suspicious. So suspicious, in fact, that the thought of calling the cops popped into my head, as it had last evening. They finally put on police jackets, and thus became identifiable, while simultaneously killing any notion of cop calling. Throughout the evening, various marked and unmarked police vehicles (at least six) have pulled up, shined flashlights on the maroon Taurus, and joked with the dudes from the original unmarked car (of which there are four). The job of the unmarked car crew seems to be to smoke lots of cigarettes, make cell phone calls, and lounge about, while very likely killing their car battery by keeping the headlights on for nearly three hours. Finally, at about 10:20, another marked car popped up and two uniformed dudes opened the maroon Taurus and began searching it. Something is definitely being found, as they keep pulling out bags of various sizes, snapping photos, making lots of notations on clipboards, and using various pieces of equipment. They seem focused on the backseat. No sign of popping the trunk yet. Clearly, something juicy is in this car. Yet it's not roped off or anything. Other cars are still passing by. The original four cops from the silver Taurus continue to stand around and smoke/shoot the shit.

It's now 10:40. All four doors of the maroon Taurus were just closed. The two investigators are shining various types of lights on the trunk cover. Apparently the trunk popper isn't working, as they seem to be having trouble getting it open. (See if the back seats fold down!)

Clearly, the Mrs. Kravitz in me is loving this.

Now one cop is in the backseat, leaned in kinda funny and facing the trunk. He's pulled out another bag of something (looks like an evidence bag). Now back to the front seat. No luck with the trunk yet. Will update again if any bodies/briefcases of money/big backs of cocaine appear to be found.

UPDATE, 12:04am: The CSI guys left just after I posted the above, without opening the trunk. No bodies in trash bags for me. Finally a tow truck arrived, driven by an angry looking woman. The maroon vehicle was promptly removed, and thus the four dudes in the silver unmarked car were finally able to go protect and serve some other inanimate object for four more hours. All in all, an anti-climactic experience.

14 December 2006

Oops, looks like I stepped out

A number of different things have piqued my interest of late, but unfortunately I'm a grad student. This means that every so often I have to write lots and lots of things in bursts of productivity that I'd honestly rather avoid. Anywho, I have decided to provide a roundup of sorts for your viewing pleasure (all 1.5 of you).

Africa conflict news
  • The Central African Republic is destabilizing due in part to the ongoing conflict in Darfur, which has already spilled into Chad. CAR provides a lovely stomping ground for Sudan and Chad to fight each other by proxy on somebody else's land.
  • Speaking of proxy wars, Ethiopia is gearing up to support the transitional Somali government against the Eritrean backed Islamic Courts.
  • DR Congo is alleged to be on the path to recovery now that elections went peacefully and no new fighting erupted. This is a good thing.
  • Sierra Leone may be destabilizing just a touch ahead of 2007 elections, which many expect to be rigged.
  • Let's not forget about the upcoming Nigerian elections, which might just be scary.
  • Ethiopia's former dictator found guilty of genocide, even though he's being sheltered by Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe.
UN news
  • Kofi Annan has made his final major speech, in which he politely bitch slapped the United States, in his very polite Kofi Annan way. One can also find a brief version of his lessons learned in office via WaPo.
  • Ban Ki-Moon has been sworn in as the new SG. Let's hope he'll have some teeth. Apparently his rise to the top of the planet somehow includes being fired from a top-level post in Korea after a major typo.
  • John Bolton is out, nations (literally) rejoice.
Homo news
  • NYT does an article on gay evangelicals that is sensationalized and written for the lowest common denominator in a way that queer related NYT articles always are. Said article features (and mischaracterizes) a friend of mine from NC.
  • Mitt Romney has filed suit in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to compel the legislature to put gay marriage up to a public referendum. Apparently likes to lose political battles in as many ways as possible.
  • Middle East is still not a fun place to be gay, reminds some observers of small towns in Tennessee or Utah.
Weird science
  • New study financed by abstinence crazed Bush administration finds male circumcision reduces HIV rates. Same study apparently fails to examine whether or not condoms are used, assuming that those silly Africans didn't pay attention in the sex ed that accompanied their operation, or lack there of. Way to spread cultural imperialism to peoples' genitals. Surely there's not some better way to curb the spread of HIV?
  • Nobody really knows what to do if a Democratic senator gets incapacitated. Some sort of cloning or stubborn refusal to die and thus vacate seat may be under consideration.
To spare you the repetition, I'll spare any mention of Vietraq and all the DC dribble going on around that issue. Consider yourselves lucky.

As a final note, I've made a couple of layout changes, and added a neat feature from LibraryThing that lets you see random books from my shelf, as though you actually cared. Also, this blog may now actually be read by at least 2 people. And that, friends, is better than nothing.

26 November 2006

A few thoughts on war

I recently watched the film Turtles Can Fly, which is the first film that was produced in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The film centers around children in pre-2003 invasion Kurdistan, who make their living by collecting landmines and sorting mortar casings. And that, I assure you, is the least of the war-time horrors portrayed. Yet there is an odd beauty in the film, but that doesn't make the subject matter any more palatable.

Like most Americans at this point, I am troubled by the war in Iraq. As the civilian death toll is now in the hundreds of thousands and the military death toll is now above that of September 11, I find this war, which I have always viewed as illegal and unjustified, even more repugnant. Cloaking the whole venture in the language of some unwinable War on Terror makes it even more disgusting. Anyone who thinks that destroying a whole country and the subsequent killing of such a massive number of people is acceptable in avenging and/or preventing a terrorist attack that killed 3,000, is sorely mistaken. Not only does this war fly completely in the face of accepted norms of proportionality, it has no clear purpose, no defined goals, and a continually diminishing measure of success.

Yet I am most disturbed by the effects and affects of the war on Iraqis themselves. This past summer, for the first time, I saw first-hand the effects of war among Liberian refugees. In some cases, living with a destroyed economic and political system is the least of concerns. The question of survival perpetually looms large. The psychological effects of the whole affair are particularly destructive. How do children cope with having witnessed their parents violently killed in front of them? How do women deal with children that are the product of rape by armed gangs of militants? What does one do when the entire network of social support, both formal and informal, has been torn from beneath them?

In a political context, the wars in Iraq and Liberia are almost completely dissimilar. But in terms of civilian costs, they aren't that much different. Yet these are exactly the costs that are usually ignored. Even as the world adopts lofty language like the responsibility to protect, the world's superpower, through its hubris, has sparked a huge slaughter of civilians. War is, and should be, an extension of policy. But what if that policy is flawed? What if the policymakers are unwilling to deal with reality? What if the whole war policy was based upon faulty factual and legal assumptions from the outset?

These are just a few thoughts. Don't take them as me diminishing the effect of terror attacks on American soil. Don't take them as assaults on the military - they don't make war, they just implement it. Just understand that this is a little of where I come from, and outlines a few things I'm currently mulling.

14 November 2006

Dear Shrub, Bolton = BAD

Unforunately for all of humanity, President Bush is insistent upon keeping John Bolton as ambassador to the UN. Even though the nominate seems dead under both the current Republican Senate and the forthcoming Democratic Senate, Bush just keeps pushing.

John Bolton was sent to the UN to do a full court press (look at me and my sports terms) for a big hairy overhaul of the UN system. Reform down to the last man, and what not.

The other "little" countries of the planet, probably scared out of their brains by the prospects for being bombed/invaded for Weapons of Mass Status Quo, actually went along with the game. Reform proposals were made. Panels were created. Reports were issued. Compromises were worked. People like Jan Eliasson went to bat. Kofi Annan went all out, doing things he probably wanted to do years ago.

If you stop the record there, it looks like Bolton was pretty damn successful.

