06 December 2007

Your strategy quote of the day

From here:

Strategically, this would appear to lie beyond carrots and sticks and somewhat closer to a really big log.
More later.

22 November 2007

Elegy for a burrito cart

On Tuesday, the revered Pedro and Vinny's burrito cart at 15th & K NW rolled its last burrito. It was a sad, sad day. I waited in line for an hour with other regulars, plus a few newcomers who had seen so much business come by the cart in its last few weeks that they just had to try it. I ordered 2 burritos instead of my usual 1. I just finished that last burrito for my Thanksgiving lunch.

I first discovered the cart, run by John, the king of nice guys, via the Burrito Blog and vowed that should I ever find myself working in that part of downtown, I was going to make that cart a weekly event, since I have a particular love of vegetarian burritos, and that was the cart's only offering. As luck would have it, I landed a job nearby in June and soon after began my weekly trek to the cart. When I got back to the office, my coworkers would always be amazed at the sheer size of my standard large burrito, and I eventually started going to the cart with a posse.

Over these few months of bliss, I tried all sorts of varieties: black and tan, just black, all 5 flavors of tortilla, and a whole range of hot sauces, including the very special Grey Goose Mango sauce, which is a signature creation. Other favorite sauces included the "hot buns on the beach" and "Jim Beam." Of course, the free chips while you wait offered an even greater opportunity to expand my hot sauce knowledge. In general though, my favorite burritos were just with black beans, on a spinach or tomato chili tortilla (alternated weekly), with a sauce in the 7-8.5 range, non-fruity (and best with the hot buns on the beach, which apparently comes from an unnamed sauce source).

Now John is moving to the Carolina coast to open up a burrito shop there (field trip, anyone?). He ran the cart for over 5 years, after taking over from one James Tiu, who now runs a shop in Wheeling, West Virginia, and who opened the cart in 1994. News that John was moving had been around for awhile now, and there was a brief hope that the cart would continue under a new owner. That deal fell through, however, and the closing was reported in early November. The lines over the cart's last few days were nuts, but it was totally worth it. Even though the cart has moved on, you should still be able to order items from the Pedro and Vinny's website at some point in the future.

In the meantime, the quest continues for an excellent lunchtime burrito in DC. For those in the Dupont area, the Well Dressed Burrito is your obvious (and delectable) option. Of course, there are plenty of chains scattered about town (though the pickings are a little slim near Metro Center). I, however, will begin a new quest for finding burrito goodness to fill my belly on roughly Wednesday of each week.

02 October 2007

A word about ENDA

On a very personal level, I'm incredibly disturbed by the way in which the recent developments around the long-awaited Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) proposal has moved forward in the House. Somewhat surprisingly, the traditionally gay-centered LGBT movement has actually taken a stand against Barney Frank and demanded that transgender-inclusive language not be removed from the legislation. Yet mainstream media has been largely silent on this issue, and when they have spoken out, it has been with tremendous disrespect.

The Washington Post editorial of September 28 entitled "A Civil Rights Law" provided a disturbing image of how the Post editorial board -- which has historically been an avid proponent of civil rights -- has an exceptionally flawed view of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act bills presented in the House of Representatives last week. The most striking disappointment rests in the line, "Delaying passage of ENDA, which was first introduced in the House in the mid-1970s by Rep. Bella Abzug (D-N.Y.), until the transgender community changes enough hearts and minds would be a mistake."

To suggest in any way that any minority must convince legislators that the Constitution of the United States protects all Americans equally runs counter to the very basic rights upon which this nation was founded. Indeed, many groups have engaged in long-running struggles for the recognition of their rights. Yet surely, after now centuries of these struggles, it should be unfathomable to ask yet another group to work for "nearly 40 years" in order to have their rights recognized in law. Surely we have reached a point in our history wherein the basic rights of all Americans, regardless of gender expression and identity or any other classification, are inherently recognized. The fact that a so-called advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights like Rep. Barney Frank believes that is it appropriate to yet again sideline the very transgender people whom he claims to support is simply another example of alleged civil rights promoters abandoning their constituents for political ends.

The Post should retract its statement, and Rep. Frank and other ENDA sponsors should stick to their commitments to the transgender community, or else both should renounce their claims on real civil rights advocacy.

To learn more, visit the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Global politics quicky

Because I'm too lazy too actually analyze things, I give you a bulleted list.
  • One of these days, I too shall appoint myself as President Prime Minister, or perhaps "Mr. Speaker the President of the United States."
  • Ban Ki-moon may have actually expressed an emotion regarding the rapidly descending spiral that is Darfur.
  • Dear Mahmoud: It's ok to be gay in New York, and a Jewish man wants to love you. (Hat tip: Daniel Drezner -- too good not to miss.)
  • Burma: Far scarier than we thought. Several protests with monks and Burmese Americans hit DC this past week, including one I witnessed yesterday. Now people seem to think that threatening to boycott a sporting event might change something? Color me unconvinced.
And briefly on the homefront.

27 September 2007

Understanding the intensity and complexity of the Niger Delta

A sadly under-reported African conflict (admittedly, many if not all African conflicts are under-reported in U.S. media) is the ongoing wave of insurgency in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria. The oil rich area has long been a bed of tension, with the oil itself as one of the main drivers of the conflict. In the summer of 2006, I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in a training put on by AU's Peacebuilding and Development Institute, where there were several participants from Rivers State, home to the main city of Port Harcourt and now at the center of recent violence. One of those participants was then a state government minister in Rivers, and I was a part of a working group at that training aimed at developing new peacebuilding initiatives in the Delta region. We've been in sporadic contact since, and it's my understanding that events have overtaken some of the initiatives we considered. I don't know how the April elections affected his job (but I'm reminded to drop him a line).

In any event, a must read article by Michael Watts has just been posted to the Online Africa Policy Forum. He gives an excellent synopsis of the many dynamics in this multi-faceted conflict. Go check it out. Clearly, the Delta conflict poses a tremendous challenge for conflict resolution practitioners, and this is a good way to begin thinking about what may need to be done.

25 September 2007

Point of clarification on sex and sexuality in Iran

Much hullabaloo has been raised over Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's absurd claim yesterday that there are no homosexuals in Iran (full transcript of the insanity here). Yes, this was one incredibly dumb statement among many that President Ahmadinejad let fly yesterday. I haven't see details of his speech today at the UN to see whether or not he one-upped himself. But that's neither here nor there.

What disturbed me was reading Passport today, where the writers attempted to refute Ahmadinejad's claim by pointing to the number of transsexuals in Iran, following an article published in the Guardian. Yes, it is true that Iran provides health coverage for sexual reassignment surgery (SRS) and other procedures required by transgender persons. And, according to one activist the Guardian spoke to, some gay men go through these procedures in order to avoid persecution for homosexuality. This seemingly contradictory policy exists because Iran sees transsexuality as a treatable health condition (which isn't necessarily far from the mark), whereas homosexual behavior is seen as a violation of Islamic law and (for men anyway), punishable by death for the first offense. The underlying (and incorrect) assumption here is that transsexuals seek heterosexual relationships, and the government helps them facilitate the process necessary for that to transpire.

Yet, the existence of transsexuality itself does nothing to refute Ahmadinejad's claim that there is no homosexuality in Iran. They're two entirely different things. The activist's statement about gay men who seek SRS in order to avoid persecution does act to refute the claim in a way, but that's all in the Guardian story that does.

