Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Lost Art

My dad and I just watched this video of Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis Junior tapdancing. I'm speechless and utterly entertained.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Not Reading

Currently I am sitting in my room, drinking a glass of rioja (fine-- a bottle), reading about the British war effort in 1940.

I'm going to miss this someday.

My routine for the last three months has been surprisingly consistent. At the moment, I'm sick of it, but I imagine that I will look fondly upon it at a later time.

Considering that I have class on Thursdays and Fridays, I spend every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday preparing for class, sitting in my room at my desk reading articles and books listed in the course reading list. During the day, I procrastinate and maybe bang out an article or two. But the action, the action dear reader, happens at night. Come 9pm, I throw a sweater or collared shirt on (it gets unbearably cold in my room at night-- a very Poe-esque detail), sit at my desk, open my laptop, turn my notebook to a blank page, uncap my fountain pen (yes, I use a fountain pen), breathe, and start reading.

Naturally, I find any opportunity to pause in my studies. A trip to the grocery store, a sudden urge for a cup of tea (my masters degree is a tribute to the humble peppermint leaf), a quick check of the news, a random blog post...

Recently, the main light went out in my room, and being a Romantic era-inspired guy, I refuse to change it. Instead, I use a small lamp precariously perched on the upper right hand corner of my desk. It provides the perfect amount of inspiring Victorian light as it's the closest thing I have to a overflowing wax-magma candle in a pewter holder. If I could wear a smoking jacket and waistcoat, I would. The tricky part is pinching the monocle between my eyebrow fat and my cheekbone.

So here I sit, getting progressively more drunk with each academic argument. I like to think this is something Churchill would have done. As a matter of honesty, I've been reading quite a bit about Churchill recently. I don't necessarily like the guy (too "Help the brown man; strengthen the British Empire" for my taste), but ya gotta admire his charm. It reminds me of a great story that is probably fake:

After delivering his famously slurred "We will fight them on the beaches" speech, a lady MP approached Churchill and exclaimed something like "Mr. Churchill, you are drunk!" To which Churchill replied, "Yes madam I am drunk, but in the morning I shall be sober-- and you will still be ugly." It's even funnier if you imagine Eliza Doolittle as the lady MP.

Well, I must get back to the books. Studies await. Knowledge eagerly anticipates absorption. History begs for discovery! Tomes of the ancients stir from their bibliographic slumber! Pages need writing! Ink shall be spilled!
To pens, Gentlemen! To pens!

Where in the World is... Osama bin Laden?

General McChrystal believes that capturing or killing ObL is a key in the war in Afghanistan. I agree. But, I gotta tell you, I don't think we're going to find him. That's because, in my opinion, he's not in Afghanistan and he's not in Pakistan. Let's go to the map:

Bin Laden escapes from NATO forces in Tora Bora in 2001 and hasn't been seen since. That was 8 years ago. If he is interested in any degree of self-preservation, he would get the hell out of Dodge, because either the US will find him or there is always the possibility that the Pakistanis find him and offer him as a prize to the US. Consequently, aid shoots through the roof, Pakistan is praised as a stalwart ally in the region-- Pakistan sticks its tongue out at India and grabs a hold of America's hand as the two walk into the sunset together.

Some possible scenarios:

Option 1. Bin Laden escapes the region. He has to go through either Iran or the Central Asian dictatorships-- I mean, republics. Right. Would the Iranians give him safe passage, assuming he was identified or outright asked their permission? Well, yeah I think. Our boy Ahmadinejad might pull a little historical lesson out of his pocket: The US helped the Mujahideen in Afghanistan to make the occupation more costly for the Soviets. A-mad, by granting bin Laden safe passage out of the region, could effectively accomplish the same thing against the Americans. From there, bin Laden either goes to Africa (Ethiopia perhaps), which isn't too likely. I'd say he goes back to Saudi Arabia.

WHA! But the Saudis are our allies! Well yeah, but no, kind of. It's no secret that the Saudis fund Pakistani madrassas that teach Wahhabi Islam (the brand of radical, ultra-fundamentalist Islam that al Qaeda and the Taliban subscribe to [and notably, much of the Islamic world scorns]) in Afghanistan. Effectively, they play a double game: Let Americans overthrow Saddam (a secularist dictator not interested in forming an Iraqi Islamic Republic), let the Americans save Kuwait (a fellow OPEC member and regional neighbor)-- but undercut the Americans in Afghanistan. It sort of makes sense, from a Saudi perspective. With bin Laden safe in Saudi Arabia, he can continue to fund Al Qaeda, receive medical attention, and generally be an unreachable pain in the ass for the US. Plus, with the Saudi brand of near complete control of all aspects of society, we will not find him if he is there.

Option 2. He's dead. Yeah. He died a few years ago. Just sitting on a rock, picking his fingernails, then-- poof. Dead. Natural or napalm, it makes no difference. But if we never confirm his death or find a body or grave, much like the 12th Imam for Shi'i, he will continue to influence the movement, attain a saintly status, and never go away.

Option 3. He's still in Af/Pak. That's pretty dumb.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Live It Up

The inimatable, ever charming, Michael Caine talks about Texan accents and growing old.

"The great thing about growing old is that you haven't got an alternative. The only alternative is death, so you might as well be cheerful and have the greatest possible life you can have. I always meet people who are living as though it's a rehearsal and the show's gonna be later, and I feel like saying 'This is the show! This is it, it's not the rehearsal. Look, you've got the costume on!'"