However, with all these new proposals in front of him (and very few of his own, I might add), John Bolton squashed the substance out of each and every one. His efforts were so hostile, that the 2005 opening General Assembly summit almost didn't have a document to approve, because he was busy running his red pen of death through it. When it came time to review the UN's 12,000 mandated tasks, Bolton decided that everything but stuff dealing with Israel could be considered, and thus killed the whole process, as every other country (except Israel) insisted that the whole agenda be examined, streamlined, etc. Bolton even nearly killed the new Human Rights Council, which while not much better than its predecessor, could have been better had Bolton not been so obstinate.

So yeah, I hope the Senate drops his nomination right off the top of the Capitol and into the Potomac, where it belongs.

12 November 2006

MUNers! We have become pop icons

This just in. MUN can be fun, cool, and musical.

Click here for video-music entertainment.

09 November 2006

Post-election wrap up

I'm not gonna bother posting links in this one, cuz all of America (except, ya know, all the stupid ones) already know all this stuff already.

So the Dems took the House and later, the Senate. Bully for them then. Now they just have to make the president cooperate with them, and vice versa. This will be a fascinating two years.

The best news today, though, was Rumsfeld's resignation. This news was so good that it (almost) made me recover from my general ire with the state of Tennessee.

Now I'm generally used to all manner of crap Tennessee can pull. But this election really kinda yanks my chain. I expected the gay marriage ban to pass, and I kinda expected Corker to win. But that doesn't make me happy about it. This is primarily due to the way the results for the marriage amendment turned out: 80.4% for and 19.6% against.

Generally, people who study such things say that in any given population, somewhere between 10-20% will be LGBTQ people. You know what this means for Tennessee?

Only gay people voted against the amendment.

Disturbing, much?

The only thing that gives me any comfort is this odd feeling that someday, legislating a particular this brand of morality is gonna come back and bite some people in the ass. ;)

No further comment.

07 November 2006

WARNING: Resist urge to participate in mass suicide should Democrats lose

Political people are weird. From the Times, discussing how disappointed Dems would be if they don't take the House:

Mr. Cook put it more succinctly. “I think you’d see a Jim Jones situation — it would be a mass suicide,” he said.
Honestly. Is an election worth killing yourself over?

05 November 2006

PSA for Tennessee Voters

I realize that this campaign season has been bizarre, but hear me out.

Tennesseans: Please ignore advertisements that suggest that Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. has supported the "radical homsexual agenda 80% of the time."

Why should you ignore these ads? Because, I hate to break it to you, there is no gay agenda. We don't have one. Period. Even if you find a spoof of one on the internet, it's not real.

You hear me? It is physically impossible for any lawmaker of any ilk to support the "radical homosexual agenda." We don't have one. It doesn't exist.

(And if we do have one, then the religious right has thus far failed to share our agenda with us, though we thank them for taking the time to write it on our behalf. After all, straight white Christian men have been making decisions for other people for centuries, and think they're pretty good at it.)

Trust me on this.

Also, vote NO on Amendment 1.

03 November 2006

Useful tips from the U.S. Government

Want to build a bomb? Better yet, aiming to design some WMD in your basement? You'll probably need some sort of instructions, right? And perhaps maybe a basic understanding of chemistry or physics. Not to mention equipment, a secret lair, a secret handshake, and probably a Swiss bank account.

But even with all that other stuff, you're nowhere without instructions.

That's where the federal government steps in.

The New York Times today reports that a website the government set up to detail all of Saddam Hussein's weapons initiatives had posted for some time detailed instructions on some of the steps needed to build an atomic weapon. The IAEA apparently protested this level of detail sometime last week. Yet the site stayed up until NYT made some phone calls.

(Sidebar: amazing how NYT is seen as more of an expert on these things than the lil old International Atomic Energy Agency.)

It gets better.

This wasn't the first time such information had been posted. Apparently back in the spring there were directions on how to build chemical weapons. They stayed up until some UN agency got really uppity. Better still, the documents translated into English from Arabic.

This was apparently all part of some huge effort to convince the American people that the whole Iraq war thing was justified.

Operation Iraqi Freedom Documents

02 November 2006

The politics of disgust

Unfortunately, it's almost time for an election. This means all forms of media (the term airwaves is no longer sufficient) are riddled with the most ridiculous and insane methods of scum-sucking mudslinging that the English language (and sometimes Spanish) can sustain. There are some particularly flashy examples, but I'll let you find those on your own. More up my alley is the creative analysis of all this garbage found mostly on the internet.

One embarrassment is that the British (via BBC Magazine), known for their own mad dirt digging skills, have dubbed our current election season particularly spooky.
I suppose there was a time when candidates asked people to vote for them because they shared a political philosophy. I suppose that time predates modern democracy.

Now, it's vote for me because I'm not a paedophile, or a drunk, or a mistress-choking adulterer, or a moron - all of which members of Congress have been accused of, with varying degrees of veracity, in the last month.

As Mark Twain once said, there is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress.

I certainly agree with the author, and I especially dig Mark Twain's lovely addition. It seems about accurate, and in spite of my belief that the "mistress-choking adulterers" will probably lose, I'm not terribly confident that anyone more decent will when.

But then the president and his former challenger get involved, and it gets worse. From NYT:

When the president of the United States gleefully bathes in the muck to divide Americans into those who love their country and those who don’t, it is destructive to the fabric of the nation he is supposed to be leading.
I feel like that about sums it up. All fear, all lies, all the time. I really wish "freedom from fear" had been written into the Constitution. Maybe that would make campaigning a little nicer.

Is civility too much to ask for? Or do I have to spend my life learning about who fucked whose corrupt, gay, illegitimate pet monkey?

29 October 2006

Funny quote from the New York Times

Today's NYT contains a nice little article about the effects of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) starting to buy its condoms from Asian firms, rather than American companies, especially those in Alabama. Aside from tracking Alabama congressmen's attempt to save the domestic condom industry, which is a funny enough thought in itself, the article quotes a former USAID official defending the need to preserve domestic production thusly:

"The foreign aid program has very few rabbis. Why make enemies when you don't have to?"

I'm fairly certain that's supposed to say "allies." Nonetheless, if you know any rabbis in need of a job, you might call them. :)

28 October 2006

Randomness generally pertaining to politics

I took this quiz just now that tests on civics profiency. I got 52/54, which ain't bad. The test is targeted to baby boomers, but I feel like basically everyone should know this stuff.

I continue to be amused by the Tennessee Senate race. For one, things in Tennessee don't usually garner a lot of attention. Secondly, an ad run by the RNC (or RSCC - I forget which) declared that Rep. Harold Ford, the Dem candidate, attended a Super Bowl party at the Playboy Mansion, and the ad was rounded out by some alleged porn star saying "call me, Harold." What amuses me more though is Ford's response: "I like women, and I like football, so yes, I went to the party." A remarkable amount of candor for a politician these days. You can find the goodness either on YouTube or Wonkette.

Also, election day is coming up. I get to revel in voting for non-voting people. Ah, the joys of District of Columbia living. Of all the democracies and pseudo-democracies on earth, DC is the only capital of such that is not represented in the national legislature. Nonetheless, there is an opportunity to get a better Congress out of this contest, though I'm not terribly hopeful. Notice I said "better" rather than "Democratic." It'll take a lot more than getting to see Speaker Botox sworn in to make Congress better.

And yet, Chester Crocker expressed last week that Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf would probably be a better head of state of the U.S. than our current POTUS, while said EJS was speaking at Georgetown. This is particularly funny coming from a man who was an assistant secretary of state in the Reagan administration. On the whole though, not a bad idea.
Sorry for not putting in more links. Too lazy. :)

EDIT: Mother Jones' blog is now claiming that the above mentioned basically racist ad was pulled because the Canadians protested over a derogatory line pertaining to their country, rather than, ya know, just being racist.