In short, it's as though Ahmadinejad said there are no apples in his country, and journalists and bloggers have pointed to an Iranian orange tree and said "see, you're totally wrong." This kind of error is yet another reason why I often feel the frustrations mentioned in my previous post. It's also just plain unhelpful reporting. Ahmadinejad said a stupid thing, and most educated people know it's stupid. Why not just leave it at that? Conflating human sexuality and issues of gender identity and presentation in order to make a point (that doesn't need to be made) doesn't really accomplish much. A much more beneficial story would have been to examine Iran's egregious track record of prosecuting people for homosexuality (which the Guardian did to an extent) and bringing these issues into greater public consciousness.

17 September 2007

Yes, sometimes it's personal

I was reading this article (sub req'd) the other day about the major contributions gay people made to American culture during the middle of the 20th century. The authory, Michael Sherry, dealt quite deftly with the painful-to-beneficial relationship between great gay artists (like Copland, Bernstein, etc) and the mainstream media. Society recognized that their work was brilliant, while concurrently abhorring the [real and imagined] lives these men and women lived. Thus these individuals existed in a tenuous position. Revered on one hand, reviled on the other. Indeed, many commentators feared what having a strong, yet gay, artist community would have some sort of disastrous consequences on the moral fiber of American society as a whole, and there was a sort of Lavender Scare in the early sixties as a result.

Most students of U.S. history and politics recall that various Red Scares took place during the 1920s and again in the late 40s-50s. These scares were particularly hard on both the arts community and the foreign and security policy communities, for different reasons. The common thread, of course, was that gay and lesbian people got scooped up in each of these scares. The natural resilience to societal pressures that artist communities usually possess brushed this off relatively easily. In the policy community, though, where conformism is essential, the effects were devastating.

Fast forward to today. You still can't legally be gay in the military. The military, being one massive tool of foreign and security policy, and an apparatus that interacts with almost all other segments of the policy community, clearly has an effect on culture. The current leadership at the State Department has often harped on promoting freedom and human rights. Yet it is conspicuously silent on LGBT issues. With these combined influences, it's still a pretty lonesome place for LGBT people in that community. Other oppressed groups have been able to make more visible inroads in these areas. Yet given a culture of forced invisibility, it's pretty hard for LGBT people to make the same kind of advances. Thus for an individual such as myself, with a passion for working in international affairs and a strong desire to influence policy and thus positive change, I tend to feel disempowered and silenced, because to find gay people in that world, one basically goes on a quest for the Northwest Passage. It's not completely impossible to find out LGBT people in foreign and security policy land, but you're not going to find a lot.

So why is it so much more difficult for LGBT people to feel any sense of place in the policy realm? For one, as Sherry puts it so much better than I ever could, "the labels 'gay' and 'American' do not yet readily collapse into one." There is still a lot of stigma (particularly moral stigma), and much of this is perpetuated at the highest levels of society (just think about how George Bush got elected in 2004). I once talked with a former employer of mine, a woman who was advising members of Congress on foreign affairs in a day when such women were particularly rare. She described a lot of challenges that I feel myself (I'm not trying to appropriate her experience, I'm just noting similarities).

I guess my point is that I feel stifled a lot of the time. Granted, I'm young, and part of that has to do with insufficient experience to match aspirations. But part of it is a genuine concern that making even a mention of my personal life could preclude me from work somewhere. Admittedly, I wouldn't want to work somewhere where that would be the case, but still, knowing that it could occur is still troubling. I've certainly got being white and male going for me, but not fully fitting into that archetype is a problem (in some eyes) nonetheless.

Bottom line: yes, I can talk about decorating, but I'm trained to talk about force strength, strategic planning, transitional justice, and corruption (among other things). Don't think I'm "soft" because I'm a homo. And you, yes you with the ugly blue suit and the same tired comb-over everyone else in your building is sporting: I can play ball in your court, I just happen to prefer a flashier uniform.

03 September 2007

Labor day photo post

Yesterday I ventured to Antietam National Battlefield, as part of a larger random journey through Western Maryland. Here are a few photos.

Miller Farm

Northeast from Mumma Cemetary

Antietam Creek, downstream from Burnside Bridge

Near the south end of Antietam Battlefield

It was a good trip in all, and in light of some recent discourse, helps me think that peace studies and military history actually go together quite well.

01 September 2007

Simple yet sobering call for international justice

This past week, current and former prosecutors from current and past war crimes tribunals gathered in Chautauqua, New York to discuss the history and future of international humanitarian law, sometimes referred to as the laws of war. In their declaration, the prosecutors -- two of whom had served at Nuremberg -- made it plain that now that the body of international law has become more sophisticated over the past 100 years, there is now no excuse for allowing war criminals to escape justice. They argue that because justice for such crimes is now enshrined in law, there is no room for political decisions regarding whether or not someone accused should stand trial, instead these laws are quite clear that these individuals must stand trial.

The irony here, of course, is that this meeting was held in the United States, and that two of the most vocal proponents of the enforcement of international law were the two former Nuremberg prosecutors, both of whom are American. Indeed, since the United States called for the founding of the Nuremberg Tribunals in the late 1940s, the U.S., especially under the leadership of the Bush administration, has backed off on its support of international justice, as most recently demonstrated by the refusal to submit the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court to the Senate for ratification. However, many, including some of the military officials ostensibly being "protected" by ICC non-participation, have already stated that the United States has little to lose from being a full participant in international criminal law mechanisms.

While I am generally supportive of international justice mechanisms, I should also point out that there can be an incongruence between international and local demands/requirements for justice following a conflict. The ICTR prosecutor notes these in the Post article above. There is a need to be cautious in using an overly prescriptive reading of international criminal law that we then apply to all cases. Instead, we should take local concerns (eg, type of justice sought, level of retribution desired, fears of further destabilization as a result of prosecutions) into account while seeking to also fulfill our obligations under the law. This, however, often creates a paradoxical terrain for decision-making that is where the tensions between human rights oriented folks and conflict resolution oriented folks (like me) most play out.

I leave you with the final two clauses of the declaration's preamble, which illustrate this paradox quite nicely (though they also fall pretty squarely on the human rights end of things), and certainly more eloquently than I can:
Recognizing that both truth and justice create sustainable peace;

Highlighting that justice is not an impediment to peace, but is in fact its most certain guarantor.
For more information about the prosecutors' meeting, go here.

29 August 2007

A Peace Racketeer speaks out

I came across this article by Bruce Bawer this morning. For reasons that are probably obvious (if not, read "about me" to your right), I found it both insulting as well as inaccurate. Bawer argues that the peace movement, which he refers to as a "racket," is some sinister effort aimed at destroying America and individual liberty, and he suggests that this movement's heart is not grassroots activists (his words are "naive Quakers", which could be the subject of a whole other post), but a professional cadre of individuals seeking to subvert the Western world.

Aside from the paranoia that is rampant some of his rantings, Bawer also demonstrates some remarkably poor scholarly skills, especially with his insistence upon using leading peace scholar Johan Galtung's remarks given in the context of events as evidence that his theories, which are argued more in books rather than more political speeches or editorials, are not only flawed but destructive. I will grant you that some peace groups openly align with political groups that many in the West, myself included, might find distasteful. Yet this reality should not be used to make a judgment of peace studies as a field, as the two are not sufficiently linked together as to be relevant.

Bawer also asserts that peace studies are illiberal (using a classical definition of liberal here) because of their alleged anti-Americanism. This too, however, is unfounded. Indeed, peace studies and conflict resolution are rooted quite firmly in the liberal tradition. The difference is not that these fields are illiberal, but rather they have moved beyond a very limited definition to a more expansive view of what liberal societies consist of.

