Thursday, December 6, 2012

This post mainly involves dogs. There's probably a joke in here somewhere about the word dogpile, and how the Spanish word for pile is a little like the Spanish word for mountain, and a mountain is a larger type of hill, and I live on the Hill.

Just a quick note to get down a couple of thoughts I had while taking a walk this evening to reorganize my brain after several hours of paper writing today...

The smell of the fir trees on display outside Eastern Market almost made me forget about my complete inability to get into the Christmas spirit before finals are done. Almost. I really wish it had happened, even just for a moment. I bought some Christmas colored M&Ms to put in a bowl on the coffee table, maybe that counts?

Saw a woman walking three very dissimilar dogs- a Newfoundland, a lab, and some ridiculous little Cairn terrier type guy. Two things about this struck me as odd....

1. I don't think I've ever seen somebody that owns three different kinds of dog. I've only ever known dog owners with:

  • one dog; 
  • two dogs of the same breed (like the two adorable elderly gay guys in my old neighborhood walking a pair of identical mini Schnauzers or "old man dogs;") 
  • two dogs of a different breed (like a beagle and a Golden, maybe, or a yellow lab/black lab type combo,) or; 
  • three or more of the SAME dog (like the guy walking 3 airedales one morning who, when I asked him to remind me what those dogs were called, simply replied "I just call them 'bad dogs!'"
And 2. People who are obviously professional dog walkers seem to be active mainly during the daytime (since folks are mostly at work then and can't walk their own dogs) and usually have, like, a multitude of canines. This woman had only three, and didn't have the requisite high-tech leashes, baggies hanging out of every pocket, or resolute but wild stare of someone who wrangles rambunctious, shaggy beasts for a living. Which led me to believe she was a private owner.

Yeah. Never seen that huge/manageable/tiny combination under one roof before, which got me thinking: I wonder if Capitol Hill is the kind of place where you, as a dog owner, use the listserv to coordinate with the dog owner in the rowhouse to your left and the dog owner in the rowhouse to your right in order to make a schedule of who takes all the dogs out on weeknights. That way, each highly successful couple only has to walk the dogs a couple of nights a week, leaving the others open for dinner at Acqua al 2, alumni networking happy hours, professional conferences with networking reception to follow, and time spent watching the Fox network. Dog owners, how about it?

In case you can't tell...I really want a dog.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Cycling in the Andes Round 2: I don't know where I'ma gonna go when the volcano blow.

Been meaning to get to this one for a while, now. Back in early August I had the crazy idea that since there was a volcano nearby, I would like to ride a bike on it. Linked up with a cicloturismo outfit in Quito called Biking Dutchman that leads single or multiple-day bike tours throughout the country. Of course, I would have loved to head out for several days and ride around the Amazon or something, but the petty cash I had budgeted for the trip was getting low by that point and so I opted for a single-day excursion to Parque Nacional Cotopaxi. That's Ecuadorian for Cotopaxi National Park, by the way. The Park, as its name suggests, surrounds Cotopaxi, Ecuador's second largest mountain peak AND an active volcano. The 'Pedia has more here.   

Notably, the peak is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire.

That's right, I said active volcano. It hasn't erupted for something on the order of 150 years, but more on that later. After leaving work and heading over to the Mariscal to pay for my spot, I then went and dropped way too much money on a pair of hiking pants from the Quito North Face. Unlike my good buddy Jonathan, I had not expected to need any outdoorsy clothes walking around the city and was caught in a dilemma of spend more money or try to ride a mountain bike in jeans. Needless to say, convenience won out over frugality, and so it was that on the morning of Diez de Agosto (something akin to the 4th of July and thus a free day off) me and my hiking pants trundled on down to a coffee shop popular with tourists and backpackers and met up with a group of other internationals and our Ecuadorian driver/guide/cultural expert for the hour-and-a-half trip to our starting point. 

My companions included an Italian engineer helping to design Quito's subway system, a lovely young Kiwi couple on a trip lasting several months, and a semi-nomadic Dutch woman named Pascala who planned to hike up Cotopaxi's glacier the night after the ride. Bonding over our shared love of travel, the outdoors, lack of mountain biking experience, and a few cups of coca-leaf tea at a stall in the foothills, we hoped the somewhat cloudy morning would break and allow us some of the spectacular views the park advertises. Though the clouds never totally went away and we had to contend with the wind pretty much the whole time, our enthusiasm never flagged. 

From our jumping off point just below the glacier that blankets Cotopaxi's peak...

...down the dusty slopes...


...across the undulating badlands...

The saddle adjustment will not save the dude on the right from 
face-planting soon after this photo was taken (he was fine.)

...through a gorgeous area cut by streams and pools where we stopped for a delicious lunch...   

Ginger tea, pasta and brownies, what WHAT!
...past wild horses...
They got out of Dodge pretty quick once we rolled by,
so I was lucky to get this.
...out the access road and to the end of the ride...
Welcoming committee!

