Thursday, November 29, 2007

What Everyone Misses About the Iowa Caucuses

As a proud Iowan, I often ask myself – what do we really have to brag about? Sure we have world famous attractions like America’s largest Czech and Slovak Museum, the Midwest’s largest frying pan, and the home of the first soldier to die in World War I. Assuredly, these hallowed halls whet the appetite of the would-be tourist. But not to worry – we have the caucuses!

The
Iowa caucuses bring millions of dollars to our state every four years and begin the process of determining the leader of the free world. But wait, who really cares? Not Iowans, that’s for sure. For the last several months and for the next two as the Iowa Caucuses approach, polling data and school visits in Iowa will dominate the national press – and be skipped over by most Iowans.

This is the sad incongruity between national perceptions of the “noblest form of democracy,” and the reality in
Iowa. On January 3, 2008, the first votes (sort-of) will be cast for the eventual president of the United States. And they will be done so by no more than about 150,000 largely white, middle-class, citizens from, just one, heartland state. This is not meant to be a drag on Iowans – we take our job seriously.

Well I should say the roughly 5 % of the state that caucus take their job seriously. So when the national media swarms on Iowa, it makes the viewer in Tallahassee or the reader in Seattle think Iowans are something they are not – a bunch of political geeks descended from some abnormal heritage well versed in the treatises of Locke and Montesquieu. Most of us barely got past Federalist #10 – something about factions?

So Iowans don’t care, oh shit! Not really. The media likes to assign a mythical advantage to whoever wins the Iowa caucuses. This notion also is largely incorrect. Oh sure, Kerry won Iowa and won the Democratic nominee in 2004 as did Bush for the GOP in 2000, but Iowa played a very minor role in the victories of those two candidates. Polling data shows, those two candidates were already on their way to winning nationally without the supposed “boost” they gained from Iowa’s anointed aristocracy.

Finally, no one really knows what is going to happen come January 3. When only 5% of the state is likely to participate, reliable polling data is hard to accumulate. And even when polls do reach upwards of 1000 “likely” caucus goers, who really knows if a) they will go, or more importantly if b) they will switch their support during the two hour marathon butting heads with the Orange Bowl. The media speculates daily about the polls coming out of Iowa and shapes how the rest of the nation feels about the candidates when in actuality, anything could happen.

Iowans are a proud bunch; we’re not easily persuaded by fast talking politicians dressed in nice suits. In that regard the politically active citizens of the state are some of the most gifted observers in selecting the next POTUS. That being said, the caucuses are hardly the best democratic measure aimed at jump-starting the race for president. The large majority of Iowans are not as active as they should be, and Iowa does not matter as much as everyone wants it to. And while I like saying I’ve met all the leading contenders, the Iowa fray wastes millions of dollars and hours of energy. It also undercuts democracy – presidential candidates are ignoring most of the country.

Like Bruce Wayne in the newest Batman movie, I am telling you to get out of my house for your own good. The candidates and the media need to get out of
Iowa – it’s bad for America and it undermines the nomination process. I’ll be sad when Iowa no longer dominates the press every four years but I guess I’ll have to find solace in cooking really big pancakes while sipping Bohemian beer.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A week at Midd


The past two weeks of Middlebury life have been in a way ultra typical, but in a way also extemely interesting. It started last week when Rajiv Chandrasekaran came to speak on campus. He is an editor at the Washington Post and wrote the book Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone about the first few months of the US invasion in Iraq. He was very journalistic in that he didn't really offer any political views or blame.

He did, as he does in the book, highlight a lot of the atrocious planning mistakes commited by the Bush Administration. It wasn't really anything new or different from the book. The one thing I took away was how journalists could conduct their investigations so much easier immediately after the fall of Saddam. Now Western jounralists can't even leave the green zone and Iraqi journalists do all the investigating, and even they are at risk. I do recommend the book though as a basic run through of how we messed up. Chandrasekaran has a lot of unique takes on the whole situation and is very good about not blaming the soldiers or State department.


This past Wednesday, I was lucky enough to have dinner with Peter Galbraith, an expert on Iraq and former Ambassador to Croatia under the Clinton Administration. The public library where I work was sponsoring Ambassador Galbraith, and I was invited to dinner. I was a bit disappointed because I thought the other adults failed to really address the expert mind we had at the table - instead we were discussing how young kids are so tech savy (never heard that before). But after awhile we got around to a more serious discussion.

Turns out that Galbraith went to Oxford and Harvard with current Pakistani #1 dissident Benazir Bhutto. From what I have been reading in the press, I wasn't the world's biggest fan. When Bhutto was Prime Minister, she wasn't exactly a pillar of democracy. She also inherited the post from her father, also again not exactly a morally stable person. I had my reservations, so when Galbraith talked about his close friendship with Bhutto, I was a bit mystified. Over the course of dinner, though, I think Galbraith backed it up with some so-so examples.

Although Galbraith was ambassador to Croatia, its not really his thing. Which was sad for me because of my current interest in that country. He spoke about the Dayton Accords and the war in Bosnia, but not with any real passion. He saved that for Iraq - which he worked on during his time at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The other big idea Galbraith had was partition in Iraq. Again, from everything I read, it doesn't seem that partition works. Most experts agree that the Sunnis and Shia do not want the country split up, and neither group wants to lose the Kurds. In my view, it makes sense on just about every front to let the Kurds go their own way. They've earned it, they've instilled stability, and they have a homogenous geography. Sadly, the question of oil revenues prevents any movement in this direction.

The final highlight of my week was dinner with Eileen O'Connor. She was a journalist for ABC and CNN in Moscow during the 80s and 90s. While I thought her political conclusions about the situation in Russia were a bit underdeveloped, she told fascinating stories about her interactions with Russian officials. O'Connor was the only journalist to discover Boris Yeltsin's heart attack in 1996. In the wake of this coverage, O'Connor was threatened by groups and followed by hitmen. She found out that she had a price on her head, and officials were encouraging her to leave the country. Not only that, she was pregnant at the time. (Photo Credit: AP)

This was just one of the many interesting stories she shared with us over the course of the evening. For me dinner with important people is alwasy difficult. I have no manners, and I'm generally awkward. I'd just like to editorialize and brag that I didn't have any large gaffes during the meal. I managed to not spill any food, or apply any stains to my clothing. This was really promising for me and I hope my luck continues.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Accident

Last Friday after carefully deliberating for about 30 seconds, I decided to head down to Wesleyan University in Connecitcut to visit my friends Laura and Sara with who I studied in Budapest. I was about 2/3 of the way there enjoying a fine biography of Eisenhower and talking to my mother on the phone when it happened. If the narrative is getting a little boring - the pictures should excite you.

I was traveling South on I-91 in very heavy rain going about 60-65 mph. All of a sudden the car completely lost control and fish tailed a complete 180 degrees. So, I'm facing the wrong direction in the middle of the freeway traveling backwards at about 60 mph. I'm pretty sure I avoided any heroic words of wisdom at this my finest hour and instead went with the ever-used response to dramatic situations: OH SHIT, OH SHIT, OH SHIT, OH SHIT.


So after I was facing the wrong direction and careening down the highway, I eventually continued this path but moved over to the ditch. After awhile of careening through the grassy ditch, I met the trees further off front and center. Because of the angle, I hit the trees with the back end of the car and basically turned an Alero in a trunkless Prius. I couldn't really see the road at this point, but I found the phone that had ended up on the floor. I explained to my mom that I wasn't hurt, and then turned to getting the hell out of Massachusetts.



Calling 911 should usually be a calming element, but when the guy asked where I was and I couldn't pinpoint it exactly cuz all interstates look the same, he grew hysterical. I was thinking, "I'm the one that just about died and you're yelling at me?" He couldn't deal with my calm antics so he transferred me over to the Massachusetts state Patrol who were very helpful.