What really seems to be Bawer's problem, though, is his distaste for the notion of structural violence. Unfortunately for him, the validity of that concept has been excepted in academic disciplines well outside of just a few peace studies programs. Indeed, recognizing that whole systems and structures of societies can in themselves be agents of oppression seems more like a far deeper understanding than simply blaming human suffering on that which is easily visible at the surface. Heaven forbid someone recognize that a terrorist somewhere justify his violence on the grounds that his family has no food. Recognizing that the terrorist has a complaint does not make one sympathetic to his chosen method of voicing his grievance. It just means that perhaps some people, say peace studies and conflict resolution folks, for instance, may have realized that one effective way to reduce the threat of terrorism is to see that basic human needs are met and that human rights are respected, as opposed to the current approach of the U.S. government and others that suggests that shooting brown men in loose clothing is more effective. I hate to break it to Bawer, but blowing up terrorist camps is treating the symptom, not the problem. I agree that from time to time treating immediate symptoms is necessary, but if one never makes a holistic assessment of the body upon which the symptoms appear, there's a fairly strong chance that those symptoms -- active terrorists in this case -- will appear again.

The final troubling element in Bawer's doomsday scenario is that affluent young students are being attracted to peace studies programs, as they prepare for careers in public service, especially in government or nonprofit work. Clearly, the fact that the affluent are studying something radical should remind us of two things. 1) Peace studies isn't offered very widely, and it's usually done at private institutions, where the affluent are more likely to go. 2) Bawer is afraid of the affluent young learning something outside the established norm because affluence is a ticket to power in this society, and if the affluent change their opinions over the course of succeeding generations, then society might change.

Sorry Bruce, but societies change. While you and your cronies were busy protecting American liberties, others around the world were raising hell about the need to protect the liberties of those in the camps, the killing fields, and the villages across the world for much of the past 70 odd years. Many of us still are.

Allow me to make this confession. I'm dedicated to peace. One needn't prepare for peace by preparing for war. And preparing for peace by preparing for peace is too complicated for many to grasp. Rather, we must prepare for peace by learning how to interact with our adversaries without violence. However, there will be many around the world that will continue to be drawn to violence for the next several centuries, I'm afraid. Even if we were to shoot or detain all of those people, more would come up. This isn't because mass-scale violence is part of nature (we're the only species that kills its other members in large quantities for reasons not related to food, shelter, or species regeneration), but because shooting people doesn't get to the root of the problem. Like it or not, structural violence exists. Learning how to combat that violence, with an array of weapons ranging from food to access to sophisticated criminal justice systems, will be far less costly over the long term, and will result in a more sustainable world where not only American rights and liberties are protected, but those of every last person on earth. To effect this change, we need time, people, patience and the acceptance that no political, social or cultural system is without flaws. Finally, we need to accept that change isn't to be feared, but welcomed. That is how you prepare for peace: by seeking to preserve not just American or Western lives, but everyone's.

Hat tip to Arts and Letters Daily.

100th post: now home to the "smurfs thesis communist doctrine"

That, friends, is how one lucky googler came across this very blog, and bless their little souls for getting here this way. Now, I'm not sure which post(s) they may have read when they landed here, as I don't recall ever having written each of those four words in any one post. I know I've written about each of those words in separate posts. Anyway, perhaps this blog, when taken as a sum of its parts, reveals the deeper meaning behind the Smurfs Thesis Communist Doctrine. If so, trust me that I didn't intend it that way.

I'm not even sure what the Smurfs Thesis Communist Doctrine is. But that's the kind of quality scholarship you'll find here at Is that a gavel in your pants?

[FYI, I googled that phrase myself, and this blog didn't pop up within the first 8 pages of results, which is my usual stopping place for more obscure things, so I'm now especially intrigued at how hard one must have to work to make the link between this site and that phrase.]

Anyway, on this particularly goofy note, allow me to celebrate my 100th post. Look for more drivel to come.

27 August 2007

American exceptionalism, the Constitution, and Madeleine Albright

This past weekend Two weeks ago, I had the chance to explore the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. I also recently finished Madeleine Albright's The Mighty and the Almighty. Both the center and the book place an emphasis on the concept of American exceptionalism, and the more I mulled over each, the more I realized their claims in this regard are related. I personally find this notion of exceptionalism to be problematic -- sometimes it is troubling, egotistical, and imperialist; and other times the concept seems right on point, at least in theory.

The Constitution Center's main argument (to the extent that a museum can have an argument), seems to be that the United States, being the first rights-based democracy on earth that has endured into the present, has had a tumultuous relationship between the values enshrined in its founding documents and the reality of the practice of governance. In other words, based upon a simple reading of the Constitution, one would expect that the U.S. would have a far less discriminatory history and encompass a far more egalitarian society than it does. Because this country is the home to these documents, it is inherently held to a higher standard, as far as justice and human rights are concerned, than most every other nation. Thus it is the documents, and not how various elements of our government have adhered to them, that makes the United States unique, and living up to those documents has become our national challenge.

Albright, obviously, takes a different focus but ends up with a few similar points. While she focuses much less on founding documents and more on foreign policy activities, she comes to a similar conclusion about how the U.S. should act in the world that the Constitution Center arrives at for the domestic front. Namely, because the United States chose to make promoting respect for human rights a foundation of its foreign policy during the Carter administration (of which she was a member), and because much of today's current foreign policy is informed by the idealism of the Wilson and FDR administrations (remember that neo-cons started out as frustrated liberals), the U.S. has a special obligation to ensuring that human rights are protected around the world. She points to the old (yet resonant) rhetoric that the United States is to be a "shining city upon a hill" and though she critiques some of the underlying assumptions that come along with that, in the end she seems to agree with the core premise.

Yet it is these very arguments that make American exceptionalism such a problematic concept. I do tend to agree that certain documents and certain leaders in our nation's past have seen to leave us with a national charge to better ourselves and our fellow human beings. However, our very failure to realize the dream of these core principles at home and the hubris and hypocrisy with which we sometimes conduct our affairs abroad (under administrations of all political persuasions) makes me wonder if it's not just a pile of malarky. Perhaps the the United States, writ large, isn't terribly special. Maybe we were just blessed with a series of particularly visionary leaders who had enough rhetorical skill and popular appeal to ingrain themselves in the national memory, to the extent that one exists. If this is indeed the case, then the U.S. isn't terribly exceptional at all, and may well just be an ordinary country that is just wealthier and larger than most and thus more noticeable. But that potentially cynical perspective still fails to fully answer the question, because failure to live up to an exceptional charge does not necessarily mean that the country and its society (which admittedly is not a unitary, monolithic creature) is not exceptional, but just struggling along a particularly tough road where perhaps the end is still not in reach. This is view is more accepting of a history of oppression at home and arrogance abroad, as these elements become natural obstacles on a path to some enlightened future.

There are certainly other views on American exceptionalism beyond the two I just laid out, but clearly, neither of the ones I have here can really satisfy the questions of 1) is the United States fundamentally unique and 2) if so, why and if not, why not? If we've failed to live up to expectations, that doesn't mean that something better does not lay ahead, and that we should just give up. Likewise, if this is just a particularly difficult chore with which we've been tasked, there is too much room there to excuse too much of the past that are a disgrace to morality and basic human dignity.

I thought both the book and the center were quite well done. Nonetheless, I would have liked to see a greater framing of these particularly complex complexities in both places. The question of exceptionalism gets to the very core of this country's identity (to the extent that social and political constructions can have identities independent of individual perceptions). I certainly do not have the answer to these questions, but they do make for a particularly challenging discourse and precipitate an incredible range of thought.

[Note: I initially started writing this at the end of my trip, but ended up neglecting the draft and the rest of this blog while I dealt with some particularly challenging work events. Hopefully I'll be back up to pace soon. Otherwise, just blame my quietness on a slow, hot summer.]

