Khongoryn Els, Mongolia 2005
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27 March 2013
Back in the USA
After eight months in Australia, in a few hours I will be on Qantas again. A return visit to Colorado for an event closing out Phase 2 of my bioterrorism study, and then on to ISA in San Francisco. I am looking forward to finally getting my hands on my book, and you can too on the Foreign Fighters page. Updates to come...
31 December 2012
Lucky ’13 in the Lucky Country
A momentous 2012 has only hours left in it as I write this. Perhaps my New Year’s Resolution should be to blog more on my own site.
I managed to read only one new book for pleasure in 2012: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. I did purchase a copy of Seven Pillars of Wisdom though, and I hope to at least begin it in 2013.
I also just attended my first movie since February 2008, before Erica was born, and it was the French animated film A Monster in Paris, which I recommend for kids of all ages. It was Erica’s first movie and my first 3-D feature. I was also very impressed by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Federation Square – perhaps another museum I’ll have to join.
I wrote a dozen blogs or articles for The Conversation (link in the preceding post) and have made a number of TV and radio appearances in the past two months, on everything from Australia’s version of CNN to talk about the US elections, to its version of the Daily Show to talk about North Korean missiles and American guns. Maybe there will be some chance to talk about my area of research expertise – foreign fighters – when the book comes out. (They’re creating the page proofs at this time.)
I will confess to missing a lot of little, mostly unanticipated things about America. But Melbourne has everything you could ask for except constant good weather. I understand that it’s cyclone (hurricane) season up in Queensland, but I’m hoping for a little beach time (and hopefully sailing) in the Whitsundays in a couple of weeks.
Best Wishes to all for a safe and happy 2013!
8 October 2012
Several Months Later…
It was not my intention to go dark for more than half a year, but it has certainly been (and continues to be) a busy time. The bottom line is that I am doing fine in Melbourne and very much enjoying working at UoM, and that the foreign fighters book is still in editorial production.
Back in June I was going to write a post titled “Closure” that would essentially have been a big victory lap around Colorado before taking off for Australia. But then a member of my family was diagnosed with a chronic health issue and a number of things went by the wayside. The house had fortunately sold at a reasonable price by this point, but the massive Colorado Springs wildfires were too close for comfort. Not what I expected when I wanted to leave with a bang. Maybe insufficient tax revenue to afford a robust fire department is not such a good idea after all, Springs.
Despite everything, we got out of town smoothly and managed to be everywhere needed for the next 3 weeks of non-stop travel around the Western US, starting with Yellowstone National Park and ending with Disneyland. (My first time at the California Adventure Park and I really recommend it.) It was necessary to kill time because it took from June 27 til September 7 for all of our things to travel from Colorado Springs to Melbourne.
Everyone made it safely Down Under, including Elvis who spent 30 days in an animal quarantine facility and came out clean and well-rested while everyone else was struggling to get set up. We arrived at the beginning of a very rainy (winter) August without a car, and it was a month before we were able to get a rental house, just in time for the end of our time as guests at Queens College, the dog coming out of quarantine and our furniture arriving. It was October before we were able to get home internet, tv, and smart phones access. That’s a big impediment to blogging right there.
I am enjoying teaching the Masters in International Security class and now taking on students to supervise for research. I have a beautiful view of campus out of my office window and great colleagues.
I am also a contributor to The Conversation, Australia’s academic and research sector news source. So if you want to check out my posts to the team blog for USA 2012 or listen to a podcast where I play pundit, please visit:
As things quiet down I will be back more often…
Advance, Australia Fair!
I am very pleased to announce that I have accepted a position as Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Melbourne. In January I made my third trip to Oz, although it was my first visit to Melbourne. I really enjoyed my short visit to the dynamic multicultural metropolis, which did not need the added glitz of both the Australian Open and the Chinese New Year of the Dragon taking place while I was in town to win me over. Melbourne Uni is a great institution with great people, and I appreciate their giving me the opportunity to continue their top ranking through my work. If all goes well with the visas we should be Down Under by the end of July.
19 February 2012
Step away for a couple of months, and look what happens. This site celebrated its 5th anniversary on New Year's Day and has passed
25,000 26,000 hits. The very small investment I've put into it in time and cash has paid off tremendously, as my Google presence has led to new colleagues, friends, publications and other professional opportunities.
In fact, there is some very big news coming soon...
29 December 2011
The Circle Game
2011 was a tumultuous year in the world, from the Arab Spring to the death of UBL, from the Euro crisis to the Occupy movement going global. It was a transformative year for my family as well, beginning with birth of a child and ending with the passing of my father-in-law and me getting pneumonia while traveling between Boca Raton for the funeral and Cabo San Lucas for an early 1st birthday celebration. (I’m OK) In between I had the chance to travel to a number of places I’d never visited or hadn’t seen for many years. There were a couple of big feathers added to my professional cap, including winning the bioterrorism grant and creating the Honors Program at CSU, but most important from my perspective was being awarded a book contract by Oxford University Press for my dissertation work on foreign fighters. I could not have done any of these things alone. 2012 portends to be another big year for the Malets, so I’m closing out 2011 by resting my lungs and catching my breath. (And of course working on an article.)
Books I read in 2011:
Writing out the Notes
The Captive Mind
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Journey to the Center of the Earth
On Halloween I finally created a Facebook account. The next day was the start of a 3 year study on public risk communication that I had designed, and part of it involved sending messages out to participants by various media, and particularly social media. Even if I didn’t want a Facebook account, my partners at the Pueblo City/County Health Department had created a group for communication with participants, and I had to be able to monitor it. So I took the plunge at last.
I was a bit leery at the insistence that my birthdate was required, and also at the fact it suggested all these people I would know, presumably from scanning my Google contacts. When I started to put in information about universities I had attended and class years and it began to suggest more information based on my presumed interest and more people I might know I realized that I had a choice. I could either embrace the beast or be a Facebook wallflower. I chose the latter.
In addition to privacy concerns, I flat out don’t have the time to keep up with Facebook. Between the home life with the two little kids and work where I’m also creating two minors (degree programs that is), I never have time to call friends. I’m lucky if I can blog once a month. So I decided that now that I had an account it would be used for professional services. I uploaded my professional photo, where I work and where I received my PhD and that was it. Nothing cool, no personal information, no updates, no asking anyone to be my friend. Hopefully people would look at this site or connect with me through LinkedIn.
Right away, three people friended me. One was actually an outstanding request that I accepted. Other people have tried over the years, but I didn’t have an account and presumably those invitations had expired. These were all people I knew, but after 10 days nobody else has asked to be my friend. Maybe it’s my eerily feel-good information free profile. The next thing that happened was that I learned that none of the 50ish government and emergency response personnel participating wanted to receive updates through Facebook. They all just wanted emails. So I didn’t need to create the account at this time. Ironically, there was subsequently some interest from participants in creating a LinkedIn group instead. Oh well. Finally, I’ve started receiving emails from Facebook every other day telling me that by not logging in I’m missing out on updates from one of my contacts, my first cousin once-removed who is a retired schoolteacher, either because she’s the most recent of the three or because she’s first alphabetically. So now I have Facebook harassing me for not logging in often enough – I wasn’t anticipating that one.
It’s possible that I might relax and loosen up and start putting information about my interests and all that on there someday. Maybe soon after I have time to learn how to get podcasts or finally load some music onto my iPhone that I’ve had for three years. But I have a baby diary in which I’ve not entered anything and she’s almost a year old. And then there are the years of photos I keep promising to organize into albums – and to start creating albums digitally instead of ordering photos. And there are good friends with whom I have not spoken for months or even years, and I want to actually talk to them and not just read about them like I’m following a celebrity in a tabloid. Is it the personal relationships we’re sacrificing by trying to communicate with everyone at once?
In other work related news, my university is now approving a Homeland Security Studies Minor exactly two years after the creation of the Certificate program. And the Honors Program is now going to be a Minor as well. And I have to hire an administrative assistant. Of course there are some articles that need to be written or rewritten as well.
I was surprised when I was teaching my Human Conflict class (few of whom are Political Science majors) the Marxism lesson how sympathetic many or most of them appeared to be to his arguments. I’m not sure if any of them had studied Marx before – there didn’t seem to be any familiarity with the term bourgeoisie. But then, there didn’t have to be. They were throwing around “the one percent” instead. Clearly the terms of discussion in the United States are shifting.
In the next class, none of them, including the veterans, knew why there was a Veterans’ Day this week. In twelve hours local time, it will be the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – and for the first time – of the 11th year. There are exactly 7 years remaining for the United States to hold any meaningful recognition of the terrible sacrifices of World War I, even though the last of the old men disappeared earlier this year.
I just checked, and the only World War I Memorial pages on Facebook are entries for three local memorials across the United States. Someone really should organize a campaign…
7 October 2011
V for Verwirrung
I’ve been meaning to write something for a few days now, but I just looked at the Facebook page (no, I still don’t have an account) for Occupy Pueblo, which held its first demonstration today. (And hopefully they’ll get themselves up on the Google map now.) I mentioned the Occupy Wall Street movement in my Intro to International Relations class on Wednesday in the context of a threat by Anonymous, the group that originally publicized the OWS protest, to “erase Wall Street from the internet” this coming Monday. I somewhat condescendingly lamented that there were Occupy movements elsewhere in Colorado, but none in downscale Pueblo. But such a group did organize, with one of my students (let’s call him Mr. S) posting on the Facebook page and visible in photos of this afternoon’s event picketing a Wells Fargo branch. I’m both amused at the local paper’s claim that there is no financial district in Pueblo to target, disappointed that the protestors couldn’t figure out that the 1% in Pueblo is mostly located in offices around the Union Depot, and proud that a Political Science student in one of my classes was one of the less than 50 in a metro area of 150,000 out in the vanguard.
It’s been fascinating to watch the evolution of OWS (or the 99% or the New Bottom Line or whatever the movement is officially called) and I am honestly not sure where it goes from here. If history is any indication, it will dissipate, and particularly with colder weather. However, I am thinking tonight of the Bonus Army’s march on Washington in 1932. Like OWS, police/military violence drew attention and support for the cause more than anything the demonstrators could have done on their own.
It is also interesting how OWS is being treated by the elites as a Bastille-storming communist mob – called these terms literally by politicians and commentators on the right. The “left” in the media and Washington are slowly embracing the movement, more riding the tiger than directing it as with the Tea Party movement and the right. I think branding OWS as a leftist movement is a major strategic error and self-fulfilling prophecy for the right: The movement was inchoate, but your enemies define you and your interests. The movement will undoubtedly morph into a leftist one rather than simply an anti-authority one when forced to respond to such attacks, and attacking “the 99%” for being mad as hell at crooked financiers is not a winning political strategy. Instead, it makes it evident that the right is on the side of the 1% and puts its interests above those of the mad at the system majority. As Al Gore put it back in 2000, this is the people vs. the powerful. And right now the people are demonstrating that they at least have numbers.
It’s an eerie recreation of the end of the film version of V for Vendetta, what with growing crowds responding to police violence in a widening sea of Guy Fawkes masks. (Another student told me he saw them being sold in Pueblo yesterday, and Pueblo ain’t normally that kind of town.) So Anonymous, the hacker collective that poses in the masks at public events and triggered the whole thing to begin with, is getting its wildest fantasies fulfilled.
Again, I’m not sure where this ends. Do elite interests begin to feel their power (or at least their narrative of norms of appropriateness that have taken hold in the United States) threatened and strike back? There have been so many things to protest in the United States in the last dozen years, beginning with the 2000 election, that triggered bloodshed in Europe and elsewhere but passivity here. Is this instance different? Perhaps, as Joplin said, freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.
I’ve posted previously that the political social polarization in the United States reminds me ominously of one of the case studies for my doctoral dissertation, 1930s Spain. In that instance, a leftist government promising major reforms won elections, failed to consolidate power, was swept away by a far-right government that cracked down on labor and led to mass public demonstrations, and was then swept away in turn by a motley collection of socialist democrats, anarchists, and communists. We seem to be one election away from repeating that pattern, which of course led to a fascist military coup and a civil war, hopefully not to be repeated.
Eighty years ago, the failure of global capitalism and the paralysis of democracy made either extreme right or left authoritarian statism attractive to the disenfranchised. Both fascism and communism resulted in large governments to engage in central planning, which they did by building large imposing government buildings and killing and imprisoning millions. While mortal enemies, the ideologues were actually quite similar to each other in utopian ideologies that validated the collective over the individual, whether the national group and its traditional institutions of social power or else a post-national worker class unchained from hierarchical social mores. Of course neither actually delivered on their promises.
Today, in the United States a similar polarization seems to be occurring, but one with a Spanish flavor. Both the far right and left have discredited centralized authority in their rhetoric and instead pursue nihilist utopias of a lack of institutional order. The right, which I truly believe has been veering toward fascism for years in its hyper-nationalism, attacks against out-group minorities and rejection of scientific rationalism, has transmogrified libertarianism into a far right ideology that insists that the state be constrained in its regulatory ability. On the new left that appears to be emerging (perhaps as fascism was a response to communism) there is an intense distrust of the right’s cherished corporations and a growing sense that the state is too corrupt to be sufficiently regulatory. (What did I say almost 5 years ago about Obama letting down the left?) So, as the critics of OWS contend, they are veering toward anarchism, a mirror image of current Tea Party libertarianism. One side only trusts the private sector, the other trusts it not at all, but for both the solution is to eliminate institutions of power in the name of fairness.
Anarchy is exactly what V espoused in Alan Moore’s 1980s graphic novel V for Vendetta, (different and deeper than the film adaptation): A (libertarian) self-regulatory order or ordnung that would follow a necessary period of revolutionary chaos or verwirrung. So Anonymous would not shy away from accusations of being anarchists. And anarchists were the response that evolved in 1930s Spain from public frustration over thwarted leftist reforms. Read the propaganda from the period and you will see, if not voiced directly, a desire to tear down the financial and military pillars that empowered the political forces of the right. The anarchists had not been leftists per se, but they found themselves in common cause against a common enemy.