Except its apparently a crime to crash, so i got a citation for impeded operation because apparently it wasn't enough that I just had a near-death experience and my car was totaled. Bud Light needs a new commercial, "Here's to you Massachusetts State Patrolman" - Asshole.


The tow druck driver was great, dropped my car off to get fixed and left me and all of my car's belongings at the local Dunkin Donuts - wow what an unfriendly place, but the homeless guys that wandered in were comforting. I wasn't the only squatter.


Luckily enough, my friends Erik and Emily agreed to come down and rescue me from the coffee world and took me back up to Midd. On our way back I got these pictures of my tragic car.


Good thing is I came out uninjured, neck hurts a bit and I discover a few bruises everyday but nothing major. I've driven so much and never been in a serious accident - oh well guess it happens to everyone.


Monday, October 8, 2007

The Bi-polarity of college life

Last night, Orange Crush played to the ever affectionate crowd of Middlebury College. They are a really good 80s cover band that biannually returns to Midd. The college is in the midst of trying to raise $500 million over the next several years. They raised half of it last night. This brings me to my point, there were a few hundred of the smartest college students, myself included, dancing like idiots to Madonna and Bon Jovi. All I could think about was how these crazy people were going to run the world someday and make that $500 million several times over. Many of them have Teach for America and Goldman Sachs interviews planned alongside shots of vodka.


I mean I know everyone needs to loosen up and have a good time, but imagine the feedback of 20 yr old facebook pictures of Steve Jobs or Donald Trump passed out on a couch in a college dorm. How will social networking sites shape the future - it shall be interesting indeed.

In other news, James Piscatori , a noted Middle East scholar at Oxford spoke at Middlebury. I went to his key note address and came away appreciating the voice of British academics. They have a way of capturing eloquence in speeches unheard in the states. Or as my friend Dexter said about Anatol Lieven, "he talks funny."

The substance of his talk was interesting as well. Well not really, because he was quite general, but the intersting thing he said was that there are factions developing in the Middle East and they have some political power. Pluralism is prospering. This is promising but also very scary. The power of Islamists can rise and fall with the attitudes of public opinion. In Morocco and Turkey, Islamic parties have swept into power and have largely gone about their tasks through peaceful means.

In Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, and other places, politicized Islamic groups have not responded through peaceful means and continue to threaten the stable order in those countries. My thoughts after reading and talking with friends who have travelled to the Middle East and the Islamic world is that countries that are open will choose peaceful leaders. The young and moderates in Iran don't like their president and want normal relations with the world. The Algerians I taught English to were more pragmatic about US middle east policy than a lot of Americans I've talked to.

So I thought it was really promising that Piscatori said factions were developing, but it doesn't mean democracy is proliferating. There is a lot the US can do to promote these various groups. The other intersting thing I took away from his talk was the idea of a larger Sunni and Shia blocs developing in the region. The various groups in Iran and Iraq are cooperating to a larger degree than I had thought, and doing it despite US warnings. This is me not Piscatori: America would be within its soveriegn rights to attack Iran for this action, though I think its a bad idea.

While the development of factions is promisng, the idea of large religious ideological blocs is a bit scary. Still the development of the reformation led to the rise of the nation-state and eventually democracy so we should be weary of criticizing all macro religious developments.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

It's Pure Politics

First off, I had better respond to my brother Matt's argument about my post on Iowa and its caucuses.

The one thing I like from his argument is that the primaries/caucuses should be consolidated later in the year. This is great, but it will never happen. John Edwards started running for the nominee on November 3, 2004. The candidates and the states will never allow the dates to be reigned in, though I support this whole-heartedly.

Instead let's try to get what we can. Matt lives in Tacoma, Washington, probably the biggest thing undercutting his entire argument. He tries to say that Iowa is more conservative than "some places in America." True, we are more conservative than about 10 states and more liberal than about 30. Matt also thinks Iowa is pretty homogenous. Wrong. Iowa City, and Des Moines are much more socially liberal than the rest of Iowa. And that is where all the poeple live. Iowans widely elect Senator Tom Harkin, one of the most liberal members of the Senate, and Charles Grassley, largely one of the most conservative members. The representatives are all over the spectrum and the Statehouse is largely split down the middle. To say Iowa isn't mainstream America is laughable. Sure we're not Seattle, New York, or Chicago, but we're sure as hell not Topeka, Birmingham, or Columbus.

And Matt does make a good point, Gravel, Kucinich, and Paul do have some good, new ideas. That doesn't dispute the fact that they are still idiots. To have the foreign ministries of several countries, and the US State Department issues its own statement is definitive evidence that I'm right, they are idiots.

So, what does this mean. Iowa should stay first. We are responsible. We shouldn't be first alone. As we saw with Kerry, Iowa does matter, maybe a bit too much. Let's have Iowa, South Carolina and a Western state be the first three barometers of the candidates. Some geographic and political diversity would be a valuable addition to the contest, but Iowa deserves its place.

I'm Back

It has been quite some time (shout out to Dallen) since I have written anything on here. A couple of friends and relatives focusing on international affairs and politics have thrown up links to my site, so I might shift my discourse to covere these areas and humour them. Since this is my first post since this summer, I thought I would go two routes: A) update a little bit about the personal life and B) throw out some views on the current political scene.




First and foremost, my recent proposal for a Fulbright Scholarship in Croatia has taken over my life(picture is Dubrovnik). After consulting with professors and removing all references to the first hand "tourism" I had hoped to experience, I shifted my proposal to studying Croatia's accession to the European Union. Croatia is currently the leading contender among all European states. Before the EU Constitution failed in France and the Netherlands, Croatia's hopes for accession looked more promising than ever. Now they have some ethnic tensions, macroeconmic policies, and judicial statutes to remedy before they can become a full member.


I wasn't too excited about my actual proposal, just swimming in the Adriatic, when I got an email from several professors in Croatia that agreed to sponsor my proposal and offered to publish my results in the Croatian yearbook on EU law. This was quite a wake up call, and now I'm just counting down the days until I find out when I'm leaving. I just discovered today that Clinton's ambassador to Croatia and a Kurdish expert is speaking at our town's public library. My charm will come out in full force on that night.


Also, I've decided I want to be a foreign correspondent for a major newspaper as my life's work, so hence why I've started up the blog again. It's a good way to keep my energies focused on the news and keep me writing.


Middlebury is such a terribly busy place, and I've come out of my shell a bit as a senior. I've been hiking, playing soccer and golf, partying, and trying to fit in academics as well. I'm also writing about the women's soccer team for the newspaper - I'll throw up some links for those interested. Our IM soccer team is awesome when we show up and terrible when I'm the lone member on the team present.


I'll be much better at keeping updated from here on out with lots of witty tirades - I'm already thinking of some of the stereotypical people on this campus I hate, but I'll hold back for now.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Why Iowa Must not Change its Primary


I'm from Iowa, you think we like the candidates invading our state earlier and earlier every year? Well when it was President Bush or Al Gore visiting, we got a little excited about the pomp and circumstance, but hearing about Edwards' 12th visit or some hick from Arkansas or New Mexico visiting Des Moines, we really get peeved. Moving up Iowa's primary date will only make this worse, and here's why keeping it the same will make the process better.