08 August 2007

Back on topic

I was looking over my most recent entries last night, and realized that I've moved incredibly away from my original focus, which is international post-conflict... stuff. Anyway, let's get back to that with a little humor. You may have seen it before, but now you can enjoy it again.

07 August 2007

Assistance, SVP

I need to learn a bit about micro-finance and micro-business stuff. Not a whole big thing, just a few cases or exemplary works that would help me get a grasp of the subject. If there is a case of a micro-enterprise project in a refugee setting, that would be especially helpful. Thus I'm asking you, my loyal readers, for suggestions of books or articles that might be useful.

As background, I've been asked to advice to a few people I used to work with at the Buduburam Camp in Ghana, as they start a new micro-business initiative. As this isn't really my field, I'm looking for some guidance. If you know of something good, drop me a comment.


05 August 2007

Back from vacation, ha ha

What's that? Oh, yeah, think back to a week ago and imagine me saying "I'm going on vacation." Then again, only 5 people read this anyway, and at least one of them is in Portugal. Anyway, back, I am.

I spent the last half of my week off camping with the boy in Shenandoah NP. Once again, I'm convinced that the national parks are one of the few things the federal government has done mostly right. Yes, they need more money, but still. Incredible places, they are.

I guess this is talk like Yoda night.

Anyway, the downside of camping is that sometimes other people camp around you, and they're unsavory. Last night we had an outbreak of Kappa Sigma Shenandoah, a cool new frat for you to join. This, of course, prompts a public service announcement from me. It goes as follows:

Testicles are not funny. Yes, some bears have them. Some bobcats have them too. A large percentage of human beings also have testicles. Nonetheless, they remain un-funny. People beyond the age of 12 should not laugh at testicle jokes. They're not funny. Similarly, the word sausage is not amusing. Finally, there is no need to repeat a noun multiple times within a single sentence when a pronoun will suffice. This rule especially applies to foods, like chicken or steak. This PSA is rooted in the following known facts about frat types: they are male, most of them have testicles, and many of them eat dead animals. However, none of that is funny either. /PSA

All that aside, seeing a bear up close and in the wild was great fun, though I didn't get the camera out of the bag as it seemed content so long as we didn't make much noise. Hearing a bobcat go after a deer from my tent was mildly more unsettling. Much hiking has been accomplished, and now my legs ache.

And now, with another work week looming, I leave you with this:

24 July 2007

Long lost twins

I was blog reading earlier today, and I saw two things that struck me in whole new ways. The first was a photo of Harriet Miers, and the second was a photo of the late and fabulous Tammy Faye Bakker. I thought to myself, "Hmm... they look strikingly similar." Then I thought, "Yes! Big hair! Fake eyelashes! Eyeliner mishaps!"

That's right kids, Harriet Miers and Tammy Faye Bakker bear a striking resemblance to each other.

Behold the evidence:
Would-be Supreme Court Justice Harriet Miers with her cowboy husband.

Tammy Faye Bakker with her "Jesus saves! (your money for me)" husband.

As an added bonus, not only do they look similarly silly, but they both enjoy the company of slimy bastards that like to fuck people over.

There you have it kids, my revelation of the day.

20 July 2007

AU president announced

As expected, the AU Board named Neil Kerwin as president of the University today. I was at the announcement, which was in an auditorium stuffed to the gills with staff, faculty, and students (plus alumni like me probably blended in). As soon as Kerwin's name was announced, the audience burst into loud applause and cheers that lasted for a few minutes. During his speech, Kerwin promised that a new process of planning for the future would begin soon, which will involve all constituencies on campus. That prompted even more applause. Kerwin also stressed improving governance and transparency. That certainly makes me feel better.

For a good governance geek like me, entering AU right as the Ladner scandal broke was pretty unnerving, and the two years of uncertainty that followed were simply disquieting. I'm glad that has now been resolved. I think this brings the kind of positive closure for my grad school experience that, unfortunately, I didn't get on Smurf Day. All in all, this is a good thing.

Update: Link to news coverage from the Post.

Finally, some progress in the AU president search

The Post gave us this little teaser this morning saying that the recalcitrant American University Board of Trustees might actually bother to pick a president tomorrow, and that it will probably be the interim president the University has already had for two years.

Well gee guys, it's about damn time.

My woes with AU governance started just shortly after I enrolled there as a graduate student. I watched in horror as President Moronic Asshole Thief stole a lot of money, was caught, and then was given severance pay. After all, I was a student rep to the Board of Trustees when I was in college, and I got a nice tutorial in college and university finances. I also enjoyed, and helped improve, a fairly open and transparent system of governance back when I was a lowly undergrad at liberal arts college. That hey day ended as soon as I got to AU, and I realized how good I'd had it before.

I also got really damn pissed off. And I said so. And it got me nowhere. So I shut up. Anyway.

I think Neil Kerwin will be a fine president at AU. He hasn't had a lot of leverage in the past to years, as he's basically been seen as a caretaker, and as the Post reveals, hasn't really been taken seriously by the Board until just recently. But he seems to be an amiable guy. He actually can be seen walking around on campus, smiling and saying hi to people, which is something his predecessor didn't do (probably because his fat ass was being driven around everywhere).

Nonetheless, this search has been run in a smoke-filled room, with as little transparency as humanly possible. Indeed, there were student, faculty, and alumni reps on the search committee, but no one was allowed to talk about anything. The only public forums on the subject dealt with characteristics various constituencies would like to see in a new president, which of course led to a lot of "we'd like someone who isn't a crook, please." I understand being sensitive to candidates' needs to keep things quiet, but I don't think it's unreasonable to at least name the finalists and bring them to campus for general ogling (sans press).

Even this process would have been more tolerable if the Board had been more transparent to begin with. In spite of going through a big governance reform process during 2006, it seems that most changes were cosmetic. Although a student and a faculty member were added to the Board (without vote), the process of selecting those individuals was done completely in private, after the initial solicitation of applications. In short, who the hell knows what the AU Board will do, except the Board itself. It was telling when, after completing its so-called reform, the Senate Finance Committee wrote back and said "not good enough," to which the Board basically responded "tough." Frankly, inviting a couple more people to your meetings and publishing a very, very brief summary of meetings doesn't quite make Board operations transparent. There needs to be actual effective communication back and forth, and in that regard, the AU Board is still seriously lacking.

Nonetheless, I'm excited about tomorrow's announcement. AU left a bad taste in my mouth at the end of two years. While I think it's a fantastic institution academically, the fact that it's managed by idiots/assholes at the highest level rather casts a negative light on the whole thing. If we could get a forward looking president with the genuine best interests of the University in mind, and a Board that is willing to exercise its responsibilities while neither grandstanding nor micromanaging, then things will be in good shape. If Neil Kerwin is given the authority to do that, then I'm all for it. I guess now we wait and see.

17 July 2007

The Official List of People George Bush Hates

So I was reading this weekend about how our beloved president wants to veto the renewal of the children's insurance program, because it doesn't cut enough taxes or some shit. This made me realize that George W. Bush, President of the United States of Dumb Shits Who Voted For Him Twice and the Victims of those Dumb Shits, hates babies. Especially poor ones.

I thought everybody loved babies. Even people like me who can't stand kids love babies.