16 October 2006

Miniature ode to DC

Living in DC, there are certain things you can count on (aside from political idiocy). One in particular effects me from time to time.

Simply put, whenever you're running late to work, the Green Line is bound to do all in its power to make you later. Just remember that when choosing where to live.

Also, while walking through Georgetown to connect from the bus from work and the bus to school, I continually have the urge to encourage the proletariat to rebel and end the god-awfulness that is that section of this lovely city. I can barely afford to stand on a sidewalk in Georgetown, much less live there. And all the cutesy wealth is just tacky.

Besides, the Georgetown H&M has an abysmal selection of menswear, and thus the whole area is useless to me. ;)

15 October 2006

Breaking: U.S. suddenly gives a damn about UN Security Council

Following the current scuffle with North Korea (DPRK) has been, for me, an amusing exercise in watching the United States come grovelling to the UN because it now has virtually no leverage to act independently on anything but routine trading of back scratches.

After a week of wrangling, the U.S. yesterday finally pushed through a resolution sanctioning the DPRK. Then, immediately after the vote was cast, China stepped out and said something to the effect of, "by the way, we're not going to participate in the shipment inspections regime mandated in the resolution." Ambassador John Bolton's response was absolutely hilarious:
“I can’t believe that China won’t adhere to obligations that the Security Council has imposed.”

Seriously, reading that almost made me fall out of my chair. To think that any country, let alone one of the permanent five members of the SC, would have the audacity to ignore all or part of a resolution that is technically legally binding. Whatever is the world coming to?


Sorry for the brief hiatus. Life came a-knockin' and I stopped a-writin'. While I can't promise to do terribly much better, I will at least make an effort to post more than once every month and a half or so.


03 September 2006

UN Security Council and Western nations need a wake-up call

I meant to write this a week or so ago, but personal circumstances prevented me from getting it done. As you are all well aware, this has been a busy summer with regard to "the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression." Israel, the world leader in failing to grasp the concept of a proportional response, went and blew the hell out of Lebanon in a failed effort to rescue two of their captured soldiers. The peace agreement in Darfur has effectively collapsed and only succeeded in creating a shift of alliances on the ground. And yet at the same time, international responses to these and other crises have been half-hearted at best.

On the Lebanon front, the UN Security Council managed to approve a resolution that called for a cease-fire and a 15,000 strong peacekeeping force (sans Chapter VII mandate), but only after weeks of wrangling. Even then, the European countries that had been so adamant about the need for a strong peacekeeping force then initially refused to cough up any respectable number of troops for it. Indeed, getting troop committments from them required an extended period of
"intense prodding and pleading" by the UN from Kofi Annan and others.

In Darfur, the situation on the ground continues to detiorate, in spite of the May peace agreement, and possibly because of it. Again, the UN Security Council has authorized a peacekeeping force, this time of 24,000 personnel, but on the contention that the Sudanese government must approve the mission's deployment. Sudan, of course, has said no. After all, they're pursuing a genocidal policy, so why should they agree to letting the world curtail such activities?

There are two main lessons here that the world, especially the wealthy and powerful nations, seem to be missing.

1) All peacekeeping missions have a certain element of risk. Contributing nations (usually developing nations with big militaries) should be aware that some of their soldiers and police may be injured or killed. These peacekeeping operations don't just go anywhere, they deploy in places where there is a genuine need to prevent further violence, and the role of such forces is to basically stand between combatants and then work to consolidate a more durable peace arrangement. For the French (or any) government to assert that the potential loss of even one of its troops is too high a cost for the protection of a substantial group of people is preposterous on any number of levels.

2) The UN General Assembly opening summit in 2005 agreed that all nations have a "responsibility to protect" (R2P) their own civilians from genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, and that the international community has an obligation to ensure that this responsibility is met both at home and abroad. Clearly, in Darfur, Lebanon and elsewhere, this principle has been violated. Honestly, R2P is a pretty basic concept that should have been adopted well before 2005, but that's beside the point. The fact remains that governments have agreed that this is a core concept of international relations, and thus it needs to be enforced.

To be perfectly honest, I'm tired of sitting around and waiting for the world to respond to the various crises that pop up each year. I'm tired of Nigeria, Pakistan and Bangladesh being the biggest peacekeeping troop contributing countries. If the Western world has all these wonderful values about protecting civilians and ensuring international peace -- the U.S., after all, essentially wrote the UN Charter -- then they should step up and do something about these conflicts. To fail to act smacks of everything from irresponsibility to racism. Yet to claim these lofty values from some higher level of morality while refusing to stand up for them simply reaks of the most arrogant hypocrisy. We need to not only reform the United Nations. We must also reform the way our leaders here in the West act and think.

24 August 2006

Strategy failure: No War Left Behind

The Washington Post today revealed that the Bush administration was dismayed that this whole Iraq thing isn't working out. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that their victory plan bears a remarkable resemblance to their equally idiotic education plan.

"Bush advisers once believed that if they met certain benchmarks, such as building a constitutional democracy and training a new Iraqi army, the war would be won. Now they believe they have more or less met those goals, yet the war rages on."

That's right kids, once Iraq passed all its standardized tests, it theoretically should have been war free.

Because wars have always been won by meeting a set of benchmarks. Right.

Now, recall what I do for a living: study conflicts and how to sustainably resolve them. Mmhmm. Know how many lessons I've had on benchmarks? Zero.

And we, the moronic public, are supposed to comforted because even though there's been no progress on the Iraq front, "it could be worse."

13 August 2006

Warning: Left handed persons may revolt; Brooke Shields descended from royalty

As part of its riveting coverage of world conflicts and social phenomena, the Washington Post has shared with us two incredibly enthralling pieces this day. This is a particular feat, given that so much else is going on in the world right now that we might otherwise forget such pertinent information.
  1. Today is International Left-Handers Day. That's right (snicker), the silent minority has its own day. Apparently they even want events and such. Additionally, there is some frustrating apathy among lefty activists. However, this particular rabble-rouser could be predicting a whirlwind of future social change -- if only that whirlwind can get off the ground.
  2. Brooke Shields, and indeed most every white person on earth, is descended from European royalty. In fact, we may also all be descended from the Prophet Muhammed (which I'm sure has national security implications not yet fabricated). Perhaps most frightening though is that up to 80% of English people are all descendants of one man!
With all this helpful news, who needs peace deals and HIV statistics?

12 August 2006

Honestly, did you have to add that detail?

The lead story on yesterday's Washington Post email bulletin was this article about the investigation that led to the arrests of alleged terror plotters in England. Aside from being a rather ordinary piece about a lengthy investigation, the article isn't really all that noteworthy, except for something the opening paragraph.
It all began with a tip: In the aftermath of the July 7, 2005, suicide bombings on London's transit system, British authorities received a call from a worried member of the Muslim community, reporting general suspicions about an acquaintance.
Did they really have to put "a worried member of the Muslim community"? Wouldn't it have simply sufficed to say that an anonymous person reported suspicions about someone they knew? Is there even any hard evidence that it was a Muslim individual who made the call? And why not just put that a neighbor or community member (without qualifiers) called in the suspicions.

Honestly, I don't know whether the Post is trying to paint all terrorists as Muslims, or demonstrate that not all Muslims are terrorists. Obviously, the former is false and I don't think that's just gist; probably they were aiming at the latter, but just did it badly. Still, I think it's a little much is all.

07 August 2006

I love a good CRS report

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) has issued an updated copy of its report, Intelligence Issues for Congress.

Let's all pause now to think about the insane humour found in that statement.