South Carolina is just the latest of several key states that have moved up their presidential primaries. More and more states are moving their primaries to the beginning of the 2008 calendar year seeking to draw some of the attention from Iowa - it isn't working. The candidates are still focused on Iowa, and this is a good thing. Iowa represents main stream America and that's a good place to gauge how the contenders are doing. We have the two most separated senators but the state is pretty much evenly divided during presidential campaigns. We're good where we are because we're a moderate state but not beholden to any particular ideology.
The second reason we shouldn't move our primary is because other states will be too intimidated to move past us. There would be a huge uproar from any number of folks from the presidential candidates to interested parties in Iowa. This won't happen as long as Iowa stands strong. Instead, what is happening is a consolidation of the major primaries in just a few weeks. The process has something to gain from this, i.e. fewer stories with mentions of Dennis Kucinich, Ron Paul, Mike Gravel, and Tom Tancredo. The sooner those guys are eliminated, the sooner Mecca and Medina can rest safe, and parks everywhere will no longer feel humiliated.
I think its long past the days when we could hope campaigns would only last a year. Now, they begin as soon as that last ballot is cast in the midterm elections, and in some cases earlier. Until campaign finance laws are changed, candidates will be jumping the gun earlier and earlier every year. The only way to put a halt on this absurd process is to at least keep the primaries in same calendar year as the election. Knocking off people like Kucinich and Tancredo will allow the real candidates to have a better, more engaging debate about the relevant issues.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

How I kept British troops in Basra

Yesterday, I single-handedly changed America's relations with Great Britain. I was standing on the National Mall, as I often do on Monday afternoons reserving the field for the award-winning Harkin Heroe's softball team. Since a storm was brewing and the humidty induced sweat in my hair was being replaced by bountiful rain drops, I had to put Harry Potter away and find other means of entertainment. Thank God I had a soccer ball because that's what shaped everything.

Well unlike Mr. Bush, I knew that Gordon Brown wasn't a famous rugby star, though he did play in high school. And like every male with the slightest interest in sports born outside of North America, loves soccer. So I enter the story on Gordon Brown's historic first visit to the United States as PM. As I was practicing my Ronaldinho impression, Bush and Brown's motorcade drove by me on the mall. I saw Brown look right at me, and then turn to Bush and make a comment. I'm pretty sure this is what he said in his gruffy, Scottish accent:
"Damn, you eejits actually play football, what kind of pitch is that w/o goals."
"Damn straight we play football, the American way."
[mutters under his breath] "He really is as dumb as yer man said."
Still, this is my thought: Today, Brown announced that he would delay bringing troops home from Iraq. After seeing yours truly play the world's sport on the National Mall, a certain nostalgia came over Brown. America can't be all bad if we have youngsters playing soccer right here in our nation's capitol. I can't give up yet, no matter if the leader of the free world is a dimwit. I think the city of Basra owes me (and Brown) a thank you.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Happenings

So this is my new best friend, Samuel Zbogar, the Slovenian Ambassador to the US. We spent some time chilling last week at the Slovenian Embassy in Georgetown. A delegation of the 21st Century Forum of Des Moines was in town meeting with various DC agencies and one trip was to the Embassy. The group is designed to promote Democratic politics in young professional circles around Iowa's capitol. I've been growing a beard lately (see the picture) so I fit right in.
The Ambassador was great, very engaging. I was quite surprised becasue based on the US ambassadors I've met, I figured he would be about 60, grey, and a political appointee. Instead he was a very dynamic guy who as you can see is pretty young and appointed based on, surprising I know, a meritorious system. I got his attention when I asked a question about Kosovo and Russia - and he was very diplomatic about giving no answer whatsoever.

Other happening in DC include losing my cell phone, a DC United Football (soccer) game, lots of softball, and Nationals games 2 and 3.
When I say I lost my cell phone, I can imagine the irresponsible connotations of a young college student this must conjure, but none of them are fitting - I'm sure. I left it on a park bench in Alexandria, VA. What an idiot. But let me just digress a bit and discuss how cell phones have revolutionized social life. I may sound like an idiot complaining here, but just think about it. We are almost always on the move planning on calling later to meet up at a certain place. Theres lots of changing of plans, destinations, all conveyed over cell phones. Plus no one is on time in this generation so amendments to pre-agreed to plans are inevitably required. So, for one who has lived without a cell phone for over a week now, I'm not sure how I feel about this. I'll be ecstatic tomorrow when I finally get reconnected, but should we really place such reliance on being connected to other poeple? That's all I'm saying.

These last two Nationals games have been awesome. Well not really because they still play in RFK stadium which abslutely blows, but becasue the Nats have won in dramatic fashion. Scoring the game winning hit in the 10th was D'Angelo Jiminez who had something like a .079 batting average. The game was a bit depressing for awhile becaue of the rain that sent most of the stadium packing, but I was there until the end. (Just so I don't get sued, photo is from the Wash Post).

Game 3 was also a nail biter, but this time I felt like my own cuticles were in danger. Mark, another intern in Harkin's office scored 6 free tickets and a parking pass that were 8 rows behind the 1st base dugout. Talk about being right on the field. After a pretty good pitching performance and weak hitting by the Rockies (12 runners LOB), Austin Kearns hit a bomb in the bottom of the 8th to close out the game for the Nats 3-0.

In softball news, I'd say both teams are getting better, though Harkin's performance at the States of the Big 12 Annual tournament is not a very telling sign. We were out quick after an 0-2 performance and I'd say the free lunch and booze were serious hurdles for much of our outfield. (Mark screaming "we've got 'em right where we want 'em" as we walked in a run making the score 14-1 perhaps is a good example.) Last Monday we showed the "Hill's Angels" from Clinton's office a thing about taking over Iowa. On Wednesday, the think tank league matchup of the night against a State Department team proved too much for my New America colleagues, but we had some pretty tasty half priced burgers after the game. My gigantic wound is by no means healing and I'm wondering if I'll ever have hair on that part of my leg again. If not, at least its a good story to tell.
Been doing a lot of reserach on Saudi Arabia. I don't think America has ever been more secretive about our relations with an ally than we are with the Kingdom. Feel free to prove me wrong.

And in news that everyone seems to be trying to figure out, Harry dies in the 7th book. Ok not really I don't know and haven't read any reviews, just throwing that out there to scare some folks.

Next week should be a fun one, two softball games, reunions for DC 05 interns and Budapest 07 friends, plus I'm being dragged to Harry Potter #5 the movie and paid to drive to the beach in Delaware (ok that one I can handle). Maybe next weekend I'll get back up to New York and wine and dine with the famous grandma of Sara Greene.
Oh the DC United games was pretty exciting, a 3-3 draw with lots of action. We scalped tickets of course for less than the price and sat about 20 rows back from one goal post. The atmosphere is so much different than a Nationals game. First off, everythink said over the intercom is in English and Spanish. There is so much more electricity in the stadium and the game is much shorter making sure you don't miss anything. My first pro soccer experience was great, hopefully theres more where that came from.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

An Epic Wound in the making

So this is a pretty amateur photo taken just a few minutes ago, but i'm sure its going to develop into an epic wound. I say this because I'm going to play a lot of softball and probably not slow down.

I made the worst of the wound on Friday during our softball victory over the DCI thinktank. Let's just say I rounded first a bit too far on a gravel field and bit the dust. And no I didn't come out of the game - i had to cover up the blood well enough so no one would say anything.

Then today in a game on the national mall, I was not going to make the 1st out at third in my quest for a triple - the sacrifice: reopening the wound.

And with a game tomorrow and a tournament on Saturday - I'm guessing there's no rest in site. So like I say an epic wound. Below is a photo of the original wound.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Cage of Death


When I say I work in a cage - I actually mean it. Compare this to the picture below of my New America office.

Monday, July 9, 2007

What a week

I've had a pretty unbeatable week of events. I think the starting point was last Friday with the game in Baltimore and only got better. Monday - Nationals vs Cubs, Tuesday - BBQ feast with view of downtown DC, Wednesday - fireworks on the National Mall, Friday - Yankees vs Angels at Yankee Stadium & VIP tour of Statue of Liberty, Saturday - Coney Island and Live Earth Concert, Sunday - swimming in Maclean.