You guys remember Cotopaxi the llama, right?
Yeah, I'ma guess this is probably him.
...we all made some great memories from this rare, incredible experience. So thanks to all the other riders, and to Biking Dutchman for offering restless gringos a chance to explore the outdoors a little more after learning about Ecuador's biodiversity for several weeks. Our guide (Juan? Probably Juan) mentioned on the ride up that the government is planning to pave many of the dirt and crushed-gravel roads around the Park which, while undoubtedly improving the overall experience for the majority of visitors, is going to wreck a significant portion of what makes the mountain biking fun. 

That might not be the biggest worry, however. As I mentioned, Cotopaxi is technically an active volcano, although it hasn't been live in like a century and a half. The thing is, the historical eruption schedule is just about every 150 years, so the seismologists are pretty sure things are due to jump off sometime soon. If and when that happens, not only will much of the park land and infrastructure be wiped out, but the weakest part of the rock faces southern Quito, basically turning the volcano into a 19,347 foot artillery gun just waiting to launch a pyroclastic shell that would more or less wipe out half the city. Of course, the southern part of Quito is where the poorest folks live, so even if the government could take measures to reduce the danger it's by no means clear that  they would. 

I'm not sure what a volcano-evasion plan would even look like, maybe we should ask former mayor and veteran volcano-panic manager Roque Sevilla. Amanda, Jonathan, Faye, Nobu, any of you guys get his number?


Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Socialist Soliloquy

Look, soliloquies are long, OK? So if you're not in a reading mood, here's a video of a wildebeest getting all "Terry Tate, Office Linebacker" on a cyclist. 

Wha-BAP! Feel free to come back to that if you get bored mid-post.

Now that the post-election hangover is starting to wear off, with the aid of copious amounts of pumpkin spice coffee, a Sons of Anarchy marathon or two, and the prediction of some real nice riding weather this weekend, it's interesting to shut off the news outlets and hear what real, actual people whom I know personally think of the outcome of this year's voting. 

Yesterday I read a very well-done post on a blog written by Amber, an old friend and the daughter of the best professor I studied (and traveled!) with during college. I'll throw in a link if she says that's all right, because I think she speaks to an important perspective, but I also know how quickly internet political debates can turn nasty and I'm not about throwing nasty stuff people's way. Basically, Amber was calling for a more respectful and civilized political discourse surrounding the presidency. That included expressing some frustration and confusion over the dismissal, animosity, or outright vilification of Mitt Romney by democratic voters, as well as the choice made by some to vote primarily based on a few key social issues, primarily same-sex marriage, women's rights, and of course the weed, while there were other pressing concerns to be addressed, such as the economy. So in that same spirit of dialogue, I present my musings on the subject, from the perspective of the center-left camp and a generally democratic voter. I could have just done this in a comment on her blog, but it would have been longer than the post itself and that just seemed rude.

Voting based on social issues has always struck me as a very interesting thing in this country. It is by no means a new phenomenon- like most people probably remember "values voters" being credited (or blamed) with George W. Bush winning a second term in office back in '04. I'll come back to the issue of "values" in a moment.

I think that, in many ways, this election turned out not to be nearly as much of a "referendum on the economy" as pundits and experts predicted it would. So for anyone who's been frustrated by our economic performance under President Obama, I can definitely understand a feeling of smacking one's head against a wall trying to figure out why we'd vote someone back into the White House who hasn't run a business and has little in the way of clear economy-helming qualifications. But I would submit that inheriting a fiscal crisis along with your desk in the Oval Office 4 years ago and helping to turn a job-hemorrhaging economy into 32 months of sustained job growth is a pretty effective crash course in how to wrangle the drunken cave bear that has been the global economic system over the past several years.

Actually, a drunken cave bear would probably just fall over and hibernate, so let's forget that metaphor.

In the interest of full disclosure I should point out that I'm a government employee who was very turned off by years of GOP rhetoric casting all government workers as overpaid layabouts leeching off the system, and couldn't imagine MY economic prospects getting better under a Romney White House. But I also detected a measure of hypocrisy in the criticism of Obama. Why were Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan able to insist that Obama was wrong for the country because he's not good at building the economy, and then turn around and argue that government (and therefore the president) should have pretty much no role in building it in the first place?  You can't have it both ways, bros. And don't come at me with this idea that government's role IS to stay out of the way, that's a facile and cynical argument that ignores the complexities of the modern political economy.

But yes, Social Issues! I think it's fair to say they were pretty determinant of the election results. Maine (represent!) and Maryland same-sex marriage, marijuana in Washington and Colorado, you get the idea. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that it's not even about the issue itself, but about who gets to decide. There are many Americans who believe, por ejemplo, that marriage should be between one man and one woman, and that is perfectly valid if we're talking about THEIR marriage. The issue arises with that word "should." It implies a sense of universality to a belief system that, to put it bluntly, is not universal anymore. In fact, it's highly contested. And that's great [!] because American society is inherently pluralist, so opposing belief systems can and do coexist. But the death of universality and homogeneity also marks the birth of unequal power relationships. And when the group who believes that something like marriage "should" stay traditionally defined for all attempts to operationalize that belief through laws/amendments/whatever, that limits the freedom of those who wish to change it for themselves, and that I can't get behind. 