With these thoughts in mind, I decided to just tick off in my head who else George Bush hates. I've basically come to the conclusion that his goal is to get approval ratings into the single digits (at least). Anyway, here's my list. Feel free to make additions.
  1. Children (see above)
  2. People of color (see the results of his appointments to the Supreme Court, among other things)
  3. Women (ditto)
  4. Old people (turning Social Security into private accounts, adding labyrinthine prescription drug measures to Medicare)
  5. Persons who live in low-lying areas susceptible to hurricanes (Katrina; see also #2)
  6. Congress (ok, so we all do... still)
  7. Poor people (tax cuts for the wealthy! death in a quagmire for your kids!)
  8. The middle class (you got $300, while your boss got a yacht)
  9. Deer, antelope, and the places where they play (ANWR)
  10. The Constitution of the United States (Guantanamo, "domestic surveillance")
  11. The Queers (see the entirety of 2004)
  12. The uninsured (very similar to #7)
  13. Radical, gun-toting border vigilantes that make up his political base (see immigration reform)
  14. Baptists (he's a Methodist, kind of a given)
  15. College students (see ass raper student loan companies running amok)
  16. Americans (see #10)
So there you have it folks. I feel better having gotten that out of my system.

Oh, and PSA for all the manly patriots who will inevitably read this and leave a bitchy, unedited, and largely nonsensical comment: I'm liberal, I'm smug, and I don't like to lose.

14 July 2007

Happy Bastille Day!

Are you an unsatisfied peasant in a regime that thinks of you as merely a source of tax revenue? Are you a middle class merchant who finds your upward mobility hampered by an entrenched and corrupt elite? Did some obnoxious wealthy woman tell you to eat cake when she found out your children were without bread? Will you do absolutely anything to preserve your 35 hour work week and five weeks of vacation?

If any or all of these describe you, storm your nearest fortified prison with a few thousand of your closest friends and make your voice heard!

Alternatively, go out, get really drunk, and watch the French Maid Relay.

13 July 2007

No Tennesseans for president, please

What's that you say? A Tennessean advocating that people not vote for someone from Tennessee? Let me put this in perspective, by sharing with you some brief stories about the three gentleman Tennessee has already sent to the White House.
  1. Andrew Jackson (Seventh President, 1829-1837). Jackson greatly promoted the idea of giving friends government jobs. He also opposed having a central bank, and then ordered the removal of Native Americans from their land and sent them to Oklahoma instead. In memory of this greatness, his visage is on your $20 bill. After all, who needs a monetary policy, and wasn't this country claimed for god or England or something back in 1607?
  2. James K. Polk (Eleventh President, 1845-1849). Polk was an imperialist dude, who annexed Texas, bought what is now the Pacific Northwest, and scammed Mexico into giving up all but a tiny bit of what is now Arizona after a brief and effective, yet totally unnecessary war of aggression aimed at increasing America's resource wealth. That probably all sounds familiar, except for the "winning" part. But again, he gave us Texas, the state that killed Kennedy and sent us a few too many Bushes. At least Polk started and ended his war within one term, and then retired, having had his fun. He promptly died.
  3. Andrew Johnson (Seventeenth President, 1865-1869). Johnson replaced Lincoln, and proceeded to piss off virtually everyone he came in contact with. He also opposed civil rights legislation on more than one occasion. His own cabinet hated him, so Congress forbid him from firing anyone. In a gesture of conciliation, he of course fired the Secretary of War. Congress then impeached his ass on 11 counts, but he was acquitted by one vote. Having managed to somehow not be a member of any political party, nobody nominated him for re-election, so he decided to piss off President-elect Ulysses S. Grant by unilaterally and unconditionally giving amnesty all remaining Confederate soldiers and civilian officials that had failed to swear allegiance to the United States.
Now why do you need this history lesson? Because people keep talking about Al Gore and Fred Thompson running for president. Both of them are from Tennessee. In an even greater irony, Thompson was elected to fill the Senate vacancy created by Al Gore after he became vice-president.

What would a Tennessean do if elected? Why, he would steal your land, kill your relatives, invade a country for no real reason (though he might do that well), piss everybody off, and then screw the country for a century or two. Think of it like you're given a choice between electing one Bush or another, and then think about how much worse the country would be as a result.

There's a reason no one from my state has run the country in over 100 years. Just think about that.

09 July 2007

I thought she retired

Allow me to just go ahead and jump into the chorus of people laughing at Cindy Sheehan's announcement that she'll (maybe) challenge Nancy Pelosi for her seat in Congress in 2008.

Now let me take a moment to prove my bona fides here. I'm just about as anti-Iraq War as they get, and I'll gladly point out the various reasons why that effort was and is both illegal and unethical. I'm not yet a pacifist, but a Quaker education and a degree in peace have pushed me markedly in that direction. Nevertheless, I have a long-standing (though rarely mentioned) beef with Cindy Sheehan (not that I've ever met her).

Plenty of people have gone on about how she's unqualified for this and that, how she takes overly simplistic positions on incredibly complex subjects, etc. I'll leave those arguments to their merits (or lack thereof).

My thing is this. Cindy Sheehan is far too possessive of the "parent of an Iraq War service personnel killed in action" mantel. I hear her story about her son's service and her grief at his loss and it is truly heartbreaking, and certainly one I empathize with. However, through her things like setting up Camp Casey and naming every soldier and marine that's fallen and claiming that they died in vain, she's disrespecting the memories of those individuals. I won't tell her how she should remember her son or what she should feel about his loss. But she shouldn't go around telling the other parents/loved ones to be enraged. Some parents/spouses/children of deceased Iraq veterans believe that their family's victim in the war died honorably, in an honorable cause. No matter how much Cindy Sheehan, or anyone else, feels about the war and its consequences, absolutely no one has the right to challenge people in their grieving. Sheehan should have respected the wishes of those families who did not want their loved one's names displayed at Camp Casey (and elsewhere) and who did not want to be connected with the message she was conveying. She simply cannot rightly claim ownership over and complete understanding of every single U.S. military death in Iraq or Afghanistan, and her claim to speak for all war-dead parents is totally unfounded. It's painfully disrespectful and frankly rude.

Now my faith in any elected representative is virtually nil, and my trust of them is even less existent. This definitely means I don't really like any of them. Nonetheless, I truly wish Speaker Pelosi the best in a potential campaign against Cindy Sheehan. Besides, I thought Sheehan was supposed to have bowed out of public life by now.

05 July 2007

Things to think on

Re: nationalism and patriotism.

Thing one, by Howard Zinn (thanks Daniel).

Thing two, by Anne-Marie Slaughter (thanks to Passport).

Read both things in the order I posted them here, like I did this morning. They inadvertently play off each other, I think. I lean towards Slaughter's position, though Zinn certainly brings up some valid points. Both leave out a few things. Nonetheless, you be the judge of that. I'm just passing on things that made me ponder.

04 July 2007

Happy Independence Day! Please leave your explosives at the door

So it's the anniversary of when we declared the independence of the nation we stole from other people. To mark this splendid occasion, Her Majesty's Government of the country that used to lord over us till we made their last Prime Minister a poodle has announced that it will maybe begin the process of developing a bill of rights, if people sort of want one.

See, America's not all bad.

01 July 2007

Stop misusing this word

As we say in my mother land, I'm "plum sick and tired" of the consistent misuse of the word "reconciliation" that has bounced about the international affairs world in the past six months or so. This most often occurs in the context of discussions of Iraq or Somalia, and in both cases the use is nearly always wrong. For examples, see here (near the end of the article) and here.

What all these politicians actually mean when they use the word reconciliation in either Somalia or Iraq is "cease-fire." That's right, cease-fire. This talk of reconciliation is a ruse. They use reconciliation because terms like cease-fire, armistice, etc., imply that Mr. Shit has met Mr. Fan, and the results aren't so hot.

Who's most responsible for this curious turn of phrase? Why, members of the Bush Administration, of course. We all know how well Iraq has turned out. Somalia, it seems, hasn't gone any better, even when we let Ethiopia fight it as our proxy.