And that’s why I think that the corporate forces threatened by the movement, many of which have nurtured the Tea Party with its Ayn Rand message of Darwinian individualism as force against governmental regulatory authority, may have just made a serious error by driving the anarchists back together with the leftists who had disappointed them: They’ve just given the movement direction to become a counter-Tea Party. And given the rising propensity toward political violence on the right today, there’s an alarming possibility that the OWS protestors will present a very visible target to those who are now hearing them described as a threat to American civilization. But violence or legal crackdowns against OWS activists have thus far been catalysts for expanding the movement through solidarity efforts by unions and other sympathetic groups.
Either way, it’s hard to imagine where we go from here. As I’ve said before, Yeats’ line about turning in the widening gyre in which the center cannot hold and mere anarchy is loosed upon the world seems increasingly prophetic. I hope that the end result looks more like the fictional V for Vendetta alternate England of 1998 than the all-too-real Spain of 1938.
1 September 2011
During the last couple of weeks, this site reached 20,000 visits, I reached my 35th birthday, and CSU-Pueblo reached the point of having an Honors program again. Now it's off to Seattle for the annual American Political Science Assoication conference.
12 August 2011
The Honorable Gentleman
I didn’t plan to take the summer off from posting here, but once underway the break felt natural. The past three months have held some triumph and some disappointment, but I have to say that I managed to accomplish a lot without working myself to death as I have over every other vacation period for the last three years. I am about to begin my third year as a professor, and this time as Director of the newly launched University Honors Program at CSU-Pueblo, which I expect to be a rewarding experience. Otherwise I have been back to working on foreign fighters while I wait to start the big bioterrorism simulation study. And I’m still running the Homeland Security program and am putting together a very economical 9/11 10th anniversary panel.
Meanwhile, the Western world that began when the Dutch and then the English discovered how to use debt-financing to build colonial empires appears to be approaching its limits – that is to say that the major powers are through bad policy choices, rather than the system itself collapsing. By studying international relations as my primary field, it is all too easy to characterize the behavior of states as if they were single actors, whereas the drama in Washington, and to a lesser extent in Brussels, demonstrates that there are clearly domestic pressures at work in policymaking as well.
I have little to say about the debt deal and the current administration that I didn’t say back in 2007 or 2008 before either the financial crisis or the likelihood of an Obama Administration. I do find it interesting to note a convergence (a bit late) of opinion around the meme that Obama is not a great hope of the Left, but is rather a “Harvard neoliberal” in the construction of Jim Sleeper who enjoyed the assumptions by the activist Left about what a black president would have to be (although Jesse Jackson clearly did not at the time) just as he now suffers from caricatures by the Right regardless of his actual policies. The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen, who has his heart in the right place but has been contemptibly misguided about just about everything over the past 40 years, beginning with his presumption of Spiro Agnew’s innocence, this week wrote that Obama’s 2007-08 success lay in being “cool” rather than charismatic (and he was not the first member of the Fourth Estate to say such a thing this week.)
I don’t believe Obama is failing to show charisma or is naïve (out of Chicago politics?) to the ways of Washington and got rolled. I believe that the man whose first major vote in the Senate in 2005 was to eliminate bankruptcy protection for credit card debt-holders has actually been getting more or less what he wanted – and what he promised on the campaign trail if you were listening at the time. It is a Washington Consensus for all of us in the USA that is not much different than the free-trade neoliberal “Washington Consensus” of the mid-1990s that held that unrestricted capital markets were a panacea that would ultimately benefit everyone, but the most competitive first and foremost. It’s a fascinating and somewhat dangerous state of affairs when the Right largely gets everything it wants but is furious because it comes from an incumbent from the Left party, and the Left loses out but – according to polls – is much happier than their counterparts about being stuck with a Rightist set of social and economic policies because they think their standard-bearer is cool. Is there anything else we can learn from the Dutch these days?
7 May 2011
One Down, Two Down
It has been six days since the news broke about the killing of Osama bin Laden, with the various videos captured at the scene being released today and seemingly no end to the story until something else knocks it off the front page. The news was as unexpected as the events on the morning of 9/11 and I am not sure I have had much chance to really digest it.
My impressions on the night of 1 May have largely been echoed by a variety of pundits. This was a winning moment for an evidently cold-blooded Barack Obama; the tremendous loss of an iconic symbol to the jihadi movement; the students of my alma mater, GW, who ran to the White House were a privileged lot whose bluster of “we got him” inversely proportional to the lack of sacrifices any of that cohort has borne; it didn’t seem apparent that the SEALs who went in had any orders to try to bring bin Laden in alive and if this were anybody else there would be an outcry over a premeditated extrajudicial killing; how much money was spent to track down one man and shoot him in the head?
The evidence being released, if it is accurate, demonstrates that bin Laden was actively planning attacks and serving, at the least, as a motivator to various AQ affiliates. Clearly the traditional, top-down model of terrorist leadership would appear to hold accurate despite how dispersed and laterally networked al Qaeda might be. The dispirited response that the group finally released lends credence to the claim that this was more than a symbolic loss. There is also no evident heir apparent who can command global prestige, seemingly making it more likely that al Qaeda will splinter into its component regional affiliates and/or simply become shorthand for takfir jihadis.
One reason that I have been too busy to give these developments much thought until now is that this was finals week at CSU-Pueblo. So my 2nd year as an Assistant Professor is now complete. My plan for the summer break is to try to complete and send out for review articles on anti-maritime piracy policies, homeland security education, and perhaps a foreign fighter piece as well.
1 April 2011
As always, I very much enjoyed the annual conference of the International Studies Association, and the limited exposure I had to Montreal was still very nice too. Any city that makes you wish you could spend more time walking around outside in drizzzle barely above freezing must be doing something right.
Upon my return I was thrilled to discover that a proposal that I wrote last summer had been funded by the Environmental Protection Agency's homeland security branch. My partners at the Pueblo Health Deparment and I now have a three year grant to study effective communication of risk to the the public during the clean-up phase of bioterrorist attacks. For some reason, well before I was aware of The Social Network (which I still have not seen), it occurred to me that social media would be a hot topic and a cool way to explore how to get messages out to demographics that typically don't trust public service announcements.
The ironic thing is that I have steadfastly refused to get a Facebook account until now. I don't want to expose personal information to the world unless I choose to, I don't want "friendships" with friends who can't be bothered to write even an individual email, and I don't have time to post anything anyway - witness this blog. Wow - two months already. I had resigned myself to having to get an account a decade from now to deal with tween daughters, but it was still a long way off. Now it's inevitable that I will be on the grid in the next six months. Maybe I'm a Luddite at heart - I didn't think I needed a cell phone either for the longest time. (I just bought an iPhone 4G this week, still only my 4th cell phone since October 2001. I use them until they break.)
I don't know when I'll actually break down and open an account, but I stand now trembling before another seemingly inevitable application of the 21st Century.
1 February 2011
To Everything a Season
The first month of 2011 was certainly an eventful one. I am typing one-handed as I rock my second daughter to sleep. Olivia Lark Malet was born two weeks ahead of schedule thanks to a minor mishap during a pregnancy check-up, but was robust and healthy and went home from the hospital 36 hours later. She looks an awful lot like her sister, who is not looking any less like me the older she gets (although I’m sure that will change eventually.) She loves to eat when she’s not sleeping and it will be a pleasure to get to know her better.
This joyous event was followed by two others of greater note to the rest of the world. First was the Tucson shooting that led to the miraculous survival of Representative Giffords and the tragic deaths of a number of others. One question that has come to my mind is why we always assume that perpetrators of violence who are dissimilar to us are deliberate actors, evil and cunning, but those who resemble what most of the population sees in the mirror must be sick or disturbed. Students in my Terrorism class seem to take this view. To me it’s the inevitable outcome of an increasing number of armed individuals at political events that dovetails with what once would have been the fringe right being pushed to the front and center of political discourse. It has occurred to me that the introduction of eliminationist rhetoric into mainstream American politics did not begin with a fringe figure, but as a very self-conscious decision by former Georgia congressman Newt Gingrich in the 1980s. The History professor’s GOPAC instructed Republican candidates to use terms like “traitor” and “evil” to describe Democratic opponents in a manifesto called Language: A Key Mechanism of Control. Gingrich was successful in riding the tiger from the minority backbench to the Speakership. I would love to see Newt, who I met in the Capitol in 1996 and who was really pretty nice to me when he posed for a photo, pressed on this as he finally prepares for his White House run. Hopefully this will lead to a step back from the brink.
The other major event, unfolding as I write this, is the wave of liberal protests gripping the Middle East. I had never seen any predictions that such change would emanate from the Maghreb, but it seems to be moving eastward into Arabia from the periphery of the Levant. Cairo is paralyzed today, with neither the Mubarak government, the protestors, nor the army seeming to have the will to push any farther than they already have. Although such a scenario would be fraught for the West, it is still tempting to believe that this is the start of a regional transformation akin to the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe twenty years ago, a Fourth Wave of Democratization. That Saudi Arabia has, at least in oratory, rushed to the defense of Mubarak and China has blocked discussion of Egypt from Twitter actually calls to mind the great liberalization movements of the 1830s-40s and the counter-pressure and common cause of less-than-constitutional monarchies. Then and now, as always, the right side of history lies with freedom, not calculated national interest. After all, what are we to tell our children about what we were doing in January 2011 as they were being born?
1 January 2011
I have seen surprisingly little notice taken of the fact that the first decade of the third millennium has ended and that a new one began today. True, there was a cover story in Time last year marking the passing of “The Decade from Hell,” but I haven’t really seen any attempts to capture the character and zeitgeist of the decade for which no one ever came up with a satisfactory name. (The Aughties? The Naughts? Apparently there were just too many other problems going on to worry about it. I vote for “The Tsouris.”) After all, you know what every decade since the 1950s was supposed to have been, as well as a few earlier ones such as the 1920s and 1880s. I don’t quite know what the 2000s was – transformative for me personally, but many wasted opportunities in world politics.
And now it’s the 2010s even if you don’t count the decade as having started in 2010. No one seems to have a name for this decade either. The Teens never caught on in reference to the 1910s, a decade that is seemingly little-referenced but for World War I. (Having recently watched DW Griffith’s 1916 epic Intolerance, it seems like they were otherwise wrestling with issues of urbanization and social class distinction we continue to face today.) This will be the decade of what is expected to be an austere London Olympics followed by a resplendent Rio de Janeiro Olympics, symbolizing a transfer of clout to the rapidly rising developing world. We can also expect the snows of Kilimanjaro to finally disappear, the first major and most symbolic indicator of climate change that will be in full-swing by the end of the decade if projections are on track. More than anything else – al Qaeda, Iraq, the Great Recession (primarily affecting the US and EU), or even Facebook, I truly believe the long-term legacy of the past decade will be the failure to avert the coming crises related to global warming.
Very soon into the new decade, a matter of days, I’m expecting the family to grow. Certainly some sleepless nights ahead, but I actually anticipate getting more rest and being able to take care of myself more than I have during the past 2.5 years of finishing the PhD, starting teaching, and so many other transitions with a new baby then too. I’m starting to watch movies again. Maybe I can take a few minutes to actually load more albums than just the one I’ve had on my iPhone since August 2008. And I want to find out how podcasts work.
I did make a little progress this year with reading:
Don Quixote (finishing it by getting through pp. 250-1000)
It Can’t Happen Here
I’ve packed my copy of The Captive Mind (of which I read chapters 1 and 3 for a class junior year of college) for the hospital – we’ll see where we go from here.
4 November 2010
The Center Cannot Hold
I spent the 2010 elections in the booth at KRDO in Colorado Springs with reporters Greg Neft and James Jarman, and we also had some visits by a couple of county officials and the local congressman. I was on the air from 6pm-1am (with a break during the10pm TV news simulcast) and my vocal cords are still hurting. I have new respect for broadcasters and overall enjoyed my experience as a pundit this season (I believe 5 radio and 3 TV appearances)
I wonder what a number of my friends, relatives, and acquaintances were doing that evening? I haven't heard from most of the more ecstatic (and I mean that in the religious sense of the word) Obama supporters in a while. Did they phonebank this year? Anybody thinking of me?
I'm pretty happy with the senate result here in Colorado, as I think this state is expriencing the same transition to a new economy and the attendant social changes that Virginia did while I was living there, and I think Bennett and Buck are perfect representations of the New and Old Colorado. I was fairly disappointed by Pennsylvania race as I think Joe Sestak had a future as a national political leader. I was surprised by the magnitude of the GOP swing, and I loved one little tidbit I caught this morning that 30% of the voters who thought that the government should spend more money to create jobs (or who thought that the stimulus wasn't big enough) voted GOP. It ties in with my experience yesterday with a individual in the higher education field who insisted that people (like her) who don't recognize the term "Brown vs. Board of Education" aren't stupid, they just have "different interests." (Apparently anyone famous for being on a reality show is worthy for consideration as a "distinguished speaker" at some institutions, while anyone who helped end legalized segregation in America is a niche concern)
The Framers of the Constitution recongized that you only get a republic as good as its citizenry, and that is why they restricted voting to those who were most educated. Fortunately, today we have mass public education but it appears to be going to waste.
The massive swing elections of the past couple of cycles, as well as the Obama personality cult and apocalyptic hatred, are highly reminiscent of early 1930s Spain and suggest that there is effectively no common civic ideal (or political center) at the moment. As there's no information avaialble to suggest a structural shift in the US economic standing in the world in the next two years (barring a comet hitting Europe or China, neither of which would be good for the US economy) it's a reasonable bet to assume that voters won't be satisfied with the higher levels of gridlock that they're about to see rather than any relief on unemployment. Will the low-information voters then swing back to Democrats because Republicans failed to deliver? Or will they keep punishing Dems because Obama is in the White House?
There are really very few rosy scenarios imaginable for world politics over the next decade (or three) with the world turning and turning in the widening gyre. There is an impotent US government designed to be a divided representative republic but that now seems to elect its members in the fashion of a party-list parliamentary system. The value of the dollar drops as foreign investors bet against the US getting its fiscal act together, and increasingly unavoidable climate change bears down upon us. We're fast reaching a point where serious decisions are going to have to be made by somebody with the power to implement them. There are a couple of very different scenarios under which that will occur. Those who don't learn from history...