Which brings us back to values. "Traditional American values" was a term something the Romney/Ryan ticket loved to invoke, and it's used more or less as a code phrase for a nebulous set of quasi-religious beliefs that would supposedly point the way back to prosperity if we'd only start adhering to them again. Values like self-reliance, responsibility, and unlimited potential through hard work, I suppose. Unfortunately, there is a darker underside, and things like "heterosexual marriage only and only religious marriages count," and "stark, immutable gender roles for men and women" tend to get thrown in there, and people who don't share those values are perceived as a threat. What people value in life is entirely up to them. Want to be a stay at home mom (or dad?) Great, we need people like you. Want to put the family thing off and concentrate on your professional career? Godspeed, we need people like you. Want to have kids never and spend your life and money on travel? I hope you love it. We. Need. People. Like. You. We haven't all got to agree on what's the best way to go. But start, as a political candidate, to spin a narrative where the people who don't wanna do it like you wanna do it are less American, or worse, a threat to what makes us American, well then brother you're going to have some pretty visceral reactions coming your way. 

And I think that's behind a lot of the really terrible talk you hear coming from one camp and aimed at the other, and why social issues came to the fore in such a big way for many Obama supporters, and partially eclipsed the economic dimension and practically everything else.    

As the president likes to preface, "...let me be clear." I don't think Mr. Romney is a bad guy, or even that he would have been a terrible president. He, or at least the party ideology he represents, simply  have a view of government's role that doesn't jive with my own. I can't quite wrap my head around why government should stay out of providing services like health care or levying taxes to pay for social programs, but it can be the arbitrator of personal morality by putting roadblocks up for things like abortion, gay marriage, etc. I've got plenty of bones to pick with the Obama administration, mostly in the foreign policy/defense/national security arena. But I also trust him not to support social policies that I consider regressive in their backstopping of social inequity and legalized dominance by the standard-bearers of "traditional" values over those who choose not to adhere to them. By no means does that give my fellow liberals carte blanche to yell "Romney sucks! That guy is a ("creative" swear word)! I hope he falls on a rock and dies," any more than it did a small country store in Maine to start a pool on when Obama would be assassinated back in '09. Unfortunately, the loudest and nastiest folks on the fringe always manage to deviously make themselves seem like the base.

So thanks, Amber, for reminding us of our collective responsibility to (politely) shout them back down and promote a civil exchange of views that helps us work towards a better nation and world. That's where I'm "HOPE"ing that we move "FORWARD" to in the next 4 years and remind ourselves why it is that we "BELIEVE IN AMERICA." Yeah. See how I did that? Think about it.


Monday, August 13, 2012

UPDATED: Cycling in the Andes Round 1

You may, or may not, be aware of this, but I am kind of into bikes. There's practically no better way to get around Washington, D.C., my adopted home city. They're way cheaper than a car, and yes, you manage to get a little exercise during your commute, so you feel a bit less bad about that sausage McMuffin you're chowing down on en route to work. That is, until the sausage grease gets on your hands, you can't brake properly, and you nearly collide with a MetroBus (whose driver might actually have been trying to hit you the whole time, it's hard to tell.)  I swore at the outset of this blog that I would never turn it into a cycling blog, mostly because I could never compete with the likes of TheWashCycleTales from the Sharrows, or even a near-unknown underdog like Bike Snob. What I did not swear, however, is not to do any posts about biking. And while I haven't been in the saddle NEARLY often enough over the past 2 or 3 months, I have found a few opportunities to get out and ride. So aren't you lucky, you get to hear about them! 

To begin, let me fill you in on my developing hypothesis that Ecuador is basically a lot like the United States in the mid-to-late 1990s, or maybe just a weird bizarro-verse US. That's not meant to be an unfavorable comparison by any means, quite the contrary, I think I would have liked to have been in my 20s and not an emo little preteen in that time period, it seems like a pretty good one. But anyway, internet is popular here but not quite as advanced. There hasn't been a terrorist attack recently that's forever altered the national consciousness. A lot of people seem to be of the mind that things in general are going to improve in the future. And perhaps most importantly, EVERYONE is into mountain bikes.

Also pretty much everyone is shorter than me, and their bicycles reflect such.

Ill fit aside, Sunday Ciclopaseo, where the city and a cycling org called Ciclopolis close down Avenida Rio Amazonas from the old city to well north of the airport, is a ton of fun. At the southern terminus, you can see girl rap groups:
Git it girl.

An entire city out enjoying the impeccable Quito summer (and just OWNING one of the most important streets in that part of town):

And some truly excellent dog-walking solutions.

This might have been the first dog I've seen not wearing a doggie sweater.

I should mention that part of the gorgeous weather here is a UV index that's up around 11 on the reg (a real bad day in DC is like 9, maybe,)  and the last time I ended the day with a highly delineated farmer's tan and the same burnt cheekbones I've gotten ever since I was a little boy. Yes, Dad, I was wearing sunscreen. 

Seriously, though, I cannot even conceive of this sort of thing happening in Washington, and this is one of the ways that Ecuador (as well as many other places) just seems so much more advanced than my own country, which I love very sincerely but sometimes in the same way that you love that one relative who always manages to embarrass you at family get-togethers. Nevermind the fact that the mean streets of our nation's capital include several thoroughfares that clear right the heck out on weekends, when US cyclists try and take over a street the result is often something like this (though, credit where credit is due, DC drivers were remarkably patient with us when BikeSnob came to visit. People are so much happier/more patient in the spring.) But that bike lane in the 3rd picture is both color-coded AND marked with a rumble strip, something I think we're still arguing over, at least on the East Coast. Also, a coworker informed me that Quito has just introduced a bike-sharing program. Here's hoping the scofflaw cyclist/dangerous drivers debate doesn't become as salient and mod as it did with Capital Bikeshare's inception. 