O let's just get this out there - I love baseball and road trips, so its natural to say I'd be up for anything. When my friend on Thursday was like, hey we're going to new york tomorrow - you should come, i was like why not. But i'm getting ahead of myself - Fireworks in DC.

Boston and New York might be the only other places equal to DC for the 4th of July. I'm sad to say that this was my second time ever not being in Okoboji, though happy this time its for DC and not Yale, Iowa (pop. 287). Oddly enough, Alex, the friend who was gonig to New York had been to Yale, Iowa for the 4th of July and knew Tim Sheaf a good friend in the debate world.

Anyway, when I think of 4th of July, I think of bbqs. Well indeed thats what most of the day consisted of. First at Renee's, then Courtney and I ventured to various work bbqs before shots of Hungarian palinka and then fireworks on the mall. They are really special not because of the quality, but because the Capitol and Wash. Monument in the background, standing next to Lincoln and Vietnam, and capping a whole day of bbqing. Not bad.

I forgot to say that Monday was spent watching the Cubs destroy the Nats at RFK. How come the stadiums I live in close proximity to always suck. The Metrodome and RFK have to be two of baseball's worst stadiums (after Montreal disappeared). Still I was happy to see the Cubs win - who as of today are only 4 games out of the wildcard.

Its ok though, Friday night I got up to Yankee Stadium which is like the Vatican for Protestants. Sure you can admire how great and awesome it is, but it still has a lot of baggage that goes with it. Plus I sat in the bleachers with two New York fans making it espcially depressing. I got to see those famous lights for a very long 14-9 game. I forgot my camera all day Friday so no pictures.

Also, I love driving in NYC. Basically you are restricted by traffic and stoplights, not by speed limits so its pretty exhilirating. Its much better than driving in DC. In DC I get frustrated becasue there are cars everywhere, but in NY its just buildings and people which are less antagonistic.

Friday night, Sara (friend from Budapest) and I trekked all the way out to Brooklyn and got about 3 hrs of sleep before a 7 am view of Coney Island. Odd feeling for a board walk that early, but surprisingly lots of people were out. After a couple of hours on the beach, it was off to the greatest concert ever. 10 hrs of music with headliners like Dave Matthews, the Police, Bon Jovi, Akon, Kanye West, Ludacris, John Mayer, etc played at Giants Stadium in New Jersey. It was pretty unreal and we had an amazing time. Charles - the guy that got the VIP passes and tickets is in the picture. On stage is my good friend Alicia Keys. We were pretty exhausted by the concert on Saturday so chose to just stay in for the night. Only took about 4 hrs to drive back to DC on Sunday and I was home for about 20 minutes and couldn't stand the heat. My good friend from school Amelia invited me over for a swim - and 4 hrs later i drug myself out of the water.
Great week - should have some more stuff about what I'm doing at work and the upcoming DC United game - I've never been to a soccer game - still dont' think it will compare to European soccer.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Three quick thoughts

Where have all the men gone?

I was doing some research yesterday, and I came across the fact that the Northern Mariana Islands (a US territory) have the highest female to male ratio of anywhere in the world. There are 100 women for every 77 men, and for some incredible reason tourism is declining in the region. Guess it's high time i flew to the Pacific.


Dissemination of Information

Here at the think tank, we've created a blog that should be up and running in the next few weeks. Althuogh its exciting that I'll have another forum for my thoughs, one being more academic, I'm also kind of displeased with the thought of yet another blog. This goes to an idea my friend Katie wrote about awhile ago - yes on her blog. A friend from Budapest, who maintains her blog from Prague now, explains that there are way too many blogs out there people should voluntarily remove their own blogs.

I like this idea, because its true, there are too many blogs - even professional bloggers that do nothing but write posts all day. It seems to me there are so many blogs out there, there are more people writing and less people getting all the info. Its great there is such a variety of info available, but with all of it available, there has to be a corresponding trade-off, I'm just not sure what that is yet. And yet here i sit writing a blog post so...

Iowa in the news.

Ottumwa, Iowa has recently been in the news because of the new iphone. Steve Jobs used Ottumwa as an example of why he had to pick AT&T for the iphone network. Only two companies had wirless internet networks that could reach this part of the state - so he had to choose.

Iowa always pops up in the news as that other place. I was reading another article awhile back and Iowa was the home of Joe six-pack for some study. Also back at Middlebury last year, a professor arguing about foriegn policy and how complicated it was, used for example that a person in Iowa wouldn't understand the nuances of foreign policy. As a very ardent supporter of Iowa, this is all quite discomforting. We're not really known for anything excpet attracting the leading presidential candidates. These guys know much more about Iowa than any natural politician should. American politics is a circus, but thats not the point.

I guess its good we get in the news for something, but we really have to work on our reputation so we're not always - that other state.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Fun with Renee

My cousin Renee is out here for the summer interning at a hospital in the district, so we've been hanging out a bit. I have to recount two of our adventures. First was an epic bike ride, second was one of my favorite pastimes - Major League Baseball.

Last Thursday, Edwin and Rosalie graciously invited Renee to dinner. Renee is living in an apartment and probably doesn't get all the home cooked meals like I do. So we agreed to meet up at the capitol at 5:30 for the ice cream social and then head out to Virginia for dinner. Well Renee decides we should both ride the whole 10 miles on ONE bike. Mind you this is not flat, and there is a thunderstorm brewing. So after we're riding for precisely three minutes, Zeus releases his full arsenal of rain. It just poured and poured for about 10 minutes. Rather than seek shelter, we powered through.

Needless to say we received just a couple of funny looks from drivers. At this time, there were no pedestrians to be seen - thats how hard it was raining. Well about 3/4 of the way home I get a call from my grandpa in Iowa. We're late for dinner and he's the messenger. Trouble is, I can't call Edwin and Rosalie back because Verizon messed up their phone system and they couldn't receive calls. Well after about an hour and half (ride usually takes between 45 min and 1 hr) Renee and I finally struggle in soaking wet. Our hosts were as happy as could be and made us some delicious pork chops and veggies. I think I will discourage Renee from riding that far on one bike ever again.

Our second adventure was up to an Orioles game in Baltimore. Naturally I love baseball, but I've never really described what I've nicknamed "the little boy feeling." You all have had it at some time or another, but maybe you just haven't given it a name. It happens at different times for different people. For me, it happens when I enter a baseball stadium - every time.

Let me try to describe it. When you're a little kid from rural Iowa, going to a baseball game is a big deal. So you walk into that stadium and see all the lights, the flashing neon signs, all the people, the green, green grass, players with names like Puckett, Ripken, Sandberg, something inside you just makes you really excited. Sure you might call it butterflies, but its something more. Its experiencing something that is very rare and something you've done in your head a thousand times. I had it when I stepped onto the Rialto in Venice, and when I entered Times Square for the first time. It no longer comes for games in the metrodome, but I definitely felt it upon entering Camden Yards. Call it corny or what you will, but I am comforted every time it happens - I haven't grown up yet.

Surprisingly we actually got to see a really good game. Orioles first basemen Aubrey Huff hit for the cyle, something that only hapens once every 800 games - about the same odds as seeing a no-hitter. I've seen two cycles but never a no-no. The angels looked good early, taking a 5-0 lead, but then let the Orioles back in who when it swung in their favor 7-5. The Angels rallied back with a 2-run homer in the top of the 9th to take the final lead of 9-7. Great day for baseball.