28 September 2010
Well, my wish to be a media political prognosticator has finally come true, even if only in the local media market. I have now lent my talents to both NPR and ABC - with the latter even having me back throughout the election season. In both cases, the stations contacted the university looking for a political scientist. Of course on-air they don't actually want political science but election handicapping. (Although on Western Skies I did try to work in some discussion of methods when asked how much influence the Tea Party is having, but I bet that ends up on the cutting room floor before the October 3 broadcast) A few years ago, I realized that the talking heads on TV were getting their information from the same sources I was (publications like The Hotline) and I stopped finding such shows useful. I was also bothered as a would-be scholar of international relations that so many of them were being asked to give insights into world affairs without any credible background in that area. I suppose it's only fair that I'm talking about US elections when I research international security. But at least I offer some nice witticisms along the way.
9 August 2010
It's the 65th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki, the last (and hopefully final) nuclear attack in history. Decades on, the city has been rebuilt. Meanwhile, we're crumbling to ruins in America. The turning off of the lights here in Colorado Springs is finally grabbing national attention, along stories about highways elsewhere being allowed to return to gravel. You can find the old Roman roads all over Europe and the near east, once paved and now remnants. In Quechua territory in South America, I've walked on the remains of old roads built by the Inca emperors. How do you say that your civilization is still thriving when its infrastructure is being allowed to collapse because you can no longer maintain it? I thought the professor who gave the graduation speech at my International Relations Department ceremony back in 1998 was being overly hyperbolic when he warned about a coming Dark Age, but I've been running out of sunny arguments for some time now. As the Romans said 1500 years ago, sic transit gloria mundi.
24 July 2010
Dirty and Gritty
Ok, the back of my neck isn't feeling dirty and gritty, but it is summer in the city, like in the Lovin' Spoonful song. Of course, I'm not in a big, humid east coast city either. In Colorado Springs it doesn't get humid, so even when it's hot it's very pleasant. (Even if the sun is too strong to be comfortable at this altitude) Then again, I wouldn't really know what it's like outside either - been working away on a grant, a book, and teaching 2 summer courses this month. It's actually pretty painful to talk for 5 straight hours, 4 days a week for a month. I'm sure my vocal cords will heal in time. So I haven't been outside much. Rocky Mountain National Park was nice, although I have to be honest that it's not Glacier. Hoping to see a bit more before summer is out, hopefully Mesa Verde.
Meanwhile, I think it's safe to say that most everyone will be having hotter summers presently. The Democratic Congress, with as big margins as they've had in a while or will have again for a long time, decided to take a pass on doing anything about carbon emissions. They're also shocked - shocked! - at how bad the Gulf oil spill is. See a post somewhere below, but in summer 2008 I decided I wasn't with the Party anymore when they decided to ok more off-shore drilling. There's only one issue that really matters in the long run, and the US isn't doing a thing about it.
Now China has passed the US in energy consumption, but also in the manufacturing of renewable technology. Does this mean China is the new world leader already? If it is, hopefully it will finally step up to the plate. We just had the hottest month on record and the writing is on the wall.
11 June 2010
As noted in an earlier post, the counter has mysteriously rolled over twice before, but my count of the totals now adds up to 10,060 in just over three years.
I neglected to mention in my last post that I returned to Washington DC for my graduation ceremony in May and enjoyed seeing friends and visiting quality restaurants and old haunts. The doctoral hooding was a real highlight, and sitting inbetween two recently minted but unemployed Statistics PhDs made me realize again how fortunate I am, even if I haven't slept much during the past 2 years to get to this point.
Working on the biotech book draft and a grant proposal, looking forward to a quick getaway next week to Rocky Mountain National Park.
1 June 2010
Memorial Day has just passed by - I know this because the History Channel just ran a marathon of its American history miniseries that had some interesting facts but was a little too heavy on CGI for me. Unless I missed something, they completely skipped over World War I. Sadly, that's probably par for the course for American history.
I spent the day deep in the books to research my own manuscript that I'm working on right now on biotechnology and international security for Johns Hopkins University Press. Although I had known since researching a related paper back in college (when all research meant going to the library and finding books) that Japan had a bioweapons program during World War II that used people in experiments, I didn't realize the extent of it until today, or the degree to which these discoveries were taken on board by the US (in exchange for granting amnesty) to build the American bioweapons program. In particular, according to Jeanne Guillemin, the US was interested in inhalation anthrax experiments. Of course, the US specialization in anthrax led to the attacks of 2001 in which I was a very small part of history. I wondered at the time where the information was coming from that we were being given about inhalation anthrax and its course of treatments - how could they possibly have had prior cases to study? Sadly, now I know: Chinese civilians in the early 1940s. Sometimes Memorial Day isn't big enough to recognize everyone it should.
26 April 2010
The End and the Beginning
Heading into finals week, my first year as an assistant professor behind me. The Center for the Study of Homeland Security is up and running. I’m heading back to DC shortly for my final graduation ceremony – GW may not provide special headgear for PhDs, but I have to admit that I like their taste in doctoral gowns.
I saw Bill Maher for the first time in quite a while this week, and Representative Alan Grayson is my new hero of American politics. Someone has finally used the F word to describe recent developments, and I don’t mean the one with four letters.
It’s been a while since I’ve had the chance to write, and I only have a few minutes now before heading to airport (and 3 flights and 2 bus rides) for the Globalization of the Conflict in Somalia conference at the University of St. Andrews. I’m looking forward to my second visit to Scotland and reacquainting with a couple of past haunts in Edinburgh on the way home.
Last month I was in New Orleans for the first time for the ISA conference, but we stopped in a bit early for Mardi Gras, and it was the week after the Saints’ miracle Super Bowl victory and a landslide election for the new mayor, so the positive energy in the city was palpable. I would certainly say that New Orleans is back, and that really made me glad. Despite unseasonably cold weather on Fat Tuesday, Erica enjoyed the Krewe of Zulu, and Michelle had the chance to fulfill the dream of catching beads from the float. New Orleans was a pleasant surprise and I’ll look forward to going back one day. The conference it self appeared to be very productive for me from a professional standpoint (Do I really have two books on the way?) and it was very good to see friends and to make new acquaintances. But perhaps the highlight for me was lunch at Café Adelaide on Mardi Gras and, over an excellent lunch and delicious twenty-five cent Commander’s martini, seeing actor Ron Livingston sitting two tables away. As I’m right on the cusp between Gen X and Millennial, Office Space is firmly entrenched in my perception of American culture.
And how will American culture change as a result of last night’s historic passage of what the administration is now calling “Health Insurance Reform” (as opposed to actual health care)? It’s astonishing that it took so much effort to get such incremental change, but hopefully the benefits will be enough to remind Americans that our form of government is not the enemy, but a bulwark against predation. In a strange way, Ted Kennedy’s death months short of seeing his career-long goal is probably to credit for this small step. Not in the sense that his brother John’s death helped push through civil rights legislation, but because the loss of his seat to a small-time Republican galvanized the Democrats into acting to save their own electoral fortunes in the coming midterm elections. Whatever it takes. May the 30 million uninsured and the rest of us see the results soon, and let us all hope that this is still just one step forward.
25 January 2010
It was the Worst of Times, It was the Best of Times
Forget dark days, the nights are about to be far darker in my adopted town. Colorado Springs, conservative anti-tax and limited government bastion that it is, has long been unable to raise enough revenue to provide basic services (like school buses in our well-off district, and now there will be no public transportation in the city at all on weekends.) My just received property tax bill is 1/6 less than what I paid on my condo in McLean, Virginia, even though my lot is about 20 times larger. One solution to chip away at the $28 million annual shortfall is to turn off about half of the city's street lights for the foreseeable future, no pun intended. I had already been shocked by the lack of lighting in my neighborhood, and feel very fortunate that I don't live in one of the high crime areas that officials admit will now need extra law enforcement surveillance. At least, I don't think I do.
During the daytime, busy Hwy 115 (S. Nevada Avenue) is graced by young people who need work and are doing things the right way: Getting paid to work by standing in costume and energetically waving signs advertizing some nearby business for hours on end. I am amazed at the various "Chicken Man" people I saw outside Wild Wings in all sorts of weather. All of them have iPods, and I suspect some chemical enhancement as well. Now there are some Statue of Liberty people advertizing, I think, a tax preparation service. It was so cold that one of them was wearing a black ski mask the other day, which ironically made Lady Liberty look like a 1980s airline hijacker.
But that's not what Erica's 21 month old imagination saw as she drove by. Instead, upon seeing a figure with flailing arms and a green head with various protrusions pointing in all directions, she simply announced to her mom
16 January 2010
Three years on, and Website Tonight is still eating my draft posts, so I will keep this very short. It was wonderful to be back in New Zealand, experiencing Kiwi culture and gorgeous country, and my particular thanks go out to friends at the University of Auckland and Victoria University of Wellington for playing host right at the start of their holiday breaks.
But while it was balmy midsummer there, it was dark and cold everywhere else. The attempted Christmas airline bombing has now made re-entering the US so onerous that I'm rethinking future international travel plans. Deteriorating political situations in a number of countries, including our own, and the horror in Haiti. A loss in the family, and the death of a great political scientist who was both a wonderful human being and a great boss (on three occasions) Lee Sigelman.
What can I say about US politics other than that I stand by every comment below made over the past three years about the purported messiah. I did a bit of work as a freshman in college (as VP of BU Students for Kennedy) to keep that Massachusetts seat in progressive hands in 1994 when Mitt Romney was running ahead for most of the race.
Ironically it's apparently going to be lost because the legislature changed the law to provide for a special election in the event John Kerry was elected president in 2004 so that Romney, now governor, could not name his successor. Of course, Kerry lost and elevated Obama to the national stage, with the help of Kennedy who was miffed because HRC credited LBJ more than JFK with passage of the CRA. WTF?
The one positive thing I can say about 2010 early on (and I had such high hopes for the year being an Arthur C Clarke devotee and what with the actual 2001 being a horror show) is that the Center for the Study of Homeland Security has had a great start and I'm looking forward to our official rollout in April. The videoconferenced classes are particularly cool and outside the realm of any teaching I've done before (a challenge to keep the students on the other side of the screen engaged) so I feel proud of initiating some good things during an otherwise dreary winter.
2 December 2009
Considering that the counter rolled over first at 4500 and then again at 800, this site is about to mark 7,000 unique views in less than three years (although undoubtedly some of those were people looking for a certain Australian philosopher or American folk singer with similar names - not to mention playwright David Mamet, who I keep getting called everytime I go back home to Hollywood.)
My first semester at CSU is hurtling to an end, with much accomplished and much more yet to do (in the 10 days remaining before I head off on a very badly needed holiday to New Zealand that's been in the works for 19 months now - the same period of time in which I've been averaging 4.5 hours of sleep per night) I'm very much looking forward to coming up into the sunshine in the Land of the Long White Cloud.
Happy holidays and best wishes to all for 2010!
8 November 2009
As we mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is impossible to avoid reflecting that most recent history since those heady days has been far less inspiring. There were the dozen intervening years from 11/9 to 9/11, as my former professor Jim Goldgeier describes in his book "America Between the Wars." And during this time, a number of us in the field could not help but speculate about future security challenges. In Washington DC, I pursued my graduate degree in National Security Studies and came firmly to believe that apocalyptic religious terrorism would be the major security threat of the 2000-2020 period. I researched bioterrorism, millennial sect violence, and the challenges of resource extraction in Central Asia. During my December 1999 oral defense, I identified al Qaeda as the biggest security threat facing the U.S. and predicted that lax attention to this threat would lead to a mass casualty attack on the U.S. within 5 years (I was right about Manhattan and its population density, wrong about anthrax in Times Square) I went to work for a member of the U.S. congressional leadership, and during 2001 regularly received phone calls from a self-identified retired army general who stressed the need to create a homeland security agency to guard against impending attacks. He called while the the Towers were crumbling. I didn't take it, he left no message and never called again. A month later, my anthrax prediction was partially fulfilled in my own office.
Twenty years after the Wall fell, and ten years after I proved more prescient than the Georgetown professors who had difficulty accepting my security assessment, I am the inaugural Director of the Center for Homeland Security Studies at CSU-Pueblo. I had the opportunity to design and shepherd through the university bureaucracy a curriculum program that will award certificates to students in the new program, housed within Political Science. In addition to traditional students who are interested in working in the rapidly expanding (particularly in Colorado's Front Range corridor) industry, the program will serve the professional development needs of community first responders, and we will also take advantage of CSU's unmatched Continuing Education facilities at area military installations to offer classes to Active Duty personnel as well.
Our next step is to develop partnerships with regional and national private, government, and corporate foundations that will help establish the program and equip graduates for careers in the field. Our official launch will take place at the Rawlings Library in downtown Pueblo on the evening of 8 April 2010 with the annual Political Science speaker series, this year to be titled Homeland Security
Threats Opportunities: A
In the past month, I've had another personal homeland security experience, taking my daughter to the State Fairgrounds to a mass H1N! child vaccination clinic when area pediatricians failed to stock the vaccine but Michelle and I had already received the inocculation from our local doctor. I took some photos to capture the surreal experience, like something out of a science fiction movie, but the day will always be etched in my memory anyway. Homeland Security preparation is multi-faceted and an inescapable need. I hope that I have completed my first-hand experiences with it and can henceforth sit back in my desk chair and approach it as an academic.
2 October 2009
The Twilight Zone
Today marks the Twilight Zone 50th anniversary, with the broadcast on another Friday night in a seemingly very different
Meanwhile there are so many other odd little things in the world … Despite Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid’s pledge that there will be a public option in the health care bill, Democrats continue to stymie reform while former Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist comes out on behalf of the Obama plan. Obama, either wrongly sensing that the fix was in and he could claim some glory or else owing some favors to “friends” back in Chicago, zooms away from the health care fray to try to influence the IOC, but only succeeds in making Chicago go from runner-up to last place in the 2016 chase. Congratulations to
My first month-plus as an Assistant Professor is done, as I gave out my first midterm today. So far so good (on teaching, not on the midterms) Other than a break to go to APSA, which was a nice opportunity to visit family in
20 August 2009
Back to School Night
Another birthday rolls around, and I can't pretend to be anything other than a grownup at this point. I have my PhD, my career, family, house, and I'm even doing yard work and grilling on the deck. It's frankly a little depressing, but I'm sitting at my new desk from Room and Board, in my home office, looking out over mountain wild flowers at a gorgeous (suburban) alpine view and I can't really complain.