Intelligence? Congress? Yes, there are issues in Congress all right. Intelligence is not one of them. My number 1 intelligence issue for Congress is quite simple.

The entire Congress lacks intelligence.

That's all I've got. And no, I'm not bitter.

Back in action

I'm back from my travels abroad and catching up on missed news and backlogged work. Needless to say, I'm pretty miffed about this how Lebanon war thing, but am not yet ready to really make a more detailed statement than that, especially since the Middle East isn't really my thing.

If you're terribly interested in what I've been doing the past five weeks, or want to see pictures, just go to my travel blog.

06 August 2006

Back in DC, now with pictures

I arrived safely back in DC last night, without incident. Today I've mostly laid around, relaxed, and most importantly, uploaded pictures. I've put up everything decent (mostly), except for the Cape Coast photos, because there are tons of those to go through.

Click here for all the Ghanaian goodness.

Being back is a little strange. Just about everything seems like a luxury. I mean, I'm sitting here with my air conditioner going, the radio going, typing on my laptop, with my car parked out front. This is all a little much sometimes. In all honesty, I feel a little guilty about all this good fortune. But then I realize that life is just different here, and by American standards mine isn't a life of extravagance. I guess what I'm saying is that there are different standards of normality from place to place. I can already tell that readjusting to the U.S. will be more difficult than adjusting to Ghana/Camp was, but I'll make it through. That is, if I can ever get my stomach to settle. :)

03 August 2006

Random thoughts and observations

I had dinner with a former volunteer tonight and it reminded me that I should jot some things down here, in no particular order.

1. I still find myself wanting to do the really complicated West African handshake (the one that ends in a snap) when I see people.

2. People in both Ghana and London keep asking me where my accent is. I don't know exactly what accent they're looking for, but I wonder if I'm really all that geographically ambiguous in my speech.

3. Working on camp was really damn hard. In fact, it was almost like a 24 hour headache. The urge to run screaming from the building was a near constant companion.

4. Working on camp was infinitely rewarding and educational. I grew so much in such a short period of time. In peace cell/tribal leaders meetings, I always reminded those in attendance that it was an honor for me to sit among them and observe their dialogue, and it truly was.

5. I did a little laundry in the tub this morning (classy, I know). The water turned brown almost instantly. This means that I was really, really dirty for a month.

6. Don't tell anyone, but I sort of miss the sound of dirt and gravel crunching under my shoes.

7. As much as I complained about the complete lack of silence during my entire stay, I now find that I can't go to sleep without some background noise.

8. I calculated that I could live in relative luxury in Ghana for less than $7,000 per year. It costs me three times that to live a relatively ordinary existence in DC.

9. This whole "anything goes" mentality has really creeped in. It seems like it now takes a lot more to get me stressed out.

10. [off subject] I would like to go back to work in Parliament.

11. In spite of my growing appreciation for simple living, the ability to rapidly communicate with people is quite nice.

12. If I ever go back to camp (or a similar setting) again for any longer than a month, I may need to invest in some of that over the counter valium they sell in Accra.

13. I really need to lighten up sometimes.

14. I should probably be more serious and driven sometimes.

15. I'm really, really, really skinny. As in, you could fit a softball into my waistband with me.

16. My skinnyness and near constant hunger are nothing compared to what those on camp go through.

17. My life has been hard on many ocassions. It's really nothing compared to refugee life.

18. You really can't compare Western existence and developing country and/or refugee existence. They're just different.

19. Some people said I did beautiful work during that tribal leaders meeting, but I don't really believe them.

20. It's really frustrating to work your ass off and know you've only scratched the surface.

21. Ghana needs better quality alcohol.

22. I need to get used to this kind of work. It's going to be my life (maybe).

23. Community/grassroots peacebuilding or institutional/organizational/political conflict resolution? That is the question.

24. This list is now far too long, and thus here it ends.

01 August 2006


I arrived safely in London this morning, and travel was basically hassle free. I didn't get much sleep on the plane however. The trip has really effected me in a huge way, and while I feel like I did some good work, I know that in the scheme of things I've only made a miniscule dent in a gargantuan problem. It bothers me that the Liberian war was 100% preventable, and yet it raged for years. I met too many people with too many horrendous stories to really be able to justify the event in my mind. Further, I find it impossible to justify the complete apathy to the war the international community showed for so long.

Too many stories of kids walking from Liberia at age 10, not stopping until at least two hours after they heard the final bullet shot, just to be safe. It was Dayton's birthday Saturday, and he was telling me how he feels like in his years, he's accomplished nothing. He can't provide for his children as he would like, has no assets, and no real prospects. He needs to go to school to get better work, but can't afford to send himself and his daughters.

I found myself weeping on the plane after the lights were out. The whole thing came crashing down on me -- not the plane, the trip. Because of the chaotic nature of our work on camp, there was very little time to either reflect or even be alone. That meant I was suddently dealing with a whole lot at once. I'm glad I've got some rest time in London in order to allow me to properly reflect.

I have, however, rebelled completely against my usual appearance while on camp. I'm back to wearing jeans, which had been too easily dirtied and too hard to wash and too hot on camp. I also took my huge mop of hair and molded it into a full fauxhawk today. My clothes are a little looser since I definitely lost weight, but I'm still pulling off a pretty convincing English look. Being able to take a hot shower is also a huge relief. I missed this town, and am glad that I've been able to just pop back in and feel at home.

Anyway, time to roll out for the night. This fast internet connection is a huge luxury. Then again, everything I've seen since I got to the airport is a huge luxury now.

One final story. My donation to PCO includes my volunteer fee, my time of course, and now one timing belt for the car. It snapped on our way in yesterday, and they lacked the funds to get a new one. I had a lot of leftover cedis on me, so I just bought it. Better to buy the belt than have to deal with a Ghanaian taxi.

Time for back to the hotel and bed. Peace. L2E.

31 July 2006

Obebini, I'm fine

Final post from Camp. I had a beautiful leaving ceremony this morning, with lots of singing kids. I also had a great last wekend at Kokrobite. And, the Tribal Leaders Forum workshop ended well, and I got many, many compliments. I was really worried about not having any sort of impact here, but I can certainly see, that at least with the forum, I've gotten a good thing going. Thus I can leave with a clear mind.

I have to head to the airport soon, but there will be a more substantive post later. So much to say, but so little time.



28 July 2006

You mean these old cranks can actually get along?

Today was the first day of our two day appreciative inquiry workshop for the tribal leaders. We had about 30 people, out of 32 invited, which isn't bad. Unfortunately though, there was only one woman in the group. We can't do much to control that, however, since the various tribes and counties select their representatives to the forum. Nonetheless, the discussion was good. A few people didn't quite get the idea that the objective was to focus on positive things on the camp, rather than problems. Basically, we're looking at what good things we have here that can be built upon in order to solidify a spirit of peace and reconciliation on camp. In a place like this, if we just talked about problems, the conversation would last so long that most of the old men in the room would die before we finished.

We first discussed what unifying forces exist here that can be built upon, and then we discussed what big ideas or dreams we have for future activities. Tomorrow we'll get more into concrete steps and hopefully get a rough sketch of an action plan. I also hope that we start a little more promptly tomorrow, so I can get to the beach sooner. ;)

The conversation went well though, and those in attendance seemed to accept me as a facilitator, when I really half expected them to completely ignore the young white kid. But at the end of the day, they clapped for me twice, and the Chairman of the Elder Council extended his good wishes and personal thanks.

Yesterday I was pretty convinced this thing was gonna fall on its ass. The leaders of the Elder Council came to the office, where there was a dispute because one of them didn't get his ID card. It was all a little petty and easily resolved, even though it took two hours. Yet today they really seemed to get along and worked well in small, diverse groups.