So yeah, when I get back, I'll be happy to mount up on Winona the Kona and Consuelo de Ruta again. Oh, and to see all my friends. You guys are important too, don't you ever forget it. But I think I'll miss experiencing the growing sense that cyclists belong on the streets of Quito, and the seeming lack of animosity between the users of different means of transport. 

Of course, the death-defying messengers here ride motorcycles instead of bikes, so maybe that's our problem. So how about it, any of you guys wanna consider dropping that fixie with the chopped handlebars for a 750 cc crotch rocket? Just a thought.

Up next: did I ride a bike down an active volcano? You bet I did. 


UPDATE: Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, on October 20th I'll be riding a metric century (62 miles) in the DC branch of the Best Buddies Challenge! Best Buddies International works to make a positive contribution in the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. If you enjoy helping people, my blog, or cycling even a little bit, I hope you'll consider making a donation at my page. Thanks for your support!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Less than two weeks left in Ecuador, second post about Ecuador. I'm a machine.

Look, I'm sorry I haven't updated in a while, OK? It took me forever to get this post for school together and I woulda felt crummy updating my personal blog while leaving the SIS one to wither on the vine (except for all the other people posting in it. But then I realized "hey, remember that time you could just copy one onto the other? again?" Yup, that's what we're doing. So enjoy tonight's extra-long post about Ecuadorian vs US politics and me meeting a really down-to-Earth rich guy. 

A few weeks on from the exciting conclusion of Quito Summer 2012, we participants doubtless find ourselves reflecting on our experiences. "Is that because you just had to turn in a reflection assignment for a significant portion of the course grade," you ask? Hogwash, I don't believe it and neither should you. Up to now you've read first impressions of the Ecuadorian system, informative analyses of geography and policy, thoughtful praise, and incisive criticism. Look, I'm not going to sit here and tell you that Ecuador and the Andes don't have some VAST challenges to surmount, as well as some seriously questionable politicking from President Correa on down.  

For example, my own research and experience (or a cursory glance at any major media outlet) paints a vivid yet all-too familiar picture: a president who rode into the Palacio del Gobierno on a swell of support from the poor and historically marginalized groups who were to receive, at long last, a seat at the negotiating table. Once in office, however, Mr. Correa surged ahead with his own agenda and about sidelining dissenting voices, attempting legal action against opposition media outlets and branding indigenous organizers as obstructionists who wished, above all, to frustrate Ecuador's entry into the 21st century. Almost overnight, those whose struggles Candidate Correa venerated had become political enemies whom President Correa vilified. What social and political strides indigenous organizations like CONAIE have made ring somewhat hollow when we consider the economic dimension: "Indigenous" and "Poor" are two demographic indicators with a strong correlation.  The country has problems, I don't mind telling you. But I'm going to tell a little story- one that, for me, put everything we had learned and seen into excellent perspective and provided an excellent bookend for the program. If you'd be so kind as to accompany me, or, as they say on the Presidential Palace tour "Sigan, por favor, tengan la bondad..."

...the afternoon had gone as many others before it-- fantastic lunch, museum tours, impromptu games of chicken against taxis in the Centro Historico with which Profe was none too impressed. We entered the magnificent Casa Gangotena boutique hotel just off the Plaza de San Francisco in the historic district and sat down for fresh jugo while we waited to meet our gracious host: Casa Gangotena's owner, one-time Quito mayor, and ecotourism magnate Roque Sevilla. Over juice, coffee, and hors d'oeuvres, Mr. Sevilla regaled us with tales of how his various ventures came into existence and what direction the ecotourism industry may take (turns out it is possible to run an eco-lodge where you never have to touch an insect.) He continued with a self-effacing account of the eruption of the Pichincha volcano just west of Quito during his tenure as mayor, and gave us the inside track on automobile admissions standards in Ecuador. 

Late in the conversation, over the course of giving answers to several of our questions, Roque turned to comparisons between this country and the United States. More specifically, he contrasted the sometimes bullheaded manner of the Correa administration with something a little bit more familiar to us: United States Politics. He couldn't understand, for the life of him, why a country whose people had been behind so many of the innovations that have made the last two centuries what they were suddenly seemed lost in a morass of stubbornness, can't-do spirit, and social movements that, once in motion, seemed to go nowhere. We brainstormed over the myriad reasons why Occupy Wall Street (or DC, or Oakland, or pick a city) had failed, or at least stalled. We contrasted the failure of the electric car due to political, industry and consumer inertia with Ecuador's ambitious plan for rising fuel efficiency standards. And we lamented the reluctance of many of our leaders to risk re-election by actually making the progress they avowedly believed in. And just then, something clicked in my head. For all of its many problems, the current mindset in Ecuador still seems to be that hey, we can get. stuff. done. Diversity actually seems like something that people (avowedly) appreciate, and really believe will result in better decisions, even though it might take far longer. Rural communities don't have to simply put up with the harmful effects of large-scale mining operations just because the mining companies and the governments (sometimes) supporting them are powerful. They can mobilize, be heard, and get results. No, not everything will get done, and many things will seem much better on paper than they will actually turn out. But the belief,  the will, is there, and sometimes I think that the U.S. has lost sight of that will. Granted, any compare/contrast between two so vastly dissimilar countries is going to be hugely inadequate, and neither do I have an ear to the ground in the Palacio to really, really know what's going on. Still, ensconced as it is in the omnipresent Buen Vivir, the politics and zeitgeist of Ecuador provides a few points on life in the 21st century which could, I think, serve as examples for many other, more "advanced" places in the world.