Friends, the end of shooting/bombing/slaughter does not reconciliation make. Nor can reconciliation be agreed to via legislation, as is touted in Iraq, or in negotiations, as have been repeatedly delayed in Somalia. Reconciliation is a society-wide process that involves the pursuit of justice, the identification of truth, the factually informed assignment of historical responsibility, and finally (and most difficult to achieve), the transformation of conflict-generating and conflict-sustaining relationships into mechanisms for peaceable coexistence (see Nadim Rouhana, 2004). All this, quite obviously, cannot be accomplished by 5 or 50 guys sitting around in a room.

As much Somalia would benefit from a cessation of hostilities between the Hawiye and the Darood dominated Government forces, this wouldn't be reconciliation. It would be an end of fighting. Reconciliation could only even begin to come after this crucial step. The same holds true for the various patterns of inter- and intra-group violence seen in Iraq. The various political types that keep preaching this misnamed objective (the UN has gotten on board too, and the media hasn't questioned it), need to state their real short-term desires. They want a cease-fire. Of course, reconciliation can and should remain a goal for both Somalia and Iraq, but first things first.

28 June 2007

Fun with quotes: totally out of context edition

Picture this in a remote podunk down somewhere in the back-ass of the U.S.

Bob said of beating the fags ban: "I have a legal team looking into the legalities at the moment but I am confident."
Go ahead, ponder it.



Real article here. Thanks to DCist for the tip.

23 June 2007

Editor's note

Apologies for the severe lack of blogging of late. Job searching/stressing about job searching sort of inhibited my flow.

But now that's done! I'm officially one of DC's newest cube monkeys.

Now be on the lookout for the resumption of our regularly scheduled blogging, already in progress.

29 May 2007

On Memorial Day

I was reading this piece this morning, and I was reminded of some of my not so distant research on the creation of historical memory after conflict. Admittedly, I haven't looked at much on the importance of memory during conflict, but I was estimate that memorial efforts create more of a public stir when the whole society is engaged in the conflict, which is not the case with the U.S. in Iraq at present.

It's funny how Memorial Day has taken on so many different meanings in it's 150 year or so history. It went from commemorating a moral victory, to remembrance of all war dead, and is now basically an excuse for selling discounted stuff. And yet in some ways the day hasn't lost any of its original meanings, but has rather gained a more multi-faceted identity. For some, the conflict between pro- and anti-slavery forces isn't quite over. Indeed, one could argue that the victory of the Civil War has yet to be consolidated in the form of a truly just and equitable society, given the continuing persistence of economic and social inequalities based upon race. Yet for others, the violent horrors of something so long ago don't really effect them much, and thus it's a good time for a barbecue and some discount shopping. Still others have attached new meanings to Memorial Day to commemorate the loved ones they lost in more recent conflicts. Sadly, a new group has this day, and likely all others, to remember the loss of someone close to them within these past three years.

But if Memorial Day really is about remembering the suffering of war, then how good are we at living up to that mandate? How many of us really stop and think about the U.S. service personnel that have given their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially if we don't really know anyone who's died there? Sadder still, how many of us really think about the innocent civilians that have died in these wars and in others? In today's wars, something like 90 percent of casualties are civilians, which is the complete reverse of 100 years ago. Perhaps the continuing evolution of Memorial Day and similar commemorations will lead us to think about these newer questions.

In any event, m
emorials are essential to any society's dealing with conflict. As Martha Minow (1998: 121) puts it: “what’s needed, paradoxically, is a process for reinterpreting what cannot be made sensible, for assembling what cannot be put together, and for separating what cannot be severed from both present and future.” Memorial Day, along with other days and monuments, will likely continue to give voice to this ongoing struggle.

16 May 2007

Post-graduation survival guide

Congratulations! You've just finished an overpriced and underuseful graduate degree. Here's what you do after the whole walking for the family thing:

That day (Day 0): Have picnic, fly kite, send family back to little circle of hell from whence they came.

Day 1
: Sleep, do silly things, update resume. Toy with the idea of putting initials behind your name on every piece of paper, ever. Drop that idea when you realize you're still just a schmuck. Greet successful, well educated friend at airport and take her to successful, well educated person conference. Help another college friend move and listen to her talk about her job (among other things). Realize you should find one of those job things.

Day 2
: A little more sleep (this is a high maintenance mom visit you're recovering from, after all), inform temp service of new availability. Clean out school bag and place in closet. Find tie you've been missing since December in secret pocket of once and future everyday bag.

Day 3
: Go to new temp assignment. Come home to find first loan bill in mailbox. Shit pants. Call loan company that you never borrowed from but swears you owe them money right now, and inquire "where the fuck is my deferment, bitches?!?" Defer loan. Proceed to panic, but realize you just deferred your loan, and are again in the clear.

Day 4 (tomorrow)
: Begin job search for serious. Contemplate retail therapy, but recall that you're almost out of money. Do more temp work instead.

14 May 2007

Obligatory panda post by yet another DC resident (2)

It seems as though Butterstick should change his name to Buttertub. He's turning out to be a little chunkster! I saw him on Thursday with the parentals, and he was taking an angsty teenager nap, conveniently situated beside the new Asia Trail at the Zoo. Observe (and click for bigger):

Isn't that just a bundle full of precious?

Now back to job hunting and/or reading the Onion.

09 May 2007

Tra la, la la la, la, la la la, la...

Picked up my academic regalia today. It's totally Smurf blue. And the hood? A big red, white and blue panel surrounded by peacock blue (for public/international affairs types), which basically looks like Uncle Sam threw up all over it. But back to the Smurfs.


A Smurf

An AU-SIS MA Recipient

See what I have to look forward to at the asscrack of dawn on Sunday? If only my crazy mother weren't coming (T-minus 20 hours), we could skip all this.

08 May 2007

Blogiversary: Moments of Wisdom

Today is my Blogiversary!
  • We began with little fanfare in my would-be homeland, discussing the time out chair of British politics.
  • Less than two months into the game, we took 5 weeks off, in an effort to save the planet and go on vacation.
  • Nothing at all of note happened for a long time.
  • In January, I grew tired of Election 2008, and it had only begun.
  • In March, express noted that apparently the Wall Street Journal agrees with me on how governance changes are seriously needed at the Smithsonian, but just like at AU (a school I dearly depart in 5 days), they probably won't happen.
  • Also in March, I told you all how to go get shot up in Iraq. DCBlogs thought this information was worth sharing with you.
  • In April, I tried to make a funny. Somebody got pissed off at me. I shot them down. This amuses me greatly. Woe be unto idiot commenters.
  • Finally, just last week, I whored myself out to the world. :)
So there you have it kids. This blog has been a waste of your time and mine for at least 365 days. Four more wars!!! Er... years...

06 May 2007

This is the big one Elizabeth! I'm comin' to join ya honey.

T-minus one week till the end of my graduate education. After that, sweet freedom, and being a productive member of society. I don't yet know what all that entails, but I do know this:

Step one: Find job.

You interested? I'm smart, I'm cute, and I know stuff. I can also add quaint Appalachian colloquialisms to your vocabulary. Them's qualifications, right?

04 May 2007

I think Time missed a few

I was browsing Time's list of the world's 100 most influential people, and I couldn't help notice a gap. In the "scientists and thinkers" section, I counted only two non-scientists, one of whom was Al Gore. If they're going to do that, why not just name it the scientists section, and move on? I don't mean to discount the work of the individuals who made the list in that category. Each seemed to be engaged in incredibly remarkable work that will have a lasting impact in the world. Yet I wonder about how we value the hard sciences over other disciplines.

It seems (and I read about or watched something on this somewhere, but who knows what or when) that our society places a huge value on the sciences over and above other academic pursuits. Maybe it's because scientists often talk about things that most of us can't grasp, and thus we just assume they're smarter. But what about in other fields?