Note to those trying to divide people into groups in Africa: do not use birth month as a means to organize people. The obsession with perfect order and regimented bureaucracy makes your life difficult when you realize the October-November-December group is massive and needs to be split up.

Also yesterday, Emmanuel and I went to the Kofi Annan Centre. I got a lot out of it personally, but they don't really do anything for grassroots stuff, so Emmanuel was a little down (plus intimidated by the place). Yet we did meet with a Liberian academic there who gave us some good contacts and a pledge of personal support.

Anyway, time for my final peace cell mobilization. Only 3 days left....

25 July 2006

Warning: do not piss off the obroni

Yesterday at the office was explosive. I went in for the staff meeting, to find the rep for PCO's only NGO partner sitting in the rain, crying. Apparently Emmanuel had tremendously offended her, and the she finally walked out. I talked to her for awhile and found out the story, and then went to the staff meeting and went off like a firecracker. When you only have one NGO partner who has offered you funding, a market for the products from the women's center, and basically unfoundering generosity, you should be nice to their representative. Especially when they fly all the way out here to meet you. After they got an earful on sustainable management and the need for fundraising, I went back home.

Today is better. The toilet investigation is wrapping up, and I've been asked to facilitate most of the tribal leaders meeting this weekend, as well as speak at a camp peace concert this Sunday, to represent PCO's international volunteers. This means that my trip to Kokrobite for a final party will be a little short, but then again I like to work. Plus I'll have my time in London to relax.

Anyway, I've been runnning around all day again, so I need to get back to that. If you'd be willing to support a free school for refugees, let me know. I'm serious about the fundraising.

23 July 2006

Teaching, drinking, and running around

Friday was a crazy day. I had to go to the office, mobilize in Zone 11 (which is huge - kinda like the camp suburbs), go to a peace cell project meeting, teach at the mother's center, go to the Liberian Refugee Welfare Council to discuss the tribal leaders thing, and then the peace cell meeting itself. It was a very very busy day, and I was exhausted.

I decided to chill this weekend, and thus far have done just that. A few of us went to camp yesterday to get some clothes made (it's cheap and it supports the camp economy). I'm getting a shirt that I'll pick up Wednesday. MD (the volunteer coordinator) and I then grabbed some lunch and checked out a dance troupe rehearsal at the cultural centre. The kids there were pretty good (and also pretty funny), and the drumming was excellent.

I returned home for relaxation, when Emmanuel and Dayton (new tribal leaders forum guy) showed up to take me for a drink. Emmanuel is also in the process of learning to drive, so we got to be scared for a few minutes. I thought we were just going to camp, but instead they took me to Kasoa (only big town between camp and Accra) to a nice place for plenty of drinking and an intense discussion of Liberian politics and history. The primary debate was whether or not Ellen Johnson Sirleaf could face war crimes charges. All in all it was fun, even in spite of the sickness that followed (I haven't been able to drink much here and my tolerance has gone down).

Today a group of us have come to Accra to use really fast internet and generall goof around. We're going to a vegetarian restaurant later, and possibly a jazz club as well. Should be a fun time. :)

Tomorrow, back to the grind for my last week. I'm both excited and sad about leaving. Oh well, it's been an incredible experience. I haven't gotten malaria, in spite of the mosquitos that sit and wait outside my net. I've also met some absolutely awesome people. Plus having the kids run around and say "Obroni, what is your name?" everytime I walk home is pretty entertaining too.


20 July 2006

Hilarity in the office

Today has been a better day. Turns out things like budgets and plans do exist, they just forgot to give them to me. I could've lived without the near heart attack yesterday caused, but maybe I should just learn to be less anal retentive. We had a good meeting today about starting up peace cells in Liberia, so we can start writing a grant for that purpose. PCO recently established its presence in Monrovia, and now it's time to start doing something more than assessment. We also had some fun around the tribal leaders forum. It looks like our meeting will in fact take place next week. However, a man who lost the election for chairman of the Elder Council, a body born from the forum, came to protest this morning (unannounced of course). You should note that the election in question occurred in January, and he's been cranky ever since. He says it wasn't democratic because he didn't win, because he's more educated than the man who did in fact win. Basically, this man has a pretty distorted view of democracy, in spite of his alleged multiple master's degrees. Then again, this same man claims to be Archbishop of West Africa for a church that he refuses to name. Apparently he has taken his complaints about the Elder Council election to Presidents Kufour (Ghana) and Johnson-Sirleaf (Liberia). I wonder if they laughed as hard as we did...

But the most amusing part of the day centers around my investigation of the construction costs for the PCO school's latrine. One of our volunteers donated the money for the whole project, but some of the money never made it to the finance officer (and thus never made it to the bank), and the receipts don't add up to the total donation. I'm fairly certain that the project manager involved pocketed the money, but I digress. I was reading over the project budget and found a line for "hookers," of which the desired amount was 8, at a unit price of 48,000 cedis (roughly $5). I really don't know why a bathroom with six stalls needs eight hookers... ;)

Otherwise, things are progressing. Only one more working week left. This weekend I plan to take it easy, maybe do some day trips, but nothing too far from home. Travelling here just stresses me out. Next Wednesday is Liberian Independence Day, so the camp will be rockin' for most of the week, as apparently this is a very big deal.

However, I guess now I should go back to toilet duty.

19 July 2006

Sweet Africa always knows when to bring a gift

There's this off the wall Liberian man who goes by Sweet Africa and comes by the house every so often. He makes stuff out of cornhusks, and I recently bought a pair of his shoes that are quite cozy. They're blue and green too. Anyway, he was very excited to see me wearing the shoes today. He's been known to give presents to volunteers at various times too. Anyway, he's a very nice man and a former English teacher that makes for good breakfast company, even though I'm always the last person out of bed.

Progress on the tribal leaders front is good. We just hired a project manager today that I already know and like a whole lot. He's a builder by trade and reminds me a lot of my grandfather. We had a discussion once about how building peace is a lot like building a house, and how here at camp we're just working on the foundation. :) This man is also a peace cell leader, but was excited about the extra responsibility.

The administration front is more bleak. PCO is mired in an antiquated bureaucracy that really makes getting things done difficult and results in a lot of wasted paper. For instance, my first task yesterday was for Emmanuel to tell me to tell the secretary to tell the project managers to do something. Today I was given the organization's first quarter 2006 report to prepare for publication/distribution (second quarter is coming soon), but the report had no real accounting of goals and accomplishments and contained virtually no financial data. We need to have a serious discussion about this stuff if they want to pursue grant funding.

Lesson 1: you must have a budget.
Lesson 2: this budget should be divided by project.
Lesson 3: you must account for every dime earned and spent.
Lesson 4: your budget must be guided by your organizations goals, objectives, and maybe even a strategic plan.

Also, a staff member invited only the female volunteers to a weekend at the beach with just him. Totally not acceptable.

Anyway, I'm looking for a peaceful place to spend my weekend. I'm told about a nice botanical park not too far away. Let's see how that goes.

Peace. L2E.

18 July 2006

Guest Administrator

What a weird job they've given me. I'm basically filling in for the deputy director, who has pretty much been fired (I'm clueless as to why). Some things run fine. I like getting to know all the projects and being able to make suggestions at my leisure. But somethings at the office need streamlining. For instance, Emmanuel told me to tell the secretary to tell the project managers to submit to me their budgets for next month. All of this was in writing too. I don't really see why I can't just tell the project managers myself. We also had an "emergency" staff meeting this morning to deal with some ridiculous issue that basically boiled down to gossip that got out of hand. I told them to leave their personal beef at the door. It sounded cold and it was certainly a Western approach. I should probably be more tactful in the future, but things still seem ok.