On Monday classes at CSU start up, and I'll be teaching three of them. True, I had to get used to being called "Professor" last year, but I knew there was an asterisk next to it even if not all of my students did. Now Dr. Malet is in the house in Pueblo, and I'm excited to be there at a time of transformation for the university from overlooked commuter school in a dying industrial area to growing, innovative center of higher education. There's a new marching band to go along with the new football team and stadium, so I can step up my game too. It's a definitely a different world than DC in southern Colorado (or ColoRADo as most people here pronounce it) but I have to believe that any student who's signed up for the types of courses I teach is hungry to understand why the world is the way it is. I'll do my best to be realistic but not cynical.
I have to say, however, that it's awfully tough these days. What the hell on health care, Obama believers? I hope the rumblings I read when I still check in with the progressive blogosphere are correct about a more aggressive posture in pushing this through are true. If you can't pass meaningful health reform now, with a popular messiah president, people losing jobs and insurance, and the only 60 vote majority in the Senate in a generation, then something is seriously wrong. I can't exactly say I'm shocked that all the Daschle and Kerry folks behind the Obama presidency haven't been successful in pushing back against the Republican smear machine - it's not like they demonstrated effectiveness at defense or offense against the Bush Administration. I'm really starting to get the sense that my worst expectations were valid. I'm glad there will be stem cell funding, the gag rule on family planning lifted, and anything else a Chris Dodd Administration would have given you, but where's the change I can believe in?
I'm putting together a new website for the Political Science Department at CSU-Pueblo and, per student request, am making a page of links to useful media. For some reason, without ever having looked at it before, I added China's Xinhua, which is like a state-run Associated Press. It carries obvious bias but, after having caught the Today Show a couple of times this week, it's better than most domestic sources these days. I have a dreadful feeling that, the way things are going, a lot more Americans are going to be turning to news from China in the future. Maybe my eager young students can convince me otherwise.
19 July 2009
Thoughts on the Foreign Fighter Conference
For some reason the web counter rolled over again, this time after just 800 hits. So we're up to 5323 unique visits by my count. Apparently a good portion of the traffic originated with people who have a professional interest in my dissertation research, judging by the number who told me at the Foreign Fighter Problem conference hosted by the Foreign Policy Research Institute that they had seen the data page.
It was a little odd to be back in Washington less than a month after ending my 11 years as a beltway denizen. Due to a flight cancellation, I did not arrive at National until nearly 1am, and grabbed a cab straight for the venerable Willard Intercontinental. The term "lobbying" was coined there, after the special interests who waited for President Grant to visit the bar in the hotel lobby, and it is one DC landmark I had managed never to have visited. Appropriately Gilded Age, but I have to wonder if they won't need to renovate again soon when most of their guests are Gen X and Millennials who find that sort of thing a bit stuffy. But the room (and bathroom) were quite posh and extremely comfortable, so I do regret that I didn't get to fully enjoy them: In bed by 2am because I had to roll across the street and be at the National Press Club at 8am.
The conference was very well-done, a good mix of academics and policy professionals, and I felt some legitimacy having spent time in both worlds. And I very much enjoyed meeting in person folks like Clint Watts and Brian Fishman, whose work has been most helpful to my research. There may have been a couple of other folks with ideological or institutional axes to grind, but so it goes. What I learned overall is that the data on the next page, my dissertation (which is up on the UMI site) and the couple of articles I've authored that are in the pipes are the best source of information out there right now on the big question of how foreigners end up fighting in other people's civil wars. But a lot of good work is being generated by the folks who are studying the issue on the ground and there's a growing recognition of the importance of this issue. It seemed like there was also a growing recognition that this problem is one best addressed at the source.
Looking forward to this year's family road trip across the southwest to LA, and then the new academic year is just a month away!
7 July 2009
Rocky Mountain High
After a little over two weeks in Colorado Springs, I think I have nearly adjusted to altitude of more than 6,000 feet above sea level. During this time, I have not heard any term like soroche, which I heard in Peru, to describe altitude sickness. Most of the advice has simply been to stay hydrated and avoid strenuous exercise, (and the strong sun) although one neighbor who happens to be a physician suggested loading up on beef to increase our red blood cell counts. The Colorado tri-tip roast makes that very easy to do.
I have been non-stop busy since we got here on the evening of 19 June (and really for a year now, and since 1 April of last year if I really think about it) but things are finally quieting down. It actually felt very good to drive out onto the Beltway with a loaded car and a dog, and then veer west and depart DC. The Tysons Corner traffic and construction ensured that I wouldn't have any nostalgia. The only hard part was leaving Michelle and Erica in a (very nice suite) hotel in Alexandria because the baby had a 103 fever, which fortunately broke the morning I had to leave. Didn't get our send-off in Old Town as we planned, so I'm very glad that, right before Erica came down with it, I had my crab cakes and sweet corn at Clyde's one last time.
This was my first real drive westward - my major roadtrip after graduating high school started and ended in California. This time, I felt like I got to see American history unfolding before me, heading up out of the Chesapeake watershed, through the Cumberland gap in the Appalachians and down into the great fertile expanse of Ohio and Indiana on the first day, truly appreciating for the first time how this was once the Western frontier. The second day, first passing through the northern edge of a massive violent storm in Western Indiana that I'm told the Weather Channel called a "ring of fire," which I can only compare to driving through an aquarium - green sky, everything else pitch black, even in the car, and then absolutely being underwater. I really should have pulled over. The sky clearing entering Illinois, and driving as far as Topeka (which had a lovely Bark Park for dogs). Finally feeling back in the West as I crossed into the high plains on the third morning and on into Colorado, stopping at Denver airport to pick up the girls. In a couple of weeks I'll complete the drive across the country when we go to visit my grandmother.
Being here has been quite the suburban adventure. The house is big - far too big if the family doesn't grow more - and we need to furnish it. We didn't bring much with us and have almost nowhere to sit, (I'm typing this on the floor, laptop and printer on a makeshift desk of 3 cardboard boxes) no television, and so forth. We probably had a brush with death early on because of this attic fan contraption that sucks hot air up but apparently requires a lot of ventiliation - the vacuum kept putting out the pilot light on the hot water heater in the basement and we ended up with a gas situation and had to call out the utility company. Apparently other people in the area have been hospitalized by similar situations. Otherwise the only real problem is the wildlife - bear and mountain lions apparently roam the neighborhood, with the latter a threat to the dog in particular. So far we have seen deer, fox, and snakes. But it's definitely beautiful in the foothills of the Rockies and we wouldn't want to be down in town.
Despite being one of the largest 50 cities in the US, the Springs is definitely a small town, and the extremely conservative approach to governance has produced some odd results - the July 4th municipal fireworks show was cancelled for budgetary reasons, but there were several others all going off around town at the same time. (Which seemed very inefficient to me, but it was great viewing from our bedroom window) Garbage collection is handled by private companies you have to select, dog licenses are required but you have to go through the SPCA because the county doesn't provide them directly. And, to my frustration, vehicles don't need emissions tests but you need an emissions testing center to verify the VIN before you can register a car in El Paso County. The various gas stations and service centers I visited couldn't tell me where to actually get this done. I finally went to the Police, but they no longer did it and told me to either try the sheriff (reservations needed, limited schedule) or go to private car dealerships, which might charge some fee - it was really up to them. I finally located the Lexus dealer and, as a future customer, had them do both of our cars, which they did for free with a smile and recommended a good restaurant nearby. I couldn't help but think, though, that other people who didn't end up through happenstance with a luxury vehicle and had to go to a shady dealership (like the one I considered by the police station) probably had to pay. This town is very emblematic of the Two Americas - rich with great schools at either end of the city, not as nice for the majority in the middle. We count ourselves lucky and enjoy the scenery.
I'll be back in DC next week, on the dime of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, which is having me as the first presenter for a 2 day conference on the policy problems posed by foreign fighters, my dissertation topic. Odd to be back before I've even come close to unpacking, but I'm looking forward to it.
I've also just learned, following up on one of my earliest posts, that Steve Rogers (Captain America) is returning from the dead. I hope this coincides with some revivial of the American spirit (and is not just a marketing tie-in to the current spate of superhero movies). Here, right under Pike's Peak where "America the Beautiful" was written, there are a lot of people who could benefit from that, whether they realize it or not.
5 June 2009
Not just the 65th anniversary of the landing at Omaha Beach, but today was also Dissertation Defense Day, and the Decision was a thumbs-up. So this was also Doctorate Day, even though I will not go through with making everyone call me by the honorific. But I will go change it on various online accounts. As Dr. Evil said, I didn't spend all of these years in school to be called Mister. All in all, a good process and I received enough challenging questions and just plain challenges to parry that it didn't feel anti-climactic at all. I earned my celebratory lunch at Malet Family DC institution Lebanese Taverna.
The past two months have otherwise been packed full. In addition to submitting my dissertation, I have had to move twice (we beat the real estate market on our condo sale but the new owners needed it immediately, so we're in a short-term rental, organizing everything for cross-country) There was the usual end of semester craziness, and I went to a very well-done conference at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. On this trip I had the chance to pop over VERY briefly to Tel Aviv for a visit to the World Machal office for some gracious hospitality from a former foreign fighter. I also had a delightful stop over in Budapest for 3 days and enjoyed myself immensely. The spas are fantastic, the city is walkable, charming, and safe, and the people are as courteous as any I've ever met. I was also impressed by what I saw of the Jewish community, which is not a mere post-Holocaust remnant but clearly vibrant and thriving. The food and wine were delicious and, now that I have my credit card statement, incredibly cheap. As soon as the opportunity presents, I think there are some Eastern European vacations coming my way.
We closed on a house in Colorado Springs after a little misadventure along the way (always check the registered sex offender lists!) and in just over 10 days I'll say goodbye to Washington and be movin' out. In many ways, a little bit of Americana: heading West with my dog for company in a packed car driving across the heartland and the plains. 11 extremely eventful years in the DC area, coming to an end at last. I have changed at least as much as this town has. As of today, I can't say "When I grow up anymore" because I've hit all the targets, and now I'm on my way. It's just paperwork and packing at this point.
I'll also be updating the foreign fighter data set shortly to reflect the corrected data submitted with my dissertation. Those will be all the changes until PRIO-Uppsala release their next dataset and I make updates.
6 April 2009
What the heck? The counter at the bottom of the screen would appear able to record up to 100 million hits, but it re-set at 4500. After 23 months, this site has broken Website Tonight.
29 March 2009
Even More Culmination and Beginning!
There are about 40 of them, so I don't think I'm giving anything away to say that several days ago I went to Oxford, where one of the colleges had brought me out to interview for a postdoc (or Junior Research Fellowship as they are known there.) The interview was brief by North American standards, under an hour out of two days in which I was otherwise left to my own devices, and during which I played the dutiful tourist, seeing the Bodleian, John Locke's resting place in Christ Church cathedral, the crew teams practicing, and feeling intimidated by the sheer weight of continuity. I hope to hear good news but, if not I will always feel honored to have had the experience.
I learned that Virgin Atlantic and Virgin America are not the same entity, so much so that their frequent flier points are not directly transferable. I have to say, there is one area where the Western side of the Atlantic wins hands down: Economy on V. America is still superior to Premium on V. Atlantic.
Back here I am wrapping up my last case study in the dissertation, and may be pretty much done in a week. Defense date looks to be the afternoon of June 5. Thanks to participation in Berkeley's New Era Foreign Policy Conference and my agreement to organize a panel for next year's ISA in New Orleans, I now know what I'll be doing next.
2 March 2009
The Culmination and the Beginning
Very proud to report that I received an offer for a tenure-track position as Assistant Professor of Political Science from Colorado State University - Pueblo. Six years of work in the PhD program - divided evenly between courses, the prospectus, and the dissertation - have paid off. I feel incredibly fortunate given the state of the economy, and the absolutely brutal academic job market in particular, to be offered the chance to live my dream of nearly 15 years. CSU-Pueblo is a rising and rapidly growing academic institution with a fantastic staff, motivated students, and a never-say-die eclectic Western community. Beyond teaching and publishing, I would help to establish a Homeland Security Studies program, which is also very exciting.
My gratitude to the folks at CSU-Pueblo. Go ThunderWolves!
7 February 2009
The Fall of Tom Daschle
I have been quite cold for the first 6 weeks or so of this year, excepting a visit to LA to see my grandmother and cousins. There has only been one real day of snow in the DC area this winter, which can't be good for water levels in the Potomac this summer. (And Erica did not enjoy her first exposure to snow either.) It has been good for making significant headway on the dissertation, with drafts of everything completed except the Afghanistan chapter and Conclusion, which need to be written up in some form in a month for a conference. After that it's just waiting for a load of files from the 1980s in Arabic, and that will pretty much do it. Unbelievable.
The other thing that seems so unbelievable to so many people is the rocky start of the Obama Administration. To me it is so amazingly reminiscent of the rocky start of the Clinton Administration that it defies logic (or perhaps the suspension of disbelief that so many Obama supporters had, or at least my good friends who seemed to think that everything would magically fall into place because of their candidate's transcendant qualitities.) But back in 1993, the Democrats had similar majorities in both houses of Congress, and still could not get a stimulus bill through the Senate, despite the years in Congress (and foreign policy expertise too) of the VP and top members of the cabinet. And early on, other key nominees had to withdraw due to tax problems.
2009's highest profile casuality has been my old boss, the former senator from South Dakota. It was quite odd this week, seeing his face on every newspaper on the Metro. The other two times he had such a high profile were when he suddenly became Majority Leader mid-2001 due to the Jeffords party switch, and in October of that year when we had the lovely anthrax delivery to our office and received far better treatment afterward than did the unfortunate DC postal workers. This time, of course, the coverage has been of an entirely different nature, asking how this man who presented himself during his election to the Senate as a frugal, ordinary South Dakotan could have made $5 million (or more?) as a lobbyist over the past 4 years in any clean fashion. After all, he clearly wasn't reporting his taxes in the manner a public figure should, right?