Because Pee Wee Says So

Somewhere deep in an underground bunker, under thousands of feet of concrete, miles below the thriving metropolis, a group of concerned activists gather to discuss a growing societal fissure:

"It's everywhere. On the streets, in the schools, on top of urinals. It's in the goddamn currency for christsake!"
"I don't know Bill, I think you're overreacting."
"I'm not overreacting dammit! We're at war, and desperate times calls for desperate housewives!"
"Thousands of tons."
"Listen, we need a public offensive. A new front in the war. I'm talking shock and awe."
"You don't mean..."
"I do."
"But he's a rogue. A loose cannon! He's unpredictable! He shot it up in a 'movie' theatre for crying out loud!"
"He's the best option we've got."
"Are you sure you want to do this."
"Positive. The kids look up to him and the parents fear him. It's the only option we've got."

"Get me Pee Wee Herman."

I present to you, a PSA about the dangers of crack-- starring Pee Wee Herman.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Yes, Minister Mullah Omar?

I just attended a "Tea and Conversation" event on campus hosted by the LSE Afghanistan Development Society (of which, I am a member). A woman who works with Amnesty International for Women's Rights was the speaker, but the conversation covered most aspects of modern Afghanistan. The most insightful comment came at the end:

She said that the United States' policy of opening the possibility of negotiating with the Taliban is undermining the fight against the Taliban and hurting the Afghan populace.

Imagine this: you are an Afghan farmer in Kandahar. The US just said that they might bring the Taliban into the political process, yet they are fighting the Taliban at the same time. So, you must make a choice. Either remain passive to the Taliban now, or rise up against them. The US is looking for you to rise up against the Taliban. However, what if the Taliban become part of the government and the man who you were fighting against is now the governor? Historical amnesia is a rarity.

Should you remain passive, you and your family are subjected to the horrors that are associated with Taliban rule, namely, nearly zero women's rights, a radically strict interpretation of Sharia law (ban on music, dancing, and just about anything that impedes a strict observance of Wahhab Islam), and a flourishing opium trade to name but a few.

It is a no win situation. Either be an enemy of the Taliban now and suffer, and, if the US introduces the Taliban into the system, be remembered as the enemy of the current governor; or remain passive, further strengthening the Taliban and giving them the edge they need to take power forcefully. Or join the Taliban (or at least passively support them), and become the target of NATO bombs.

Despite what think tanks produce, bringing terrorist organizations into the political process is not always a good way of moderating their views, it seems. Or, if you'll allow me to contradict myself, perhaps the situation I just described is a necessary transition in order to bring the Taliban into the government, and then, if they want to have a chance in hell of getting any of their goals achieved, they would have to moderate their views.

The Great Game never ended.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Downfall of Grammar

And for all of you Grammar Nazis out there, this one is for you.

...Or How I Learned to Love the Ice-Melt

I don't usually think like this, but I started thinking like an economist today.

In the shower (naturally) I was thinking about global warming and the associated email scandal dubbed Climategate (which is a stupid name. [If you are interested in a very witty play, look for a copy of "Mastergate: A Play on Words." Even the title is a pun. It's brilliant]). Climategate, from my point of view, is irrelevant, because global warming is a proven fact. Maybe the source is natural, cyclical warming of the Earth and not man-made. I didn't give a shit (in the shower). I was thinking, "How can I make money off of global warming?"

I'm not sure why I thought of this, but I'm sure I'm not the first to think of it. There are plenty of sick bastards out there who capitalize on every disaster or catastrophe. Let's just make it a thought experiment.

How to make money off of global warming:
1. Fact- Sea levels will rise due to the polar ice caps melting.
Analysis- The future water shortage problem is fixed!
Solution- Invest in desalinization technology. If I can take all the extra water, pull out the salt, and sell it, I could be a rich man.

2. Fact- It's gonna get hotter.
Analysis- People need to cool off...
Solution- Swimming pools! Ok, admittedly I'm not as excited about this one. I'm trying, people.

3. Fact- Glacial retreat.
Analysis- More usable land in Greenland.
Solution- Northern Excursions Tourism, Ltd.

4. This might not make sense, but hear me out: FEMA sucks. That was proven. Apparently, the government (or the past administration) can't handle the logistics of disaster relief. Now, this might sound crazy, but what if disaster relief was subcontracted? What if there were government contracts to specialized, licensed companies to provide relief? Would it save taxpayers' money? I have no idea, but I think it might. It would only be in the interest of the company to maximize efficiency, while the government has, to my untrained eye, basically unlimited money (700 billion dollars for stimulus sort of came out of nowhere). So, given the capital and necessary legislation, I would start an international disaster relief organization. It fulfills a moral fuzzy feeling to boot.

Ok, I'm scaring myself. Forget everything you read.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Flaking Out

As I stood in line at the Sainbury's, I decided that I was going to be environmentally friendly and not accept a paper bag for my purchase. I am perfectly capable of carrying it outside.

Once outside, I immediately regretted my decision. I walked about 300 meters carrying a box of Bran Flakes under my arm.

Got the visual?

I felt like an ass.

Can you imagine a more unattractive commodity to carry in public, unbagged, than Bran Flakes? Carrying a box of cereal is one thing ("Geez, I guess this guy really likes his cereal, considering it's the only thing he bought."), but Bran Flakes is quite another ("Geez, I guess this guy has compacted bowels or something.") I felt like the box should have been wrapped in porn magazine black plastic. It might have hidden my shame-- or at least tricked others into thinking it was more interesting than Bran Flakes.

Don't get me wrong: I like Bran Flakes. I mean, I really like them. Good firm texture. Perfect balance of milk soakage to milk deterrence, thereby avoiding soggy slop. Bargain value weight to volume ratio. But, I don't go parading the stuff around like Johnny Appleflakes. It's just not civil.

So I walked, in daylight, down High Holborn with my Bran Flakes tucked ashamedly underneath my left armpit, trying to look as casual as I could and trying not to look fellow pedestrains in the eye.