In other news, I wrote a proposal to re-start the tribal leaders forum, beginning with an appreciative inquiry workshop that will allow the leaders to craft their own plan/role in the reconciliation process. The proposal has been accepted and the workshop is currently set to occur next weekend (my last on camp). Also, people from the Kofi Annan Peacekeeping Training Centre have agreed to meet with us next week. :)

Hard to believe that I'm already at the halfway point. Looks like a very busy two weeks ahead.

17 July 2006

The Neighborhood Watch is reminded not to beat people when making arrests; the UNHCR is reminded that water is a basic necessity

Last Wednesday, the first statement was heard over the camp public address system. Last Thursday, the Camp was graced by officials from UNHCR and the Liberian Interior Minister, for which the Neighborhood Watch was all dressed up for. The second statement came from a camp resident at that meeting. What I'm getting to here is that sometimes things on camp are just a little whacky.

First there's the handshake. Clasp hands, fold, shake, and snap on release. It's not both people snapping individually, it's using both hands to collectively make a snapping noise. This is a complicated routine that may well get the best of me.

Language wise, there are a few differences. Aside from not being at all conversant in any of the local/tribal languages, there are a few turns of phrase that can be confusing at first.

"How de body?" Sometimes used in place of how are you, but with similar meaning.
"Small small" Basically, a little bit of something or a short period of time. Examples: "We've come to talk to you small small." "Are you feeling better? Small small."

These are perhaps the most common phrases I hear. Aside from that, people seem to have difficulty pronouncing my name. Oh well. Time for mobilization.


Cape Coast, insanity and a dash of madness

Things got dramatic on camp last week. The international volunteers were frustrated. The local volunteers were expressing doubts, and I mostly tried to stay out of it. Only I can't. Life at the house is basically like MTV's Real World, just not nearly as posh and with no sex. The drama remains the same. But it's manageable. A few volunteers left last week, and a new one has arrived. My new task for this week is to serve as the Guest Administrator for PCO, which is a brand new post, and is supposed to help them streamline operations, coordinate activities, and do a little better with financial reporting. This will go on top of my work with peace cells and the Mothers Center, and thus make for a full day.

But briefly about Cape Coast. The castle there, which was home to British rule in Ghana as well as a major point on the slave trade, basically made me want to vomit. The English even had the audacity to build a church on top of a dungeon. Yet the castle, in a weird way, is why I'm here. Without the slave trade, there would have been no slaves sent back from the United States to Liberia, and those "repatriated" slaves would not have come to dominate that part of the world, and civil war would have never broken out. I've always been fascinated with figuring out the deepest possible roots of a civil conflict, and this is just one of them.

The city of Cape Coast was small but nice enough. Our hotel on Friday was scary and buckets of water were not forthcoming. In a place with no running water, that's a bad thing. We promptly went to another hotel Saturday morning, which surprised us with hot water showers. That night, after touring around town and avoiding uncouth cab drivers demanding fares and children begging for money for a soccer league, we were invited to join the hotel owner's wife's 60th birthday party, which was a hoot. The free food and champagne didn't hurt either. We even got cake and ice cream. I was so happy, it was unbelievable. Turns out the couple that owns the place lived in the States for about 30 years, before coming back to Ghana to take over the hotel. The trip back was bumpy (the road is out in many places) but having gotten an actual omelette and toast for breakfast, I was still a pretty happy man.

Anyway, time to go do office work (snooze). More info soon and sorry for the long delay between posts. :)

Peace. L2E.

10 July 2006

Something I've been contemplating

Part of why working on camp is difficult is because I can't help feeling some sort of responsibility for the situation here. I know that I have no personal connection to Ghana, Liberia, or any of the various West African conflicts. Yet at the same time, I see so many ways in which the West is responsible for much of the hardships people here face. Everything from slavery to colonization to the now rampant economic exploitation. And yet everywhere I look, I see hard-working people who simply are trying to get by. When I pass by, they say welcome and offer me incredible hospitality. I know how the world started down this road, in theory. I just can't wrap my brain around how we let things go so far down the wrong course. I don't understand how Europeans came to Africa and decided these were peoples to be exploited. It just makes no sense to me.

Meanwhile, the work continues. I've been asked to help restart the Tribal Leaders Forum, and we'll probably need to do a train-the-trainers workshop so that the leaders can then start to spread some of the things they've already learned about reconciliation. I'm trying to remember the week before I came here when I was taught to focus on positives and strengthen them, rather than dwell on the negatives. I may not make anymore than a minute dent here, but I believe I'm doing something good, at least.

That's all for now. L2E.

09 July 2006

Weekend jaunt to Kokrobite

A great big peace cell for a great big zone
Friday ended up being a pretty full day. The peace cell meeting had 35 people in it, and when it was time to end it, most of them didn't really want to stop talking. The discussion did get a little heated at times though, so hopefully we'll get to work through some of these issues more in the next meeting in that zone. We were in zone 11, which is physically the biggest one in the camp. Its size is exacerbated by the giant, air conditioned, fortress like hotel that sits in the middle of it. Apparently this is for those really compassionate humanitarian aid workers that want to "rough it" by actually sleeping somewhere other than Accra. Let's just say that my experience here is not making me look too well upon some of the other Westerners here. It seems both ridiculously unecessary and flat out rude to see such flagrant displays of wealth like the big hotel or the numerous giant, sparkling SUVs that these people ride around in so they won't get dirty.

Needed relaxation
I headed back to the house after the meeting Friday. I was the only volunteer there that night. It was really, really quiet. I did get to have a nice conversation with Isaac, the Liberian man who takes care of the house. He's incredibly quiet, and we hardly really see him unless he's watching the tv, but we stood out and watched the rain and he told me more about where he came from and just a little about what he's been through. As I was getting ready to leave Saturday morning, I asked him where I needed to get off the tro-tro so I could catch another car to the beach. He decided to come along with me, as he was headed to Accra anyway. He even got off the tro-tro with me and rode in the car all the way to the beach with me. I waited there for the other PCO volunteers (we ended up having 10 of our 12 person crew there for the weekend) by reading on the beach and enjoying the cool breeze.

Kokrobite is a curious little community. The beach was populated by local fisherman who ride in rafts that I can't imagine actually taking into the ocean, and a small group of expatriates from various Western countries. Most of the Westerners are volunteering somewhere like we are, and go there for a break. My first week has been tough, on the whole, and so I needed this little trip.

Besides, it was a cheap, cheap weekend. For $10 I got a hotel room that had a flush toilet and a cold water shower, which is about the best you can do. The bed was on a frame and the windows had screens, so there was no need for a mosquito net. We're talking the lap of luxury here. So luxurious, in fact, that the hotel is called the Dream. There's also a delicious Italian restaurant called Kokrobite Garden, which is literally thatched-roof gazebos in a garden. Both the food and the setting were delicious. Besides, who can beat a $4 pizza?

The beach was also beautiful. The Atlantic on this side of the world is cold and has a pretty fierce current, but it's still great. There were various fishing craft in the water, most of which didn't look seaworthy. But even on what was apparently a busy weekend, there probably weren't more than 75 people on the beach at any one time. It was a wonderful getaway.

There is this one bar/restaurant/hotel called Big Milly's Place that holds an African drumming session on Fridays that I missed. On Saturday though there's a reggae concert that was pretty good. We all sat around a big table having drinks, telling stories, and periodically dancing in the sand. Saturday was cloudy, but today the sky was perfectly clear. I got a few decent pictures, but honestly was a little sad to leave the flushing toilet (even if the seat had fallen off). My friend Nicole told me that she always just says "see you next Friday" to the flush toilets. I think next weekend some of us are going to head to Cape Coast.