Renee and I also got to venture on American public transportation - train up and bus back. It was weird randomly talking to passengers, something I never did in Hungary (that whole language barrier), but I did miss Hungarian prices ($7 for the train and $10 for the bus). I think it would have cost $2 round-trip in Hungary. Oh yeah, they were giving out those sweet orange hats during the game...

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The DC Experience

Everyone who has ever worked in DC knows how it goes, this city is unlike any other in the way you always meet new people. This is because its a transient city where almost none of the professionals are actually from DC. Its kind of a sad dichotomy because the district is very poor, has terrible schools, so its hard for natives to break out. Well what actually ends up happening is that everytime you meet somone it goes like this?

Hey, where you from? (answer either a state or major city)
What school did you/still go to?
What do you do in DC?

Usually if either A or B are somewhere you know of you play the name game as in, do you know this person. Also, in today's world it seems that everyone going to about 30-40 different colleges in the northeast knows somebody at every other school in the Northeast.

Well I bring all of this up, because its interesting about howI might play baseball next saturday. So I was at this party with fellow Iowa interns, when two random neighbors in the apartment building just invite themselves in - not that weird actually for this city. Some of us were talking about baseball and pretty soon this guy was recruiting us to play for his team on Saturday. We didn't turn out last weekend becasue of the 9am start, but next weekend we might be in the mix. This is really just to illustrate how quickly acquaintances are made in this city.

The second example is how if you have even the littles thing in common with someone - it sparks off great conversation. For instance this guy I work with grew up in Vermont so instantly there is plenty of conversation. Rest assured, just about anywhere in this city is ripe with possiblities for meetings. Since no one has a home base here - everyone is looking for more.

Just an update about work. I've been digging through lots of old Harkin files and there are some interesting things. I found all these old memos on the constitutionaliy of Impeachment hearings. Up until Clinton's trail, all past impeachment hearings had been held in secret....

Here at the New America Foundation I got to do registration at an event today with the leader of the Green party in Germany. He spoke a lot about Iran, but I was interested in how amazing the building was. We were at the Carnegie Institute which shares space with the Council on Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institute. This is like the Mecca of the think tank world. New America is right there, just no one knows it yet...

Monday, June 25, 2007

How to get ahead


When you think of playing in the US Senate's Softball League, it brings to mind two things. The first is an image of Tom Cruise playing softball in A Few Good Men. Now the movie is pretty good, but what pops up in my head is Tom Cruise hitting ground balls to an atrocious shortstop while Kevin Bacon argues legal theory. The movie does justice to the seriousness of the sport.
The second image that pops into my mind is Matt Damon trying to defend playing poker with his law school professors to his girlfriend. The conversation goes something like her thinking hes getting in the door because of his extracurricular potential. He'll be like that lawyer who is assured of a job as long as he shows up at the interoffice football match every year. While I don't think softball has become this serious yet for the US Senate, it does matter.
Well it just so happens that both of my day jobs are accompanied by ambitious softball teams with huge desires to succeed. The Harkin team comes with special attachment as we play our inter-state, cross party rival in the form of Senator Grassley's team. This is big. This is so big that Senator Harkin actually shows up to the game to cheer on the team. Now with all this talk of partaisanship in Washington, it is probably no more reflected than on the softball field. Thing is Dems or R's can be just as mean to each other when it comes to softball.
Now you would guess the "think tank" league would be a bit less competitive, but oh no my friend, you have no idea what it means to those future assitant secretaries of state and whitehouse third level advisors to win a softball game. Not to drop any names but word on the street - Heritage and American Enterprise are quite the competitive institutions.
So just getting it out there that softball is the shit in this city in the summer - watch out if you want a job in DC but can't field a glove

My Day Job

While I do tend to enjoy my time in DC with its laundry list of attractions, I thought I would post a bit about my day jobs for those interested. On Monday and Friday I work at the US Senate catalogging Senator Harkin's archives. Hmm, that sounds a little bit prestigious when really I'm listening to an ipod trying to decide which of the crap is more important and worth saving. Probably the most interesting thing I've found so far was a briefing for a congressional delegation to Vietnam in 1995. While flipping through the pages, I found a piece on the demographics of Vietnam. My favorite line: "Women who are close friends often hold hands. They are not lesbians." I mean who prepared this report that just in case our congressional leaders were worried - they can rest assured that lesbianism is not rampant in the land of Ho Chi Minh.



On Tuesdays and Thursdays I hang out at the New America Foundation. This is a centrist think tank that was founded on the principle of not promoting a democratic or republican ideology but instead focused on ideas. I'd say the think tank has a lot of dems working there but could care less about what the political parties advocate when publishing their research. Still there are a number of very right wing fellows at the think tank which makes for some good diversity.



What I actually work on is usually economics or foreign policy based. I've been doing research lately on the rise of the Chinese middle class and the affect of public investment on private investment. Other projects have included researching the missile defense system in Europe and Cuban terrorists - i know, REALLY exciting - but for someone like me its not bad actually. The head of my program runs a blog here, and the guy I overhear talking in the office next door runs a blog here.



Also, this is a picture of the office where I've been hanging out lately. The way the think tank works is that half the people are never in their offices because they are travelling the world or working from home. Usually Flyntt Leverett hangs out here, but instead I get to enjoy his view. I hadn't heard of any of these people until about three months ago, but I'm learning that they actualy make a difference in the world out here - so I guess they are important. Now that you all know my day jobs, I'll hopefully have good "water cooler" talk to post on here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I want to ride my bicycle

Cycling in DC, what a perfect place for a bike. I really got adjusted to cycling around a city in Budapest, but my fascination has continued here in the district. On Sunday I rode about 30 miles on a path along the Potomac on the Virginia side of the river. On Friday I even took my bike the 10 miles to work and cycled all around the city. Maybe its that feeling you get when you get that bike in like 4th grade where the whole town is yours. Dexter and I would go everywhere on our bikes and take over the town. Maybe I still have that feeling where once I’m on a bike, I can get anywhere.

Its so much easier and faster to get around a city by bike. Especially DC because its so much more spread out than Budapest. I’d say cycling is better here too because there are cycling paths and bike lanes everywhere. In Budapest these were almost unheard of. Also I’d say there is a pretty good cycle culture here. The radio I was listening to today was giving away a fancy bike instead of a TV or grille that would seem more typical. I’d say it also helps that there are police and guards everywhere because this city is so full of itself (see earlier post) that most bikes are generally protected. Still one of my fellow interns said hes lived here for 5 years and said he’s on his 4th bike because of theft.

Maybe the thrill of cycling is that you’re on the roads with all the cars but you have really no protection. You’re just there with complete freedom. Might be scary to some, and I should really get a helmet, but I kind of like that feeling. Guess we’ll really see how much I like it when I get to Argentina.

I'm an Idiot

I just signed myself up for an interview at UPS for tomorrow at 5 am. If this thing goes well, next week I might just be unloading and loading UPS trucks everyday from 4 am - 8 am. I'm not sure what made this sound like a good idea when I was completing the application. I guess I just need more obligations out here, and why not make some money while I'm at it. I'll really be working Cody hours (working at a golf course now). Except I'm not very good about going to bed early, so maybe this will teach me a thing or two about the necessity of sleep. Not sure how focused I'll be on thursday afternoons about 4 pm when i should be researching the decline in US consumption on worldwide imports - We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Calm Down

I hate DC interns. I know this is absurd because I’m one of them, but the over ambitious youth in this city are nauseating. So many college students thinking their pesky little three months here are going to change the world. Are you kidding, politicians spend years here and don’t get anything done. The Union Station metro station is of particular displeasure. Seeing all the senate interns pull our their IDs, check their ties, and unplug their ipods. Has our culture really lost all sense of itself. Are we really this geared on power that we have to care about our lives when we are so young. Yea call me a hypocrite but at least I can acknowledge how much pressure there is to succeed at such a young age. Something needs to be done to convince us to relax and live a little. A lot of people can do this alongside such internships and take them with a grain of humility, I like to think I’m in this category.