Lost again in all of this coverage are the events of the mid-90s, when Daschle's accession to the party leadership post was essentially delayed by a congressional ethics investigation (which resulted in no sanctions that I can recall.) The coverage has been muted, I suspect, because the political press who make their livings off people like TAD (as we called him in internal correspondence) realize that all of the public figures with whom they eagerly rub elbows at swank cocktail parties (both inside the Beltway and in my neighborhood in the Tyson's Corner area) manage to make out like bandits. And how much do these folks make themselves? They're not starving crusading journalists. Nobody really slammed him, but nobody rushed to defend him either, not even most of the lefty Obamaphile bloggers, who seemed to regard him as a corporate shill who bent to Republicans too much while in power.
I don't actually have too much to say on this subject. It always seemed to me that his appointment to be the master of implementing national health care was not about some book he wrote after leaving office that I don't think anyone has actually read, but simply a chance to refurbish his image from defeated party leader to Democratic icon, the man who delivered what Truman, LBJ, and the Clintons couldn't. TAD was an early Obama supporter, perhaps because his chief of staff went over to Obama after his loss. Just like everything else in this story, such as the democratic donors - and frankly, in my story with him too - it's all about who you know and what favors came through. In this case, Obama appeared to be trying to repay a favor by granting a legacy, but it certainly came back to haunt both of them.
Like other progressives, I would love to see Dr. Howard Dean put in charge of delivering meaningful national health care, but I'm afraid it won't happen. Either part.
31 December 2008
Not only will it be the end of the oh so tumultuous 2008 in a few hours, but the first 2 year contract period for this site is set to expire. If I have the credit card settings right it won't make any difference. Still, as soon as I get a free moment - and there haven't been many of those for some time now - I think I'll add another page on my academic material.
My precocious baby daughter -- who is a few feet away, attempting to crawl -- is obviously the most important happening of 2008, and I am so grateful that she is so very strong and healthy despite coming so early. As I matter of fact, I'm going to stop worrying about ever getting her sick as I'm in the middle of the 2nd cold in as many months that she has given to me. Many other things this year have been far more challenging. The only one I choose to mention is my annual recreational reading list, far diminished from last year's. I'm pretty sure I'm leaving something off, but what I recall is:
The Prince of the Marshes
Devil in the White City
The 39 Steps
Don Quixote (half of Part I)
I am quite certain that there was another book...Oh well. Maybe I will end up reading it again some other year. 7/24/10 - I recently remembered the other book: Gulliver's Travels.
11 November 2008
I was about to post something simply because I noticed that the formatting on my CV was way off and I had to login to fix it, but then I realized that in 4 minutes it would be Armistice Day - the 90th anniversary. I have nothing in particular to say about current events other than that I am not particularly surprised by anything going on - or not going on - with the incoming administration. So, given that it will be the 90th anniversary (or just short of it by 11 hours EST) in about one minute, I do want to say one thing:
We should all try to unlearn the forgetting of World War I. It was very striking to me, living in DC during the push for the World War II memorial, and how something, anything needed to be built while the veterans could still enjoy it. I agree with the critics who claim that what we ended up with was a memorial without essence. In fact, there was supposed to have been some symbolic object at the center of the fountains - it was represented by a crinkled tissue paper in the model, so I assumed it was supposed to be an eternal flame rising out of the waters - but it was excluded entirely in the rush for completion. Nonetheless, I am sure it was meaningful to many WWII vets.
As George Will noted in a recent column, there is no national memorial to WWI in our nation's capital. There is, well off the beaten track around the tidal basin, a crumbling memorial to DC residents who died, and the last American WWI vet - who may well have passed since I read the article- seemed at a loss that this "national" memorial wasn't grander.
From what I know, the lessons of WWI have not been elsewhere in the world - I know personally how deeply the losses of Gallipoli and Beaumont-Hamel cut even the outpost commonwealth countries of Australia and Newfoundland. But I understand that the fields where so many fell are not all well-tended and that Americans, if they know anything at all about the subject, can conjure up only images of trenches or perhaps the Red Baron.
If America is truly to be turning a new leaf, which involves digesting the uneasy lessons of Iraq, then I believe this also means reconciling with older ghosts and another attempt to remake the world in our image by theory-driven academics. Millions of lives were destroyed for no clear end or grand design, or at least until the end when America began to fight to end war forever, and without a touch of irony. The United States, and any government that finds it necessary to use its power to kill, will be very well-served to remember the doughboys, in thought and prayer if not in marble and stone, and be sure it has a damn good idea of just what it is doing.
27 October 2008
The sword of time, as Johnny Mandel called it in his song, is a double-edged one. With the credit card renewal deadline for this site coming up at New Year's, it's surprising how little has changed over two years. I feel better about grinding my way into academia when I recall my amateur plumbing efforts, and I'm pleasantly surprised to see that there are apparently fewer racists out there than I thought (or perhaps my suspicions about their party preference have been right all these years.) I do think Obama will still ultimately disappoint progressives - the Peter Wehner op-ed piece in today's Washington Post about how "Conservatism" is undiminished because even today the Democratic nominee is promoting the Reagan agendum says more, I think, about the candidate than about the preferences of the nation at this point. Meanwhile, his campaign, along with Speaker Pelosi, have announced that they favor expanding off-shore oil drilling, which is a deal-breaker for me, even in California where we've voted for years to block it. The potential for catstrophe is too great, and such a policy signals no serious shifts toward clean, renewable energy, which is what the new administration's top priority really ought to be (Hillary was right about the need for guiding the creation of "green collar" jobs.)
The Economist has ruefully proclaimed the end of the Reagan-Thatcher era. I think it's time for someone to make the point that Reagan was wrong that the scariest thing you can hear is "We're the Federal government and we're here to help." I think Hurricane Katrina and the Wall Street meltdown have proven that it is far scarier to NOT hear that.
22 September 2008
This past week, in one of my classes (and they're going fine so far from my perspective, thank you) we discussed the topography of networks as social constructs, and the internet in particular for reaching like-minded folk around the world in a manner never before possible. True, we were talking about jihadists, but I could have also told them that I have found and been found by a number of old friends over the past few months, and I have certainly appreciated how my research has reached a number of individuals in the field who are great resources for collaboration. I think at this point I will renew the site when it's time to pay up in a couple of months.
In my other class, after a slow start, I have successfully managed to implement my embassy speakers program, and students were guests at a certain prominent foreign embassy that Michael Moore couldn't get near in his film four years ago. There was certainly some tension, but our speaker was gracious and I hope demonstrates the reach of spin even outside of countries with mass media and political participation. The wall-size photos of the hajj were amazing too - that's one bit of adventure tourism that I am afraid I will never get to experience.
The week prior to the start of my first term as "Professor," I attended the American Political Science Association annual meeting, this time on very familiar territory in
18 August, 2008
I've been meaning to write on a weighty subject for a couple of weeks now but, for a change, the delay has been due to pleasure rather than problems: The Malet Family (all four of us, including Elvis the bichon frise,) took a well-needed beach vacation on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The baby is doing well and had a great trip out to California to meet family. For the first time in 5 months, things seem kind of normal.
One major (at least to me) development that transpired right as we were packing was the suicide of Bruce Ivins, the new lead suspect in the anthrax case. As a "survivor" of the attacks (on antibiotics for 103 days, although I never displayed any signs of infection) I have very ambiguous feelings about this. We will now never know if Ivins did do it, although the initial reports I read made it sound plausible. Was financial gain enough of a motive? That seems less likely. When I was working in Senator Daschle's office, in mid-2001 I regularly received phone calls from a self-described retired general who kept pressing me on the necessity of establishing a Department of Homeland Security. He even called in the middle of 9/11 (I didn't take the call and he never called again). I have often wondered if whomever was responsible was trying to send a wake-up call. The anthrax, after all, was a pretty weak strain that even the most rudimentary antibiotic eliminated easily. Like so many others involved, the government's handling of this affair has left me with a healthy distrust. The case may be closed, but the doubt remains.
I had to have some medical exams as a result of the anthrax, or rather the antibiotics that I was told I did not have the choice to refuse. As far as I know, the direct payouts to the doctor through the Department of Labor make me the first person in history to receive worker's comp as a result of a bioterror attack. Is there going to be a class action suit against this guy's estate? The whole matter seems les settled to me than it has been in years.
7 July, 2008
At last - the baby is in the Baby Bjorn carrier, strapped snuggly against my chest and I am typing around her. The top flap of the Synergy model opens up enough for me to bottle feed her. Maybe this won't work once her head is sticking up out of the harness and blocking my view but, for now, this is baby heaven.
30 June, 2008
Paternity, Professorship, Parties, and Papa
Being a new father was bound to be an adventure. When you throw in another P – Premature – it only gets more interesting. Fortunately, Erica is doing superbly, even more so now that we’re past her actual due date. Most of the preemie challenges, after our six twilight weeks of neonatal intensive care, have fallen away, and we’re left with more of the run of the mill concerns: Is that colic? Will we make it off the waiting list at the day care center? However, my biggest headache remains: The 8 lb. minimum for the Baby Bjorn carrier. I can’t wait for her next weigh-in. I’ve spent hours – and this very minute – typing one-handed and holding her asleep with the other.
One other major development of the past few months has been, ten years after I finished my stint teaching high school, my first hire to teach my own university courses, four seminars for the GW Honors Program. I am excited by and grateful for the opportunity. A professor at last. Sure, I have yet to defend my dissertation. But if any of my students to-be are reading this, they should not feel too ripped-off. When I was a TA I learned prospective students were told the university did not have any of those at all. With the exception of the topic of 1980s
I won’t get into my outrage over the televised Democratic Party meeting that effectively ended the 2008 primary, other than to say it was oddly reminiscent of the 2000 Supreme Court ruling that effectively ended that election. Back then – apparently unlike many of my colleagues in the party leadership structure at the time – when I demanded that they count every vote in
Finally, the second quarter of 2008 is also notable for the passing of my grandfather, who was like a father to me in every sense. I had been hoping for 19 years that my Papa would get to meet my first child, but we came up a month short. At least he knew that she was here, and I know that brought him a lot of joy near the end. Maybe that’s why she was so early – he passed the week she had been due. They don’t make them like my Papa anymore, and maybe they never did, even back then just before the outbreak of World War I. I am glad he knew how much he meant to me, and I am going to continue to try to make him proud.
9 May, 2008
Erica and Shum
SO much has happened since I last had the opportunity to write. From the time of the 1 April posting everything has been non-stop for career and family reasons. The family aspect has quieted down, the career part - I learned to my great disappointment a few minutes ago - is no longer something to worry about for now. Back to the old dissertation. I missed out on the opportunity to conduct important research and give two guest presentations at universities at opposite ends of the earth. And while the timing for this post is pretty bad in terms of the job that I really wanted, I have nothing to complain about.
A real source of anxiety is to be found in having two generations of your family in intensive care in hospitals thousands of miles apart. My daughter was born, with very little warning, two months early. Erica Dayana Malet is quite healthy, but was also underweight even for her age and certainly was not ready to feed herself so soon. Just a short time ago I learned that she has been moved to the less-intensive care nursery. She's been a superstar on the bottle today and nothing is better in my world than when I get to hold her and rock her to sleep. I just want to find a good place to raise her and give her all the best in life that I can.
Wilfred "Shum" Malet, whose 94th birthday is at the end of this month, has been waiting a long time to see his great-grandchild. And since I was 12 years old and he was with me in a department store as I tried on potential suits for my bar mitzvah, I have wanted few things more than for him to have that chance. Unlike Erica, who was breathing on her own from the start, Shum was on a ventilator fighting pneumonia and other infections I was convinced that this was really the end. Like his great-granddaughter, he is a fighter (and an eater.) I really hope that in about three months time, when she is able to travel, that they will get the chance to meet.
As much trepidation as I am suddenly feeling about the future in the wake of a series of academic rejections, I can remember my Papa telling me the lesson he learned that "life is rough, life is tough," and take my little daughter's hand and walk with her into tomorrow. I want to make my family proud of me. Tonight I will simply be proud of them.
1 April, 2008
In Praise of ISA, No Foolin'
I spent last week in San Francisco for the 49th annual meeting of the International Studies Association, and the weather was better than I had expected. The best part of the trip was the opportunity to stay with some dear college friends whom I had not seen for years, and who were kind enough to take me to see the Giants play their cross-bay Oakland rivals, lend me their car to drive around California wineries on a tasting tour, and who indulged my taste for oysters (are there any better than my new favorite, the Effingham?)
The conference itself was also a real pleasure. Despite a small audience my panel went quite well, and it was nice to see a year of work pay off, and to share a platform (literally) with some top scholars. My gratitude to the couple of people who used the data on foreign fighters on the next page, and I will soon be updating my work based on what they shared with me, as well as the latest updates from the good folks at Uppsala. I thoroughly enjoyed this ISA, where, for the first time, I felt like one of the grown-ups at the big table. It's just too bad that it wasn't laden with Dungeness crab...
3 March, 2008
Despite my best intentions, it doesn’t seem that I can post more frequently than once a month. I realize that most of my postings to this date have concerned the 2008 Democratic nomination race and the state of my grandparents. I don’t plan to post on either subject again. On the latter, after my trip out to LA this week, there’s little to say except that I would urge anyone reading to plan their own end of life details lest they leave the responsibility to others. On the former, while Hillary Clinton’s prospects for Junior Tuesday appear to be brightening – and I am really enthralled with her recent appearances in policy debates and on Saturday Night Live – I’m starting to wonder whether the electorate deserves her. As for the other feller, all I can say is that from my perspective there are only two kinds of messiahs: Dead ones and ones who have disappointed.