Or maybe I'm just jazzed from all that maté de coca.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Actually in Ecuador Now Episode I: Notes From The Owl's Nest

You know, when I got into the Ecuador program, I thought it'd be all hikes, bikes, bellas, and food. I was by no means prepared for having things like responsibilities and assignments. But it turns out that since I'm getting school credit for being here, I have to make it look like I'm working from time to time. So to that end, this week I'm cross-posting my contribution to the program's blog. My apologies for the lack of scathing commentary and the complete absence of the Valyrian Steel Greatsword of Inscrutable Truth, academic regulations you know. Hope you enjoy!

[Originally posted in SIS Summer Abroad 2012: Ecuador...]

"Come Pick Me Up, I've Landed"

Welcome, one and all, to the Inaugural Post of SIS Ecuador Summer 2012 Blogtacular! I’m pleased to report that all participants are here in Quito and in excellent health, thanks in no small part to our wonderful hosts, Consuelo and Patricio of The Owl's Inn. Minus some intermittent issues adjusting to the elevation, I’d say we all did extraordinarily well.

Our introduction to the city was nothing short of fantastic. Many thanks to Julio Rivas, our intrepid guide, for the impassioned and knowledgeable tours of La Mitad del Mundo (the point where the Equator crosses Quito):

...and the city's old quarter:

Where we had a chance to sample some of Quito’s marvelous culinary traditions and enjoy some great views of the city after nightfall (which, by the way, happens super early.) It wasn’t until the next morning that things got serious. Having recovered from varying degrees of altitude sickness, we struck out for the U.S. Embassy for a security briefing. We traded our passports for “Visitor” badges and met some of the fine Department of State employees representing the USA in Ecuador. 
  • Highlights! No one got detained, and they were very friendly folks. 
  • Lowlights! Let’s just say Quiteños have come up with a number of… unconventional… substances to use as distractions if they want to grab your stuff.  

All in all, it was a fittingly varied entree (the 2nd definition, that doesn't mean food- though we've certainly had plenty of that) into a seminar that will have us learning about the impossibly multifaceted topic of diversity in the Andes region. We’ve begun our classes at la Universidad de las Americas in earnest, and I think it’s fair to say that issues of diversity, development, and sustainability in this part of the world are far more complex than any of us could have anticipated. That’s really saying something, considering that SIS courses give us just about all the complexity we can handle as it is. But the enormous challenges faced by our generation demand scholars and practitioners who know how to tackle tough issues from multiple directions. With Professor Donoso-Clark’s guidance and the behind-the-wheel stylings of Edwin, who gets us from place to place with a level of finesse that, frankly, shouldn’t be possible in our gigantic yellow van, I’m thinking we have a real shot at doing some big things based on what we learn here. 

From left to right, we've got Edwin "El Chauffeur", Adam, Professor Donoso-Clark,
Heather, Amanda, Faye, Nobuyuki, and Jonathan. Takin' on the world,
one museum dinner at a time.

We’ll be updating regularly as the program continues, so check back often for impassioned missives on Ecuador’s constitution and social policy, environmental protection, and much more. Nos vamos! 


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"Shot to Hell on the Acela"

OK, so I'm not really shot to hell, I'm only mildly exhausted. That's just a Fountains of Wayne lyric that I enjoy. And I didn't really take an Acela to work this morning, it was just the garden variety Northeast Regional Amtrak southbound from NY to DC. Was in Baltimore last night for dinner and a stroll around Inner Harbor/Fell's Point. In case you're unfamiliar, those are the two places in Baltimore least like "The Wire" and thus the only two I've got the stones to go in. It was a pleasant enough evening for eating sushi and sipping some Fat Tire down by the water, and Fell's Point still has an honest to Godorwhatever record store, which is like one of the last ones on the planet that still appears to be making ends meet. It probably helps that they double as a videogame/Blu-Ray/peripherals retailer and possibly an acoustic performance space. So I took the opportunity to inject new blood into my music collection. All in all, a nice little mid-week adventure. BUT the inevitable onset of morning has left me tired and swearing to Godorwhatever that I will never ever ever live somewhere that requires me to make a two hour commute by train. It's just not fun. Even though I get to imagine myself as Don Draper as I stare up and down the aisles:

   "Is that a woman using that handheld TV screen? What is a woman doing on this train?"