What I’m really trying to say is that this has to be the most arrogant city in the world. Sure New York is busier and London and Paris probably more glamorous but DC is so full of itself. Nowhere will you meet so many self important people. Last week at my think tank we had this function for foreign policy types. I mean people were too busy to even tell me their name for registration before going to the seminar. I mean are you honestly that important when I’ve never even heard of you before. Do so many people really always have to be on their blackberries, have to interrupt every meeting for an “important” phone call? Does the world really end if you don’t take that? Alright my rant is done, but this city needs to relax.

I would walk 500 miles

The proverbial American roadtrip – an experience that everyone has at some point in his/her life. I suppose we have Dwight D. Eisenhower to thank for making it possible. I’m not sure where the idea of the roadtrip comes from, but its something that every American burns to do. The Oregon Trail, The Wilderness Road, maybe its from our historic desire to move West. Harry Truman loved to take road trips and drove all over the country because he could. Even today with flights cheaper than ever the interstates are just so inviting – and I’ve more than once taken the offer. A midnight ride to New Orleans, 1:45 am departures from Vermont, I like the road.

So it was no surprise that last Saturday I set off yet again for a cross country trip from Iowa to Washington DC for my various internships. My great Aunt and Uncle Edwin and Rosalie Demoney have been kind enough to let me stay with them for the summer. The thing that occurred to me was that I had never done any of my major trips alone. 20 hrs in a car is a long time to spend by yourself. Lucky enough I had a cell phone and weekend minutes to burn. The roadtrip started easily enough thanks to McDonalds breakfast at 6 am with Dex. I made it all the way to Joliet, Il before any problems surfaced. Now Joliet is quite the microcosm of American culture. People of all socio-economic levels were present at this Wal-Mart. Women in heels got out of their mazdas next to guys in pants/shorts who were blaring music out of their duct taped subs. The place was interesting in its own right.

I had stopped to buy a battery for my mp3 player but when I returned to the car its own battery was completely dead. Here I was in the middle of Illinois with no means of getting around. I had to make it to Pittsburgh that night. More than anything I was pissed this was going to set me behind schedule. So I marched back into Wal-Mart got a car battery, bought some tools, and was back out to the car to put the battery in. After an hour I was safely on my way, the new battery working well. I will forever remember the Wal-Mart of Joliet, Il. Drove through Pittsburgh and stayed with Szabi whose family treated me like royalty and fed me delicious Hungarian food that I hadn’t experienced since I left the motherland. What a nice surprise. Toll roads suck – I recommend avoiding them at all costs. Made getting across Ohio rather expensive.

Got into Arlington ok and was happy to see Edwin and Rosalie. I haven’t been here for a year and a half but it felt like I had never left. Got settled right in and felt right at home.

Still that road trip was one of the easiest ones in my life, but it just shows how we love to drive across this country. I think somebody needs to look into it – what’s are obsession with driving, why don’t we have useful transportation? I spent 9 months criss crossing Europe without a car. Now I can’t even get across my own country w/o a car?

I have a dream

So I’ve decided that my graduation present to myself is going to be a bike ride from northern Mexico to Ushuaia on the tip of Argentina – the southern most city in the world. I’m pretty sure it’s impossible and there is no way to finance it, but hey there isn’t an idea yet that I’ve shied away from. Right now I’m convinced I can get from Texas to Panama easily enough. It’s getting from there through Columbia that I’m worried about. And once I’m through Columbia I can just hop on Che’s route and I’m golden.

So you might wonder what has prompted this – I have no idea other than Eric has really made me like cycling. I speak a bit of Spanish and figured this was the best, cheapest way to see South America. Now how long is this going to take, probably longer than I expect. I’m guessing 4 – 8 months but who really knows. Google Earth says its something absurd like 9000 miles from Texas to Buenos Aires - averaging 75 miles a day, that's only 120 days.

All I know is that I spent 2 hrs at Barnes and Noble on Friday night planning my route. I know right now that its going to include Mexico City, the Panama Canal, Machu Pichu and most of Che Guevera’s route, though he had a motorcycle. I’m convinced it can be done on bike – where there are roads, I can go. So if you know of anyone out there who has looked into this, let me know. Looks like I’ll be departing next February and I’m sure my parents will be pleased to hear the news.

Perhaps the (new) name of the blog says it all. I really just can’t sit still, and this way I can have the travel adventure of my life and not have to buy a plane ticket or spend too much money - for these same reasons Ernesto Guevera and Alberto Granado embarked fifty years ago. My college loans kick in after 6 months so that’s the real deadline to get back – we’ll see how I do. Most of you probably think I’m crazy and will never do this, but like Eric with his ride across Europe, maybe if I make this thought public there will be enough pressure to actually do it. Just wait – February will be here before you know it.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Three Week Intermission

Eric was right - sort of. He figured I wouldn't keep my blog updated once I got back to the states. Well this is my attempt to disprove him. I though in keeping with the new location, subject, basically life style I would throw up a new look to the blog. Tell me what you think. I've got a few ideas for a few posts which I should cover over the next few days. I'll have to write one about all this culture shock that was supposed to rifle through me. Another about the fun days of landscaping. Also not to forget my epic trip out to DC from Iowa which included my car breaking down in the Wal-Mart parking lot in Chicago. That was interesting. Oh cycling around DC might be a post too - seeing as thats what I'm off to do now. No worries - I'll be better about posting from here on out.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Good Bye London

Avi: Eighty-six carats.
Rosebud: Where?
Avi: London.
Rosebud: London?
Avi: London.
Avi's Colleague: London?
Avi: Yes, London. You know: fish, chips, cup 'o tea, bad food, worse weather, Mary Poppins... LONDON.

(From the Movie: Snatch)

London Gatwick Airport 11:25 AM, Monday May 28 - Last Hour in Europe

It’s still raining. I managed to get to London at one of the worst times – it hasn’t stopped raining since about an hour after I arrived. Now I’m just biding my time here at the airport – actually in time for once in my life. Sunday was another busy day of exploring London – this time I went with a literary theme.

First off I walked just down the road from the flat where I was staying to King’s Cross Station. I labored long and hard to find Platform 9 ¾ along with the other ten assembled tourists. Looks like I just missed Harry and Ron catching the Hogwarts Express.

Next it was to the center of all things literary in London at the British National Library. This may have been my favorite stop. On the first floor was a really cool exhibit of the books of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity including some very old sacred texts, a copy of the oldest known Quran, and several other landmarks.

Upstairs they had manuscripts from every famous author you can imagine, Dickens, Pope, the Bronte Sisters, and more. Also in the exhibit were original compositions by Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin, also the original Principae Mathematicas as well as letters from Newton and Galileo. Shakespeare was well represented with his four known signatures – all of which look different giving rise to the legend he existed in name only.

The most legendary artifact in the museum was probably the Magna Carta. Thing is, there isn’t just one Magna Carta. In 1215 when it was signed, it was a simple political agreement not meant to have long-lasting repercussions. The king even had the pope annul it a few months later. So no one copy remains but the Museum had 2 of the 4 that were probably made in the subsequent months after the meeting.

Next stop was the Regents Gardens, I’m not sure the literary connection but it seemed perfect for Alice in Wonderland, and a Midsummer’s Night’s Dream is performed here at an outdoor theater. There is also a long canal and a boating lake.