I think this outlook stems from my Jewish background. In relation to that topic, I was having a conversation with someone today, trying to explain the concept of “naches,” which will be familiar to anyone with Yiddish-speaking grandparents. It basically translates as the joy and pride you get from someone, usually your children. (Hopefully) It occurred to me that naches, over which I repeatedly challenged my other grandparents (the ones who spoke Yiddish) as an adolescent, remains offensive to me because it’s a possessive, objectifying form of love. The subject’s happiness and aspirations don’t really factor into it; it’s less “I’m happy for you” and more “You make me happy.” Aside from cultural values placed upon education and a history of needing to produce the capacity for social mobility in the face of discrimination, I believe the push for naches has produced so many Jewish doctors, lawyers, and accountants. Somebody wanted bragging rights. This is not an original observation, but it’s a more cynical way of viewing it than has ever struck me before. I am no Objectivist by any stretch, but I can say I am doing my work to make me happy. And I think it could do the world a bit of good.
On a separate note, thanks to my colleague Davy Banks for informing me that there were apparently foreign fighters on the Boer side in
8 February 2008. "I'm Super! Thanks for asking..."
Looks like we're about to pass 1,000 hits, and the research page is the #1 Google result for foreign fighter. Now we need to it show up in the Google search for "foreign fighters." As of yesterday, with funding applications and human subject research paperwork out of the way, I was finally able to turn to writing the second half of the dissertation. I'm putting together my research trip to the Middle East for May and all seems clear until the summer when it's time to start trying to find a job for Fall 2009.
In the meantime we've had Super Tuesday, which yielded some surprises. I have no idea who McCain is going to pick as his running mate. One would think Huckabee, but that will absolutely kill him with the movement conservatives/country club establishment types and probably hurt with independents. I can't think of any GOP governors with strong economic records for the outside the beltway appeal. If he needs to find a conservative successor, I'm betting on John Thune. it would be interesting if he picked Condi to suck up to the Bush people and try to take away the wow for the Dems, particularly if Obama is not on the ticket.
On the Dem side, it's clear that mathematically neither can win outright, and that the rules favor Hillary. Because of the super delegates she'll have more votes and can seat Michigan and Florida. I believe they should be seated - it's not the voters' fault when the primary was scheduled. It's dishonest for Obama supporters to claim they want to go with the people and not party leaders (as a way to toss the super delegates) and then say they have to respect they party leaders' decisions and disenfranchise Florida. (Did the whole mess of the past 8 years start with disenfrancising Florida? How can Democrats argue for that?) It also seems like hypocrisy to say you can't seat MI and FL because you can't change the rules in the middle of the game, but then change the rules to get rid of super delegates and/or award the nomination based on a plurality. JFK, supposedly Obama's forerunner even though he certainly didn't meet with Castro or Mao, got the nomination through horse trading and backroom arm twisting.
I don't have anything against Obama himself, just his supporters - the same self-destructive, unthinking liberals who destroyed the party in 1968 and 1972. At this point, having voted early in Virginia for Hillary, I'm willing to accept his accomplishments and put him on a unity ticket as VP, but from what I've heard and read, his supporters would rather sabotage the whole process and hope for a McCain win and that they could try again in four years. I can't imagine what the judiciary would look like by then or how many Americans will have died pointlessly in Iraq.
In the mid 1990s, one reason I pursued a study abroad in Australia was because of unease over the long-term prospects of Pax Americana and was interested in where I might be able to go to provide thebest life for my future family. Things got better here 1996-2000, and then we disenfranchised Florida and look what followed. I'm a patriot and I love America. I'm also figuring out what I'll need to do to get my dog through New Zealand customs without spending months in quarantine.
22 January 2008. I really do mean to write an entry more frequently than once a month. A couple of weeks ago I was going to write an observation called "You can't go home again" that was very much shaped by a challenging week of elder care and related family matters in Los Angeles. Then I couldn't seem to find the time during the hectic few days after my return, and then I was in Jamaica for a long holiday weekend, apparently missing some brutally cold weather in DC while I was away.
What finally pushed me to write was the discovery of a Washington Post article that I had saved in 1999. There was, buried in it, a casual reference to how sauerkraut had been rebranded "liberty cabbage" during World War I. I don't recall any references to this being made during the "freedom fries" nonsense 2003-2006. At least Germany was actually the opponent during World War I. Why didn't this crowd try to rebrand Middle Eastern food as "free-lafels"?
Just before I left for LA the Iowa caucus was held, and while I was out there New Hampshire held its primary. I have to say that Iowa regularly disappoints me (look - if you're going to give us John Kerry, at least vote for him in November) and New Hampshire generally doesn't. Something needs to be done about this primary calendar system - it's ridiculous to say that Michigan shouldn't have the temerity to want to go early for a change. At this juncture it does apper that Hillary will go on to have a strong Super Tuesday and win the nomination. I'm still not sure what will happen on the GOP side.
I'm increasingly comfortable in my judgment on Obama - it's not just a gut reaction anymore or a synthesis of scattered comments I've read that formed an impression. He himself is not really the issue for me at this point. Instead, I've been startled by a couple of progressive activist friends, both of whom campaigned for Howard Dean four years ago, who claim Hillary is too divisive, whereas Obama can somehow bring everyone together and solve all problems just through good inspirational talks and examples. Other strong Obama backers I know view him in a similarly messianic way. It's troubling to me, and the exact reverse of what Dean supporters said four years ago - that Dean was the messenger, but that their activism was the message. In this case, the "movement" seems basically to be "let's all get behind this guy - by simply putting him in power all of the ills of the world that have existed through civilization will be swept away." I'm reminded of some of the mass psychology works I've read for courses, such as "Escape from Freedom" and "The True Believer." I support Clinton, and supported her husband in 1992 when I was in high school, because of what they pledged to do and had previously accomplished. I expected their programs to make my life better - I didn't expect them to do it for me by mere transcendance.
In 1996 I flew from LA to DC for the national College Democrats convention and was using frequent flier miles to upgrade to first class that summer. On that particular flight, which was continuing on to Europe, a woman I sat next to in business class moved the both of us up to first class, which consisted of just a few isolated seats that were fully reclinable and had private video consoles. I don't remember exactly what I ate, but I do recall some very good, plump shrimp. Needless to say, I waited nearly a dozen years for the opportunity to get that level of service again. On my flight back from LA it finally happened - I even got the middle seat all by itself - on a 767 headed on to Europe. Unfortunately, the video console had been replace by a simple reading lamp and the food was exactly what you would have had in coach 3 years ago - a choice between an omlette or cold cereal. There were some cookies later on, but I didn't exactly land satiated. What a disappointment after 12 years!
I then decided not to bother upgrading on American Airlines again - and this was reinforced after the attendant on the flight to Miami last week said that there were no more pillows, even in 1st class, on shorter than transcontinental runs. Between Miami and Montego Bay the only food was a very small bag of party max, and I imagine there was none at all in coach. But coming back form Miami, even though my itinerary only listed a "snack," there were the old warm nuts followed by a choice between salmon or an enchilada with strips of beef. It was a good thing too, because all of the restaurants at National airport had closed by the time we landed. American Airlines is too stingy and inconstant to enjoy even in premium class these days. In the past year I have had much more enjoyable flights on Delta and Jet Blue, and I'm looking forward to flying Virgin in a couple of months. But I'm still going to do everything I can to keep up my gold status in the American mileage program because even if you can't go home again, every once in a while at least someone cooks you dinner.
28 December 2007.
Apparently I registered this site and foreignfighter.com last New Year's Day, so we're marking a year of being online. With the exception of the Australian elections, I'm not sure 2007 was good for the world as a whole, and it seems to be ending very badly with the tragic events in Pakistan. For my part, however, it has been a momentous year both personally and professionally. I'm looking forward to many major events in 2008 with hope and some amount of anxiety.
Yesterday I was confronted by the broken American health care system across the generations of my family. My wife's insurance company is stalling paying her obstetrician while - I assume - they try to find some evidence that she was pregnant before her coverage began or didn't have creditable coverage prior to that. I'm afraid they're out of luck there, but I wonder what sincere "right to life, family values" types make of this. Meanwhile, my grandfather's home nursing care company asked me to order items from an online pharmacy and ship it to them. Where else does the patient's family need to provide the medical supplies? My grandparents are fortunate enough to have a Medicare supplemental so good that it isn't offered any longer, but on the items that aren't covered, pharmaceuticals mostly, the difference is obvious and I can't understand how most people get by. My greatest hope for America is that we will get a government elected in 2008 that will begin to fix this before 2009 is out. With the explosion of aging baby boomers who have mountains of debt and no savings, I can't imagine this problem not being addressed in some way.
This site is almost always on the first Google page for David Malet when I check. The other url was up to the 3rd Google page for foreign fighter, and I need to get it to register foreign fighters as well. There's currently no wikipedia entry for the term, and I'm hoping to correct that sometime next year as well, although I can't imagine when I'll have the free time.
I'm hoping for a Hillary win in Iowa on Tuesday. 2008 will be momentous on so many levels, but I'm feeling guardedly optimistic.
10 December, 2007. Have I really not had anything to say for more than a month? It's been an eventful and busy period, but - other than seeing the amazing first ultrasound of my 13 week fetus (negative six months old?) - nothing to tell the world. I was about to post a list of all of the books I read this year outside of my academic work. That's something I'm proud of.
And then I thought about saying something about politics. Right now, there's a very good chance that Senator Obama will win the Democratic nomination. In my very first post I listed him as my third choice, or fourth behind a hypothetical Gore candidacy. Unfortunately, he's dropped in my estimation since then. Jerome Armstrong is right - Oprah is part of the reason we ended up with Dubya, so why should we trust her political instincts. I heard today that my old boss Tom Daschle, whose chief of staff Obama inherited, has endorsed him as well. Great. Not only do I believe he'd lose the general election - unfortunately because of racism - but I now am convinced that his substance-free progressive movement blather is all talk. He's a guy who has his current job because his main opponents dropped out of both the primary and general elections over scandals, and is famous only because John Kerry chose to highlight him at the 2004 convention. Ah, my other old boss. There are some fine political instincts. I am convinced that not only would Obama lose to someone awful like Romney or Huckabee, but that he would damage the progressive movement by attempting to distance himself from it every chance he gets. And he has therefore earned my distinction as someone "Really Bad for America." (copyright David Malet, 2007) If this really is a new phrase, I will be applying it in future columns. Should it even have its own site?
With the launch of Really Bad for America out of the way, I still want to post my reading list. I've pretty much accomplished my goal of a dozen years ago to see all of the classic movies so that I could be culturally conversant. Along the way, I realized I missed an awful lot of classics in school. In college, I'm afraid I only got Greek plays and a few other ancient classics. So I've been working to rectify that. In 2007, I read:
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
The Great Gatsby
The Places Inbetween
King Solomon's Mines
The Catcher in the Rye
I Am America (And So Can You!)
And that's outside of all of the social science, Spanish Civil War, Israel 1948, and pregnancy books! Why have I not needed glasses?! For 2008 I'm aiming for Don Quixote.
5 November, 2007. So much traffic in the past month! I wonder if it has anything to do with the PowerPoint show on the foreign fighter research that I put on in my department last month. I’m about to apply for a grant that asks if there’s a website associated with the dissertation, so I’ll soon have to go and update all of my Excel files, though I don’t expect any dramatic differences.
So how about that
Haven’t had the chance to do much academic work the past few days, but I did fix the refrigerator icemaker and I may just have installed enough new parts in the bathroom toilet that I don’t have to put in any more. I suspect I’m not doing a professional quality job with the Home Depot products – it’s not like anyone ever showed me how to do any home maintenance – but I realize that if I called anyone in they would install the exact same parts and charge $100 in labor for each job. And kneeling for hours on two different sets of tile ,with cold water splashing me and the skin being grated off my thumbs, makes this long academic process seem not so bad after all.
10 October 2007. I had some brilliant insight over the weekend that I wanted to blog about, but I was in a hurry and had to scribble it on a piece of paper, which I've now lost. Oh well.
In the past 12 hours I've had a number of exciting developments. Most recently it was sitting here at the computer and seeing a white cat sitting on my window ledge staring in at my oblivious dog. I've seen this cat a few times before over the past couple of months, hiding in a storm drain, hanging out in front of someone else's condo, and I'd thought it was the lost cat in a poster on a lamp post a few blocks away. Then someone hung up a "found cat" poster in front of my building that matched neither the cat I'd seen nor the one on the poster and I was at a loss. This morning, I was sure this was the lost cat because how many could there be and maybe it just looked white or had been traumatized by living in the sewer like a character in a French novel. (Really, there are a couple I can think of off the top of my head.) So I went out with a bowl of milk, which was readily accepted by the cat in the bushes, but it still wouldn't let me touch it. So I left the bowl and grabbed my cell phone and ran a few blocks to find the missing cat poster. There was no way to argue it was the same cat. By the time I returned it had left anyway, much to the relief of the dog, who didn't hold this dalliance against me. This gives you a sense of what life is like writing when writing yoru dissertation at home for this to be such a profoundly exciting moment.
Last night I watched "Blood Diamond" and I grudgingly have to admit that I am now sold on Leonardo DiCaprio. The movie actually had the least plausible of all possible outcomes, but it was very well done, and hopefully educational to what I have to admit must be the vast majority of people who hadn't heard of conflict diamonds. The best part for me was the incredible attention to detail with the inclusion of the Kamajor tribe (some foreign fighter connection there) and also 32 Battalion, which I had learned of only a few hours before (a 1989 article about this South African Army group composed of Angolan FNLA refugees that fought in Namibia was the second story about foreign fighters available on Lexis-Nexis) I think I need to check my sub-Saharan Africa cases again.
In the midst of all of this, I've been exchanging emails with some other, very friendly and helpful South Africans, two of whom were volunteer "foreign fighters" in the Israeli War of Independence. One of them now resides in Tel Aviv and is working to set up a museum about MACHAL volunteers at Latrun. They've already erected a statue, and are looking for funds to add a wing to the existing museum there. The content isn't up on the website yet, but anyone interested in making a contribution can email firstname.lastname@example.org
5 October 2007.
I truly have no idea who's reading these, but the counter keeps going up. I somehow feel like I need to update this frequently to keep the hits rolling in, but I'm not sure there's any correlation. There certainly aren't any messages over on the foreign fighter message board (yet.) I don't know how people with more on their plate than I do manage to maintain legit blogs. I do have to wonder why this site shows up at #2 for my name but if you google foreign fighter you can't get foreignfighter.com.