Back to Awutu, to be eaten alive
We took a bus from Kokrobite up to the main highway, and from there 7 of us piled into some random crazy man's station wagon, because he agreed to take us back to our village since he was going that way and had room. After piling in though, we realized the man was nuts. There was some bickering over how much we should pay him, but finally a price was agreed after some heated negotiations (all while he's driving). At a police checkpoint, we got pulled over, but he eventually was let pass. I figure the cops realized he was looney and sent him on. When we got back to Awutu, he wanted all our names and told us to call him if we ever needed a lift, though never produced a number. Whatever though, we got home safely.

However, I've realized that there are bedbugs in my mattress since my feet definitely look like they had been feasted upon when I woke up Saturday. There wasn't enough sun left to do it today, but tomorrow we're going to drag the mattress out to basically bake it on the concrete, and treat it with some bug spray for just this very purpose. A fresh sheet should keep me safe tonight.

Tomorrow I also need to try my hand and doing laundry with nothing but my own two hands and some soap. That oughta be a good time. A full work week is ahead.

Peace. L2E.

07 July 2006

More fun with goats

You really haven't lived until you've travelled in a tro-tro (bus) with two goats in the back. That's how I came to camp this morning. I've only got a short time to write, but want to talk more about my work with the peace cells and at the mothers center.

Peace cells
There are 12 zones in camp, and currently 10 have active cells. Each cell meets every two weeks on a rotation. We mobilize the days zone each morning and afternoon, going door to door to invite people to the meetings. The meetings are at 5pm (white people time, as one zone leader joked) and are usually outside under some trees. This place is very loud, so it takes discipline to block out all the distractions and various Celine Dion tapes/chickens/children. This month we are discussing Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Yesterday we had a particularly moving conversation. These first two weeks, we're talking about the role of law in a society, and it amazes me how much the Liberians cling onto the law. Then again, their country collapsed and violence reigned, so I think they see law as a source of peace. Yet yesterday, for the first time, I actually heard people say it was ok to break the law if injustice is being done to you. That was comforting to my western ears.

Mothers Center
The Mothers Center provides vocational and literacy training to women with families to support at no charge to them. There is also a weekly peace class, followed by a weekly health class. I've taken the peace class for the month, and today we discussed different types of conflict and how conflict effects/affects people and changes their reactions. I only had two students (most volunteers insist upon at least three, but these two seemed really eager). Our conversation was incredible. I don't know if they know it yet, but those ladies definitely taught me a lot in that one session. Primarily, they emphasized one thing in particular as a prerequisite for peace: the ability to love. That was an amazing lesson, and often gets overlooked in the formal classroom.

Other tidbits
I'm settling in ok otherwise. I'm taking tonight to myself at the house for some much needed peace away from 10 other people. Then I'll join them tomorrow at the beach through Sunday.

We teach about women role models in the peace education class, but the curriculum only uses Western women. If any of you have any names/info about African women (my internet access is limited), please send it to me via email!

Peace. L2E.

06 July 2006

African yuck

Remember how I told you food had been sparse at the house over the weekend? I managed to find plenty of food Tuesday to sort of make up for this, but that was apparently a bad idea. Let's just say that Tuesday night and all Wednesday were a waste. I'm back on schedule today, but I'm still generally avoiding anything other than basic starches.

I'm continuing to settle in at the house, though there are some unique things that I wasn't really expecting. Primarily, I'm still unused to chasing chickens and goats out of the house. But ultimately, I guess we're all adaptable.

I will primarily be working with the peace cell project. There are currently 10 active cells, covering 10 of the 12 zones in camp. Each cell meets every two weeks. There is a monthly topic under a six month theme. Right now, the theme is transitional justice, and in July we're discussing Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). I've been to one cell meeting, which was mostly encouraging, but I've found that some of the local facilitators are still unfamiliar with the topic at hand. I know they got some training last week sometime, but I feel like we need a refresher. They keep confusing the TRC with a court, which in turn confuses the locals. In addition to that, I'm going to do a weekly peace education class at the PCO mother training center.

Generally I can handle things like African time and disorganization. The sexism found within PCO's leadership is harder to swallow. They claim gender equality in their leadership, but it's clearly just tokenism. The man who heads the mother's center (yeah, the man) also has this weird "I am your father and husband" saying that really creeps me out. Emmanuel, the PCO director, is very excited to have me around, since I'm involved in peace studies in the US and he wants to make connections there. Nicole (the George Mason PhD student) tells though that Emmanuel has also showed an unwillingness to deal with African experts in the field. Because he can't really travel (getting visas is painful), he's basically just isolated himself and the organization. I had already planned to visit some peacebuilding organizations in Accra that I've learned about, but I think now I'll try to bring Emmanuel with me. He can't keep relying on the varying expertise levels of the international volunteers. Nicole thinks I'll have a better chance getting these things through to him because I'm a man. Again with the sexism...

I realize this post isn't terribly positive. As always, things are fine. When it comes down to it, I'm adaptable. It's just been a rough couple of days.

04 July 2006

Arrival with the Black Stars

The flight over wasn't so bad. All my flights were on time, and all my bags got here with me. I got to meet some interesting people on the planes, so that was fun. The 10 hour layover in Heathrow was not so fun though, but I made it through with all the others seeking overnight refuge in the airport (mostly young people and non-English persons). I was really surprised that it all went out without a hitch.

Arrival events
Unbeknownst to me until halfway to Accra, we were flying with Ghana's national soccer team, the Black Stars. This meant that the airport was a madhouse when I got there. Immigration officials made sure to remind me that their soccer team is better than ours before letting me pass. Once I got outside though, I found it impossible to get through the assembled horde of partying thousands. The security guys had me and some other obroni just wait by the airport wall the people picking us up could get through. Finally after the team was snuck out on buses, the crowd literally ran away and Emmanuel, PCO's director was able to get to me. As I told some others, it's always good to start with a celebration. I arrived at the PCO guesthouse in Awutu near midnight, as we had to wait to pick up another volunteer who flew in later. I must admit it was a little scary travelling down bumpy roads at night, but we made it fine.

The guest house is a palace by local standards. My current bedroom is about the size of mine back home, though it has no windows. I'll get a windowed room when another volunteer leaves this week. The bucket shower is literally just that. You take a bucket of water to a tiled room and there you are. The food is ok, though we've had to remind the cook a few times to remember veggie food. We live in the village of Awutu near camp, and many Southerners will appreciate these directions: Turn off the paved road, walk up the hill, turn off the dirt road by a big pile of sand, and go through the tall grass. No sickness or anything yet, and I've settled in well. Having 13 housemates keeps it interesting too.

Most people were gone from the house Saturday, but one girl was around and she took the three newbies to the beach. On Saturday, we newbies braved exploring Accra by ourselves, and that went well. Yesterday was Ghana Republic Day, so things were closed and basically I just sat around and talked with people. Orientation began today, and I should be going on projects tomorrow. Time's up now, but more later.

29 June 2006

Leave of absence

I realize I'm not the world's most reliable blogger. Anyway, I'm taking a break for at least 5 weeks while I travel to Ghana and then London. Check out my travel blog, Buduburam and beyond.


Packed and ready

I'm leaving for the airport in about three hours. From DC, I'll go to Chicago, then London, then Amsterdam, and finally Accra. The PCO staff will meet me at Kotoka Airport in Accra and take me to Buduburam with the other new volunteers.

I finally finished packing about an hour ago. Both my main bags each weigh less than 25 pounds, so I'm good to go on the luggage front. By comparison, went I went to London in 2003, I had about 120 pounds of luggage. Then again, I didn't take a lot of lightweight, fast-drying clothing on that trip.