Continuing with my literary theme, off to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stomping grounds at 221 Baker Street. Sherlock wasn’t home, but I took a gander at some of his things. I also wandered down Baker street and just off Paddington Station. Next was a walk along the famous Oxford Street to Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park. People gather at this spot to espouse whatever they may desire – most of the people I saw were Christian fanatics, but my favorite stand had to be the two guys with a sign that said FREE HUGS. That’s all, just free hugs.

A walk through the park brought me past Harrod’s Department Store which I stayed a safe distance from. Then on to the Natural History Museum to bring out the little kid in me. Wow was it crowded. I couldn’t even get inside to see the dinosaurs because there was a half hour wait. Maybe next time I make it to the city.

The Science center had a really cool exhibit on James Watt and some cool ships but rather than letting me see anything they kicked us out at 5:30 so that not a single person would be anywhere close to the museum entrance by closing time at 6. Well six pretty much means closing time for everything I wanted to see, so it was time to explore what outdoor London had to offer. I just wish it hadn’t of been raining so hard. I took a stroll around the Chelsea neighborhood seeing houses of all these famous literary figures I should know but don’t actually. I saw someone else on the same route who I’m pretty sure was taking the tour to make herself feel smarter.

Next it was a walk along the river, yes still in the rain. Made it up to Trafalgar Square to say good bye to Lord Nelson. Down the Strand over to “The Monument” which I thought would be a lot cooler than it was. Still though I had to venture on to London Bridge and get one last gaze of the Tower Bridge and its huge columns. By this time I was soaked through and through so I wasn’t too excited about waling home but sometimes you gotta power through. A walk past the Bank of England was en route. I walked in the door to the flat and just stripped down and stood under the warm shower for about 20 minutes.

Today I discovered how buses work. Rather than going up and down all the flights and stairs of the metro, I got a direct bus from outside the flat straight to the bus station. No stairs. All my stuff even made weight at the airport and I had enough money for some food. Sometimes things just work out.

Well this blog hasn’t been too exciting, but I’ll have some final thoughts in a bit.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Rain, Rain, Rain

The good thing about rain is that it drives the weak inside so the more dedicated tourists like myself have wide open side walks all to ourselves. The bad thing is that you get wet. It's raining now and it rained all last night. Today it won't be so bad because I can find a museum but yesterday at about 6 pm after all the museums were closed, I was stuck in the rain. I was not to be deterred and saw as much as possible.
If i had been in a time machine, here is how my day would have proceeded. First in Oxford maybe i would head to the cafes for discussions with past students like Adam Smith, JRR Tolkein, or for the best chat maybe Dr. Seuss. I'd go back to the glory days of British transportation and get the train down Oxford. (I actually took a bus that was an hour late because of traffic). Once in London I jumped to the future because hospitality among young people has probably reached its height. Thanks to Katie who studied in Budapest last semester, I have a place to sleep with her roommates here in London.


Off to explore the city I would maybe get on a horse drawn trolley back in the day. First stop was the British Museum with its remnants of the Acropolis in Athens, Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus, the Rosetta Stone, and a mummified cat. I also would have peaked in the reading room to see if Dickens, Marx, or Darwin were doing a bit of research but it was closed for me.


And just when i thought i was far from Hungary, I stumbled upon "The Gay Hussar" Hungarian cuisine in London. I even checked out the menu and it looked quite authentic with Hungarian wine and liquor and of course gulyas. Back in my time machine I'd wander down to Piccadilly Circus maybe at the turn of the century so as to avoid the neon signs, McDonald's, Starbucks, Gap and every other major chain label. A wander down Piccadilly street would bring up St. Jame's Church and maybe I'd stop and have a chat with Sir Christopher Wren in the 17th century as he was building what Dickens called "not one of the master's happiest efforts." I would provide some better words of advice.


Just as I was walking past a Ferrari parked next to a BMW Z4 I read in my book that Berkeley Square was one of the centers of aristocracy in London. Back in my time machine I'd run over to # 48 and see if Sir Winston had time for tea. He lived here only before become PM, or maybe I'd visit next door at # 50 where a former prime minister lived and ghosts still haunt to this day.


My next stop in Mayfair would probably be Hays Mews to visit the coachmen and rent a horse in the mid 19th century. Down to Shepherd's market designed for all the coachmen and stocked with all the necessary goods before the designer shops took it over for today's consumers.


After Mayfair I'd drop down past Buckingham Palace. I'd stop in for a chat with maybe George III about America's Revolution, and even Queen Elizabeth the II. She'd say I shouldn't be out in the rain or I'll get sick, but I'd just shrug her off and keep walking. Off to Trafalgar Square where I'd watch them erect the statue of Horatio Nelson to much applause. Then down Whitehall past 10 Downing Street. Maybe I'd step into yell at Neville Chamberlain or perhaps have the confidence enough to even approach Margaret Thatcher.


Next past the Cabinet War Rooms where I would watch Churchill plan WWII during the Battle of Britain. A stroll past Westminster perhaps in 1605 on November 5 where the first ever Guy Fawkes night would be taking place. Made popular in V for Vendetta, Guy Fawkes and other Roman Catholics tried to blow up parliament on the opening day with the king in attendance on November 5, 1605. The failed.


Maybe I'd stop in at Westminster Abbey to see a monarch crowned like William the Conqueror. I suppose I have to jump to the future for my attempt to enter the Tate Museum. There are actually two Tate Museums - the modern one being open until 10 pm - not the traditional one.


So this made for a nice long river along the Thames to the modern Tate Museum. Maybe I'd pass underneath the original Blackfriar's bridge and then come upon the actual Globe Theater before it burned down. Into the modern Tate Museum - I HATE MODERN ART.

Ok so the only reason i went to this museum was because i was wet and cold. It just reminded me how pointless modern art is - what a waste of space. I kid you not, I saw a guy sitting on a chair in front of a giant canvas that was painted all red with a solid line of purple along the right side. They actually have that crap in museums. Other favorites included a simple table that you or I could have made, BUT because the artist was inspired by divided families in Columbia - it becomes art. I hate to be insensitive but honestly - what makes something artistic? The museum also had stuff from famous artists like Pollock, Rivera, and others. I saw one painting and said to myself, hmm that's what would happen if I tried to copy a Monet - it was a Monet.

After my modern art museum experience maybe i'd take a time machine back to turn of the century Paris so I could see some impressionism. Set on the river I'd come back to 2000 for the opening of the Millenium Bridge - right when it was so wobbly they had to close it down for repairs. Across the river to Sir Christopher Wren's Masterpiece (as every book calls it) St. Paul's Cathedral. I'd maybe suggest a few changes to Chris and then head over to Old Bailey's to see if there are any interesting court proceedings taking place. Finally it was about 10:30 and pouring rain so I began my long walk home.

Writing on Buses

Bus Oxford to London, 11:53 AM Saturday

Oxford was gorgeous. I am so enthused about spending time in Britain after my one night with Martha. It was a good way to reenergize the batteries.

Luckily on the way in to town Martha decided to call me on the bus. I had tried to call her but my phone wasn’t working. She was there waiting at the bus station and made getting to her college much easier. Oxford is basically the grounds of Oxford University which is made up of 30 some very independent colleges. Martha goes to one such college which has about 150 students. Some of these students are completing their degrees which means the culmination of hell. There grades over the three years do not matter whatsoever. Only the scores they receive on these exams go on their diplomas – now that’s pressure.

I got myself put into Martha’s room and we went for a walk through the university parks and then down to the Thames to watch some Oxford rowing. Nothing more typical of Oxford past time than watching some crew on the river. The rest of the town is really calm and quaint. The buildings are short, lots of parks, flowers, and trees. The streets are narrow and traffic is minimal so it has a really nice feeling. Something completely different than London.

Then came dinner which was all too fitting. Dinner is a sit down formal meal where you sit at a long table in a very nice dining hall. Waiters bring the food out to the table and then you get served out of some very large dishes. Friday night was curry night and the whole college eats together in the dining hall.