...making the trip into town by three separate modes of transit (Light Rail/streetcar from the hotel to the train station; Amtrak between cities; Metro to work) would get real old real quick. And just the getting up early! I, for one, enjoy going to sleep secure in the knowledge that even if I miss my alarm and wake up an hour late, I can still make it to work something resembling on time. I won't have eaten breakfast or put on pants necessarily, but I'll BE THERE. Under my own steam if necessary. And that's the real crux of it. Being far out, you've really got little choice but to entrust your commute to a bunch of impersonal departure boards and vehicle operators you can't even see. Hour and a half bike commute? Sign me up. Same time on the train every day? No thanks. Don't get me wrong, I love trains. Yes, they require an incredible amount of infrastructure built through corridors inhabited by people who can't afford to use them (another issue entirely,) but I enjoy them all the same. I just couldn't bear to have my work day extended by hours of sitting/staring on either end.

Yeah, I know what you're thinking, "man, like all of America commutes in exactly the way you described. Stop complaining that you had to do it once, you have it so super great always." And to that I say "obviously you haven't read the heading about 'unsolicited judgment on life' or the bit where I declare my perspective a Valyrian steel greatsword of inscrutable truth. Yes, I realize I've no cause to complain over any commute that lasts less than an hour in the DC area, but I also pay entirely too much to live in an apartment that's entirely too small in exchange for the privilege of such a commute. Anyhow, that little jaunt should be the last of my interstate travel in the run-up to getting on a plane to Quito. Big ups to Aaron for graduating from Syracuse this month, good luck with the new job little brother. Congrats to Andy at Tulane as well. 

As hectic as things have been, I'm trying to stay abreast of the goings-on down south. Now, many Latin American countries have been harshly critical of the U.S. over the last couple decades (not without reason,) and President Correa's administration is no exception. So I suppose it shouldn't have surprised me that the top story of the day was the Iranian state news agency reporting on Ecuador's avowal of support for Iran's nuclear program, and dismissal of the "lies" told by the U.S. and the rest of "the West" about the whole possibility of less-than-peaceful use thing. Like President Obama and same-sex marriage, my position on this issue has "evolved" over time. Suspicion that Iran's refusal to let us give them the technology for nuclear energy meant that they're making weapons has been replaced by the probability that it's more an issue of maintaining face and not wanting to do anything that makes them appear subservient or dependent on other countries in any way. Indeed, embedded in that offer is the tacit accusation that, if left to their own uranium enrichment devices, they'll obviously make weapons with it, which is basically a continuation of their consignment to the "Axis of Evil."  I happen to think we all would have been better off if the AofE speech had never been made, and that we need to get as far away as possible from that sort of thinking. It'd be interesting to know whether Ecuador's tempestuous history with U.S.-based oil companies has any impact on the apprehensiveness with which they seem to view our policy toward other nations' energy programs. And toward other nations in general. Future research topic? All signs point to MAYBE.

OK, 2nd cup of coffee is wearing off and lunchbreak is almost over. Coming soon: medical fun, last-minute preparations, and more!

Saddle song of the week: Of Monsters and Men- "Little Talks"

Friday, May 11, 2012

Life on Coffee Detox

Well, the papers have been turned in, the presentations given, and books returned. Spring semester officially ended for me at midnight on Wednesday, and now it should be (relatively) smooth sailing until June. Having decided that entirely too much of my blood had been made of sugar, caffeine, and Organic Valley half and half over the last few weeks, I forced myself to back off from coffee for a few days now that the semester's wrapped. How original, right? I don't know how long it'll last, likely all the way up until I get tired of it. So far, standing strong at 48 hours.

I ended up buying one of the textbooks I had rented from the bookstore, an excellent account from Deborah Yashar of indigenous organizing and citizenship regimes in Latin America. Deciding against returning a rented book for a refund is something I had never actually done. It's a strangely invigorating feeling to be at a point in my life where that $30 I get for returning a rental doesn't seem like a life-altering amount of money. I had returned a book last semester that I later wished I'd kept, and I'm finally getting used to the idea that as a grad student I'll probably get to reuse research that I've done in the future. It only took me two years to make that connection, amazing!

But what's even more amazing is that finals are over, and it's not even consistently 80 degrees out yet! Outside happy hour last night was actually chilly towards the end. WHERE DO I LIVE THIS IS NOT WASHINGTON. blessedly.unlike.washington. I must have hit the universe lottery or something. Well, maybe I should reserve that statement until final grades come back. Either way, I'm feeling pretty excited about the next few months. You know who's probably feeling markedly less excited? Occupy DC, the shattered remnants of which I glimpsed in bird's eye view this afternoon. The bird in question? An owl who was none too pleased to be disturbed by my pathetic attempts at amateur photography. See if you can guess which side of McPherson square the Occupants had occupied:

I don't know whom I feel worse for: the now-stalled social movement or the square itself. Maybe that grass will grow back by the Fall. In the meantime, maybe all those UN High Commission on Refugees canvassers I keep seeing can do something about the growing crisis of IDWs (internally displaced waterfowl) here in our own backyard. Seriously, what are all the Canada geese going to devour if not the grass in our public parks?