There are the historians who uncover new information about times long past, and thereby change our perception of our historical narrative. There are the anthropologists who help us to understand how our cultures function and how various dynamics swirl all around us. There are religious scholars and philosophers who explore the world's burning and potentially eternal questions with the same vigor as their scientists colleagues. There are political scientists who help us conceive of new concepts aimed at ensuring that our common humanity is respected and revered within the global community. There are writers, artists and musicians who craft their works in ways that move us. There are the peace scholars who show us how our world can grow, change, and be better for us all.

All of these endeavors are just as important as scientific studies, and, some of the resulting concepts are just as difficult for newcomers to grasp. This work should be recognized, valued and celebrated just as much as the sciences. Understanding our world is far too complex a task to be left to just a handful of disciplines. It's a common journey that requires an array of approaches in the hopes that maybe, just one day, we'll figure it out.

02 May 2007

Support UN peacekeeping

Excuse me for a moment while I blather on like an activist.

The time has come for Congress to debate the foreign affairs budget, which of course includes funding to the United Nations, including peace operations. The Better World Campaign and the United Nations Association of the United States of America have teamed up to create a website, the Price of Peace, where you can learn more about peacekeeping and sign a petition to your Congress member asking for continuing support of peace operations.

UN peacekeeping is vital in many countries emerging from conflict, as it provides security and stability and thus allows for the development of peaceful political discourse. Peacekeeping is not without its problems, though on the whole the operations have had significant successes. There are currently over 100,000 peacekeepers stationed worldwide, with many more coming if missions in Darfur and Lebanon reach their authorized strength, as well as talks now underway about a mission in Somalia. The United States doesn't have a particularly stellar record when it comes to meeting its obligation to the peacekeeping budget, even though such missions are vital to American interests abroad.

Take a minute to visit the website and sign the petition, which is now linked in the sidebar here. If you're skeptical or want to learn more about peace operations, I recommend reading an introductory article here, and visiting one of these sites:

Center on International Cooperation: Global Peace Operations
Henry L. Stimson Center: Future of Peace Operations Program
Challenges of Peace Operations Project
Partnership for Effective Peacekeeping

25 April 2007

And now I direct you towards a lovely poem

Remember when I got old and cranky not so long ago? A friend of mine picked up on the theme of the "me generation" again last week. Now, another friend has unrelatedly written a poem for Earth Day, which also picks up on the "me" theme, and which you should read.


24 April 2007

Communist plot stymied! Butterstick stays!

In fabulous news this morning, we learn that Tai Shan, nee Butterstick, won't be deported this year. We'll probably get another two years of cuddly rumbly fun with him.

Personally, I think that since Butterstick was born in the U.S., he's entitled to American citizenship, and thus shouldn't even be threatened with deportation. Of course, anti-immigration types are gonna bitch about an unending sea of pandas pouring across our borders to get free health care and good educations for their cubs. These people are clearly deranged and hate children, puppies, and the American way. Nonetheless, look for a silly proposal to build a 700 mile wall along our border with China sometime in the near future. I think Tian Tian and Mei Xiang have earned their keep, and should be entitled to some sort of guest worker status. They did, after all, provide millions of Americans with the chance to view the cutest baby ever.

21 April 2007

I'm here, but distracted

Sorry for the lack of posts lately, kids. I'm busy finishing my final project so I can graduate and move onto a new life completely lacking in promise or fulfillment. :) This endeavor will take me a few more days to complete (at least in draft form).

In the meantime, there are two fun things in the world you should pay attention to:

First, we have the elections going on in Nigeria. Now if these go well, and aren't totally rigged, all will be good. If, however, these go badly, and are totally rigged, shit will probably go down. And that means lots of things, including higher gas prices for the American driving public. So far, so shaky.

Second, we have elections going on in France this weekend. It'll be curious to see who emerges for the second round of voting next month. The Post ably pointed out this morning how France continues to play a major role in the world, but how the French feel their nation is in steep decline.

Entertain yourself with these fun events. I'm gonna get back to frantically writing now. The woman riding a Segway up and down Harvard Street, though, is a distraction. I'll be back after Tuesday.

16 April 2007

Fun quotes from foreign policy land

First up to bat, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, talking about why she won't run for president:
I understand American politics very badly. I've always said I'm much better at understanding international politics than American politics. I just know that I've got a job to do for the rest of this president's term. That's what I'm concentrating on. . . . I haven't thought much about it myself. I'm thinking more about these days how to get other people to hold elections that are free and fair around the world.
Well gee golly, Condi. Your stellar grasp on international politics has led to a quagmire, a resurgent Tali-terrorist threat, a nuclear North Korea, and a really really cranky Iran. Top that all off with a completely stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process and a now four-year old genocide in Darfur. As for getting other people to hold those free and fair elections, I have two questions: 1) Florida and Ohio, much? and 2) the current elections in Nigeria, from whom we buy a lot of oil, are turning out to be a smashing success, aren't they?

If this is what your excellent command of international politics gets us, I'm quite glad you're refraining from giving us your thoughts on Social Security and immigration reform. Lord knows they'd be stunning policy failures that would make your current boss look brilliant.

Now let's move on to round two, with General John J. Sheehan (USMC, Ret.), talking about why he turned down the job of coordinating the Iraq and Afghanistan wars among several government agencies (which, by the way, is the National Security Advisor and President's job):
It would have been a great honor to serve this nation again. But after thoughtful discussions with people both in and outside of this administration, I concluded that the current Washington decision-making process lacks a linkage to a broader view of the region and how the parts fit together strategically. We got it right during the early days of Afghanistan -- and then lost focus. We have never gotten it right in Iraq. For these reasons, I asked not to be considered for this important White House position. These huge shortcomings are not going to be resolved by the assignment of an additional individual to the White House staff. They need to be addressed before an implementation manager is brought on board.
Translation: "Not gonna do it. Wouldn't be prudent." Alternatively, the Administration is clueless and they're not gonna find some savior for their debacles until they figure out just what purpose their debacles serve.

Good choice, General. Besides, you're probably making way more money in the private sector anyway, and probably also have time to see your family. Lack of family time has been a key motivator for those jumping off the H.M.S. WhiteHousePanic.

There you have it folks. We're totally fucked, and nothing will change until we get some personnel changes at the top, and/or an infusion of intellectual capital in the capital.

09 April 2007

Slight chlorine taste?

Thanks, Army Corps of Engineers, for dumping every YMCA, YWCA, and other public pool into DC's water supply.

We all remember (or not) that little blurb last week about the chloramine in the water being replaced with straight chlorine for a month. In a brazen move yesterday, I took a brief sip of tap water, only to feel like I'd taken a brief sip of bleach. I then turned on my shower, and instantly my little bathroom smelled like a public pool. The scent didn't dissipate either.

Yay! for a month of DC residents smelling like professional swimmers. I hope we all enjoy.

Sidebar: I woke up this morning to a car sitting perpendicular across the sidewalk on Harvard Street, at a bus stop. Harvard Street in one way in my neighborhood, and there are no driveways or anything else to turn into on the right side, given there's a huge retaining wall along the sidewalk. A cop investigated for awhile (couldn't see a car owner), then it got towed off. If anyone has any information about his bizarre development, or wild speculation about people parking on sidewalks, I'm curious.

08 April 2007

A weekend of bad Africa policy

Yesterday we got the lovely news that there may be a major food crisis for impoverished Zambians unless aid groups get a swift infusion of cash to buy food, which is, admittedly, available. However, the money for such a move is most readily available from the U.S. (or Europe), but U.S. law insists that food aid be purchased in America, not local producers. In spite of shockingly reasonable and appropriate Bush administration proposals to change the law, at least for dire circumstances like this one, Congress under both parties refuses to do so. Their rationale is that the bottom would fall out of corporate America's support for international aid, because they would no longer get rich off it, and we all know the general population doesn't care.