I just finished a research project for Lee Sigelman, a venerable figure in Political Science, in which I downloaded 4,000 pdfs of articles from the Journal of Abnormal Psychology from its inception in 1906-1964. He was looking for concepts that were then developed in our discipline, although I found perhaps a dozen relevant articles from the entire period. I did enjoy the 1920-1930s where the discussion focused on whether instinct and ESP were valid concepts, and there were articles profilign sideshow attractions like Lady the mind-reading horse and "The Strong Boy" from Ohio, who had a very fetching moustache in the only photo I ever saw in that journal. I do believe we need more of that in Political Science - if their contemporary equivalent - Brittany Spears - says trust the president and don't ask questions, I think that calls for tests of support for authoritarianism among entertainment industry elites. Coming soon?: "How Liberal is Hollywood?"
27 September 2007. Hsu Who?
I just wrote a long screed against the corporate media for jumping all over this Norman Hsu business while largely ignoring top Romney and Giuliani fundraisers who have also been indicted, but for even sexier things like dealing coke and child sex abuse. And then Website Tonight ate my post and now I don't feel like rewriting the whole thing. Let's just say I believe that rather than striking a Goldilocks balance, between hyperactive zealousness during the first Clinton Administration and total obeissance during the second Bush Administration until more than a thousand Americans drowned, I'm afraid a Hillary presidency would just be a return to 1990s media coverage. Seriously - who is this Hsu guy and why should he be headline news? Isn't he just one of tens of thousands of her donors?
In more proximate news, I now have the first draft of one of my dissertation chapters in the can. (Actually it's Chapter 2.) It's a good feeling, and now I'm going to get to work on Chapter 1, which covers all of the empirical data on foreign fighters found on the next page (also through www.foreignfighter.com) There will be a lot of pretty charts, but I'm going to have to update the whole thing because I recently received enough information about IRA assistance to the FARC in Colombia that I' now need to add another observation to the data set.
12 September 2007. Special "apples and honey" edition.
It's the Jewish New Year tonight, and I also want to give a shout out for my grandparents' 71st anniversary and her 91st birthday. They're not online, and I really will have to give a shout out over the phone...
The fact that it's Rosh HaShana ("Head of the Year," when Jews, of European descent at least, eat slices of apple dipped in honey to augur a sweet year ahead) led to an incident this morning that got my blood pressure up a bit. I was driving back from having my car serviced and was listening to Stephanie Miller on Air America. I love that show and what a gal! I also really like her two on-air sidekicks, particularly "voice deity" Jim Ward, who does side-splitting impressions, particularly of Kim Jong Il. He also makes trenchant social and political observations and spends much time in his "conspiracy corner," which often deals with 9/11. Today he was talking about the possibility that the administration is inviting a massive terror attack later this week as a pretext to attack Iran. He cited things like an announced Air Force stand-down for one particular day (I'll assume that's true.) He then mentioned that El Al had cancelled all flights between Israel and New York for the 13-15th.
I was so flabbergasted it took me a few seconds to realize that you have two holy days followed by the sabbath -- also a holy day -- and that would very easily account for the three day lack of flights. But how had he even tied it in to begin with? Who had thought to look up El Al's flight schedule and tie it to this? I doubted it was Ward, but clearly whatever sites he's reading are venturing into disturbing territory.
I do not call into shows, never have. But I picked up my cell in the shopping center parking lot and tried to dial, although I gave up when I realized I didn't know the number after all. I figured I'd just email them when I got home, but the very first caller addressed the issue by saying someone she knew couldn't get a hold of her Jewish professor because of the "holiday weekend" and noted that El Al probably never flies on Saturday regardless (which suggested to me that there was more this caller than met the ear.)
So someone else took care of it, but it didn't end my disquiet. Look, I understand that the radical right in America is currently (and uniquely in history) strangely pro-Israel because it currently features a coalition of End Times Christian fundamentalists and Neocon Jewish pseudo-intellectuals. But that's no reason for the activist left to be anti-Semitic. And, as martin Luther King once said, people who say that they're really being critical of Israel really mean "the Jews."
I was reminded of that along with the canard that passed around Arab media that awful week six years ago when it was claimed that no Jews showed up for work at the World Trade Center on the morning of the attack. I'm not sure how that accounts for a friend of my wife's from high school. He was 25 years old and engaged and he was Jewish, maybe he just didn't get the memo and that's why he was killed along with all the other Cantor Fitzgerald employees whent he first plane hit.
I recently talked with someone about visiting Arab countries before a possible research trip to Israel because a number of them won't let you in if you have an Israeli stamp in your passport. She informed me - and I knew this already - that the Israelis will not stamp it for that very reason if you ask them. She seemed surprised by my answer that I didn't want to hide any visits to Israel and I didn't believe I should have to.
Does any other people have to put up with this? Really, can't we just give it all a rest? I really don't get why after 2,000 years there's still a special standard for Jews that lets even bleeding heart liberals believe that there's some cabal of them - and Ward mentioned former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Nethanyahu by name - that are sitting around plotting, or at least complicit in, the deaths of innocent Americans. No one - I hope - believes that the Serbs or Russians or Vietnamese are doing anything similar and, unlike Israelis, they might actually have a motive based on past history if this were a detective yarn. Unfortunately it's not; it's a different kind of fiction - another sequel to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion churned out by a right wing hate machine and consumed by left wingers who see images of suffering in the Middle East but have lost perspective as to who the underdogs are in the struggle and why they fight so desperately.
Now, unless certain Jewish archivists start cooperating and giving me access to records of foreign fighters in the Israeli War of Independence, that's the last bit of support I'm giving on here to the Tribe, other than to say Shana Tova.
5 September 2007. I went to the APSA conference in Chicago over Labor Day weekend and presented some of the stuff on the foreign fighter project page as my research. I got one piece of good feedback that I'm afraid I can't remember at the moment, and was reminded of another case that I'd forgotten and will have to include. Like Correlates of War and other data sets, this one won't ever be really finished. While other people were working on related topics, nobody else appears to be doing this one yet, and I'm going to try to get something publishable out quickly if my meeting with my advisor goes well on Friday. Meanwhile my HVAC unit doesn't appear to be working properly, and that's rapidly becoming my #1 concern of the week.
Finally watched some wrestling last night for the first time in months. I'd read that in this match the ECW title -- the one Chris Benoit was likely meant to have won the day he died -- would finally change hands, and indeed it did. I wondered if maybe I'd be getting back into it after all. CNN this morning reported that Benoit had brain damge of the type found in Alzheimer's patients and the likeliest culprit seems to be repeated concussions. If that's the case, then I've got to apply the boxing standard to wrestling - I don't want people really injuring themselves for my entertainment. Guess I'm done after all.
27 August 2007. What does the Gonzalez resignation mean for workplace culture in America? It had seemed as though we'd reached a point in our society where nobody would ever be held truly accountable for anything anymore provided they were well-connected enough. In the corporate arena there is the golden parachute, in politics one can at least get a career as a well-paid pundit after leaving the public sector under questionable circumstances. How much worse would it be if you could simply stay in your job forever regardless of performance? I wonder why those who are so eager to evaluate teachers based on the performance of their students on standardized tests (that require a standardized curriculum) and to abolish academic tenure don't seem to believe metrics should be employed in measuring the performance of the federal adminstration...
21 August 2007. Happy birthday David Malet ... and the counter passes 300 hits.
14 August 2007. I've been meaning to update this sooner. Just earlier today, the UC San Diego library computer ate my posting three times before I gave up. I'm here this week (hopefully) completing my research on the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War. This week I really like my native California.
I spent all of last week in Manhattan doing the same thing at NYU's Tamiment Library, and I got to do a little sightseeing as well. During the course of this I had two realizations about New York City, which I was visiting for the 4th time. The first was that the celebrated New York accent was, despite the city being the greatest melting pot on the planet, derived from the original Dutch dialect of New Amsterdam. The second came when I was attending a mediocre performance of Asian music and dance in a free show outside Lincoln Center. There was an Asian-American professional couple sitting right in front of me, and they were cracking up at the accent and gestures of the flamboyant Chinese walking stereotype who was the leader of the troupe. They bailed out before I did, but not before I realized that, even in the 21st century, greenhorn humor is still alive and well in New York.
25 July 2007. For better or worse, I have linked the next page on this site to the domain name foreignfighter.com . I'm curious what this does to the traffic and what will turn up on Google. I've found the term has spread beyond Iraq and Afghanistan and is being used to describe militants in Lebanon, Somalia and elsewhere in East Africa and so forth. It's only a matter of time before it ends up in the International Relations literature. I'm planting the flag today.
20 July 2007. Back from the arctic, and I think I've finally adjusted to having darkness again after not seeing a night sky for two weeks. I didn't learn much about climate change while in Greenland -- apparently it makes life slightly easier for everyone except the subsistence hunters living in the farthest north. The government is now providing them with small boats because the pack ice can't hold them anymore. As the one person I had the opportunity to discuss it with said, "we're not causing it, and we're not the ones who built the huge coastal cities that will be affected." I did visit Disko Bay, the #1 source of icebergs in the northern hemisphere. It used to be closed by ice for three months in winter and isn't anymore. After personally seeing (and nearly being swamped at one point by) icebergs the size of buildings tearing loose, I can really appreciate what too much of this will do to the Gulf Stream. It's very cold around building-size chunks of ice.
The most interesting conversation I had in Iceland was with a tour jeep driver one day. He was not so worried about climate change (his commute is easier in winter now) though he was sad about losing some of the glaciers and concerned about the long-term impact. He also thought Iceland had plenty of wilderness and could use some more power plants, and had some interesting (though not really derogatory) comments about black people he'd met while driving a truck for his cousin in Chicago. If this guy had been an American, he would have been what I imagine the stereotypical right-wing talk radio, blue collar, Reagan Democrat type to be. He apparently also flew small planes, was very interested in civil aviation, and had ingested these wild conspiracy theories about Mayor Daley in Chicago plowing up the runways of a municipal airport in the middle of the night because they wouldn't rename it afer his wife. But his real animus against Daley, the reason he wanted to "punch him right in the mouth if I saw him," is that he closed some facility or other and put 400 people out of work. And that's when I knew I was in a Scandanavian socialist country.
I'd seen "Sicko" the night before leaving on the trip and was seriously considering a much longer return to New Zealand, which I'd visited in 1995. And here you have someone who clearly saw himself far to the right of most Icelanders, and even his own drinking buddies, outraged because a number of strangers are put out of work, presumably by market forces. In his view, the government should be there to prop people up, not leave them to fend for themselves. I recently heard from a strong Republican friend that the people where he's living in red state, rural Michigan trust the GOP to help them with their daily lives more than they do Democrats. To me, this is straight out of the book "What's the Matter with Kansas?" I have to wonder just what conservatives think the government should do to help them out in times of need or just to get by as their employers move overseas or cancel their old age pensions. Other than the ridiculously flawed and cynical 2003 Medicare prescription drug benefit, I can't think of anything conservatives in this country have ever done to make life easier for working people. Small tax breaks don't pay for VA healthcare and they shouldn't have to.
I thought I knew the answer to this one already, but I just read a piece in The Economist that confirmed it for me. Poorerrural and blue collar ethnic whites had no problem with liberals or "big government" in the days it gave them rural electricity, the GI Bill, Social Security, Medicare, the CCC or a host of other programs. This started to change in the late 1960s, when liberals became identified with putting the interests of blacks ahead of these traditional Democratic constituencies. I am so grateful that I taught in a Massachusetts public school (albeit a suburban, rich, Jewish one) because I would otherwise never have seen the episode from the HBO series "Eyes on the Prize II," following on where the 1980s PBS series left off in 1965. I saw for myself South Boston Irish (the type you see in movies like "The Departed" and "Mystic River" throwing rocks at Ted Kennedy - and drawing blood - or attacking school buses far more aggressively than their southern counterparts when the courts ordered them to integrate their neighborhood schools too. I learned in history class in high school about the benighted folk in the deep south, but I didn't see the same reactions that took place in the old industrial northeast and midwest as well. The Democrats became the party of "them" instead of us - and though the numbers are finally returning, I don't believe Democrats have actually won the white vote since 1964.
The article in The Economist I just read was one in a growing number coming from the burgeoning field of behavioral economics, which is threatening to eventually blow away the "Chicago school", Milton Friedman variant that has come to be accepted as classical economics in this country over the last 30 years. It turns out that people are more interested in relative gains than absolute gains. This has been a huge matter of debate in the international security field, but apparently it applies to pocketbook issues as well. People don't work 80 hour weeks because it makes them richer, but because it makes them richer than other people and increases their relative social power. This new study showed that, in experiments, most men will refuse agreements in which they will be given a quantity of money if the experimenter says that he'll be keeping a larger proportion of it for himself. In other words, they'd rather not gain anything than have someone else gain even more at their expense.
I think that's what's really the matter with Kansas (and western Michigan and the wealthiest neighborhoods in America up the road from me in suburban Virginia.) For 40 years there's been an "other" in American society to whom those who controlled the purse strings were suddenly giving disproportionate benefits (in response to their disproportionate need.) Bjarni the Icelandic jeep driver saw himelf as being in the same lot as laborers in Chicago, and wanted to defend them. What we need in this country, I believe today, is a way to reinforce that we're all in the same lot. From what I've read, Truman's integration of the Armed Forces did help on this score. Perhaps a national service program for everyone really would make a difference.
29 June, 2007. After 21 years, I may finally be done watching wrestling. What a tragedy. Besides involving probably my favorite performer of the past few years, the whole situation is particularly disturbing considering a number of recent discoveries about my household growing up that make me really consider myself fortunate to be here today. When I combine that with the number of recent fatal manifestations of what Rowdy Roddy Piper termed "the Sickness" in wrestling, I have to say I'm in a funk (not a Funk) over "sports entertainment."
I'm really looking forward to getting away for the next couple of weeks. First stop Iceland, then on to Greenland and back. I've wanted to get back to the arctic since a couple of consciousness-changing trips to Alaska in my early teens, and I'm ready to make the most of it.