Ecuador internship is starting to come together, and it's looking more and more like it's going to be the Latin American Future Foundation (Fundacion Futuro Latinoamericano) in Quito. They support a number of projects throughout  Latin America; most are focused on conflict transformation and environmental issues such as climate change. That's right, I said climate change. You see, compared to the U.S., LA seems to waste relatively little time arguing about whether or not man-made greenhouse gases are having an appreciable effect on the climate and the environment overall. They're far more willing than are we to admit that, yeah, global warming is probably our fault, and even if it's not, we're better off doing something to try and slow it than just branding people anti-business, anti-progress, anti-____ when they suggest "hey guys, maybe we could think about not being quite so reliant on mineral extraction and unsustainable lifestyles?" What a bunch of crazers, seriously. But yeah, internship. I think it'll be a great experience, if a short one. But in all honesty, after 3 weeks of basically non-stop travel, classes, and research, I think 5 weeks of a somewhat normalized schedule is going to seem downright largo. All you music majors should be laughing right about now.

Those who know me well know I'm something of a nervous flier (as opposed to a nervous flyer, which is an apprehensive advertisement.) So it's a good thing I get to travel by air for the next two weekends, so to acclimate my overactive danger response reflex to the experience. Congrats, family and friends in the class of 2012, and a heartfelt thank you for having a major life event that I've got a take a plane to get to. That's so thoughtful of you.

Oh, and Mothers' Day! Happy Mothers' Day Mom, Grammy, and all the utha muthas out there.

Song most sung in the saddle this week: Gotye- "Somebody That I Used to Know." SHOCKER!

Monday, April 30, 2012

UPDATED! Are Good or Bad Dreams More Upsetting?

Happy Monday!

You ever have one of those days where you're really worried about something, and then it goes over exactly how you wanted it to, and you wonder why you worried so much about it? Then you wake up in bed, and it's 3 minutes before your alarm goes off on the morning of that thing you were so worried about? Yeah...

I'm to give a final presentation for a research design project tonight, and let's just say I'm...apprehensive. The project will be an investigation into the changing role of "the victim" in the transitional phase after a civil war or period of internal struggle in which a large number of people were killed, "disappeared," etc. by government or insurgent fighting forces. How has the discourse on the transition process, which IR nerds call "Transitional Justice," changed and evolved over time, from the days when war crimes tribunals a la Nuremberg were the only option, through the Truth Commissions in Latin America and elsewhere, to the emerging focus on grassroots efforts at community healing and forgiveness on the individual AND the group level. The answer is the same as you get when you cross an elephant and a rhinoceros...elephino! El-if-i-no. 'ell if i know? tap tap is this on? But I don't know, because it's not really a project. Just a project design. Look, I could get up there and wax philosophical about a project design with one eye open, OK? But the Q&A afterward, that's what worries me. That someone's going to have a really intriguing, incisive question that I can't even begin to answer, and so I stumble through some lame platitude like "mm, thanks for asking....errr that's a really good question...errr I'll have to look into that more thankssorrynextquestion," and also I'll be in my underwear. Just kidding, that would probably net me the highest grade in the class.

Ecuador things!
1. Orientation last weekend was swell. There's only six of us! Small-group cohesion FTW?
2. Still waiting to hear the final word on my placement with the Latin American Future Foundation.
3. Professor sent out the pre-departure reading list the other day. As in the stuff I have to read between the end of finals next week and the beginning of June.The best way I can think of to describe it is. . . hefty. Luckily I'll have like a million plane trips for the undergraduate commencements of various younger brothers (mine and others') to get it done, as well as a completely random train ride up to Baltimore the last week before I leave, apparently.
4. Need to reach out to a great Quito-based professional resource one of my professors put me in touch with. Why is it that everything happens during finals?

Oh and by the way: Laura, fellow SIS part-timer and Latin Americanista, started a blog with roughly the same aim as my own, only for the Dominican Republic. So GO READ IT. I've read the first couple of posts, and it promises to be considerably better-written, as well as more focused and informative, than what you're reading at this moment.

OK, blogging-as-therapy exercise complete. Thanks for reading!

Song of the day (song I hummed to myself on the ride to work): Bat for Lashes- "Sleep Alone"

(UPDATE:) Presentation went off with barely a hitch, because I believed in myself. So, that's one more thing out of the way before the end of the semester. And this morning I remembered a second part of the dream I had yesterday- after my fictional presentation went fictionally well, I went home and played WarCraft II. Remember WarCraft II? Specifically, I think I was building a shipyard so I could make some oil tankers and "try to get that oil!". I really wanna play it now. There's nothing like a dream to make you romanticize the tedious process of ship-based resource collection in a real-time strategy game from the 90s.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Trivial Synchronicities...

...sounds like the name of a song by Jose Gonzalez. But it's really a pretty good descriptor of what goes on in my head a lot of the time-- essentially, I've noticed that things around me seem to connect in weird little ways depending on what I'm doing or thinking about. This is probably a pretty common psychological and I'm most likely making too much of it. Molehills to mountains, people. That's my thing. But on to the story!