After dinner, Martha and I along with two South Africans went to the park to play some frissbee. I’ve met a lot of interesting people over the last week and these two guys did not disappoint. Phil spoke a fair bit Afrikaans and some click languages and Ben had traveled to places all over like Buenos Aires, Uganda, etc.

Phil, Martha, and I headed for the Turn Tavern, Phil believes it’s the oldest bar in the world. It does have one wall though that’s remaining from Roman times. There are also some plaques on the wall commemorating some famous Oxford alum. Like a former Australian premier who holds a Guinness world record for drinking a yard of beer in 11 seconds.

Not be out done, Americans are represented by good ole Bill Clinton. The plaque says it is alleged that the Turf is where Bill Clinton may have smoked but did not inhale an illegal substance.

After the last week of traveling I was pretty beat so Martha and I called it an early night around 10:30. She has a pretty bizarre schedule over here. She doesn’t have any regular classes but instead tutorials that might meet once a week or once every other week. They are incredibly individualized and mostly revolve around writing papers. That takes dedication. She has a paper on Milton due Monday and another on post colonial lit due Tuesday so I wanted to skedaddle before I got her too far behind.

Saturday morning at 8 we had breakfast in the main dining hall which included peanut butter. PB is so ubiquitous here I don’t know what to do with myself. Can’t imagine what it will be like to have Jiffy everywhere.

I also still can’t get over everyone speaking English. I’m used to trying to eavesdrop on Hungarian conversations but now its just too easy and uninteresting.

After breakfast we went down to the world famous Oxford Press bookstore. So many interesting books to read – I could have spent all day in there. Also a trip to the Oxford market before getting the bus to London. This bus has a little plug in by my feet so I don’t even have to use up my battery power while I enjoy the scenery. Some of the buses to London even have wifi. On the plane I was wondering what I was going to do with all my free time in London, but after reading my guide book – there is so much to see. I’ll be running from museum to museum during the day and cruising the city by night. I’ll be exhausted by the time that flight home on Monday comes to pass.

Smug

Bus to Oxford, Britain 3:29 PM Friday May 25, 2007

I don’t like Britain. I know that’s unfair because I’ve been inside the country for precisely an hour and fifteen minutes, but I’m not too excited to be here. This is for a mix of reasons I’m sure not least being that I’m 3 days from being home and 3 hrs removed from departing my favorite city in Europe. But damn, this place is trying.

I think mostly what gets someone like me is the money. At least when there are hassles in Hungary you don’t mind because A) you don’t speak the language and B) everything is uber cheap. Now when you are asking questions in English and they charge 18 pounds for a bus ride from heathrow to oxford (something that would cost $1 in Hungary) you start to feel a little nostalgia for the old communist bloc. I think I might even understand Hungarian better than I understand British accents. I’m not going to let this dampen my whole trip, so instead this post is going to recount my fabulous last day in Budapest.

Probably what made it so great was the way it was typical of so many days throughout the year. I got off the train from Zruich at 11:30 and was at my university by 1 to say good bye to our director and assistant. Good bye could only start after eating at my favorite lunch restaurant in the whole city. Cafeteria style lunch with chicken and French fries usually.

The good bye was a bit hard. They were like our family over here and I’ve gotten to know them pretty well over the course of the year. It was a bit sad for all three of us but they will have a whole new set of kids next year and I’ll be back enjoying (hopefully) Middlebury

After the good byes I of course headed over to Eric’s while I sat and watched him watch lost on his computer. Just like all semester. Naw it was good to see the lazy bastard after the week abroad. After a bit of packing back at my place I took a long stroll through the city saying good bye to all my favorite places. Hero’s Square with its magnificent columns representing Hungary’s greatest figures. A stroll down Andrassy, Hungary’s most glamorous boulevard meant to remind residents of the Champs Elysees . Then off to our favorite restaurant in the whole city: Poszonyi Kisvedeglo. I got my last bowl of gulyas and Eric got his favorite roast beef with onion rings – I’ve never seen him get anything else. Dinner was with Szabi, my Hungarian roommate, Jeff from this semester and his visiting friend Kevin, and then Eric’s two Austrian friends Marcus and Andrea.

And finally as the end of the night was nearing Eric, Marcus, Andrea, and I summited Gellert Hill for one last night view of the city. Walking through the dark trees up to Budapest’s highest point kind of fit the mood. Marcus was a bit tired out by the time we reached the top so he insisted on a drink. He was nice enough to buy us all a couple of drinks as well as absinthe shots for him and Andrea. They had an interesting walk down at about 1:30 and we were off to Eric’s place to cap it off with a viewing of Boondock Saints. Just about a perfect day in Budapest. I was a bit sad to go but take whatever cliché you like: all good things must come to an end, one ending means another beginning, that’s that. Eric and I did a lot of ruminating about conclusions of our time in Budapest which I’ll probably put on another post, but now I can go back to ranting bout the British.

THEY ARE SMUG. I don’t think there is any better way to describe it. First story, the bus driver gets on with his little microphone and tells a couple of bad jokes going through safety procedures and then says that everyone must buckle seat belts (seat belts on a bus…what?). To illustrate he tells us a story of a child who didn’t buckle his seat belt and cracked his head open. As if this is not enough, he then says, “Subsequently, the parents missed their flight.” NO SHIT. Does no one else see the problem in worrying about a damn flight when a child’s skull is cracked?

Second story, well not so much a story but just general demeanor of everyone I’ve seen. The British waiting in line at the ticket counter, getting off the plane, and even at the bus station, smug is the best word for it.

Ok so I don’t hate all British. The lady that sat next to me on the plane, boy can she talk. I got one article read in the Daily Telegram (still mourning Liverpool’s loss) before she started talking. It was a 2 hr 15 minute flight and she didn’t stop talking. She was nice enough and told me all about Australia, Singapore, tea time, and her family history (If your last name is Lacon you might be related). I was looking to sleep but she was nice enough so I didn’t mind. And she wasn’t smug either.

And plus the British girl that is letting me stay in her flat is definitely not smug. I had this same feeling when I first got into Belarus, like where am I but I’m sure it will subside in the next hour when I meat up with Martha. Her phone doesn’t seem to be working so not sure how that’s going to work out, but these things seem to come out fine.

Not to seem too cliché on this grandest of all days but a) its raining and yes b) my ticket really did cost 18 pounds. Welcome to Britain.

Also, I don’t seem to avoid departing airports without cutting it close. I was at the airport well ahead of schedule this time, but last in line. So my time comes and British Airways in their mighty fine wisdom decided to only allow 1 bag up to 70 pounds rather than two with 50 as in exactly what I’m holding with 40 minutes until my flight leaves. ERIC! I get all my important stuff switched around and then my other suit case in left luggage at the airport in Budapest. It was this or pay 60 pounds just to get it to London. To finish off the story the ticket attendant came and found me and expedited my way through security – no waiting. We talked all the way to gate and she actually studies at my university and works at the airport two days a week. Hungarians work hard, they aren’t smug!

I must intercede just right here. I keep seeing people driving next to the bus and then no other lane. The British in all their smugness even have to drive on the wrong side of the road – Damn. Well that last paragraph was pretty random. I guess that means its about time to end the post. Should have plenty of time this weekend to write down my thoughts – can’t afford to do anything else. Then home to the great US of A.

PS: They speak English here!


Eric is right, see his comment about deserving recognition. He should be happy though because I bought him pogacsa in the morning out of the goodness of my heart. It was about half way through playing frisbee, i was Like oh shit, the suitcase is the broken one and Eric won't be able to get the handle up. I chuckled a bit but also felt really bad.