25 June 2007. Ah, the perfidy of Google. Two months ago, with nothing much to show for it, this site was the number two result for David Malet. Despite doubling the number of hits since then, and with all of the fine expounding that preceded this particular whiny self-absorbed entry, it's fallen off completely. There must be a number of summer philosophy courses on David Malet Armstrong, because he owns the place completely. I did find a couple of pages in a paper I wrote for a conference last year, my supposed office hours and the like. But not this site. Strangely, the Foreign Fighter Project page of this site did show up (as the last entry on page 4) despite not being up and running yet. Has my name becomes synonymous with transnational insurgents? I rather doubt it.
The data set, which I think will be called an observation set instead because large portions will be left blank or with question marks, is ready to go pending my advising committee's input. 330 observations of civil conflict, about 20 percent feature foreign fighters. Once I get the word, probably not until after my upcoming trip to the arctic, I'll put it up on the page and then link it to foreignfighter.com , which I parked back in January. I'm really hoping that one does becomes the number one search result. As for me, I can wait a bit longer.
20 June 2007. I'm somewhat surprised at the continuing debate over the final scene of "The Sopranos." Why do so many people need to see Tony gunned down to get a sense of "closure"? Do they feel guilty for enjoying his antics? But the whole thing is fine with me because it led to that fantastic campaign video on Hillary Clinton's website in which she and Bill re-enact the diner sequence. Better work than their "Harry and Louise" anti-health care commercial parody from a dozen years ago. I always wonder about politicians acting (or actor-politicians) though. Doesn't the voter ever wonder "Does this means s/he can lie to me with a straight face?"
The foreign fighter data set is coming along at last, as is the structure for my case studies. One acquaintance has twice held out the prospect of making some calls so that I could get go get contemporary information from Afghanistan and a certain corner of Cuba. I'm not sure if that would ever happen. My university has a 3 page long waiver any interview subjects need to sign that assures them that they won't suffer any consequences from what they say. I think it would be extremely difficult to make that happen under the circumstances. The whole regulation, which I believe was originally designed for subjects of psychological experiments, actually creates more ethical problems than it solves here, particularly if it means that I would be kept from publishing career-cementing data. "Corporal, apply the electrodes until he signs...We're talking about the difference between an Amazon best-seller and an academic publisher here!" How would one get "closure" in a case like that? As I first realized in 6th grade, life doesn't just cut to the credits at tidy junctures.
14 June 2007. One thing that has kept me from making enough progress in my work lately has been my need to spend time overseeing and visiting (with more overseeing) my grandparents who are in their 90s. I currently have no interest in sky-diving, but I'm giving science 55 years to cure senile dementia - I'm happy to inject rat tails and their stem cells directly into my brain - or I'll be sky-diving every six months starting on my 85th birthday, which was about the point both of them started to slow down. For all of the talk of the strains put on society by aging baby boomers over the next thirty(!) years, I don't think anyone has adequately explored how hard it's going to hit workplace productivity when their Gen-X kids and their younger siblings are distracted by crises and have to shell out their money to a legion of questionable helpers. With a negative savings rate in this country and six of ten Americans currently in debt, it's not like the boomers will have saved up enough to pay for it themselves. So I think a lot of people will have to drop out of the workforce because no one can afford to pay for senior care. If we do limit low-skilled immigration, then this might end up being the vocation of the new blue collar workforce. Goodbye Ford factory, hello Sunnyvale Rest Home.
At the same time I was returning to the DC area from my sojourn to LA to lend a hand, "The Sopranos" was airing its final episode. The penultimate scene featured Tony finally visiting his uncle who was suffering from Alzheimer's and could neither remember him nor his involvement in organized crime. The next scene was the dinner scene without an ending that seems to have upset so many people this week who wanted "closure" provided to them, apparently in the form of a bloody shoot-up. If you combine the prior scene with this one, in which Tony is visibly anxious every time a customer walks in to the diner, I think that's the lesson - even if no one shoots him, he'll have to spend his life in fear until senility robs him of even the "good times" that he used to tell his son to try to remember. Some victory. And nothing ever ends, to quote a line from "Watchmen." The abrupt stop reminded me of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" or the final episode of "Blake's 7," so a shootout may have been pending, but I happen to think the people the director showed coming in were just random bystanders and the director wanted us to have to share Tony's paranoia. My other explanation is that they were all FBI agents, as they lawyer had said an indictment was forthcoming and I have to believe the help whacking Phil Leotardo was a Fed set-up to decapitate New York and set up Tony for murder charges. "The Sopranos" wasn't ever one of my favorite shows, but I don't have any other continuing fictional series to watch at this point. I hope there are new episodes of Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" soon.
22 May, 2007. After finishing a month of grading, I'm finally able to turn my attention to my dissertation. Somehow I'm managing to find free moments to think about topics other than how to code foreign fighter recruitment messages. And one of these items that drifted along on the stream of consciousness was the recollection that Marvel Comics recently killed Captain America, an iconic superhero who had been in action since WWII, except for the 20 years after the war in which he was in suspended animation in the Arctic. I haven't bought comics since summer 2001, so I may not have the details right, but he was apparently shot in the back by an ex-girlfriend on the steps of a courthouse. I remembered as well that DC Comics recently killed off its equivalent patriotic WWII era hero, Uncle Sam, having him also (I believe) shot in the back by an assassin, and ending up face-down in a puddle of oil, to the delight of the editors.
It's my understanding that Cap enjoyed a brief resurgence after 9/11. Steve Rogers, the once scrawny kid behind the mask who had taken experimental "super soldier serum" so that he could fight the Axis, had been bereft of direction in the past and had quit a couple of times in the 1980s to try to find a new direction in a post-Dallas 1963, post-Watergate America very different than the one for which he had originally enlisted. Uncle Sam, a lesser character, had also been replaced by attempts at new interpretations during the 1990s, to the point that he was portrayed as a delusional homeless vagrant in one mini-series. But the characters that had been around since the 1940s rebounded, and you would think they would be in demand given the current realities of U.S. security. Instead, they were apparently more relevant murdered. Why should this be?
To me, it's all too easy to blame Dubya for adding another casualty to the roster of American icons obliterated during his tenure (add a major superhero to the list of the Twin Towers, New Orleans, a space shuttle, and Pax Americana.) All of the first-year college students in my Intro to International Politics discussion sections who never knew a pre-Dubya world order seem to think that the U.S. wouldn't stand a chance in a confrontation with Iran and that the U.N. can't organize any kid of global collective action. Why should a member of "the Greatest Generation" in an American flag body suit be meaningful to them? Cap was revived in time for the Vietnam era, when other WWII solider characters such as Sgt. Rock and Sgt. Fury prospered in a four color world that represented an escape from the images being brought home on the evening news from Southeast Asia. Perhaps it is because Vietnam was the war of their parents' youth, and not "the last good war" that there's simply no basis for that kind of belief anymore.
I don't know what the name of the ex-girlfriend who shot Steve Rogers is, but she wasn't the one who really killed Captain America, nor was it his Nazi arch-enemy the Red Skull, nor even the editors of Marvel. It was Dubya, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the Coalition Provisional Authority, an entity with two misnomers out of three words in its name. They should have read the Justice League of America one-shot "Super Powers" that came out in 1999, in which an insecure kid with more power than he can handle ignores Superman's advice and deposes a stand-in for Saddam Hussein, and then watches helplessly as the initially grateful country quickly slips into civil war and genocide. I'd say it was unbelievably prophetic, but then that was also exactly what was predicted in briefings on Iraq I attended along with hundreds of other congressional staffers in early 2000. The Iraq catastrophe has undermined the belief of an entire generation that America can be a force for good in the world.
It's my hope not that Marvel will create a new Captain America for the times as it has promised to do, but that Steve Rogers might one day revive again to sling his shield for a new generation of comic book readers. That will mean that the values embodied by the original continue to resonate in our country, and that this is only a temporary eclipse, and not the sunset, for the America he represented.
9 May, 2007. Fun fact I learned today: Vidal Sassoon was a foreign fighter in Israel's War of Independence!
8 May, 2007: Eurosceptic
Two major events in the past few days have caused me to re-question exactly what American political culture means. First we have the state visit by the Queen of England and the guy who was played by James Cromwell in the movie. If there's one thing the film "The Queen" (which I saw twice in two weeks on American Airlines) drove home to me, it's that these are people who, while living like pampered lap dogs -- and I have a bichon frise, so I know -- still do everyday things like watch tv in bed. So all of the fuss about using the wrong fork at the White House seems purposefully overblown. Does it really matter? When Charles and Harry and whomever else are on the throne one day, at least you know they've visited refugee camps and such.
I'll never forget visiting the state parliament in New South Wales, Australia, and seeing the giant oil painting of Elizabeth II in the foyer titled "The Empress of Australia." I knew then that, despite the push on at the time to dump the monarchy and declare Australia a republic, it wasn't time yet. The movie Braveheart came out at that time and, while the posters in the states had some tag line about love, in Australia it was "What man would defy a king?" As an 18 year-old American, the first question that came to my mind was "Who wouldn't?" And I was proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free.
So what's with all of these Americans falling all over themselves to meet the Queen for her visit? Is it just because she's famous for being famous? I hope it's not the same thing with the Pope. What does it mean to these people to show obeisance to a hereditary European monarch? I'm glad Ms. Windsor enjoyed Jamestown - I've been twice and really like it, though I had the strangest, strongest feeling of deja vu both times - and her demonstrating more statesmanship than Dubya was cool too.
The other big event was the French presidential election. The more conservative candidate won the run-off with 53%, although he's certainly not a conservative in American terms. There aren't many of those in the other developed countries and that's a fact. Despite claims that this somehow represents a crisis for European progressives, (EJ Dionne made an interesting case in today's Washington Post) from what I've read in The Economist over the past few months, the race was Sarkozy's to lose. (And he didn't.) He was consistently ahead in all of the polls, Segolene had a divided party/coalition, and the big concern is immigration and crime because of the banlieu riots. Sarkzoy pledged to basically stay the course and clean up the streets a bit. The race reminded me very much of the 1990 California governor's race, in which Pete Wilson defeated Dianne Feinstein by a couple of points.
But the conclusion of the race allows me to revisit something that has been bothering me out of the pages of The Economist. If you look at the campaign posters, particularly of Sarkozy and Francois Bayrou, they appear very pensive, staring straight at you without smiling. (Segolene's posters were self-conscious glamor shots so they weren't quite the same.) Images like this don't appear in the US, except for fliers of Ralph Nader that were plastered around DC in 2000. In American campaign imagery, the candidate is either smiling or staring optimistically off at the horizon. (I tried to capture that latter look in my 9th grade class picture and came out looking mentally disabled.)
And the answer, of course, is that France still likes intellectuals, even in its public figures, as Bill Maher recently noted. If the French got to vote in the 2000 US elections, there never would have been a Florida recount, and that has nothing to do with policy. The recent deaths of past American titans like Arthur Schlesinger and the acknowledgment by the chattering classes that we have none of their ilk to fill the void speaks volumes about what's been wrong with our society for the past 40 years since George Wallace and Spiro Agnew appealed to the lowest common impulse in blue collar America by telling them that it was the intellectuals who were causing all of their problems - which basically meant the integration of blacks into white society. This was the birth of what would eventually become the Reagan Democrat. Now, of course, the blue collar jobs are gone but people still aren't encouraged to become intellectuals, and the term is probably suffering another blow because the only prominent intellectuals today are discredited neocons. So, without higher aspirations, the public concerns itself with American Idols instead of actual elections, enraptured by people who aren't great singers, they're just famous for being famous. Can the Queen sing?
2 May, 2007. Hello, welcome to my first post! I launched my site in January 2007 with the expectation of publishing some of my doctoral dissertation research, letting loose as much creativity as someone can relying on a template program, and grabbing a couple of domain names before something happened to them. Since then, depsite the fact that I had done nothing with this site, by May nearly 100 people had visited and this site is now the number two Google result when you put in David Malet. While not proficient enough yet to have a real blog, I will try to post here regularly. Where else better to read David Malet than davidmalet.com ?
I've updated my CV and made some adjustments to the Foreign Fighter Project. Once I have my data set completed (at some point this summer) I will put it up and link it to the domain name foreignfighter.com . I defended my doctoral prospectus on 27 April so now is the time to get this rolling.
I have an obvious interest in politics, so many posts will involve that subject. Today, instead of grading papers, I want to record my thoughts on the emerging 2008 Democratic primary. For the record, my candidate of choice is Al Gore. The environment has been my overriding public policy concern since I was a kid reading Ranger Rick magazine. When the Clinton-Gore ticket was elected, I really felt like we were on track to save the world because I saw, at 16 years old in 1992, that ecological challenges threatened to make all of our other concerns irrelevant. The 2000 election was my biggest nightmare come true, but I think most of the US and the rest of the world now realize the stakes, and what has been lost by a couple of Reagan appointee judges handing the most powerful office in the world to arguably the worst- qualified candidate ever, rather than possibly the best-qualified in American history. I really hope he gets into it. I think enough people are finally ready to hear the inconvenient truth.
But Gore's not running at this point, so who's my pick? I have to go with Hillary. She's brilliant and she has a great personality in person when she opens up (from my experience having run into her twice in Senate elevators when I was a staffer.) Living History is a fantastic read and really made me a believer. And, really, all she has to do is win Ohio, right?
Obama is a great symbol and seems very intelligent, but his personality is too derivative for me. Just as some have accused Dubya of ripping off the persona of wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin, Obama is a skinny version of The Rock - same cadence when he's speaking. The Rock was, after all, "the most electrifying man in sports entertainment." The rap on Obama coming out of the first debate was that he wasn't tough enough. Knowing the people he has selected as his advisors, I'm not at all surprised. Lord knows, they weren't tough enough when they were leading the opposition to Bush during the darkest hours of 2001-2004.
So Edwards is my #3 pick at this point. He has room to move past Hillary, and my Republican politico friend thinks he'd be the toughest to beat because he'd lock up Ohio. He's certainly growing as a public figure, and is starting to branch in the direction of my all-time favorite and role model, Robert Kennedy. We'll see what the next few months bring.
I have a discussion board over on the foreign fighters page. Feel free to post or to contact me directly. Thanks- David