Because I thought it would be fun, I took a picture of all my luggage.
The big red backpack is my new friend. And yes, I will look like a pretty typical Western tourist with it. However, it has a removable daypack attached, which will come in handy. I've decided to name the backpack the Doodlebug. AU people will also notice my SIS bag, which holds fun things like books and travel documents. The other black bag is just more stuff. It really seems like a lot, but I guess it's not too bad for 5 weeks.

It's been an emotional roller coaster these few days. I go from being nervous to excited to indifferent pretty much at the drop of a hat. Right now, I'm just exhausted after having been up all day. The time stamp on all this blog's entries is for local time in Ghana. Back on the east coast of the U.S., it's around 1:30am. I'm hoping for a brief nap before going to the airport.

Anyway, my housesitter's stuff is all piled in a corner, ready for temporary occupation. However, we all know that Buster is really going to be in charge of the apartment while I'm gone (which is really no different from any other time).
As you can see, he has his peanut butter jar hidden under the bed. That means he's ready for action.

Anyway, back to business. I'll be getting a cell phone once I get to the camp. I'll publish the number as soon as I get it. In the meantime, you can check out www.africanprepaid.com or www.bigzoo.com to check out calling rates.

Time for a nap, then off to the airport I go. If I don't get a chance to drop a line somewhere en route, look for something once I'm settled.

Peace and love.

27 June 2006

An open letter to the United States Congress

Honorable Members of Congress,

I must respectfully express my intense disappointment in your collective actions lately. Today's vote in the Senate over whether or not to amend the Constitution to ban flag burning is simply another exercise in legislative frivolity. Recent votes on whether or not to amend the Constitution to ban "gay marriage" are of a similar vein.

This nation faces real problems. Economists point out that another recession is looming. The Federal budget is absolutely out of control, running record deficits. Also, there is the not so small matter of running two wars simultaneously. Finally, the current Administration has engaged in at least two domestic surveilance programs on questionable legal grounds and without appropriate levels of oversight. To waste valuable time and money debating ridiculous attempts to amend the Constitution to meet with every shift of the political tide is insulting not only to the American people, but to the Constitution itself.

These pathetic grandstanding exercises must cease. There is a reason that the American public has so little faith in either party to effectively lead the nation. Please stop this foolishness and return to real work.

Sincerely yours,

Jason A. Terry
Disenfranchised resident of the District of Columbia

24 June 2006

Possibility for a side trip

A little background
My peacebuilding course this week included a contingent of five people from Nigeria. Three of them work for Shell Nigeria (yes, the oil company) in their community development office, which apparently has a peacebuilding section (who knew?), one works for the Nigerian national oil company, and one is a government official in charge of community development in Rivers State, where they are all from. All of them knew each other from back home. Their state is in the Niger Delta, which has become increasingly tumultuous in recent months. They came to get some more training and new ideas about options for bringing peace to that area, since all of them have some sort of responsibility for that in their jobs. As part of the training this week, we divided into four teams to create peacebuilding projects that some participants could take back home with them. I was in a group with the government official, and we put together a plan for one of the crisis areas that he has decided to try to implement upon his return to Nigeria.

An unexpected invitation
As we were wrapping up the course today and discussing how we can use the skills we learned, the instructor revealed to the group that I am going to Ghana next week, and would be afforded the opportunity to develop my skills there. It was around this point that my groupmate/government official friend said to me "You will come to Nigeria." I expressed a little hesitance, and noted that it's hard to arrange travel and get visas, etc., to which he simply responded, "Remember, I work for the government. You let me know when you get to Ghana, and I will take care of all the details." He told me that he wanted me to see the area that we had been discussing all week. He assured me repeatedly that he was very sincere, and his friends encouraged the idea even more. I'm not sure if it will work out yet, but I'm definitely going to pursue this further.

22 June 2006

Other preparatory fun

First things first
I've gotten a couple other questions since my last entry on some of the more thrilling aspects of preparing for travel to a place like Buduburam. Yes, I did have to have a number of shots. After getting lost in the DC suburb of Silver Spring, I finally located the doctor's office, which was halfway to Baltimore. This doctor didn't talk much, but he got the job done. He lined up band-aids on my arms, in a little column, and then shot me up, assembly line style. Finding a flight was equally traumatic. Because of my stopover in London on my way back home, I've booked two separate tickets. I realized that it's really hard for an American to book a ticket with London as the originating city, at least when you're flying to Ghana. I finally found a cheap KLM flight, but couldn't book it online, so I had to call Northwest Airlines here to set it up. Finally there was the small matter of getting a visa. You have to apply for a visa with the Embassy of Ghana. I went there in person because that's more reliable than mail, and they're only a 10 minute bus ride away. I had to hand in a fat wad of paperwork, and in return was given a raffle ticket with which I could claim my visa in a week. That's right, a raffle ticket - one from Office Depot, to be precise. This system made me a little nervous, especially since the person who took my application seemed slightly more interested in watching the Price is Right. Anyway, I went back a week later at the designated time, and got my visa. For having submitted probably 12 pages of information, including 4 copies of the application form and 4 photos, all I got was a lowsy sticker in my passport. Just in case, I'm keeping the raffle ticket.

Get your kit on
I think I've got all the clothing and things I need for the trip. I still have to acquire a mosquito net to go over my bed, as well as the obligatory conspicously Western traveller backpack in which I can shove all my waterproof pants and moisture-wicking shirts. Finding a reasonably priced waterproof shoe is also on the list. Other than that, there shouldn't be any major purchases to make. I think I've got most toiletries and things. Frenetic packing starts this weekend.

Don't you have a bunny?
Yes, I do have a bunny. A Guilford student who is interning in DC will occupy my apartment while I'm gone, with primary responsibility for feeding my bunny. I guess he'll probably take care of himself too. After the bunny, of course.

Mental preparation
The most recent method I've found for dealing with my impending journey is to completely ignore its existence. Now that I'm getting back in the groove though (only a week left!), I'm starting to feel better about the trip. Nervous, but better. Honestly, it's a lot like every other major travel experience I've had: completely different from what I know. A few weeks back, I was lucky enough to meet an anthropology student at AU who focuses her doctoral research on Liberian refugees. Last summer, she spent ten weeks at Buduburam, and has been an excellent resource and comfort. We're getting together at least one more time before I leave for some good, deep discussion of the place and how to get around it.

Special mission
My friend came to know quite a few people at the camp, including one woman who gave birth to a baby just after my friend returned back to the States. I am being dispatched with a gift for that baby, and will embark on a quest to find his mother shortly after I arrive and get settled.

There is no formal training program that I am required to go through before I depart. I'll get information about working for PCO once I arrive. However, this week I'm taking a course through AU's Peacebuilding and Development Institute called Positive Approaches to Peacebuilding. The class has about 13 people from various parts of the world, and we're learning from two instructors. Topics covered include appreciative inquiry, getting to forgiveness, and engaging in sustainable and appropriate reconciliation efforts. I think this will make me well prepared for my work with PCO, especially if I get to work with the Peace Cells project. But it also does some work on dealing with children, so if I do end up working more with the kids, I can do that too. Still though, I'd rather work with the adults.

I'm unsure if my visa allows me to come and go from Ghana, and I may not have time for that anyway. However, I do hope to make it to Accra a couple times to meet some other peacebuilding/peacekeeping professionals that I've heard of and have some connection to through people I've interned with or studied under. Two organizations I especially want to check out are the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre and the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding. If anyone else has any other recommendations, please send them my way.

My new name
Finally, I should briefly mention my terms of reference while I'm away. You know, the informal ones. My friend above tells me that I will mostly like be called either "white man" or "obroni" while I'm gone. It's pretty obvious that I'm gonna stick out a lot, so I guess that just makes it more fun, right?