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!