So there's that.

Then today we get the joyous news that the U.S. allowed the Ethiopians to buy military equipment from North Korea, after sanctions against such purchases had been put in place at U.S. insistence. Granted, few countries still produce parts that are compatible with old Soviet tanks, and those that do are probably also vile human rights violators, but, still. This revelation makes the whole War on Terror thing seem even more like the Cold War. In this case, alleged terrorists in Somalia were our enemy, and the Ethiopians didn't like them either, so Ethiopia is our friend and we should give them the leverage to do whatever they need to fight terror. Even if that means violating the very sanctions we wrote. Meanwhile, State Department lackies are gingerly suggesting that Ethiopia find a new supplier, which they've been doing for over a year.

And what caps it all off? Assistant Secretary of State (and official useless mouthpiece) Jendayi Frazer went to Somalia to express support for the recently beleaguered Somali government. She made no mention of the revelation that Somali, Ethiopian, and perhaps also African Union forces committed war crimes during last week's campaign against Islamic Courts loyalists (or, perhaps more precisely, anti-government fighters resisting perceived clan favoritism). I'm pretty sure open messages of support for weak governments by the United States will only make said governments weaker, given the super popularity of the U.S. at present.

07 April 2007

Conversations on weather

Me (waking up in the middle of the night): It's snowing out. Shit.

Later (like, 9:30)...

E: Come on, get up.
Me: No.
E: But it's snowing!
Me: I'm morally opposed to snow in April.
E: It's supposed to snow some more this afternoon.
Me: Then I guess I'll sleep all day.
E: Why don't you like the snow?
Me: It will keep the Easter Bunnies from doing their work.
E: So we'll send in snow bunnies.
Me: The snow bunnies are otherwise engaged in Alaska and Canada. You can't deprive the poor children of northern climates just because this town can't handle snow.
E: Then we'll have Buster do it.
Me: Buster hates snow.
E: No he doesn't. He eats it and plays in it.
Me: When we brought snow in for him, he just ignored it.
E: Buster loves snow!

31 March 2007

Obligatory cherry blossom post by yet another DC resident

As promised, pics from my sunset cherry blossoming adventure. Be advised that I'm no photographer, and that these may well suck. Anyway, enjoy at your leisure.

We begin with tulip magnolias outside the Sackler Gallery.

Stalking Washington.

Blossoms overhead.

Stalking Jefferson.

Cascade in the Fourth Room, FDR Memorial.

Four Freedoms, Night.

Should you desire further torture, check out my photobucket.

In which I temporarily become a 60 year old man

I played tourist tonight, and hit the Tidal Basin for some sunset cherry blossom excitement (pics to come). I did the usual bit -- walking down the mall, around the TB towards the Jefferson Memorial, and continued on. It wasn't too terribly crowded, though it was hairy in a few spots. It was starting to get dark by the time I got to the FDR Memorial, which, being one of my two favorite memorials in town, I perused again -- from the beginning, not the end, like a good person. The quotes and stones and water features tell a story, and you can't really read it backwards. After snapping a few shots of some of the fountains and falls, and taking a moment to sort of sink into the gravity of the end of the Second World War and the weight of the Four Freedoms engraved in the wall, I continued on my way. I decided then to visit the Korean War Memorial, my other favorite. Both my grandfather's were in the military during that conflict, one in the Navy and one in the Army. Fortunately, they never actually got deployed to Korea proper (though the one in the Navy did patrol the East China Sea a lot). In their honor, I wrote my senior thesis in college about the ceasefire negotiations during that war. The best compliment I ever got from anyone was when the two of them agreed, "that's pretty much how we remember it."

Anyway, my point...

By the time I got to the Korean War Memorial, I had encountered the hordes of middle school spring break trip groups. Near the pool near the top of the memorial, I saw a park ranger sit down and look sullen. He was probably about 60 or so, and just looked down. Indeed, one lady even asked if he was OK. I sat on the same bench for awhile, staring in a different direction, losing myself in thought. The kids were atrocious. One group was being led by a teacher with a toy light saber. "The statues are creepy!" The photos etched on the wall "look like ghosts."

Of course they look like ghosts. The people in those pictures (though slightly altered) represent the service members who died in that war. The statues of soldiers marching up the hill look scared because war is scary. It's not all pressed uniforms and shiny medals and big planes. It's people slogging through mud and dust killing and getting killed. It's the worst of humanity. Too often these days, wars are fought by children, and the dead are civilians, not soldiers. Just when we thought we'd hit our lowest point, we keep going lower.

And these kids don't get it. I fear they never will. Hell, my own generation doesn't get it, and some of us are being sent to fight and die for a ludicrous cause as we speak. But it doesn't touch us, really. Sure, the price of gas has gone up, but most of my friends don't have cars, so that doesn't really have much effect either. In a way, it's good that young people in America don't know what war is like. Not the huge, commit the country to the fight kind of wars of years past. But these privileged, sheltered kids don't get it. They're running around, trampling over things, screaming, yelling obscenities, and are completely untouched by trouble. For the most part, the kids tonight were white, looked relatively affluent, and probably suburban. It's not so much bothersome that they've never been touched by war, it's that they don't seem to know hardship at all.

I saw a book at the bookstore the other day entitled The "Me" Generation. I don't want to be a part of that. My grandparents grew up in the Depression in rural Tennessee. They had nothing. Literally nothing. Food was grown in the backyard, and what you couldn't grow or raise yourself, you couldn't have. While my childhood was leaps and bounds beyond that, there was still struggle involved. As a teenager, I worked after school and on weekends, and my single mother worked two jobs. We still had trouble making ends meet. If not for a scholarship, I wouldn't have gone to college. And yet in spite of that, the notion was still pounded into my head, primarily by my grandparents, that I needed to serve. There's a world out there bigger than me or anybody else, and I need to do my part, even if it's something small.

When Tom Brokaw released his book, The Greatest Generation, I was pretty incensed. I was young, idealistic, etc, (OK, I'm still those things), and thought perhaps it was premature to proclaim the greatest generation. But maybe it wasn't. Maybe it's time for the "Me" generation. Maybe there was a time when the country came together to do something big and with broad perspective, and maybe that just won't happen again. But I hope not.

28 March 2007

Smithsonian Board takes governance lessons from AU

Our great national museum is doomed to never change. After the ouster of Lawrence Small (whose expenses have been described as Ladner-esque, a term I hope doesn't enter local parlance) as head of the Smithsonian, its Board of Regents did exactly what the American University Trustees did a little over a year ago: they created a governance committee! And what do governance committees do?

They say the problems are so big that they can't possibly be resolved until well after the media feeding frenzy is over. They may eventually call for some token transparency to appease the still-incensed, but only after at least six months have passed. After that, it's back to closed-off smoke-filled rooms to find a new leader who will again be allowed to run amok. Nothing will be done to address institutional culture or repair the broken processes that allowed for such gross misspending to occur.

Corruption doesn't exist in a vacuum, especially not at the top. If a leader is tossed out for ridiculously abusing his expense account, you can probably bet that somebody somewhere down the chain is following the dear leader's example, and will probably be the first to speak up and say the problem was only at the top. Maybe, maybe the Regents of the Smithsonian will really learn from AU and see that token change isn't good enough. If not, I hope that they at least raise the ire of Chuck Grassley and company, who, at least in AU's case, weren't too shy to say that proposed reforms weren't good enough.

And now, cue the wild speculation about who the next Smithsonian Secretary will be. For the record though, former Mayor Anthony Williams has yet to be named AU's president, so careful with the speculation.