Bought a new laptop for the trip this weekend. My thanks to Carlos at Best Buy for being way more helpful than Best Buy's reputation suggested he would be. But while using that very laptop to research educational equality in Uruguay for a paper, I came across an article about laptops for Uruguyan schoolchildren. How meta! By the way, can someone explain to me exactly what does and does not qualify as meta? Anyway, THAT got me thinking about the laptop pilot program that my hometown undertook well past the time when I could benefit from it. My little brother, of course took immediate advantage of this new academic technology and promptly set his home page to Homestar Runner. Much like I gathered in the Maine school case, laptops in Montevideo have been a mixed blessing since they came about in 2009. They break a lot, (judging by the picture, they just rolled off the assembly line at the Playskool plant, so figure that out) and networks often couldn't handle the extra usage. It'd be interesting to see if anything's changed/improved over the last two or three years. Anyone out there with school-aged kids in Maine know how this program has evolved there? Last I heard, iPads were gonna be the next thing but there were severe budget issues. Or maybe just severe budget fights. I could go ahead and search for news about it, but the chances I'll run across a picture or quote of Gov. LePage are just unacceptably high. My lunch of fair-to-middling Chimerican food needs to stay down this afternoon.

Oh, and yesterday evening I rescued my Tales from the Sharrows buttons from the clutches of their creator/vendor Brian, so.....styliiiiiiiin'! Here's one gracing the wall of some place that is most definitely not my cubicle:

And one hooked to Winona the Kona's saddlebag:

You're welcome, Washington Area Bicyclists' Association.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Thoughts for a sunny Friday

I bet you thought this was going to be one of those blogs that never gets past the initial post, right? Well, joke's on you, Mom. This isn't tee-ball and I'm not 4 year-old quitter Adam anymore. Second posting, what?!

It was one of those mornings when you've got to choose between being a little too warm and a little too chilly. Opted for a little too warm, and equipped my yellow windbreaker for +5 to visibility. Once at work, I got into a conversation with a coworker concerning the weekend forecast: after an "unseasonably cool" week it'll be in the 80s by Sunday. He was considerably more jazzed about this than I. Anything much above the 70s has me feeling a tad uncomfortable unless I'm at the beach/pool. YOU GUYS DO YOU BELIEVE I'M FROM A COLD CLIMATE YET. You're shocked to learn that the temperature is a frequent topic of conversation around a typical office, I know. But it got me thinking about what I have to look forward to in Quito, where the mountainous surroundings lead to average highs in the mid-to-high 60s year round. It'll be the most pleasant, people.

Oh look, Reuters published an article just for me.  Sounds nice. A few weeks ago, I discussed the potential for bicycling in Quito with a classmate who just happens to have grown up there. His response was the very definition of cautious optimism- I could probably do it OK but I'd better watch out seriously or I'd find myself sued for damages when someone rams me from behind and I crack their windshield on account of being launched onto it. So I'll probably have to feel it out as far as trying to actually get places by bike, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't psyched about the Sunday "Ciclopaseo" rides. As far as how to actually get a bike to Ecuador, suggestions include "buy a piece of crap there" or "get a folding bike and bring it." This reminds me of one of those "Life is Full of Important Choices" t-shirts from the 90s. Did you have one? Me neither. Maybe I'll have an alternative transportation-themed one made.

Listen, I don't mean to turn this into a cycling blog. Truly, there are lots of other people who can do that tons better than I can. Still, it's become pretty important to me ever since I've actually lived in a place where you don't really need a car to get around. This is not possible outside a VERY small corridor of southern Maine, the part that sort of blends in with the rest of The Seacoast (TM) and even then it's dicey. My hometown is not located within this " Seacoast Smugness Swath," and so using a bike as primary transport feels like a trait I just found out that I was missing. Thus, a lot of my rantings will likely be shouted from the saddle.

I should probably get a nicer saddle.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Bane of Productivity

Greetings goobahs, Maineiacs, flatlandahs, folk from away, and most importantly, horse's patoots. Welcome to the blog.

Being that it's April, and those of you who know me also know I'm on the cusp of the Spring semester crunch, you might be asking "Who starts a blog during finals, anyway?" Or maybe that's just me asking. Good question, either way. It could be that I'm making a huge mistake. Maybe the fine (read: completely un-DC-like) springtime weather has me missing home a little. Perhaps I needed a way to clear my head while poring over academic journals and navigating the capricious landscape of a MA program in international affairs. Look, I don't have to explain myself to you, OK? Go do comments on some news site if you want to be snarky. I swear, you... hold it, that's no way to welcome people to my fledgling site; let's start over.

Hey kids, thanks for coming. My name's Adam and I'm a Maine expat living in Washington, DC. After pedaling my way around our nation's capital for more time than is entirely advisable (and certainly more than the average YoPro,) I've decided to write a bit about life in such an absurdly quirky place after growing up in another absurdly quirky place. Oddly enough, this decision came not long after I found out I'd be spending the better part of my summer in Ecuador. Well, it wasn't totally unexpected- let's say I had a hunch.  Anyway, in the run-up to the trip, I'll be sharing my entirely inadequate efforts to prepare. Topics will include (maybe) intriguing social issues; (probably) figuring out just how much Spanish I actually still know; (definitely) whether it's at all feasible to explore Quito by bike as I've done with Washington;  and anything else that happens to fall under my Valyrian steel greatsword of inscrutable truth. ¡A Bordo!